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A Michigan circuit-court judge has issued a mixed ruling that essentially upholds a controversial state law aimed at shifting funds from wealthy districts to poorer ones.

The law, passed in 1991, requires the state's wealthiest districts to surrender half of their property-tax growth from industrial and commercial ventures to poorer districts. (See Education Week, Sept. 25, 1991.)

Opponents of the law said the decision by Judge Lido Bucci of Macomb County last month would render the measure ineffective, since the ruling states that districts can decide not to participate in the program. But supporters of the program pointed out that the state has the authority to withhold certain funds from districts that choose not to participate.

Judge Bucci said that the program is within the law so long as funds are not taken from programs mandated by the state, such as special and bilingual education.

Children from low-income families in Pennsylvania will receive free or subsidized health insurance, under legislation signed by Gov. Robert P. Casey this month.

The program will provide coverage for physician visits, immunizations, 90 days of hospitalization, dental, vision, and hearing care, and prescriptions with a $5 co-payment.

State officials estimate that more than 90,000 children will be eligible to participate in the plan.

Funding for the insurance program will come from 2 cents of the current tax on cigarettes, which is expected to generate about $21.5 million annually.

Utah students and school employees should be free to exercise "voluntary religious practice'' during "discretionary time,'' such as lunch breaks, a legislative panel has recommended.

The proposal is included in a draft bill being considered by the Religious Liberty Committee, which has been examining issues of church-state separation in light of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and by a federal judge in Utah banning government-sponsored prayers at graduation ceremonies.

The draft bill clarifies that academic study or performances in public schools may include examinations of religion and religious thought, including the influence of religion in music, art, history, literature, and politics. The draft states that no single denomination should be given preference in such discussions.

A $600 million annual increase is needed over the next five years to help all Illinois schools pay for an adequate level of education, a state school-finance commission has urged in its final report.

The panel's $3 billion plan also calls for $350 million in property-tax relief, mostly in the Chicago area. At the same time, many state residents would see a tax-rate increase in order for their school districts to qualify for greater state aid.

The final report comes after two years of deliberation by the bipartisan panel. (See Education Week, April 22, 1992.)

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