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State Journal: Waiting for the flood; Is Rome burning?

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After bracing for an onslaught of requests to create "charter schools'' under a 1992 law, the California state board of education last week approved the first nine such proposals.

State officials had anticipated that ideas for creating charter schools would come pouring in, and, because the law limits the number of the independent, publicly funded schools to 100 statewide, they feared they would have a political problem on their hands.

While that flood of requests has yet to materialize, officials are downplaying the slow startup.

"Everyone has realized that putting together a functioning charter is simply more complicated than our first take on it,'' said Merrill Vargo, the director of regional programs and special projects for the state education department.

"At this point, we're not concerned that there are only nine,'' she added. "If a year from now there are still only nine, we'll think there are some problems.''

But Ms. Vargo said she does not expect that. Drafts of proposals from several large urban districts have already crossed her desk, and the phone calls keep pouring in.

"I don't think anyone should be surprised at the absence of a flood,'' agreed Ralph J. Flynn, the president of the California Teachers Association. But, he added, "It doesn't mean that I think there won't be 100.''

Obviously worn down by endless wrangling, some Texas politicians are allowing themselves to vent their frustrations over the state's seemingly insoluble school-finance dilemma.

At a recent hearing of the House education committee, for example, Lieut. Gov. Bob Bullock blasted lawmakers and others who, he said, were more concerned about protecting their own districts' narrow interests than in complying with the constitutional mandate to produce a more equitable system.

"I'm not mad about it,'' he said. "I'm just disgusted.''

"I sat here for weeks in the special session waiting for a handful of people in the Texas House to move, and they didn't,'' the Senate president was quoted as saying. "I suppose I'm going to have to sit here again and take up, like, the boll-weevil bill, while Rome is burning.''

Earlier, Sen. Carl Parker had let fly in the direction of Gov. Ann W. Richards over her proposal to fund a 5 percent pay raise for all teachers.

"It does not serve us well to come out with proposals that are worthy of a freshman House member, and this is one of them,'' he told the Governor's representative at a hearing. "You either don't know anything about the system or you're lying to the teachers.''--L.O. & H.D.

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