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N.H. Governor Comes Out Against Broad Tax for Schools

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Gov. Steven Merrill of New Hampshire last week presented an impassioned argument for why the Granite State should not enact a broad-based tax to finance education--despite pressure from the courts.

The week before Mr. Merrill's State of the State Address, the New Hampshire State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is obligated to fund public education, striking down an earlier decision in a school-finance lawsuit filed by five property-poor districts in 1991.

New Hampshire currently ranks last among the 50 states in the percentage of funds it provides to public schools, with state aid bearing only about 7 percent of the total cost of education.

Districts raise the overwhelming majority--about 90 percent--from local property taxes, and federal aid makes up about 3 percent.

State education leaders suggested that the court's decision is likely to lead to adoption of a sales or income tax. New Hampshire is the only state that does not levy either kind of tax.

But in his speech, Mr. Merrill pledged firmly to fight any effort to enact such a tax.

Mr. Merrill warned that the lawsuit "threatens to shake the social and economic foundations of this state.''

Asserting that low taxes play a key role in attracting new businesses and residents to the state, the Governor described New Hampshire as "an island of sanity in a sea of taxes, rising costs, and red tape,'' and referred to its absence of broad-based taxes as "the New Hampshire advantage.''

"There are some who believe that education quality is determined by the amount of state funding and state control,'' he said.

"I believe they are wrong,'' the Governor continued, citing the performance of New Hampshire students on the S.A.T. and the National Assessment of Educational Progress as evidence of the high quality of the state's schools.

"Ultimately, this is not a question of funding or the fairness in funding,'' Mr. Merrill said. "This is a question of more funding.''

Earlier this month, Rep. Douglas E. Hall, a Republican, introduced a measure that would end the use of property taxes to finance education after Dec. 31, 1996, and also create a panel to devise a new tax system to support public schools.

But Jim Van Duggan, a spokesman for the House of Representatives, has said no legislation restructuring the tax system is likely to pass before 1995 or 1996 and, given the state's historical resistance to raising taxes, may not occur even by then.

ILLINOIS

Edgar Backs Privatization And Charter Schools

Gov. Jim Edgar, facing his final legislative session before a re-election challenge, last week told lawmakers that it is time to experiment with private management of some Illinois schools and that he plans to introduce a bill that would create 12 charter schools in an effort to test new management approaches.

"Some reforms will work; others may not,'' the Republican Governor said in a speech that highlighted job gains in Illinois during his first term. "But we're not going to know the answers unless we try.''

In an effort to bolster the state's workforce, the Governor said last week that he will appoint a school-to-work task force led by Lieut. Gov. Bob Kustra to build on a student-apprenticeship program launched last year.

The Governor also said he plans to convene a group to study education-technology issues and reminded lawmakers and voters that he strived to protect school funding during recent years when the state faced tough budgets.

Mr. Edgar also reminded officials that an earlier blue-ribbon commission looking at "true'' school reforms would deliver its recommendations in the weeks ahead.

Such reforms are needed to "help dynamic teaching overcome educational dogma and student learning overcome bureaucratic barriers,'' the Governor said.
--LONNIE HARP

MISSISSIPPI

Fordice Floats Proposals For Choice, Merit Pay

Gov. Kirk Fordice of Mississippi proposed a "local-option, public school choice'' plan in his State of the State Address earlier this month, as well as a performance-based pay system for teachers that would condition admission to its top pay tier on obtaining certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Under the choice plan, which would allow every district and county in the state to conduct a referendum on school choice, the Governor said, "our local communities can be empowered to positively change their own schools if they so desire.''

In his speech, Mr. Fordice cited a poll finding that 85 percent of state residents support school choice.

"It is my belief that this one measure will be the greatest single event to happen to Mississippi education in decades,'' he said. "Allowing local-option public school choice will set the wheels in motion for some of the most dramatic, positive change to our schools we have ever seen.''

Only Oklahoma has formally adopted a merit-pay plan tied to certification by the N.B.P.T.S., according to Joanne Kogan, a spokeswoman for the board.

But she said that at least five other states are engaged in "serious discussions'' about what incentives should be used to encourage teachers to become board certified.

New Mexico is considering a plan to pay the cost of board certification--$975--for the first 100 teachers who apply in the 1994-95 year.

In addition to the performance-pay plan, Governor Fordice has also proposed establishing an "expert citizen-teacher'' credentialing program. Under the program, professional and technical employees in the private sector could obtain one-year provisional teaching certification without an education degree.
--MEG SOMMERFELD

SOUTH DAKOTA

Miller Proposes Eliminating Categorical Education Aid

In his first State of the State Address last week, Gov. Walter Dale Miller of South Dakota proposed eliminating almost all categorical state aid, and instead distributing the funds through South Dakota's general education-funding formula.

"I believe that, although the state-aid formula is not perfect, it is the most equitable way we have to distribute money to schools,'' Governor Miller said.

Under Mr. Miller's proposal, special-education aid, personal-property-tax-replacement funds, and postsecondary technical institute funding would remain separate state-aid programs.

The Governor also announced the appointment of a commission to study the education-aid formula.

Mr. Miller will serve as chairman of the commission, which will also include representatives of teachers' and parent-teacher organizations, the majority leaders of the House and Senate, and a parent representing the interests of special-education students.
--SARA SKLAROFF

WASHINGTON

Lowry Turns Spotlight On Youth-Violence Initiative

Governor Mike Lowry of Washington last week touted a $13.2 million package of programs designed to reduce violence in and around schools, provide families with coordinated social services, and train and employ teenagers in danger of dropping out or committing crimes.

In his State of the State Address, Mr. Lowry said that his "youth agenda'' would not merely increase state spending on the problems facing children, but would reorganize the delivery of key services for families and youths.

He said such services should become more localized in order to reach more of the state's neediest residents.

The proposal also includes new models for teaching conflict resolution, and stiffer penalties for young violent offenders who possess or use handguns and for the adults who provide the weapons.

Pieces of the proposal--which was developed by educators, social-service workers, law-enforcement officials, and representatives of youth groups--are expected to be reviewed in legislative committees this session, according to Clarence Moriwaki, a spokesman for the Governor.

Funding for the effort is expected to come from the state's general-fund revenues, he added.

However, the Governor announced in the address that he has proposed a supplemental budget intended to lower general-fund spending by $93 million and cut overall state funding by about $150 million. The total 1994 state budget is slightly more than $8 billion.
--JOANNA RICHARDSON

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