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Ala. Governor's Reform Plan Introduced as 43 Bills

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With the start of a special legislative session on education and crime last week, Gov. James E. Folsom Jr. of Alabama had his $1 billion comprehensive school-reform plan introduced in the House as 43 different bills in a bid to insure the passage of court-ordered reforms that did not occur in the regular session.

The aim is to "divide and conquer'' opposition to various parts of the bill that had coalesced into a force able to derail reform in the session that ended April 25, said Governor Folsom's press secretary, Chris Grimshawe.

The Governor's reform bill had passed the Senate by a wide margin but stalled for weeks in the House, as did two funding bills designed to pay for the changes ordered by a judge last year to make the state school system equitable and adequate. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994.)

The judge set a Sept. 30, 1994, deadline for legislative action.

The introduction of many bills is also meant to foster "fuller discussion and debate'' and make it easier for the 105 members of the House to understand the bills, according to Barry Robertson, a legislative liaison for the Governor.

"We just want to be able to get it on the floor and get debate,'' Mr. Robertson said.

In the 35-member Senate, the reform package was reintroduced as a single bill, and both the House and Senate measures were moving through committees last week.

Despite failing to act on the reforms in the regular session, the legislature did approve an education budget that places all state funding for public schools--$1.87 billion--in an "equity pool.''

Political Timetable

That money is to be distributed in a way that complies with the court order. A distribution method is to be decided by legislators later this year, but the pressure is on to make a decision before August, when schools reopen.

Codification of the "equity pool'' in the budget drew praise from a lawyer for some of the school districts that brought the finance-equity lawsuit that led to the court order. "That had to be a plus,'' said C.C. (Bo) Torbert, "and had there been sufficient funding [for equity] we would have been pleased.''

Mr. Grimshawe said that Mr. Folsom wants to see lawmakers pass both a reform bill and a funding mechanism in the 12 legislative days of the 30-day special session, which is also to address crime, including a package of bills to combat school violence.

In his speech opening the special session, Mr. Folsom threatened to veto any reform package that did not move "substantially'' toward satisfying the court order. He said he would follow such a veto by calling another special session.

But Mr. Grimshawe acknowledged the "political reality'' that legislators are averse to redistributing money and raising taxes to pay for a plan expected to have an eventual annual cost of nearly $1 billion at a time when they are campaigning for the important Democratic primaries in June.

Mr. Robertson, the legislative liaison, said it was "quite possible'' that the question of how to fund reform might have to wait for a second special session this summer.

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