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Ariz. Lawmakers Approve School-Reform Package

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Handing Gov. J. Fife Symington a bittersweet victory, Arizona lawmakers have passed a package of education-reform and child-welfare bills.

The education measure, which passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled legislature during a three-day special session last month, did not include a voucher program proposed by the Governor. The plan would have given a limited number of poor families state money to pay private school tuition.

The voucher proposal was widely viewed as the reason that a similar education-reform package narrowly failed to pass during the regular legislative session.

Mr. Symington, a Republican, had vowed during the regular session that he would veto any education package that did not include the voucher provisions. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

Nevertheless, the Governor called the special session "one of the most successful ever in the history of our state'' when he signed the measure into law last month.

Political Considerations

Mr. Symington had fought unsuccessfully since his election in 1991 to push an education-reform measure through the legislature.

A win this session had been widely viewed as an important means for Mr. Symington to boost his chances for re-election in the fall. Observers suggested that this was the reason he decided to sign a bill that does not include the voucher plan.

Other voucher supporters also recognized the writing on the wall after education-reform legislation failed to pass in this year's regular session.

Arizona Business Leaders for Education, or ABLE, a group that had lobbied hard for education reform, including the voucher provisions, disbanded in late April.

"We thought our work was over,'' said Joan Barett, a spokeswoman for the group.

The $12.5 million education-reform measure passed the House on a 40-to-13 vote and in the Senate by a vote of 21 to 9.

It permits the establishment of a system of charter schools, allows school districts greater autonomy from the state education department, and allocates $10 million to expand preschool programs for poor children.

Democrats attacked the charter-school provisions as potentially detrimental to the public school system.

But Rep. Lisa Graham, the Republican chairwoman of the House education committee, argued that the measure would create "opportunities for innovations'' with the existing public school structure.

Child-Welfare Bill

Lawmakers also passed a pared-down version of a $100 million child-welfare plan, dubbed "Success by Six,'' that had also failed to win approval in the regular session.

The measure, which passed on a vote of 39 to 13 in the House and a 24-to-6 tally in the Senate, will provide $9.15 million over the next two years to support prenatal care and immunization programs, child-abuse prevention, and literacy programs for poor families.

Democratic lawmakers denounced the measure as a "watered-down'' proposal that would fail to meet the needs of many families that need assistance.

But Carol Kamin, the executive director of Children's Action Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said the measure will "mean a better life'' for thousands of poor children.

The child-welfare measure also contained a highly controversial provision that makes publicly funded day-care programs, including those operated by public schools, subject to the same health and safety regulations that already apply to private day-care centers.

Democrats argued that the provisions would harm poor families by increasing the cost of public school day-care programs.

The provision was backed by Rep. Bob Burns, the Republican chairman of the House appropriations committee, who owns a private day-care center.

It was widely suggested that Mr. Burns had obtained guarantees from Governor Symington that the day-care provisions would be included in any education-reform legislation.

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