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School-Finance Case Is Reopened in W.Va.

West Virginia's landmark school-finance lawsuit has been reopened in an effort to force further legislative changes in the state's funding scheme, which the plaintiffs say is still inequitable.

The 1982 ruling in Pauley v. Bailey ordered West Virginia to implement a "master plan" to meet the state constitution's test of a "thorough and efficient" education system.

In his 244-page decision, Judge Arthur Recht included exhaustive specific mandates. The ruling was the first where a court assumed the state legislature's traditional role of prescribing educational standards.

Janet Pauley, a Lincoln County woman who argued that her children received an inadequate education, filed the original case in 1975. She specifically contended that schools' reliance on property taxes created inequity between districts.

Daniel Hedges, the lawyer who argued the case for Ms. Pauley, filed the motion to reopen the case, arguing that disparities between school systems remain.

Hearings on the motion are scheduled for Jan. 25.

Employee Vouchers: Mayor Bret Schundler of Jersey City, N.J., who has long advocated a voucher system for the city's 40,000 schoolchildren, has offered $500 vouchers to city employees to help defray the costs of sending their children to private schools.

The proposal has been made to all 12 collective-bargaining units representing city workers.

The Mayor's offer applies only to city workers who live in Jersey City.

The resident workers would still be eligible for the money even if they continued to send their children to public schools, as long as it was spent on required books or classroom supplies.

Several New Jersey Democratic lawmakers have called for an investigation into the Republican Mayor's plan, claiming that it smacks of inequity and is really an end run around the legislature.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, is expected to propose a bill to create a pilot voucher program in Jersey City that would offer state funding to all residents.

Thomas Gallagher, a spokesman for the Mayor, said the issue fell within the city's jurisdiction to negotiate contracts with its workers. "We don't consult the state on overtime pay or holidays," he said.

Massachusetts Time: The Massachusetts board of education has approved regulations that bar school districts from including recess, homeroom, and time students spend passing between classes in official counts of instructional time.

Beginning next fall, the rules will require secondary schools to provide at least 990 total hours of "structured learning time," which is defined as time in which students are engaged in instruction in core subjects.

Elementary schools must have 900 hours of such learning time. The standard length of the school year will remain 180 days.

While the rules will not necessarily require adoption of a longer school day in every district, many districts will have to reduce the number of "early release" days they use and days on which high school seniors are excused.

The board adopted the regulations Dec. 20, following the release in September of a report by the Massachusetts Commission on Time and Learning.

Conn. Plans Rejected: Eight of eleven regions in Connecticut have rejected voluntary plans to reduce racial isolation in their schools.

The regional plans, which included magnet schools, student and teacher exchanges, and other optional programs, were proposed by panels of local representatives mandated by the state's two-year-old desegregation law.

Local officials in the regions voted last month on the proposals. Although they were voluntary some local leaders feared the plans would drive up costs in their districts. (See Education Week, 12/07/94.)

Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., whose term ended this month, warned that failure to approve the plans could result in a court order.

The state is awaiting the outcome of Sheff v. O'Neill, a school-desegregation lawsuit involving Hartford and its suburbs.

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