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Gov. Thompson Pledges To Make School Choice Statewide Option

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Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin last week pledged to make public school choice an option statewide, as well as to expand Milwaukee's private-school-voucher program, in a State of the State address boosting his state as a trailblazer in education reform.

Calling for "a complete redefinition of public education in Wisconsin," the Republican Governor also embraced several reform proposals suggested by Superintendent Howard L. Fuller of Milwaukee.

At Mr. Fuller's request, the Governor proposed expanding the state's charter-school law--which now allows 10 districts to charter one school each--to allow local school boards to charter as many schools as they desire.

Mr. Thompson also said he wants to permit public schools to contract with private firms, or particular principals or groups of teachers, to turn their fortunes around. And if schools continue to fail, he said, local superintendents should have the power to close them.

"Forget the forms and formalities. If a school is not performing, shut it down," the Governor said. "Stop throwing money away. Stop paying for failure."

Reiterating a proposal he outlined earlier this month, the Governor also called for expanding Milwaukee's pioneering choice program--which allows parents to apply public money toward tuition at secular private schools--to serve more children and include religious schools. (See Education Week, Jan. 25, 1995.)

"Religious values are not our problem. Dropout rates are," he said.

Last week's speech made no reference to Governor Thompson's tentative plans to transform the post of state schools superintendent from an elected position to an appointed one and to dramatically alter the structure and powers of the state education department. An aide said Mr. Thompson plans to discuss these changes next month when he submits his biennial budget proposal. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1995.)

Mr. Thompson also continued his crusade to overhaul Wisconsin's welfare system, announcing last week that he would move the state's welfare division from the social-services department to a new department of industry, labor, and job development.

"Welfare is going to become a jobs program," he said.

Pointing to an increase in crimes committed by young people, Governor Thompson said he would also transfer control of the state's two reform schools from the social-services department to the department of corrections, and lower the age at which the state charges people as adults from 18 to 17.

"My message to violent young criminals is simple: Your birthday won't protect you anymore," the Governor said.

NEBRASKA

Nelson Urges Appointed,Not Elected, State Board

Gov. Ben Nelson of Nebraska has proposed that he be allowed to appoint the state school board as a way of helping reduce duplication between state and local government.

Under the proposal, the panel, which is now elected, would become more of an advisory board than a policymaking body.

Such a change would "make local governments and local schools more responsible for carrying out education policy," Governor Nelson argued in his State of the State speech Jan. 12.

The Democratic Governor also pledged to support job-training and school-to-work initiatives, provide funding for a boot camp, and find a way to reduce property taxes. Mr. Nelson said the only way to achieve property-tax relief "is to cut spending." In order to do that, he said, localities need to be relieved of unnecessary federal and state mandates.

--Laura Miller

NEVADA

Miller Urges Accreditation Requirement for Schools

All Nevada public schools would be required to earn accreditation from a regional accrediting association, under a proposal Gov. Bob Miller unveiled in his State of the State address.

The requirement would be phased in over 10 years, an aide said. Currently, 76 out of the state's 384 public schools are accredited. All but one high school in the state is accredited, but only one of 263 elementary schools is.

Mr. Miller, a Democrat, said such a system would take a step beyond a state accountability law passed in 1993, which requires school districts to inform the public about school performance through report cards that include student test scores and other measures.

"We must create standards so that every public school meets the basic requirements needed to provide a good education," Mr. Miller said in the Jan. 18 address.

Governor Miller also proposed extending an ongoing class-size-reduction initiative to include the 3rd grade. His budget proposes $20.7 million in the second year of the state's biennium to reduce the class size at that grade level to 16, said Ann Fleck, an executive assistant in the Governor's office.

"Give our teachers a class size they can manage," the Governor said. "Our children deserve that personal attention."

In addition, as part of a proposal "to reform our entire criminal-justice system," Mr. Miller said he wanted to get tough on juvenile offenders. "A 16-year-old committing a violent or sex-related crime should be presumed to be an adult and face prison," he said.

"And judges should, under appropriate circumstances, be able to decide that 14-year-olds bent on a life of crime be subject to adult prosecution," Mr. Miller continued. The state also will create a juvenile boot camp for the first time, he said.

The Governor said judges should be given the power to order parents of young offenders to provide restitution to victims or to be required to perform community service or attend counseling.

He also said the state should revoke the driver's licenses of juveniles who violate gun, alcohol, or drug laws.

Teachers would receive a pay raise under Governor Miller's proposal to give state employees a 4 percent increase in the first year and a 3 percent raise in the second year of the biennium. The proposal follows three years without a pay increase for public employees.

--Millicent Lawton

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