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News in Brief: Ala. Governor Appeals School-Finance Decision

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Gov. Fob James Jr. of Alabama has asked the state supreme court to throw out a ruling that voided the state's school-funding system. A lower-court judge in the case overstepped constitutional bounds, the Governor argued.

Mr. James and state Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the supreme court late last month to tell Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eugene W. Reese to "vacate" his 1993 ruling and subsequent remedy orders.

Ruling in a lawsuit filed in 1990 by property-poor school districts, parents, and children, Judge Reese found that Alabama's school system is unconstitutional both because it fails to provide schools with equitable funding and because schools do not do an adequate job.

Mr. James's predecessor, Jim Folsom Jr., had essentially agreed with the ruling and tried--in vain--to push a school-reform bill through the legislature. When Mr. James took office last month, he became a defendant in the case.

Mr. James and Mr. Sessions allege that Judge Reese usurped the powers and duties of the state legislature, the governor, and state agencies by telling them to take specific actions to improve schools and ordering them to report to the court and obtain his approval.

The plaintiffs' lawyers filed a brief last week contending that Governor James is trying to fulfill a campaign promise with his move and that granting his petition would "set back, if not destroy, the mandate of our own constitution requiring adequate and equitable educational opportunities."

In a related development last week, the state board of education asked Judge Reese to give the board until Dec. 15 to act on any orders from him. Six of the board's eight members are new.

Trust Fund: The Oregon legislature has approved a bill that sets up a referendum on a plan to devote at least 15 percent of state-lottery profits to an education trust fund.

Lottery revenues have increased in the state since the introduction of video poker in 1992, and are projected to reach more than $700 million in the 1995-97 state-budget cycle.

The voter referendum, to be held this spring, is needed to amend a state constitutional amendment that created the lottery in 1986 and designated its revenues for economic development.

Chicago Deregulation

In signing a bill that will create "learning zones" in the Chicago school district, Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois proclaimed that the plan will encourage effective management.

The bill, which will allow schools in the zones to operate outside state and local school board rules, also allows districts elsewhere in the state to petition for waivers from state regulations. The petitions, which would be submitted after local hearings, would be reviewed by the state board of education and automatically approved unless the legislature took exception.

The Governor said that halting the "Springfield knows best" attitude was a step forward in improving student achievement.

Wyoming Charters

The Wyoming House has approved a bill meant to encourage the creation of charter schools in the state, clearing it for Gov. Jim Geringer's signature. The Senate had approved the bill earlier.

Sponsors said the bill will reduce restrictions on local groups that want to form charter schools, which could win public funding but operate outside the reach of most state education regulations.

Opponents said the bill contains too many loopholes and that provisions allowing charter schools to hire teachers without state certification threaten the credentialing process. But sponsors of the plan countered that it was more important to bring down obstacles to change in schools.

Failing Scores

Despite record-high overall performances by Michigan students on the state's 1994 assessments, state officials say that about 135 schools may see a drop in their state aid because of declining scores.

State law requires that two-thirds of a school's students pass the Michigan Educational Assessment Program's tests in mathematics, reading, and science in two out of three years for the school to win accreditation. Schools that fall short are to lose 5 percent of their state funding.

The education department is still reviewing scores and will release a final list of unaccredited schools next month. While schools can recoup lost money by drafting improvement plans, the state can replace principals or take over schools that fail to win accreditation for two straight years.

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