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Kansas Senate Eyes Property-Tax Cut

The Kansas Senate was expected to consider last week a House-passed bill that would replace property taxes with higher state income and sales taxes as the primary sources of money for public education.

The measure won House approval late last month on a vote of 69 to 56.

Senate Bill 41, which contains the tax changes related to education, would eliminate the current 35-mill property-tax levy over three years.

In place of that tax, the bill would gradually increase the state sales tax from the current 4.9 percent to 6 percent by June 1998. Individual income taxes would rise by 18 percent in the 1996 tax year.

The net effect for school district revenue would be "a wash," according to Dale Dennis, the assistant commissioner for finance at the state education board. Districts would lose property-tax revenue to the tune of roughly $600 million a year, he said, but that would be offset by a gain of about the same amount from the other taxes.

Low CLAS: Citing poor scores on the final administration of the California Learning Assessment System tests, Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin last week announced the appointment of two task forces to work on improving reading and mathematics instruction.

For those who take exception to the scores from the controversial clas test, which Gov. Pete Wilson abolished last year, Ms. Eastin said scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress point to similar weaknesses in California schools.

"We are not here to make excuses," she said last week in an appearance at a Sacramento elementary school. "It is time for everyone to pull together to help our children do better."

The test showed that only 14.3 percent of California's 10th graders scored in the top three performance levels of the six-level math test. Fewer than 35 percent of the 10th graders made the top three categories in reading.

Cashing In: The Kentucky education department sent more than $25 million in incentive money to school districts last week, providing awards of between $1,300 and $2,600 to 14,126 of the state's teachers, counselors, librarians, and principals.

Officials said a handful of schools are still appealing denials of the awards, claiming that their gains on a statewide test should qualify them for the money. The state has reserved nearly $600,000 in case the appeals are granted.

State officials said most of the appeals have come from "reconfigured" schools and required state officials to track the scores of individual students over the four-year testing period.

Schools that win the awards have until May 1 to decide how to use the money.

No More Free Rides: Driver training in California public schools is apparently a thing of the past.

Last month, the state supreme court refused to review a lower-court decision that permitted the state to deny funding to the program.

Driver training, taught with dual-control cars, is required in addition to classroom instruction if a 16- or 17-year-old wants to obtain a California driver's license. It is not required for those age 18 or older.

For more than 30 years, the training has been paid for out of surcharges on traffic tickets. But the transfer of that money to schools was vetoed by the Governor in 1990.

No state money has flowed to the state's driver-training programs since 1992, a state official said. Instead, it has offset the costs of disaster-relief efforts and other unexpected expenses.

Blanket Testing: Nebraska's commissioner of education, concerned that some home-school students are not being taught, has called for the testing of every child in the state every year.

While some home-school parents are doing their job, Commissioner Doug Christensen said, others are granting their children an all-day recess.

Under current law the state has no authority to carry out truancy provisions against parents who teach their children at home. Furthermore, efforts to require the extra testing of home-school children have been challenged on constitutional grounds. Testing of all children, the commissioner suggested, could be the least intrusive way to monitor the growing practice of home schooling.

Board 1, Governor 0: A committee in the Ohio House has blocked a proposal by Gov. George V. Voinovich to make the state board of education a body appointed by the Governor.

The finance committee voted 18 to 11 to strip from the state budget bill language that would have changed the board's elected status.

Mr. Voinovich, who has clashed frequently with the board, has sought such a change since coming to office in 1991. Most recently, the Governor and the board have sparred over a court ruling that the school-finance system is unconstitutional.

In a written statement after the committee's vote, Mr. Voinovich said: "I want to remind the constituents of those legislators that voted against this proposal that the current state school board voted not to appeal [the ruling] which, if upheld, will cost Ohioans billions of dollars in additional taxes and will remove local control of public schools."

Bilingual Bypass: Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey has signed a bill that softens a requirement that school districts run full-time bilingual-education programs when they have 20 or more students who qualify.

Under the new law, the state commissioner of education can waive the bilingual mandate if a district can show it would not be economically feasible to implement a full-time program.

The law came about after Attorney General Deborah Portiz warned in September that waivers the commissioner granted to 85 school districts with part-time programs were illegal.

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