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The Missouri state school board will heed the warnings of an advisory commission and delay consideration of academic-performance standards until they can be written in plainer language.

The Commission on Performance, chaired by Gov. Mel Carnahan, agreed late last month that the standards, which are being prepared by groups of subject-matter experts across the state, need to have a greater emphasis on academic content and be easier for people to understand.

Work on the standards began in 1993 as part of a school-finance-reform law that carried a $310 million tax increase.

The state board, which is charged with adopting new performance standards, will push back its timetable at the commission's urging.

The board had intended to take up the final drafts of the standards this month. A spokesman for the board said the rewrite will probably take most of the summer.

By August or September, the commission may get another look at the standards, which critics have called "vague and fluffy" versions of outcomes-based education.

School Chiefs' Contracts: The Oklahoma legislature was close to clearing a bill last week that would propose a constitutional amendment allowing school boards to hire superintendents for more than a year at a time.

The legislature's resolution passed the House in March on a 69-to-30 vote and was approved by the Senate late last month, 28 to 19. The House must now weigh in on a few Senate changes.

Under the plan, superintendents could be offered contracts for up to three years. The state constitution now limits school superintendents to one-year contracts.

Proponents said that greater job security is needed to attract good administrators. Critics of the plan worry that districts will end up spending taxpayers' money to buy out contracts when they disapprove of their superintendents' work.

If approved by lawmakers, the questions would be put before Oklahoma voters.

Play Ball: Athletics and other extracurricular activities in Vermont schools will no longer face being the victims of stubborn taxpayers, under a law signed recently by Gov. Howard Dean.

In years past, school districts that began the year without a voter-approved budget were allowed to operate only a "minimal" program on borrowed funds. Under such a program, sports and other student activities were often cut out.

State lawmakers, however, responded this year to some parents' and educators' concern that important programs were being held hostage in local political fights and found a way to allow the programs to operate.

Under the new law, districts could operate on budgets that are 87 percent of their most recently approved budgets while they try to win voter approval for new budgets. Money borrowed while a district is in limbo could be spent on any service that the school board deems appropriate.

State education officials said they will have to wait and see whether the practical effect of the law is to lengthen the gridlock over local budgets, since districts will now lack the leverage over voters of a possible delay in the school football season.

Razing Arizona Mandates: Gov. Fife Symington of Arizona has signed a series of education bills intended to expand the flexibility of local school districts while granting more freedom to home-school students.

One bill will allow school districts to charge fees for a host of optional classes and extracurricular activities. Another will halt mandatory courses on environmental, drug-abuse, and aids education, which were never funded by the state. That measure also will allow districts to require their students to wear uniforms.

Another bill will waive the state's testing requirement for home-school students. Previously, the state required that students over the age of 8 be tested every three years. The new law requires testing only when students enter public schools. It also requires that students taught at home meet academic-eligibility requirements in order to join in interscholastic athletics.

All of the laws will be in effect beginning next school year.

Fla. Prayer Vote Nears: A controversial school-prayer bill was awaiting action in the Florida Senate last week, days after the bill was voted out of committee twice.

The bill would allow student-led prayers at graduations, sports events, and voluntary after-school assemblies. It initially was approved by the Senate education committee on a voice vote but was put before panel members again for a recorded vote, where it passed on a bipartisan 5-to-3 roll call.

A companion bill is expected to be taken up by the House, which approved a similar bill last year.

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