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Maine Supreme Court Backs Budget Cuts

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Maine's highest court has rejected a lawsuit by 83 school districts that sought to overturn cuts in the state's 1992 education budget.

Because their tax bases provide less revenue than in wealthier districts, the plaintiffs argued that the budget cuts hit them harder than other districts. They argued that their right to equal educational opportunities had been violated.

But the state supreme court ruled this month that the districts have no constitutional right to a set level of state money or a particular funding method, and that the amount of state money schools get is a legislative issue.

Robert E. Mittel, the lawyer for the districts, said the cuts are leading to larger classes and fewer programs and teachers in his clients' schools.

"It's getting awful, and something better be done about it," he said.

Gov. Angus King and state legislators have spent several weeks negotiating a new formula for state education funding.

A plan was expected by the close of the legislative session on June 21.

Finance Trial Ordered: The top court in New York State last week ordered that a school-finance lawsuit filed by New York City education advocates should go to trial.

In overturning a lower court's dismissal of the suit, the high court, known as the court of appeals, cited plaintiff's evidence that the state's school-aid formula discriminates against minorities and does not provide some city schoolchildren an adequate education.

While reviving the New York City funding case, the court dismissed a funding suit filed by Long Island plaintiffs. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

Teachers Exempted From Test: Tennessee officials say they will wait a year before using new state test scores to gauge teacher performance.

The state has been using a "value added" analysis of scores from the three-year-old Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program to judge improvement at the school level. The analysis was the basis for handing out reward checks to improving schools last fall. The test is also being used this year to decide which schools need help because of declining performance.

But a plan to compile student scores for each teacher will be put off until 1996 because of questions about the validity of the tests. In a recent audit, the state comptroller recommended an outside evaluation of the test's ability to measure teacher performance.

Eventually, the state still plans to use the confidential teacher-by-teacher scores as a part of performance evaluations, officials said.

Equity Bill Dies of Gridlock: A proposal by Gov. Stephen Merrill of New Hampshire to target more funds to the state's poorest school districts died as the legislature entered its final days.

The proposal fell victim to legislative gridlock as conferees from the House and Senate could not agree on whether to use the current funding formula or a new one. The issue lingered beyond the deadline for disposing of all nonbudget bills.

The Republican Governor's plan had already faced resistance from lawmakers. The Senate passed a bill that would allow communities to choose between the current formula and the Governor's plan. The House bill would have kept the current formula for most districts, using the Governor's proposed formula but targeting even fewer poor districts than Mr. Merrill suggested.

State officials are under the pressure of a unanimous 1994 decision by the state supreme court to take over a larger share of school funding. (See Education Week, 1/12/94.)

The current formula will stand until lawmakers take up the issue again, possibly next year, said Rep. Nils H. Larson Jr., chairman of the House education committee.

Due to the delays in resolving the school-funding formula issue, lawmakers never got to discuss the state's entry into the multistate Powerball lottery. The lottery was expected to bring the state $2 million to $6 million in the first year--funds that would go toward schools, Representative Larson said. But officials are still searching for ways to join the lottery with or without lawmakers' approval, he said.

Conn. Keeps Federal Aid: Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut is expected to sign a bill that would maintain the state's participation in a federal program for disabled infants and toddlers that he has strongly opposed.

The Governor earlier in the year had proposed eliminating the guarantee of providing social, educational, and health services to all disabled children from they time they are born until their third birthdays.

He also had proposed pulling out of the federal program--known as "Part H" of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act--that grants states seed money to help provide services. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

The Governor had argued that the federal program had too many strings attached and not enough accompanying dollars.

All states currently participate in the program; Connecticut would have been the first to pull out of Part H. The legislature rejected both of the Governor's proposals and instead passed a bill that seeks to control program costs.

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