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Finance Reform Found To Up State Contribution

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At least a dozen states have passed major reforms in their school-finance programs in the last five years, often with the result of increasing the share of local school costs borne by state governments, according to an exhaustive new report.

However, in the states that did not pass such reforms, the share of school costs borne by the state declined, according to the two-volume report, "Public School Finance Programs of the United States and Canada, 1993-94."

The report's authors note that revenue growth for K-12 schools has stagnated in the 1990's, growing less than 0.2 percent a year compared with 3 percent increases in the 1980's.

The report spans 790 pages and was produced by the Center for the Study of the States at the State University of New York at Albany and the American Education Finance Association. It details each state's school-finance law and also reports on state limits on school districts' ability to tax residents or spend local money.

Copies of the study are available for $64.50 each from the Center for the Study of the States, Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, 411 State St., Albany, N.Y. 11203-1003; (518) 443-5285.

Reform Alternative

The Democratic chairman of the Pennsylvania House's education committee has introduced a package of education-reform bills as an alternative to Republican Gov. Tom Ridge's plan emphasizing vouchers, charter schools, and school choice.

While one bill in Rep. Ron Newell's package would also allow for the creation of charter schools, it would require that charter sponsors have ties to the communities where they are starting schools and that they obtain district approval. Sponsors rebuffed by districts could seek approval from the state secretary of education, but the bill would limit the number of charters started this way to 10 schools statewide.

Other proposals in the package unveiled by Mr. Newell last month would direct the state secretary of education to propose statewide K-12 academic standards to the state school board by next September, and require districts to implement the standards by September 1997; require school districts to publish annual "report cards" providing information on financial matters, program management, and student achievement; and require districts to set public-school-choice policies. Those policies would give parents greater authority to choose what schools their children attend, as long as space was available.

"While these proposals are different than some of the specifics put forward by the governor, these are issues I feel we could develop some consensus about," said Rep. Newell. "The hangup right now appears to be the Governor's insistence on including vouchers as part of any reform package."

Criminal Checks

Nebraska school officials say instituting criminal-background checks is one of their highest priorities for the legislative session coming up in January, and the state school board voted earlier this month to push a bill requiring fingerprinting and criminal-history checks for school employees.

First-time applicants for a certificate to teach, counsel, or supervise in elementary or secondary schools who have not been residents of Nebraska for five years would have to undergo the checks.

John Clark, a spokesman for the state department of education, said that as states without background checks become a minority, "it leaves them wondering if they will start to attract people who have improper backgrounds."

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