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State Journal: Informational issues

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Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice has charged that a Hattiesburg superintendent improperly used public funds to distribute a critical analysis of the governor's education ballot initiative. The educator contends that Mr. Fordice--a Republican who is up for re-election this year--singled him out to intimidate colleagues.

The ballot proposal would allow schools to govern themselves independent of school districts. Although the deadline recently passed for qualifying such measures for the 1996 ballot, supporters could try again to obtain the requisite signatures.

Hattiesburg Superintendent Gordon Walker said he spent $459 of the district's money to print 1,200 copies of a booklet that was sent to all of the state's superintendents and school board chairmen by the Mississippi Schools Boards Association. He described it as a "nonpolitical analysis" of the initiative.

"It is the responsibility of local educational leadership to provide information to our employees, patrons, and constituents about anything that is either a threat to education or that is good for education," Mr. Walker said.

He estimated that about a third of the state's superintendents had distributed the material. He said the state auditor's office and the district's lawyer had deemed it a legal use of public funds, and suggested that the controversy was generated to discourage others from distributing it.

But Jeanne Forrester, Gov. Fordice's education adviser, said the governor's office had received complaints about the booklet from parents and teachers, including one teacher who said it had been stapled to her paycheck.

The chairman of Alabama's House ways and means committee is looking for some expert advice on children's issues. Rep. Bill Fuller plans to have his committee, which oversees the budget process, hear testimony from children at most of its hearings.

"The children of our state are obviously our strongest and largest moral and spiritual commitment," Mr. Fuller, the father of a 5-year-old, said last week. "We've allowed children's voices to be sort of swept aside."

Mr. Fuller hopes to focus the panel's attention on health care, juvenile justice, and education. He said he was eager to hear the views of children who have been through the probation process and children's views on the long legal battle to make funding of Alabama's schools more equitable.

A child's opinion, Mr. Fuller said, "can be a real eye-opening sort of point of view."

--Meg Sommerfeld & Millicent Lawton

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