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Conn., Pa. Governors Renew Push for Vouchers

Gov. John G. Rowland has appointed a 16-member task force to design a school-choice plan for Connecticut that would include public and private schools.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will make a second effort to enact legislation providing private school tuition vouchers, but will scale back his proposal from a statewide initiative to a demonstration program.

Gov. Rowland, a Republican and a longtime advocate of vouchers, is also making his second attempt to win support for the concept. A bill that would have given poor families state money to send their children to the schools of their choice failed in the legislature last year.

The Connecticut governor named officials from public, private, and independent schools to the task force, which is expected to make its recommendations for a choice system within three months. State Reps. Paul Knierim, a Republican, and Reginald Beamon, a Democrat, are co-chairmen of the panel.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Ridge last week announced a new education plan that seeks state-funded tuition grants of up to $1,500 for students from low-income families in poorer areas of the state such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Altoona, and Erie.

Parents could use the grants to pay tuition at any private school or at an out-of-district public school.

The Republican governor's new plan also would repeal school mandates and create charter schools, provisions that were included in his earlier plan, which died in the legislature last summer.

House Democrats have introduced an alternative education-reform package that includes charter school legislation and a bill to finance tuition vouchers for parents who choose to send their children to public schools outside their home districts.

Abolish Tenure?

Virginia's state schools superintendent, William C. Bosher, has proposed abolishing tenure for the state's public school teachers and instead offering them three- to five-year contracts, with renewal dependent on student achievement.

Mr. Bosher, who issued his proposal to the state board of education last month, said short-term contracts would provide a tool to motivate "marginal teachers."

"If we create an assumption that performance as teachers is based on the achievement of young people, it'll cause the adrenalin to flow," he said.

But Robley S. Jones, the president of the Virginia Education Association, said the proposal makes teachers scapegoats for educational failures they often cannot control, and would leave them vulnerable to arbitrary dismissal.

Under current Virginia law, new teachers work under probation for the first three years of their employment. Following a satisfactory evaluation, they are retained each year unless there is sufficient cause to discharge them.

Mr. Bosher said he expects the state board to decide by next month whether to support legislation to change the teacher-tenure system.

Taxing Problem

The Kansas legislature may meet this month in its first special session in eight years in order to forestall a possible delay in collecting property-tax revenue for schools.

A September ruling by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development held that federal law requires lenders that handle home-mortgage loans backed by HUD to make property-tax payments twice a year, instead of annually, as is now the usual practice in Kansas.

That means school districts will collect only half the property taxes owed by homeowners who have such loans in late December, and will have to wait for the balance until next June. Currently, Kansas collects all the tax money in December and distributes it in January.

The legislature could solve the schools' problem by imposing a penalty on taxpayers who pay their property taxes in installments.

In states that impose such penalties, the federal rules allow annual payments.

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