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New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman has signed a bill authorizing charter schools, making her state the 20th in the nation to join the charter trend.

The new law authorizes up to 135 charter schools throughout the state over the next four years. The state commissioner of education is to grant the charters.

Parents, teachers, colleges, and private firms can apply for charters, although private entities may not keep any profits from running the schools. Existing public schools can become charter schools if 51 percent of parents and teachers support the change.

School districts will provide 90 percent of the regular per-pupil funding for each child attending a charter school in the district.

Lobbying by teachers' unions led to an amendment requiring that teachers in public schools converted to charter status remain members of their bargaining units. The law also requires that all teachers and support personnel in charter schools hold the appropriate state certification.

The legislature debated various versions of the bill for months. The Senate passed the final version last month by a vote of 27-10. The Assembly gave its approval earlier this month by a 66-8 vote.

In signing the bill on Jan. 11, she said the measure is "exactly the sort of fundamental change we need."

California Bonds: Gov. Pete Wilson has signed legislation to put a $3 billion school-construction bond issue before California voters in March.

If approved, the bond sale would generate more than $2 billion for repair and construction of K-12 facilities, with the remaining proceeds targeted for higher-education buildings. State estimates put the current capital needs of California's elementary and secondary schools at about $11 billion.

The state had traditionally passed a school-construction bond issue every two years, but voters and lawmakers have not agreed on one since 1992.

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