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Carlson Vows Aggressive Fight for Choice Plan in Minn.

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Gov. Arne Carlson of Minnesota last week put the Democratic leaders of the legislature on notice that he would fight aggressively for his proposals to overhaul public education--and force it to compete with private and religious schools.

In his State of the State Address, the Republican governor outlined his plans to loosen teacher-tenure laws, lift state mandates on public schools, and finance programs to turn around inner-city school systems.

But it was Mr. Carlson's controversial school-choice initiative that took top billing in the speech. The governor said he wants to hand out tuition vouchers to low-income families in the state's largest cities, giving them the option to send their children to nonpublic schools.

"With choice, we not only get more freedom, we get more competition," the governor said in his speech, delivered at a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce meeting in Bloomington. "The truth is that competition spurs excellence."

"I pledge today: Minnesota parents will have school choice."

Gov. Carlson has lobbied hard in recent months for a pilot voucher program for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Center, a Twin Cities suburb. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

The city schools--which have come under increasing scrutiny from state officials for their academic failings--were chosen because of their concentration of students whose families receive federal aid. The commissioner of the state's new department of children, families, and learning would also choose one district outside the metropolitan area to participate, according to Mr. Carlson's plan.

Vouchers ranging in value from $500 to $3,000 would be awarded to parents based on their income. A family of four could earn about $41,000 a year and still qualify. Parents with children already attending nonpublic schools would also be eligible.

Unicameral Legislature?

Gov. Carlson said last week that he would not stop with vouchers. He told the legislature that he intends to free the public schools of burdensome laws and regulations, particularly those that keep ineffective teachers in the classroom or require unnecessary paperwork. He did not give details on how he would approach those issues.

In addition, the governor wants lawmakers to set aside money this year for several other education reforms, including:

  • $22 million to pay for computers and other technology for public schools;
  • $20 million to finance new construction or remodeling of schools and community centers for after-school programs, and an additional $5 million for new buildings in six neighborhoods in the Twin Cities;
  • $14 million for a program that would allow parents to set up tax-free savings accounts to pay for college tuition. The first $4,000 they deposited each year would be tax exempt; and,
  • $6 million to create summer jobs for up to 5,000 at-risk youths.

The governor's aggressive posture on education issues was not his only challenge to lawmakers. He said he also plans to take on the legislature itself.

Gov. Carlson said he intends to rid the legislative branch of bloat and excessive spending--first, by proposing a constitutional amendment to combine the House and Senate into a one-house legislature. Nebraska is the only state with such a unicameral system.

The governor added that the cost of operating Minnesota's bicameral legislature--the fifth largest in the nation--has hit the ceiling in the past 20 years. Moreover, both chambers have been "too open to abuse of power, too prone to excessive influence by special interests, too removed from the will and aspirations of the people," Mr. Carlson asserted.

COLORADO

Romer Will Defend Compulsory Attendance

More of Colorado's young people should be in school, not fewer, Gov. Roy Romer says. He has called for an expansion of state-funded preschool programs while declaring his opposition to a bill that would eliminate compulsory education.

The proposal to eliminate the compulsory-schooling law grew out of an effort to re-examine the state's juvenile code. The sponsor of the bill has said the idea is worth debating, and some opponents of compulsory education argue that schools waste too much energy on children who do not want to be in class at the expense of those who do. (See Education Week, Nov. 15, 1995.)

In his Jan. 11 speech to lawmakers, Gov. Romer flatly rejected the idea.

"I will not support ending compulsory education," he said. "And, I challenge you, for the third time in as many years, to create alternative schools for expelled students. We can't throw away kids."

The Democratic governor, who has been a prominent national figure in the education-reform movement, said that during his final term he is focusing on making Colorado "the best place to raise a child."

Mr. Romer is planning a series of summit meetings on child care. He also proposed expanding the state-funded preschool program by 2,000 slots, to 8,500.

The governor also proposed spending $22 million on incentives for schools to lengthen their academic years or provide new programs for students who fall behind academically.

And he called for $10 million in grants to districts to redesign their teacher training programs.

--Mark Walsh

ILLINOIS

Lawmakers Nudged On School Funding

Lawmakers should plan to revamp one of the nation's most inequitable school-finance systems during this year's legislative session, Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois said this month.

The legislature usually limits its work in election years to passing the state budget. But Mr. Edgar said lawmakers can and should to do more this year.

"For decades, our system of funding elementary and secondary education has been under attack, for good reason I believe," the Republican said in his Jan. 10 speech to the legislature. "It is time to squarely address these issues."

The state's school-funding system, which relies largely on local property taxes, allows wide variations between districts. Mr. Edgar pointed out that a wealthy district could spend $10,000 per child each year while a poorer district next to it might be spending $4,000.

Mr. Edgar said lawmakers must find a way to reduce schools' dependence on property taxes. He said he expects a task force he appointed last year to produce recommendations in March that the legislature can work from before it adjourns this summer.

--Lonnie Harp

NEW JERSEY

Whitman Sees Standards As Equity Solution

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey says the route to educational equity in the state is not increased spending, but tough curriculum standards for all students.

In an address to state lawmakers that was short on details, the Republican governor declared that 1996 would be a watershed year for changing the state's education system. New Jersey lawmakers must comply by September with a state supreme court mandate to pass a law eliminating spending differences between the state's richest school districts and 30 "special needs" districts in poor urban and rural areas.

"New Jersey has been going around in circles on this issue for two decades," the governor said in her Jan. 11 speech.

She argued that more money alone is not the answer to creating parity, since some of the highest spenders of New Jersey's more than 600 districts have some of the lowest achievement levels. She also noted that the state has the highest per-pupil spending on education in the nation.

"Obviously, if there was a direct link between spending and learning, New Jersey students would consistently outperform students in classrooms around America," she said. "But they do not."

The heart of her administration's education plan is a set of core curriculum standards now being completed in eight academic areas. The state school board recently received a draft version of the standards.

Once standards are in place, a new finance structure will be built around them. (See Education Week, Dec. 6, 1995.)

"I am asking you today to fundamentally change a system that has not served anyone well," the governor implored.

--Mark Walsh

NEW MEXICO

Reconsider Mandates, Johnson Tells Legislators

Gov. Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico wants the legislature to "reconsider, rewrite, and remove" state mandates on schools in an attempt to turn over more control of education to local officials.

The Republican specifically targeted rules that cap classroom sizes and dictate the number of school nurses and impose requirements on their training. Those are the rules that the governor has heard the most complaints about from educators, particularly those in rural areas, according to the governor's education adviser. Mr. Johnson said last week that he plans to ask the state school board and the education department to scrutinize the 400 pages of state education regulations, too.

"I believe there are two fundamental changes we can make to our education system: transform school governance and make every dollar count," Mr. Johnson said in a speech to a legislature dominated by Democrats.

While requesting less control for the state education department, Gov. Johnson asked for more control for himself. He called on lawmakers to grant him more power over education policy by making all members of the state board gubernatorial appointees. The governor now appoints five of the board's 15 members.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

UTAH

Record Budget Increase Sought for State Schools

Utah should boost its K-12 aid by nearly $190 million, an increase that would be the largest in the state's history, Gov. Michael O. Leavitt has urged.

Calling the Utah schools a "treasure," Mr. Leavitt, a Republican, said last week in his State of the State Address that he would target the bulk of the new money to reducing class sizes and improving student reading skills.

"With this budget, most 1st graders will be in a class of 18," he said. "A 1st-grade teacher with 18 students rather than 30 can get those squirming 6-year-olds off to a better start. I've seen it."

Under the governor's budget plan, state aid to schools would reach almost $1.9 billion, an increase of 9 percent. Mr. Leavitt said the state's booming economy has left the state with a tax surplus.

The state school board had asked for an 11 percent increase, and lawmakers in recent years have approved boosts of about 7 percent.

--Drew Lindsay

WEST VIRGINIA

Exiting Caperton Wants School-to-Work Focus

Delivering his eighth and final State of the State Address, Gov. Gaston Caperton of West Virginia cited a commitment to education and job development as the "cornerstone" of his administration.

He pledged to further build on that commitment by launching a school-to-work effort. He asked lawmakers for $6.8 million for a computer-training program for students in 7th through 12th grades.

"In West Virginia we realize that education is the best economic tool we have--an investment worth making," he said in the Jan. 10 remarks.

Mr. Caperton's budget also included $10 million to complete an elementary school computer-training program and pay raises for educators--$500 per year for teachers and $300 annually for noncertified employees.

--Jeanne Ponessa

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