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Okla. Governor Proposes Bonus-Pay Program for Teachers

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Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma last week proposed a nearly $11 million bonus-pay program for teachers in the state's fastest-improving schools.

The $10.9 million incentive program would reward teachers in the 20 percent of schools that improved the most over two to three years, Gov. Keating said in his State of the State Address. Of Oklahoma's 1,800 elementary and secondary schools, teachers in about 360 would get bonuses ranging from $500 to $4,000.

The biggest bonuses, $2,000 and above, would go to teachers in the top 4 percent of schools. A teacher would receive the maximum bonus if she had more than 15 years of experience.

Details of the bonus plan have not yet been worked out, said Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for the governor. He said the state would use standardized-test scores and possibly other factors such as dropout rates to determine which schools were improving the most.

In his speech to a legislature controlled by Democrats, the Republican governor also said he wanted to see $101 million in new funding for K-12 education this year, $47.5 million of which would go toward improving per-pupil funding for growing school districts. Oklahoma budgets about $1.4 billion for K-12 education each year.

The increase in per-pupil money would go to the districts with growing student enrollments that have historically depended on so-called "midterm adjustment" payments to supplement state aid. No such payments were made last year because of a political battle between Mr. Keating and state legislators. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1995.)

The governor also proposed spending $40 million to shore up the state's teacher-retirement pension system.

PENNSYLVANIA

Ridge Won't Promote Vouchers This Year

Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania pledged last week to commit $121 million over the next three years to link the state's classrooms to computer networks.

"If today's students are to be tomorrow's workers, they need a first-hand foundation in technology," Mr. Ridge argued in his annual speech on his spending priorities. He quoted an electronic-mail message he received from a Pennsylvania elementary school student praising the merits of technology in schools.

"We could see things that otherwise would be impossible to bring into our classroom," opined the student, Erin O'Brien, a 5th grader at Grace Park Elementary School in Delaware County.

Gov. Ridge said he was not asking lawmakers for more money for schools. Instead, he suggested that Pennsylvania could provide millions of extra dollars in education aid by eliminating unnecessary mandates, such as sabbaticals for teachers, a requirement that he said costs the state $225 million each year.

Mr. Ridge also conceded that he would not push a new version of his plan to give vouchers to children from poor families to help them attend private schools. Facing a split House in an election year for lawmakers, the first-term Republican decided not to push the touchy issue.

"For me, one of the most difficult decisions in the budget was to not include the line item for educational-opportunity grants," he said.

Earlier this year, the legislature rejected an 11th-hour bid to revive the $38.5 million pilot voucher program the governor proposed last spring. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1996)

But the governor suggested he had not completely abandoned hope on vouchers. "I will continue to make my case to Pennsylvanians," he said. "In other words, I'll be back."

--Meg Sommerfeld

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