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Nev. Lawmakers, Voters May Face Voucher Plan

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A Nevada parents' group has filed an initiative petition that aims to put a school-choice plan that includes private schools before the legislature.

The proposal by the Alliance for Children's Educational Excellence would give parents $2,750 in state funds--75 percent of per-pupil state school aid--to enroll a child in a private school.

According to a news release from the organization, participating private schools would have to "meet state educational guidelines, be open to all students, and not use public funds for religious education." Lezlie Porter, the vice president of the alliance, said schools that provided religious instruction during the school day would be barred, as the state constitution bans public aid for religious education.

The initiative would also allow parents to send their children to any public school in the state if space were available.

The group has until Nov. 10 to collect 39,000 signatures in order to bring the initiative before state lawmakers, Ms. Porter said. If the initiative failed to win approval in the legislature next year, it would go before Nevada voters.

Rowland Backs Choice

Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut has renewed his call for a state-wide school-choice program, but offered few details on his proposal.

The Republican governor said in his annual speech to lawmakers this month that he wants a plan that appeals to both the state's Democratic-controlled House and GOP-run Senate. He said any bill must also increase opportunities for all children in the state. A bipartisan panel appointed by the governor has been studying school-choice options since October.

In addition, the governor said he is asking state officials to start withholding state-assistance checks from parents whose children do not show up for school.

"It's time to demand some real accountability and individual responsibility," Mr. Rowland said.

Charter Plan Defeated

The Indiana Senate has narrowly defeated legislation that would have allowed the state to create charter schools.

The lawmakers voted 25-24 in favor of the bill on Feb. 5, but 26 votes--a majority of the 50 senators--were required to pass it. The one senator who did not vote opposes the measure.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Teresa Lubbers, would have allowed an unlimited number of charter schools, subject to the approval of local school boards.

The vote marks the second defeat for charter school legislation in Indiana. A similar bill died in a Senate-House conference committee last year.

Charter Debate Renewed

The Illinois House recently revived a charter school bill that died at the end of last year's legislative session, but it still includes the provisions that left it in limbo last spring.

The House approved a bill that was passed unanimously by the Senate last May. But the lawmakers added an amendment that would require charter schools to allow teachers to take leaves of absence without losing their jobs--virtually the same provision that caused last year's deadlock when it was rejected by senators.

The House voted 82-31 on Feb. 7 to pass the bill, which would permit up to 45 charter schools in Illinois, split evenly between Chicago, its adjacent counties, and downstate districts. Charter schools, legal in 20 states, grant state aid to schools that operate outside most state regulations.

The Senate had taken no action on the bill last week.

Crossing-Guard Liability

School districts and their crossing guards would be shielded from legal liability for most traffic-related student injuries under a bill passed by the Colorado Senate this month.

The legislation, which was sent to the House after a 32-3 vote, would grant districts and their crossing guards immunity from civil liability except when damages or injuries were "caused by willful and wanton acts or omissions."

Al Meiklejohn, the chairman of the Senate education committee and the bill's sponsor, said that many localities do not hire crossing guards because of liability concerns. Also, people who volunteer to be crossing guards often balk when they learn that they can be sued if a child is injured in their crosswalk.

"It's hard to get an honest man or woman who is willing to take on this risk," Mr. Meiklejohn said.

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