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The new chairman of the Massachusetts state school board says that having a student representative on the panel "was as much nonsense as a pediatrician asking an infant what medicine is best."

Boston University President John R. Silber would like to pare the board from 17 members to nine. And he thinks a good place to start would be dumping its student member. Former Gov. Francis W. Sargent began the practice of naming a student to the board in 1971, making Massachusetts the first state to do so. Three others have also adopted the practice.

While Mr. Silber criticized the policy before the legislature's joint committee on education last month, hundreds of students protested at the Statehouse.

"You look at them, children eat all kinds of things that are directly contrary to their health," Mr. Silber told the panel. "You might say to them, 'Don't you think you shouldn't eat that,' and they say, 'Yeah, but I like it.' "

One-upmanship

Virginia Democrats, who hold a majority in the state House and share power in the Senate with Republicans, campaigned successfully last fall on a platform of higher funding for education, criticizing Republican Gov. George F. Allen Jr.'s proposals to curb spending last year.

But last week, J. Scott Leake, the staff director of the Joint Republican Caucus, charged that Democrats have failed to keep their promises, while Gov. Allen's $3 billion budget proposes a significant hike in K-12 spending. He said Democrats vowed to allot $65 million over two years to lower class sizes in grades K-3, while the budget approved by the House would appropriate only $16 million over two years.

"We went through the budget line by line, and in instance after instance it falls short of what they promised," Mr. Leake said.

Democrats say they are still the true education champions.

"I don't think we've backed off at all," said J. Paul Councill, the Democratic chairman of the House education panel. The House approved spending $24 million more on public schools than Gov. Allen proposed, he said.

"I hope this spirit of 'Let's see who can do the most for education' continues," said Robley S. Jones, the president of the Virginia Education Association, the state's major teachers' union.

--Cheryl Gamble & Jessica Portner

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