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Alaska Bill Would Revamp Teacher-Tenure Law

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The Alaska legislature has cleared a bill that would overhaul the state's teacher-evaluation procedures, granting more authority to local school districts.

The measure, which Gov. Tony Knowles is still reviewing, would replace the state's teacher-competency evaluation system with a law allowing districts to come up with their own systems. Opponents and supporters of the bill agree that it would make it easier for schools to fire teachers with poor performance reviews.

The Republican legislature fought off efforts by Democrats to soften the bill. Observers expect Gov. Knowles, a Democrat, to sign it, but they note that he vetoed a bill aimed at revamping teacher tenure last year.

Standards Approved

The New Jersey state school board last week adopted the state's first-ever set of academic standards, a move that was a key first step in Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's effort to revamp the state's school finance program.

The 56 standards, which cover seven subjects, spell out what children in the state's schools should know and be able to do from kindergarten through high school. The governor hopes to use the standards to define the elements of a "thorough" education and pass a school-funding bill based on the standards. (See Education Week, May 1, 1996.)

Lawmakers, however, have expressed interest in having a say in the standards as they debate the school-funding system. The state is under a court order to adopt a new funding system by September. The standards do not require legislative approval to take effect.

Construction Aid

The Vermont legislature was poised last week to approve a new school-construction-aid package that would limit the assistance provided to wealthier towns.

The plan contains a sliding scale for the amount of construction aid given to towns up front, according to Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, the chairman of the Senate institutions committee. The state contribution would range from zero in the wealthiest towns to 30 percent for the poorest towns. The state would also pay between zero and 64 percent of debt-service costs.

A conference committee agreed to the plan last week; the full legislature was expected to give it final approval late in the week.

State legislators had decided that Vermont could no longer afford its traditionally generous aid for school construction. The previous school-construction law had guaranteed that the state would pay up to 50 percent of the cost of any approved construction project and 70 percent of debt-service costs.

A repeal of that formula went into effect in March. (See Education Week, Feb. 28, 1996.)

Snow Days Vetoed

A few northern Michigan districts got some disappointing news last month.

They thought the state was going to allow them three extra snow days this year. But Gov. John Engler used his line-item veto to reject the plan.

Michigan school districts are allowed two snow days during the 180-day school year. But freezing temperatures and record snowfalls this year kept schools in some districts closed for eight days or more.

The vetoed provision, an amendment to an education-appropriations bill, would have granted several northern districts a total of five snow days. Some of them will now have to extend the school year to make up the lost time.

The governor vetoed the measure because he believes time in the classroom is important, said Jeff McAlvey, Mr. Engler's legislative director.

"The state is paying for 180 days of instruction, and the taxpayers expect to see their investment," Mr. McAlvey said.

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