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Wash. Schools Chief Isn't Running for Congress

Washington state schools Superintendent Judith A. Billings said this month that she will not run for Congress. Ms. Billings, a Democrat, had contemplated a challenge for Republican Rep. Randy Tate's seat in the U.S. House.

She cited family concerns and her health as the primary reasons. In January, Ms. Billings announced she was infected with the AIDS virus and would not run for a third term as superintendent.

Ms. Billings, 56, contracted HIV in the 1980s while undergoing artificial insemination. She became pregnant twice but suffered miscarriages both times.

She now plans to write a book about her life and to become an active spokeswoman on AIDS issues. She has already visited school assemblies to talk about AIDS and share her experiences, and has also helped raise funds for the Northwest AIDS Foundation in Seattle.

Ark. Schools on Notice

Thirteen of Arkansas' 311 school districts have until the beginning of the next school year to draft improvement plans or face possible takeover by the state department of education.

The warnings are the first issued under a 1995 state law aimed at improving financially or academically distressed districts. The education department notified the districts late last month after finding that at least 40 percent of their students scored below the 25th percentile on state tests given to 5th, 7th, and 10th graders.

"By working closely together, we are in a better position to ensure that the students in these districts will have a sound, quality education," Frank Anthony, the department's assistant director for technical assistance, said in a statement.

Under the new law, the education department will send teams of educators to assist in districts that fail to implement adequate improvement plans. Where problems persist, the state can remove a district's superintendent and school board members.

Rising From the Ashes?

A top legislative leader in New Jersey has proposed amending the state constitution to create a special school-facilities fund paid for by raising the tax on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack.

The proposal by Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, a Republican, calls for selling $1 billion in bonds to finance a range of school building projects. Half the money would be reserved for the poorest 113 of the state's roughly 600 school systems.

The bonds would pay for grants covering 25 percent of the cost of capital projects, which could range from creating new charter schools to modernizing classrooms to accommodate computers.

Of the estimated $135 million a year that would come from increasing the cigarette tax from 40 to 65 cents a pack, $75 million would pay debt service on the bonds. Most of the remainder would subsidize existing school-construction debts.

The proposed constitutional amendment must pass both chambers of the legislature by a three-fifths majority to be placed on the November ballot. Two Assembly committees plan to take it up this month.

Never Mind

An Ohio lawmaker who wanted to use $500,000 in public money to help renovate a historic Roman Catholic school has now asked that his request be denied.

Rep. Richard A. Hodges, a Republican, asked Gov. George V. Voinovich to use his line-item veto to delete the appropriation from a capital-construction bill sent to the governor earlier this month.

The request stemmed from concerns by the state education department about the constitutionality of using tax dollars to renovate a religious school, Rep. Hodges explained in a statement.

The cost of remodeling the 80-year-old school is estimated at $1 million. Located 30 miles west of Toledo, Holy Trinity School serves 150 K-8 students.

"We don't think this use of tax money would meet the constitutional test," Paul Marshall, a department spokesman said.

Mr. Voinovich, a Republican, said he will consider the veto request.

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