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N.J. Lawmakers Win Three-Month Finance Reprieve

New Jersey policymakers got a three-month extension last week when the state's highest court extended the deadline for revamping the state's unconstitutional school-funding formula.

In a 1994 ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court had given Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and the legislature until this month to come up with a plan to equalize spending in poor and wealthy school districts by next fall. Since July, lawmakers have indicated that they probably could not pass a bill by the Setember deadline.

The extension until Dec. 31 came as the high court denied a request by the plaintiffs in the 15-year funding saga. The plaintiffs asked the court to order the state to boost funding for poor urban schools this year by $141 million. While denying the request, the justices reserved the right to reverse their position if the new deadline is not met.

Colo. Schools Chief To Retire at Year's End

William T. Randall, Colorado's commissioner of education for the past nine years, announced last week that he will resign at the end of this year.

Mr. Randall, 65, served as a local superintendent in Arizona and as a teacher and principal in Washington state before taking the chief's job in Colorado. He also worked for a year as the education adviser to former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona.

Officials in Colorado said last week that the state school board will wait until early next year to launch a search to fill the $120,500-a-year job. The board has tapped Deputy Commissioner Richard Laughlin to serve as acting commissioner after Mr. Randall's departure.

Idaho Board Opens Debate on Streamlined Rules

The Idaho state school board has opened a series of hearings to plan major revisions of the state's public school rules.

The legislature voted in 1994 to trim 1,500 regulations to 378 by getting rid of unnecessary policies as well as assigning more decisions to local school officials. Some of the changes include giving local school boards more control over the classes they offer and dropping high school requirements for physical education, health, and humanities.

Some of the issues raised at the Sept. 3 hearing, the first of seven planned discussions, ran into immediate opposition from teachers.

The Idaho Education Association opposes a change that would allow "private-sector experts" to teach in school without going through the teacher-certification process.

Monica Beaudoin, the president of the IEA, said that practice would lower teacher standards. "To teach and teach successfully requires immense preparation," she said.

After the hearings, the state board will consider a final version of the streamlined school rules, according to an education department spokesman.

Wyo. Computer-Counting Project Not So Simple

An assessment of the technology needs of students in Wyoming public schools is being hampered by contradictory information on the number and capabilities of computers there, the co-chairman of a legislative subcommittee says.

Rep. Les Bowron, a Republican, said the state is "exploring from scratch the use of technology" as part of a court-ordered overhaul of the education funding system. Last fall, the Wyoming Supreme Court ordered the state to define and create a new, equitable school funding system by July 1, 1997.

Mr. Bowron said that "as a baseline" the panel has decided the state ought to give access to telecommunications technology to every high school by 1999 and provide one computer for every 15 students in every K-12 classroom by 2001.

But no one is sure how distant that goal is. A survey by the Wyoming education department last year concluded that only four school districts have computers that can be linked by modern computer networks. Yet a survey of individual schools this summer by the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory in Portland, Ore., found that more than than half of the responding schools had computers that could be networked and that many more schools intended to install networks by the end of the 1996-97 school year.

The education department plans another survey this fall to resolve the discrepancy. Once definitive school-technology data are available, the legislature will have to face a more difficult question: how to pay for upgrading that technology.

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