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Neb. Judge Splits Up Tax Vote

A Nebraska judge has upheld the decision to split a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that intended to limit property taxes and compel lawmakers to boost state funding for schools.

Drafted by a coalition including the Nebraska State Education Association and the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the proposal would set new statewide caps on property taxes. The teachers' union supported the measure out of fear that more drastic cuts to education funding might be on the way. ("Neb. Lawmakers Back New Caps on Property Taxes," April 17, 1996.)

The coalition hoped to make sure the state would make up for lost property taxes by adding a declaration that providing an education is the "paramount" duty of the state.

But in drafting the Nov. 5 ballot, the state attorney general split the two questions, prompting the amendment's supporters to file suit. A district court judge, however, ruled that the two issues had no "natural and necessary connection."

Ala. Officials Upgrade Exit Test

The Alabama state school board has voted to make its statewide graduation examination tougher.

The current high school exit test measures student knowledge at about an 8th-grade level, state officials said. The new test will be set at an 11th-grade level. The class of 2000--this year's 9th graders--will be the first to have to take the new test as juniors and, if they don't pass, again as seniors.

The board also made other changes to increase expectations for students. It made mandatory a kindergarten test that had been optional and added three subjects to the Stanford Achievement Test now administered statewide.

Meanwhile, the board will not go through the paperwork necessary to accept $1.6 million in 1994-95 money from the federal Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Instead, the state is applying to get $5.9 million in 1995-96 Goals 2000 funding it had missed out on because of an earlier board vote--since reversed--turning down the school-improvement money.

Texans Sue Over Technology Aid

Seventy-five Texas school districts sued the state school board in state district court this month, hoping to force the board to give them millions of dollars in extra funding lawmakers appropriated for technology. The districts claim they are due the money under the state education code approved by the legislature last year.

Since 1992, the state budget has included $30 per student annually for technology and training. Last year, lawmakers directed that the technology allotment be drawn from the proceeds of a perpetual school fund. That fund's annual income purchases the state's textbooks; leftover funds are distributed among all Texas districts.

After unusually low spending on textbooks last year, the districts argue that the state must disburse $55 per student for technology in 1995-96. That could mean an extra $5 million for the Houston school district alone, said Randall S. "Buck" Wood, the Austin lawyer for the districts.

If the money were not earmarked for technology, the state could reduce general school funding by an equal amount, state officials agree.

David Anderson, the chief counsel for the Texas Education Agency, said that the legislature never intended the technology distribution to be so large and that the lawsuit is based on "a drafting glitch" in the law.

Pointing to the state's current $2.4 billion budget surplus, Mr. Wood replied that in recent years "practically any advance in educational funding has come through either litigation or the threat of litigation."

The state will file a reply to the lawsuit next month.

Ark. Mulls Governance Plan

Arkansas officials are reviewing a plan to combine the state's separate bureaucracies for general and vocational education.

The state school board will hold public hearings this fall on a plan to do away with the dual structure. The hearings will gauge public support for the merger before the board recommends changes to the legislature, board Chairman James McLarty said.

"There is a growing consensus that this is an issue that deserves to be on the table," Mr. McLarty said. "This was probably the strongest indication of support."

Arkansas split its general- and vocational-education systems into separate divisions in 1981 and established two boards composed of the same 12 members to oversee each, he said.

The most likely solution will be to create one agency with divisions for general and vocational education, he added.

Any changes must be made by the legislature, which convenes its two-month session in January.

Ky. Audit Shows Better Scoring

An audit of teachers who score Kentucky's writing portfolios shows that scoring accuracy has improved on the pioneering tests.

Trained, independent scorers reviewed nearly 6,600 writing tests and agreed with teachers' scores on nearly three of four tests, an improvement over the last audit, conducted three years ago.

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