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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.D. Tables State Tax-Shift Plan

A proposal to raise North Dakotas income tax rate in order to roll back local property taxes has been rejected by a legislative committee.

But supporters of the school funding idea still intend to press it when the next legislative session begins in January.

"It was a setback, but really it wasn't, because we're still going to have our idea heard in the session," said Wade Moser, the executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockman's Association, which made the proposal.

Under the plan, the state income tax rate, which is based on a percentage of a person's federal tax liability, would increase from 14 percent to 22 percent. An alternative proposal based on an individual's taxable income would raise the tax rate from 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent.

Computer Talk Opens in Mich.

n Democrats in the Michigan legislature have proposed spending $25 million of the state's take from casinos to put computers in elementary schools.

Under the plan introduced by Sen. Gary Peters, school districts would apply for grants as part of a plan to provide one computer for every five students in grades K-4. Twenty percent of the money would be spent on teacher training and software.

But John Truscott, the press secretary for Gov. John Engler, a Republican, said the casino money--known as the Michigan Renaissance Fund--can be used only for economic development. School districts could issue bonds to pay for technology, he said.

An aide to Mr. Peters said backers of the bill are playing up the economic impact of their plan--namely that it would improve the prospective job skills of children. Michigan ranked 44th among the states in the number of school computers per student, according to a 1995 U.S. General Accounting Office report.

Mr. Peters, the aide said, hopes the bill will "kick start" an influx of classroom computers statewide.

New Evaluations in N.J. Sought

Some business, school, and political leaders in New Jersey are pushing to revamp the way schools are monitored in the state.

Led by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, the group last month unveiled an evaluation system it would like districts to adopt. Two districts have already applied for a state waiver to pilot the new approach in their schools.

Under the state's current system, schools are monitored by outside evaluators every seven years. The proposed plan would enlist local leaders to evaluate each school annually. These school-based monitoring teams would be composed of students as well as school, business, and community leaders. They would also evaluate schools based on expanded criteria. In addition to test scores, the coalition recommends assessing student, parent, and industry satisfaction with each school, for example.

"This is about thinking of a student as a customer and assessing progress of the school according to that," said Debra Bradley, the director of government relations for the administrators' group. If the programs work, she added, the coalition plans to recommend the system to replace the current school-evaluation process.

Ala. Boards Seek To Stop Cuts

The Alabama Association of School Boards plans to ask a state judge to declare K-12 education an essential function of state government.

If successful, the request would make state appropriations to local school boards exempt from "proration," or emergency midyear budget cuts.

Association officials said they are worried that the state may have overestimated revenue growth for fiscal 1997, which began this month, and be unable to meet its budget. Proration has occurred frequently in Alabama in recent years.

The school boards' association also wants to see the legislature adopt a bill that would create a state revenue-forecasting commission. That panel would make revenue projections that would be binding on the legislature, said Susan Hurst Rountree, the public relations director for the group.

Because state law prohibits cutting teacher salaries during a contract year, school boards hit with prorated aid from the state often must slash spending on other budget items such as maintenance.

Ga. Home-Schoolers Seek HOPE

Some Georgia legislators want to make it easier for home-school students to take advantage of the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program, and Gov. Zell Miller will likely address the issue when the next legislative session begins in January.

The scholarship program allows students who maintain a B average to attend a Georgia state college without paying tuition. Home-school students are ineligible because they don't have high school transcripts to prove their grades.

The state board of regents is also trying to make it easier for home-school students to gain admission to state colleges. Currently, because they do not have required credits, such students are considered "seriously deficient" and are required to obtain a General Educational Development credential and take remedial courses even if they're high-achieving, said Vice Chancellor Barry Fullerton.

"We recognize that a lot of these kids are very bright," Mr. Fullerton said. "The problem was that we had no way of measuring their proficiency."

A regents' task force that is reviewing and raising admission standards for all students recommended that home-school students take the SAT and its related subject-area tests. The new policy takes effect next fall.

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