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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Vt. Court To Rule on Merits of School Finance Trial

The Vermont Supreme Court agreed this month to hold a hearing to decide whether a case revamping the states education-funding system should go to trial. Both parties appealed to the high court after a superior court judge ruled that the case could not be brought to trial on all grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont asserts in the case that the finance system is unconstitutional because the state's system of relying on local property taxes creates inequities in the classroom.

"We want to make an even playing field for children," said Leslie Williams, the director of the state ACLU.

Bill Reedy, a legal counsel for the Vermont education department, agreed that inequities exist. But he argued that state lawmakers, not the courts, must remedy the problem.

"This is a matter that is the legislature's to resolve," he said.

A hearing date has not been scheduled.

N.Y. Comptroller Endorses Property Taxes

The property tax, while objectionable, is the only logical way to pay for education in New York state, but that doesn't mean the school finance formula can't be improved, according to state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

He issued a report on school funding after holding six public forums around the state.

Instead of redistributing tax revenue from wealthy districts to poorer ones, state aid to poor districts should gradually increase over time, the report says. But reform of the entire state budget process would be necessary to achieve that goal.

The funding formula should also be simplified and structured more like "block grants" to local districts, providing more flexibility and incentives for being thrifty, the report says.

The current system actually encourages spending, according to Mr. McCall, because districts are reimbursed by the state. The focus instead should be on educational standards. If districts meet their goals, the report argues, they should be able to use their state aid any way they wish--even to provide tax relief.

Districts that don't meet the standards should target any extra money toward improving their programs, the report concludes.

Flier Aimed at Ga. Parents Includes Sylvan

Georgia parents found more than just grades in their children's report cards recently. A child-abuse-prevention flier, timed to arrive at a time when some parents are angry about their children's performance in school, also included an advertisement for a private tutoring company. Principals had been instructed to send the fliers home with students in a letter signed by state Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko.

Produced by the Georgia Council on Child Abuse, a nonprofit abuse-prevention organization, the one-page sheet offers parents and children tips for handling report card discussions. The flier also bore the logo of Sylvan Learning Centers and included information on the for-profit tutoring company.

While the schools chief supports the concept of the flier, according to department spokesman Pat Sandor, Ms. Schrenko does not endorse Sylvan Learning. The council has since revised the flier, which has a new, anonymous corporate sponsor.

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