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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.J. Lawmakers Move Finance Bill

With a court-imposed deadline to revamp New Jerseys school finance system six weeks away, a committee last week approved a substantially modified version of the governors proposed funding plan.

The bill approved by the Senate education committee preserves much of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's basic blueprint, which links school spending to new curriculum standards.

But it responds to critics of the Republican governor's plan by changing provisions on items ranging from special education to spending caps.

Among the changes, districts with budgets over a state-prescribed limit would not be singled out for having to seek voter approval, as they would have under the governor's plan. Such districts would face new spending caps, however.

Overall, the Senate bill would raise education spending by $260 million, compared with $235 million under the governor's plan, and reduce the number of districts facing cuts in aid.

The Senate budget panel gets the bill next. The state supreme court ordered a plan by year's end.

Ga. State School Board Regroups

In their first session since Gov. Zell Miller asked the entire Georgia state school board to resign, the eight remaining members met Nov. 14 to act on a stricter attendance policy.

Despite being asked not to do so by state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko, the board also called a special meeting for Dec. 19 to take a final vote on the policy, which increases from 21 to 24 the number of units a student needs to graduate with a college preparatory diploma and sets at 12 the maximum number of absences allowed to pass a course.

Ms. Schrenko did not attend the board meeting because she was recovering from neck surgery. But in a written statement, she said she disagrees with the new attendance policy because it "may have serious implications for some smaller school systems which currently have difficulty hiring and retaining enough math and science teachers to meet current graduation demands." She also said it was unrealistic to expect districts to implement the policy next school year.

Board members, who had a rocky relationship with the Republican superintendent since she took office last year, were all asked by Mr. Miller, a Democrat, to resign last month. Two board members stepped down immediately. Four members' terms are up at the end of the year, and two more have said they will step down at the end of year. Only Palmira Braswell and J.T. Williams, the chairman, have said they will continue serving on the board for the time being.

Ohio Legislature Targets Fake Guns

Brandishing a fake gun would be illegal in Ohio schools under a bill that passed both houses of the legislature this month.

The legislation, which now awaits the governor's signature, says that a person who knowingly displays a look-alike weapon and indicates that it is a weapon will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.Young children with obvious toy guns would be exempted under the bill.

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