Published Online: February 12, 1997

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Pa. Lawmakers Urged To Try Again To Pass Charter Bill

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Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania urged the legislature last week to try again on charter schools, asking them for a "meaningful" bill creating state-financed schools that would operate outside regular district oversight.

A charter school bill died in the state Senate shortly before the end of the session last year.

In his Feb. 4 budget address, the Republican governor also said he wants to put $200 million in new money into the state's public schools. Half of that amount would go for a 3 percent increase in basic state aid to the state's 501 districts. Under the budget plan, the poorest 135 districts would get at least a 4 percent boost over this year's funding.

Another $10 million of the new money would be earmarked to reward districts that show the most improvement in state standardized-test scores, dropout rates, and graduation rates.

"It's a proposal to create a little healthy competition--not school district against school district, or school against school--but a school and its students trying to improve upon their own past performance," the governor said.

Mr. Ridge said he will soon announce improved statewide testing that will measure how students progress under the new academic standards. In 1995, the governor made the state's expected student "outcomes" voluntary for districts. Last fall, he formed a commission to review and recommend specific academic standards to the state school board.

"We will start in the primary grades, and we will start with reading and math," the governor said. "We will insist upon standards that parents can tape to the refrigerator and talk about with their children."

ALABAMA

Gov. James Is Mum On Finance Decision

While dedicating Alabama's legislative session that opened last week to "all of Alabama's children," Gov. Fob James Jr. failed to mention what lawmakers should do with their unconstitutional school system.

In his State of the State Address, Mr. James highlighted his administration's expansion of funding for K-12 education "without raising taxes one red cent."

He also pointed to one of the state's poor school districts that posts above-average test scores and said educators could learn a lesson from such efficiency.

Mr. James, a Republican, proposed $30 million in new funding from the state's general fund for children's welfare and protection. He called on lawmakers to "put our total attention to finding the true cause and the real cure for child neglect and abuse in our society."

Gov. James also proposed a 10 percent "pruning" of the budgets of the state's colleges and universities. From those savings, he proposed an annual $100 million merit-scholarship trust fund that would enable 75,000 students to attend "the college of their choice."

Alfred Sawyer, a spokesman for Mr. James, said that the plan was still being drafted, but that, most likely, students with strong grades could receive a scholarship to a public college inside the state. The aim, Mr. Sawyer said, is to model the effort on Georgia's hope Scholarship program, which uses lottery money to pay for access to higher education. ("Georgia Plan Offers Key to Opening College Doors," in This Week's News.)

The governor's speech made no mention of the state supreme court ruling last month that effectively upheld a lower court's finding that Alabama's school system is unconstitutional. ("Ala. High Court Agrees System Unconstitutional," Jan. 22, 1997.) Experts have estimated that improving the quality and funding of schools significantly could cost $1 billion. That kind of money would almost certainly have to come from new or higher taxes.

--MILLICENT LAWTON

MAINE

Windfall in School Aid Not Likely, King Says

Maine's economy is improving, but schools should not expect a windfall in state aid, Gov. Angus S. King Jr. told lawmakers.

Mr. King wants to use half of the taxes generated by the economic recovery to pad the state's rainy-day fund and offer tax cuts. He also wants to correct "shortsighted" decisions--such as deferring maintenance on state facilities--that the legislature made to balance the budget in the early 1990s, when the budget was the leanest.

Mr. King, an Independent, said in his Jan. 25 State of the State Address that state revenue will rise 5 percent annually over the next several years. But he proposes that spending rise only 2.5 percent a year.

The result will be that school districts will not see the increases they might like. The governor did not say exactly what schools could expect from his budget.

Gov. King also promised to propose a set of academic standards for K-12 schools and send the plan to the legislature during this year's session.

--DAVID J. HOFF

OKLAHOMA

Gov. Keating Urges Standards, Incentives

Gov. Frank Keating highlighted good schools as a central ingredient of growth in his State of the State Address to Oklahoma lawmakers last week.

The Republican said he would increase school spending significantly; his fiscal 1998 budget proposal, released the same day, would add $81.5 million for K-12 schools and $5 million for vocational-technical programs in the state.

But Mr. Keating also said tougher academic standards and "creative" strategies such as school choice and charter schools were necessary, and he urged lawmakers to pass laws supporting those goals.

He said the state should require all high school students to take four years of mathematics, science, English, and social studies.

To improve teacher performance, he would set aside $32 million for annual merit bonuses between $500 and $5,000 "where student achievement scores show progress and learning." His proposal would benefit approximately 40 percent of the state's teachers, he said.

Progress should also continue toward connecting every high school to the state's communications network, he said.

--ANDREW TROTTER

WYOMING

Local Standards Seen Key In Overhaul of System

The need for more money to solve inequities in Wyoming school funding will loom over everything else discussed in this year's legislative session, Gov. Jim Geringer predicts.

"We need to know the cost of education and the formula to distribute money. ... then the great debate over funding will be whether and how to redistribute funds," he said in his State of the State Address last month.

Wyoming remains under a state supreme court order to revamp its school system and funding program.

The Republican governor would like to see a system built around local standards.

While the responsibility for setting standards of achievement and assessing the results lies with the state board of education, Mr. Geringer said, it is the responsibility of the local school districts to meet those benchmarks.

Mr. Geringer also called for a special summer session to resolve leftover school issues

--ADRIENNE D. COLES

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