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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Wyo. Finance Plan Approved

The Wyoming legislature approved a school-finance-reform plan at the end of a special six-day session June 6.

The legislation defines a basic education, outlines core curriculum, and requires uniform testing of students. It also provides an extra $29 million base of state funding for schools beginning in the 1998-1999 school year, over and above the $600 million the state currently spends each year on education.

The new plan would distribute education funds based on enrollment and would allow school districts to raise additional funds for schools by levying an optional property tax. Tax revenues would be sent to the state first and then divided among districts imposing the levy, accompanied by a 50 percent state match. Small districts and those with ample mineral wealth would be guaranteed not to lose funds for two years.

Lawmakers were ordered by the state Supreme Court in 1995 to come up with a funding plan by July 1997 guaranteeing students a quality education regardless of where they live. Republican Gov. Jim Geringer said he would carefully review the bill before signing it. He has until later this month to do so.

Texas Revises Admissions

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has signed into law a set of admissions policies that are designed to be race-neutral while still helping to raise minority enrollment in state colleges and universities.

The legislation is state lawmakers' answer to a federal court ruling that prompted a ban on race-based admissions in the state's higher education system.

Under the "Top 10 Percent Bill," state colleges and universities must offer admission to in-state applicants who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Colleges also may automatically admit applicants who graduate in the top quarter of the class. Admissions will also factor in socioeconomic background, parents' education levels, and extracurricular activities.

"We want our universities to reach out to students from all walks of life, and this legislation gives them the flexibility to do just that," Mr. Bush said in a prepared statement.

Anti-Discrimination Bill Fails

The California Assembly has for the second year in a row rejected a bill that would have barred discrimination against gay and lesbian students and teachers.

After a tense, two-hour debate June 4, the Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber, narrowly defeated the bill by a 40-36 vote.

The bill would have added sexual orientation to current statutes that forbid discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, color, and physical or mental disability in public schools and colleges.

Opponents charged that the bill was part of a broad pro-homosexual agenda. They cited religious doctrine in challenging the legislation.

Rep. Sheila James Kuehl, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, argued that homosexual youths are harassed at school and are more likely than heterosexual students to drop out or commit suicide.

"All children deserve the dignity of an education free from discrimination, violence, and harassment," Ms. Kuehl said in a written statement.

Mass. Bilingual Bill Stalls

A bilingual education bill pushed by Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld has been stopped in its tracks--for now.

The legislature's joint committee on education voted last week to study the proposal, which seeks to move students out of bilingual education within three years. ( "Language and Program Limits at Issue Across States," April 30, 1997.) While the bill still may be resurrected, observers said the committee's move did not bode well for the measure.

Under the bill, schools that failed to meet that deadline could face a state takeover. Mr. Weld, a Republican, introduced a similar plan in 1995, but the measure failed.

The panel approved a bill that supporters hope will ease certification of some bilingual teachers. The bill would require the state education department to allow those seeking bilingual certification to use approved alternative proficiency tests for foreign languages if the state does not already have standard tests in those languages.

Mixed Results in Michigan

Michigan juniors have improved their math, science, and reading scores on the state's controversial high school proficiency test, but posted a drop in the writing portion of the 11-hour exam, which they took this winter.

State lawmakers are trying to address the concerns of hundreds of parents who withdrew their children from the test this year. Parents said they feared that poor exam performances would reflect negatively on the students' high school transcripts.

The biggest jump in scores was in science, where 38.5 percent of the 90,000 juniors who took the test scored at the proficient level this year, compared with 32 percent last year. This is the second year that the test was administered.

In math, 52.9 percent of the test-takers were deemed proficient, up from 47.7 percent last year. In reading, 41.1 percent were proficient, compared with 40.2 last year.

But the percentage of juniors who scored proficient in writing dropped to 28.8 percent from 34.4 percent last year.

In an effort to make diplomas more meaningful to students and employers, the state noted proficient scores with stamps on diplomas.

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