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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.C. Boosts School Spending for Fiscal 1998

Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. has signed into law a $11.4 billion North Carolina state budget that includes a 9.5 percent funding increase for K-12 education.

The fiscal 1998 spending measure, which lawmakers passed late last month as they faced their latest adjournment ever, will raise teachers' salaries by 6.5 percent this year and boost them to the national average by 2000. The $4.5 billion education budget also includes $72 million for the state's year-old ABCs of Public Education program, which provides financial incentives to schools and teachers that meet or exceed expectations on state tests.

"This session will go down as one of the most important in North Carolina history," Mr. Hunt, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The budget also includes nearly $23 million to continue Smart Start, an early-childhood program for disadvantaged preschoolers. The funding will pay for continuation of the program in 55 participating counties and expand it to the remaining 45 counties. In addition, $20 million was set aside for a trust fund to improve and expand the use of school technology. The bill passed in the Senate 47-2 and was approved by the House 105-10.

Pataki Vetoes Retirement Bill

New York Gov. George E. Pataki has vetoed a bill that would have allowed New York City teachers to retire with a full pension at age 55, rather than 62, and after only 10 years on the job instead of the current 30 years required.

The measure would have "encouraged city teachers to leave the classroom," thereby weakening a recent state initiative to reduce class sizes in the early grades, the Republican governor said in his Sept. 4 veto message.

Class-size reduction will require the city's nearly 1.1 million-student school system to hire thousands of new teachers in the coming years. The city school board said the bill would have allowed some 2,500 city teachers to retire almost immediately.

State lawmakers passed the measure nearly unanimously in early August during the final hours of their legislative session.

Critics of the bill included New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the city's schools chancellor, Rudy F. Crew.

Sandra Feldman, the president of the 120,000-member United Federation of Teachers, which represents local teachers, fought hard for the bill's passage and denied in a press statement that it was an early-retirement incentive.

Tobacco Dollars Weighed for Schools

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles' 3-year-old lawsuit against the tobacco industry settled out of court last month for a hefty $25 billion, and some state leaders are eyeing the money as a tax-free answer to the state's school construction shortfall.

Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a Republican, said in an interview that he was hoping that "public education can directly or indirectly gain an advantage" from the tobacco settlement. Influential state lawmakers have expressed similar sentiments.

The money, to be paid to the state in increments over the next 25 years, is intended to go toward Medicaid expenses for tobacco-related costs and health programs for children. Recently, however, Gov. Chiles showed some interest in using a portion of the windfall to help pay for some of the Sunshine State's $3.2 billion school construction backlog."He's willing to talk" about it, said Karen Pankowski, a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor.

Mr. Chiles is calling for a special session of the legislature before Thanksgiving to address the school crowding problem.

Mass. Technology Effort Advances

Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts recently unveiled the final phase of the state's education technology program, announcing in late August that 134 school districts will share $7.8 million in technology grant money.

The program has awarded 338 districts a total of more than $27 million in the past 12 months. Then-Gov. William F. Weld signed the technology-bond bill creating the program in August 1996.

"Every district that has applied has been funded, and we have taken a giant step toward meeting our goal of ensuring that every student has access to a computer," Mr. Cellucci, a technology buff who e-mailed superintendents with news of their awards, said in a prepared statement.

To receive grants, districts were required to submit plans detailing how they would spend the money. Districts are required to spend $3 for each $1 they receive from the state.

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