Published Online: May 26, 1999
Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as State Journal

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Fed up with mandates

Leave us alone!

That's the message 29 local school superintendents in Orange County, Calif., sent their state legislature and Gov. Gray Davis in a joint statement they released last week.

In recent years, California schools have been forced to juggle state-sponsored programs ranging from new assessments and curriculum mandates to a major class-size-reduction push.

The action intensified this spring with the first-year Democratic governor's legislative blitzkrieg that launched a new teacher peer-review system, reading initiatives, and school ratings, among other measures.

"We are saying that the governor and legislature should not try to be a single school board with a cookie-cutter approach for the state's nearly 6 million schoolchildren," said James A. Fleming, the superintendent of the 40,000-student Capistrano school district in Southern California.

The superintendents want a moratorium on what they see as heavy-handed education bills until lawmakers can craft a K-12 master plan. The state Assembly, the legislature's lower house, has yet to approve a Senate-passed plan to create a panel to work on such a blueprint.

Under an agreement negotiated last month by federal lawmakers, all money from a $206 billion tobacco settlement will be given to states to use as they see fit--a move that clears the way for proposals in some states to spend the money on schools and students.

Members of the U.S. House and Senate voted May 20 to uphold the terms of the original agreement, a deal 46 states struck last November with the nation's five largest tobacco companies, which would prevent the federal government from dipping into the proceeds.

State legislators nationwide have introduced some 50 bills that would apply funds from the settlement to education-related programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than 400 other bills would use the money to pay for state trust funds or smoking-cessation and health-care programs, among other items.

"The fact that this money has been made available has made it open season in state legislatures," said Mark Schmidt, the director of programs for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, an advocacy group in Alexandria, Va.

--Robert C. Johnston & Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Pages 13-15

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