News in Brief

February 07, 1990 4 min read

Gov. Mike Hayden of Kansas has formally unveiled a constitutional amendment that would reduce school districts’ property-tax revenues by 20 percent in 1991 and bar them from increasing millage levies by more than the rate of inflation.

The Governor had outlined the proposed “Kansas Proposition 13"--named after the California law that permanently limited property-tax collections--in his State of the State Address last month.

Under the proposed amendment, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the legislature to be put on the ballot this fall, property taxes in 1991 would be rolled back to 20 percent below their 1989 level--an estimated reduction of $310 million.

Kansas schools rely on local property taxes for about half their funding, and districts are currently not allowed to impose any other sort of tax to pay for education.

Mr. Hayden, as part of his proposal, said he would appoint a commission to examine other local revenue sources. He said he would back a proposal to allow local authorities to raise their sales tax by 1.5 percent to make up the shortfall.

Despite changes in Virginia’s funding formula two years ago that were designed to reduce disparities in school spending, the gap between the state’s wealthiest and poorest school districts has widened, a new study has found.

The study, conducted for the Virginia Education Association by Richard G. Salmon of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Deborah Verstegen of the University of Virginia, found that the state’s richest district spent 2.7 times more per student on general education than did the poorest district.

The Alexandria district spent $6,953 per student in 1988-89, compared with the $2,610 per student spent by rural Nottoway County. That gap was $500 larger than it was before the state’s 1988 funding change, the study noted.

Mr. Salmon, who was involved in the lawsuit that resulted in the Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision declaring that state’s school system unconstitutional, noted that Virginia’s funding disparity is greater than Kentucky’s.

Madeline Wade, president of the v.e.a., said the union was not suggesting that districts file a suit challenging the state formula, but added that it would continue to research the subject.

Meanwhile, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has appointed a 21-member commission to examine the issue.

Too many Vermont children are placed in public and private special-education programs, a state panel has concluded.

“We simply believe that some of these children can be better served in the regular school system,” said Senator Edgar May, co-chairman of the Special Commission on Special Education. That was particularly true, he said, for the large number of learning-disabled children in his state who are attending costly out-of-state residential programs.

The commission was formed last spring after the legislature was forced to fund a 38 percent increase in the cost of special-education services.

In its final report last month, the panel also said schools could stem special-education costs by providing special help to students who have trouble learning but do not qualify for special education.

“I compare it to having a cold,” Mr. May said. “Right now, we’re saying come back when you get pneumonia, then we can help you.”

Connecticut would require a mastery test for all 10th graders, in addition to its tests for students in grades 4, 6, and 8, under legislation proposed by two leading senators.

A separate bill, also expected to be introduced this month by Senator Kevin B. Sullivan, chairman of the education committee, and Cornelius P. O’Leary, the Senate majority leader, would require districts to report mastery-test results and other data on a school-by-school basis.

The proposals are aimed at enhancing the information available about student performance, the senators said.

Under the plans, all 10th graders would take a test in reading, writing, and mathematics. In addition, the state would create a commission to establish uniform criteria for districts’ reports on school performance. Currently, many districts collect such data, but the information varies widely across the state, according to a spokesman for the education department.

A Kansas school district has challenged the state’s system of distributing school aid according to the size of each district’s enrollment.

Five parents from Turner allege in a lawsuit filed in the state supreme court that the categorization system, which uses districts’ average enrollment figures to set state aid, is unconstitutional.

Under the current system, the smallest districts in the state--those in the first category--receive the most state aid per student. Districts with larger enrollments receive progressively smaller allocations for each pupil.

But districts in the second-largest grouping--known as the fourth category--receive less aid than do the biggest districts.

The Turner school district is located within Kansas City, which is in the fifth category. Since it enrolls fewer students than the city district, however, Turner is a category-four district, and thus receives proportionately smaller state aid payments.

The number of area education agencies in Iowa would be reduced from 15 to 9, under a plan approved by the state board of education.

The board’s plan has been forwarded to the legislature for consideration.

A board report said wide variations in the enrollments served by the agencies have made it difficult or impossible for those serving smaller regions to provide comprehensive services.

The area educational agencies were created to provide their regions with special-education, educational-media, staff-development, and other services.

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as News in Brief