Education Related Issues On State Ballots This Fall: New England

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Although the economy is the dominant issue in most state political campaigns this fall, many gubernatorial candidates have stressed education--both as a major expenditure of scarce public funds and as an important factor in economic recovery. In addition, voters in several states will choose state boards of education and chief state school officers in the Nov. 2 election. And referendums on questions ranging from tax limitation to state aid for private-school students are on state ballots. On these pages is a summary of the major state contests prepared by Peggy Caldwell, Charlie Euchner, Susan Foster, Alex Heard, Thomas Toch, and Susan Walton of the Education Week staff, with Correspondents Glen Macnow, Don Sevener, and Cynthia Smith.

A constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot in Massachusetts, if approved, would ease restrictions on state aid to students who attend private schools. Current state laws permit aid to private-school students for transportation, textbooks, and special-education services, but these laws have been challenged repeatedly in recent years under the state constitution, which currently prohibits the state from "aiding or maintaining" private schools.

The amendment's legislative sponsors say it would bring Massachusetts in line with the principles of the U.S. Constitution and would only protect from legal attacks the forms of aid currently on the books. But a coalition of education groups, including the state's two teachers' organizations, the school-boards association, and the administrators' association, contend that the amendment would "open the door" for private-school students to gain $5 million annually in state support.

Teachers' groups have also unified in support of former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a Democrat who lost a re-election bid four years ago in his party's primary. Mr. Dukakis is opposed by Republican John W. Sears, a former Boston city councilman who also has "been friendly to education," according to a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

In Vermont, Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, a strong advocate of early-childhood education, is opposed by Madeleine M. Kunin, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor, in his bid for a fourth term. Mr. Snelling's campaign platform includes a pledge to support state-sponsored education for preschoolers, but he has not yet advanced a specific proposal.

Rhode Island voters face a $2.6-million bond referendum which, if passed, will be used to upgrade facilities in vocational and technical schools, to purchase classroom equipment, and to replace the roof of the state School for the Deaf. State officials say their ability to make necessary purchases and repairs has been curtailed by a state law limiting the annual growth of the budget to 8 percent. If the bond referendum fails, they say, the state board of education will seek the funds from the legislature.

In New Hampshire, where a controversial school-finance suit is before the state supreme court, higher taxes are a primary issue in the gubernatorial race. New Hampshire is currently the only state without a broad-based sales or income tax and ranks last in the proportion of state aid to school districts. If the court requires more aid for education, many observers believe that the state will be forced to enact new taxes.

The incumbent Democrat, Hugh Gallen, has said in past campaigns that if elected he would veto sales or income-tax measures. But this year he has avoided making such a pledge. He is opposed by former Gov. Meldrim Thomson, a Republican who is running as an independent, and by the gop nominee, John H. Sununu, formerly Gov. Thomson's science adviser. Both challengers have promised no new taxes.

School finance is also the primary education issue in the gubernatorial race in Connecticut. The Democratic incumbent, William A. O'Neill, has said that he wants to maintain a state-aid formula that is aimed at "equalizing" education spending among towns. His opponent, former state Sen. Lewis B. Rome, favors distributing state money to communities on the basis of their ability to improve students' scores on proficiency tests. Five of the nine members of the state board of education will be up for reappointment by the Governor in March.

Vol. 02, Issue 08

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