School-Reform Plan Unveiled in Calif.

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Sacramento--Bill Honig, California's new state superintendent of public instruction, has proposed that the state appropriate nearly $1 billion more next year for its public schools and undertake ambitious educational reforms.

His legislative package would reimpose statewide high-school graduation requirements, lengthen the school day, provide higher salaries for starting teachers, and loosen teacher-dismissal procedures.

"Without the money, without the reforms, we are doomed at the very best to mediocrity," Mr. Honig said last week. "We've tried to put together a package that will sell politically and is the right thing to do."

His legislation would give California schools an 8-percent increase next year for general purposes, amounting to $974.3 million--$600 million more than Gov. George Deukmejian proposed in his 1983-84 state budget.

"For this additional $600 million, we think we can get very strong educational reforms," Mr. Honig said.

His spending target--far higher than the lawyer-turned-educator appeared to be considering last November after his election victory over the incumbent, Wilson D. Riles--was described by Mr. Honig as the "first installment" of a four-year financing and reform plan to spend $4 billion for schools and bring California into the ranks of the top 10 states in per-pupil expenditures.

Funding for the 1983-84 portion of the plan, in a state newly troubled by deficits, will depend on the health of the economy, budget cuts in other state programs, and possibly increased taxes on all sales, or merely on sales of liquor, tobacco, and candy, Mr. Honig said. "We'll back any combination that is equitable."

There is broad bipartisan support in the state legislature for Mr. Honig's proposed reforms, with the nota-ble exception of changes in teacher-dismissal procedures, which are opposed by teachers' unions. But there is no similar consensus on how his package should be financed.

State Senator Ed Davis, former police chief of Los Angeles and the father of a teacher, has said he would sponsor Mr. Honig's bill and that he would support higher taxes for education "with enthusiasm," except for an oil severance tax. Other Republicans, however--including Assemblywoman Marian Bergeson, who has introduced Mr. Honig's bill in the lower house of the legislature--do not back tax increases enthusiastically and suggest that it is premature to discuss funding sources.

Commitment Lacking

Mr. Honig said that in a recent 90-minute session with the new Republican governor, Mr. Deukmejian, he found general agreement with his reform goals but did not get a commitment of support for the $600 million in additional funds.

Mr. Honig said that under his bill, "we've got the chance of a lifetime" to institute educational reforms. He added that "there's a good feeling in the profession now that we can do some of these things."

His proposal, he said, has received "a lot of support" from large-district superintendents, school boards, the state Parent-Teacher Association, business, and minority groups. "That is where we've got to win the war, out in the field," he said.

The Honig package, in some of its key elements, would:

Require high-school students, beginning with the graduating class of 1986, to take three years each of English and social studies, two years each of mathematics and science, and a year of fine arts and instruction in computer literacy. The state law, in effect since 1969, allowing local districts to set graduation requirements "has not worked," Mr. Honig said.

Lengthen instructional time for students, though not specifically by increasing the number of required school days from the current mandated minimum of 175 days. In a move to give districts flexibility, the increase would come instead in minutes per year.

Extend current state assessment tests for 3rd, 6th, 8th, and 12th graders in reading, mathematics, and language to cover science, history, geography, economics, literature, and higher-order thinking skills. Tenth graders also would be tested under the Honig plan.

Increase state funding for textbooks, from $13 per child to $25 per child in elementary grades and add $10 per student at the high-school level.

Mandate the expulsion of students found carrying a firearm or other dangerous weapon, selling a drug or narcotic, committing robbery or extortion, or causing serious physical injury not in self-defense. In addition, the plan would allow local schools boards to authorize teachers to fail students with excessive unexcused absences.

Provide state incentive funds to let districts over a three-year period raise the annual salary of starting teachers by 10 percent a year until the pay reaches $18,000.

Allow districts to: dismiss teachers without formal hearings on 30 days' notice in their first two years, based on negative evaluations; bypass seniority laws by exempting up to 20 percent of the teachers scheduled to be laid off if they demonstrate "superior" performance; and reassign administrators on 45 days' rather than six months' notice. Teachers with lifetime credentials would be required to take continuing education.

These provisions have drawn opposition from the state's largest teachers' union, which invests substantial amounts in legislative campaigns.

Ralph Flynn, executive director of the 150,000-member California Teachers Association (cta), an affiliate of the National Education Association, said that Mr. Honig's proposal to increase funding for schools was "laudable ... particularly his willingness to support a tax increase."

Objection to Package

"Our objection to the total package is his inclusion of a number of regressive items dealing with due-process rights for teachers that I'm afraid he believes necessary to placate some of the right-wing elements of the state," Mr. Flynn explained. "He seems to be trying to get their support at our expense," he added.

Mr. Honig is making his legislative debut in a crowded field.

State Senator Gary Hart, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced a similar financing and reform measure that is considered more sweeping than Mr. Honig's.

Senator Hart, a former high-school social-studies teacher whose successful campaigns for minimum-competency testing of students and teachers brought election opposition from the cta, now appears to have some support from the union.

"On the whole, Hart's bill is far less odious," Mr. Flynn said. "He's got a couple of items we don't like, but he's not promoting nearly the regressive kind of stuff in Honig's package."

Still to be received are legislative packages from an educational coalition that includes the cta and from the Assembly Education Committee, where the strategy appears to be to separate financing and reform.

Vol. 02, Issue 26

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