State News Roundup

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The governor of Puerto Rico has proposed the creation of a government-sponsored educational trust fund that would provide the island's children with an "endowment" and launch a "second educational revolution."

The trust fund, which would operate as a subsidiary of the Government Development Bank, would receive one-half of 1 percent of all revenues up to $3 billion each year; three-quarters of 1 percent of all revenues between $3 billion and $4 billion, and 1 percent of revenues in excess of $4 billion annually. The fund would not be used until revenues had accumulated for 10 years.

Some states have educational trust funds, but few receive a fixed share of general revenues. More commonly, funds come from mineral rights or leases on state-owned land.

In announcing the proposal, Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo said that he intends to call a special session of the legislature to seek approval of the measure. If the legislation establishing the fund is enacted this year, he said, the endowment should total about $280 million by 1994. Puerto Rico spends about $1.1 billion on education annually.

Texas Schools Seek To Compensate for Loss of Banking Tax

The U.S. Supreme Court's invalidation of Texas's "bank shares tax" could cost the state's school districts about $40 million in lost revenue, according to state authorities, but some districts are already finding ways to even the score.

The law, which permitted school districts and other local jurisdictions to levy property taxes against banks' securities and other intangible assets, was struck down because it unconstitutionally amounted to indirect taxation of federal obligations such as Treasury bills. Similar taxes in Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia may be affected by the ruling.

In Texas, according to John F. Niles, deputy general counsel of the Texas State Property Tax Board, the bank-shares tax accounts for about 1 percent of districts' local revenue, on average. But districts in and around Dallas, the state's banking center, have been more heavily dependent on the tax, said Karen Bailey, director of government relations for the Texas Association of School Boards. The districts are negotiating with banks to determine whether back taxes must be refunded.

Some districts are already pursuing ways to recoup the revenue by assessing taxes to which they were entitled but never collected, Ms. Bailey said. "Some of them are looking at back-assessing taxes and penalties on other bank property, like equipment. They think they may be able to get enough to make it up."

The banks, she said "have always wanted to get rid of the securities taxes and go to a franchise tax. But the districts don't like that one bit, because it goes through the state and is reallocated, and it doesn't in any way raise nearly as much revenue. So we're trying to keep that from happening."

The school-boards association, she added, is working with municipalities and counties to find a solution. And, Mr. Niles said, the question of the fairest way to tax banks may also be addressed by a commission that is studying a variety of school-finance issues or by a special legislative session.

Schools Not Bound To Report Abortions, Calif. Opinion Says

Students may leave school for abortions without notifying their parents, according to a recent ruling by California Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

The attorney general issued the nonbinding opinion at the request of a state senator who has introduced legislation requiring parental notification when a student leaves school for an abortion.

A spokesman for Sen. Oliver Speraw said the ruling would help the bill's chances of passage in the California Assembly, where it was ment, he said.

Alabama To Cease Lottery Admissions For Kindergarten

Following an out-of-court settlement of a case brought against the state education department, public schools in Alabama will stop using lotteries to determine which children receive places in public kindergartens.

Lotteries were one of several selection methods suggested by the education department for deciding who would be admitted to kindergarten in districts that could not accommodate all applicants.

Alabama began funding public kindergartens in 1977, but has never appropriated enough money to allow all students to attend. To choose students for the 1983-84 school year, 14 districts used lotteries.

The suit was brought by Myra Davis, a parent from Shelby County whose child was not chosen in that district's kindergarten lottery. Ms. Davis alleged in her suit that the lottery system was unconstitutional.

The two parties reached an out-of-court agreement that will allow districts to use lottery results this fall but requires that they use other methods in the future. The settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge William Acker of the Northern District of Alabama.

About three-fourths of the eligible children in the state will attend kindergarten next year, according to William C. Ward, early-childhood education specialist for the state department of education.

State officials regarded lotteries as the fairest method of allotting scarce spaces, Mr. Ward said, adding that they had never seen it as more than a "stopgap" measure. Other methods used in some districts include accepting children on a first-come, first-served basis, or giving priority to older children. "The long-range solution is full funding of kindergarten," Mr. Ward said.

Vermont Legislature Cuts Aid to Schools

The Vermont legislature, in a special session called last month by Gov. Richard A. Snelling, approved a tax-and-revenue measure that will mean a 2-percent reduction in the overall education appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The state had a $30-million deficit for the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, and it is projected to have a deficit this fiscal year.

The recently enacted measure raised the state income-tax rate by 1 percent, from 25 percent to 26 percent of the taxpayer's federal tax, according to Peter Ryan, business manager for the state department of education. He said the measure also calls for an across-the-board reduction in state appropriations.

As a result of the legislature's action, the state department of education's $92-million budget will be cut by about $448,000, according to Mr. Ryan. He said state basic-aid grants to school districts were exempted from the budget cuts.

The tax measure, which includes an increase in the cigarette tax, is expected to raise $10 million in new revenue. The legislature is scheduled to consider further tax hikes and budget cuts next year.

Washington Lawsuit Alleges Censorship Of Library Books

Parents of students in Vancouver, Wash., and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit against the Evergreen School District, claiming that the district has violated the right to free speech and has promoted censorship by arbitrarily removing books from a public-school library.

The plaintiffs, Marian and Carl English and their daughter Jennifer, and Jennifer and Michael Berg and their daughter Stephanie, are asking that 38 books be returned to the shelves. Their suit, filed last month in Clark County Superior Court, also asks that the district hold public hearings, publicized in advance, on book-removal questions.

The issue of the books' removal came up when the Evergreen school board recently voted to eliminate "restricted shelves" from school libraries. In one junior-high school, the principal and the librarian decided that 38 of the restricted books did not belong in that school's library and recommended that they be moved to the high school, according to Kenneth A. Loveall, curriculum supervisor and chairman of the district's instructional-materials committee. The nine-member committee--made up of a principal, teachers, librarians, and parents--voted on the recommendation in a closed session.

Ms. English, who is president of the aclu's Southwest Washington Chapter, said she objects to the lack of public participation in book-removal decisions.

"If a principal and a librarian in a school want to ban a book, unless a majority of the instructional-materials committee votes [to keep it] or wants to review that book, that's the end of the discussion," she explained.

The suit, English v. Evergreen School District, asks that the nine members of the materials committee be fined $100 each for allegedly violating Washington State's Open Meetings Act.

Arkansans Discuss Finance-Reform Plan

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas met last week with officials of the state teachers' association and school districts to discuss equalizing the state school-finance scheme.

Governor Clinton has endorsed the broad outlines of a plan submitted by the state education department to comply with the state supreme court order that found the current scheme unconstitutional.

The department's plan includes increased state aid for property-poor districts, incentives for consolidation of small districts, and the elimination of "save-harmless" and "flat-grant" provisions. By most estimates, the reform would require about $100 million in new state revenue--probably through a higher sales tax.

But the Governor has said he will not call the legislature into special session to amend the formula until a statewide committee on educational standards has submitted its preliminary recommendations, which are expected this fall.

The Arkansas Education Association and the low-spending school districts that were plaintiffs in the case want Governor Clinton and the legislature to move more quickly. "We don't see the standards commission as having anything to do with it," said Bill M. Walker, assistant executive secretary of the teachers' group.

"The court has required equalization; standards, on the other hand, are requirements of local school districts. But the Governor doesn't want to ask for a tax increase without some improvements. It's an understandable strategy."

The aea also objects to a provision of the education department's plan that, in effect, lowers the minimum proportion of a district's budget that must go toward teachers' salaries.

The plaintiff districts, too, have voiced objections to the plan. The Alma district, which led the lawsuit, contends that the department's proposal does not guarantee the poorer districts equal access to vocational-education programs and that it does not specify penalties for districts that do not levy a minimum local property tax. The district has threatened to go back to court if the issue is not resolved by the end of the year.

Vol. 02, Issue 40

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