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Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota has proposed a public-school voucher system that would allow 11th- and 12th-grade students and their parents to choose which high school to attend without regard to district lines.

Calling the proposal important enough to warrant a separate announcement, the Governor unveiled it a week before his address to the legislature late last week, but reiterated its outlines before state lawmakers.

If enacted, the plan would be the first of its kind in the country, aides to the Governor said. Several voucher plans involving both public and private schools have been considered and dropped by the Minnesota legislature in recent years; none have had the public support of the governor.

The "access-to-excellence" plan, as Governor Perpich calls it, would begin next year for junior and senior high-school students. It would be expanded by 1988-89 to all public-school students in the state.

Under the plan, the state would make its per-pupil basic-aid grant to whatever public school a student chose to attend. Private schools are not included in the proposal.

High-school students could also choose to take courses in state colleges or universities, the Governor said.

"Research shows that when families are permitted to select the public school of their choice, parents become more satisfied with the educational system, student attitudes improve, teacher morale goes up, and community support for schools increases," Governor Perpich said at a breakfast meeting of the Citizens League, an influential statewide civic group, on Jan. 4.

The free-choice plan, which the Governor characterized as providing ''equal access to the highest quality education this state can offer," and "the strongest incentive" to local districts to improve their programs, has met with criticism from legislators and educators statewide.

First Specific Plan

A voucher plan for secondary-level schooling in the state was first proposed in November by the Minnesota Business Partnership, a group of 58 chief executive officers that presented the Governor with a set of recommendations to restructure the public-school system. (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984.)

Last year, the legislature turned back two other voucher plans. One would have set up pilot projects to give public-school students "portable" grants they could apply to costs at any public or private school; the other would have distributed state foundation aid in the form of vouchers to low-income families, also to be applied to any public or nonpublic school.

The endorsement by the Citizens' League of last year's proposals was considered a signal of Minnesotans' receptivity to vouchers.

Meanwhile, Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee last month endorsed the concept of public-school vouchers but acknowledged that he did not have a plan for implementing such a program. He urged President Reagan to promote the idea. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1984.)

Pledges District Support

According to Governor Perpich, the state will provide "leadership and assistance" to aid districts in improving their programs. His free-choice proposal, he said, includes management assistance to help local districts identify areas that need improvement and to provide guidance in curriculum, staff development, and energy conservation.

The Governor provided no details on the cost or logistics of the voucher plan.

Mixed Reaction

Official reaction to the Governor's proposal has been mixed.

Commissioner of Education Ruth E. Randall favors it, according to her executive aide, Laura Zahn. The state education department was involved in the writing of the proposal, along with the finance department and the planning office, Ms. Zahn said.

To analyze the ramifications of the plan--including issues of transportation, desegregation, extracurricular activities, school-selection procedures, and whether any geographic limit will be placed on students' choice of schools--Com-missioner Randall has appointed a task force of 15 educators, Ms. Zahn said.

The panel, to be chaired by Merton Johnson, chairman of the Bloomington Board of Education, is expected to present its report to the Governor and the legislature before the end of the current session.

'Decrease Access'

Martha Lee Zins, president of the Minnesota Education Association, applauded the Governor for "making a special educational message and [making] statements right up front about the funding of education."

But she expressed concern about the free-choice proposal. "The choice situation concerns us because, while I think the Governor's heart is in the right place in the sense of wanting to increase access, my concern is that the method he has chosen will actually work to decrease access."

Robert McEachern, outgoing chairman of the House Education Committee, said he was not in favor of the plan and predicted it would not be approved by lawmakers.

"It's a voucher system and I've never been in favor of a voucher system," he said. "I call it a consolidation bill. It's going to hurt the rural schools tremendously because some of them are very small. ... You take just 20 kids out of some of these schools and you'll close them."

Increase in State Aid

In addition to the public-school voucher proposal, Governor Perpich has called for a major increase in state funding for education.

"In 1985, we will be proposing that the state assume responsibility for the Basic Foundation Aid program," he said. "The state will assume the 23.5 mil levy, or over $700 million. ... Our support will increase from 63 percent to more than 80 percent."

Although the Governor will not present a budget to the legislature until Jan. 28, Lani Kawamura, his education aide, said the state has a projected surplus of $500 million for this fiscal year. The Governor an-nounced during his Jan. 10 address a proposal to drop the maximum personal-income-tax rate from 16 percent to 9.9 percent, Ms. Kawamura said.

The Governor also asked the legislature to authorize the Minnesota Department of Education to develop "learner outcomes"--a set of student expectations that spell out what students ought to have learned by certain grade levels.

Governor Perpich also proposed that Minnesota adopt a system of statewide testing to be administered at three grade levels to measure students' progress and to determine if they are meeting learner outcomes. Commissioner Randall has been a strong advocate of such a plan for some time. The plan would begin in the 1987-88 school year.

Finally, the Governor called for the development of model schools, starting with a state school for the arts, and one or more schools concentrating on mathematics and science education.

Mr. Perpich has not yet announced cost estimates for implementing these plans.

Vol. 04, Issue 17

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