Legislative Update

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Alabama's largest teachers' union has filed suit to block the state legislature's move to divert more than $60 million in education aid to a variety of special projects.

In papers filed in Montgomery Circuit Court on Aug. 27, the Alabama Education Association argued that the transfer of money from the education trust fund to the general fund would violate the state constitution. The trust fund supports both postsecondary and4precollegiate education.

The union requested a temporary injunction to prevent the shift from taking effect on Oct. 1, the start of the 1987-88 fiscal year.

The dispute stems from the legislature's longstanding practice of earmarking parts of the annual education appropriation to support services that do not aid schools and colleges directly but can be construed as benefiting education. The state supreme court held that the practice was unconstitutional in an advisory opinion last June.

Before that ruling, lawmakers had given preliminary approval to a $2.14-billion education budget8for the new fiscal year that set aside $61 million for items including a Shakespeare festival, libraries, telephone bills, and the state auditor's office.

In final action on Aug. 2, the legislature trimmed the amount for education to $2.07 billion and shifted $61 million from trust-fund accounts to the general fund.

Paul R. Hubbert, the Alabama Education Association's executive secretary, described the move as an "end-around" past the supreme court's decision. "Our argument is that when people paid their income, sales, and utility taxes, they understood that the money was going toel10leducation," he said. "Revenues set aside for education should be used only for education."

Public schools would receive $1.13 billion under the new budget. Last year lawmakers approved $1.1 billion for schools, but that amount was reduced by 2 percent because of a revenue shortfall. Officials in the state budget office said a recent upturn in Alabama's economy could allow Gov. Guy Hunt to restore the remaining "prorated" funds before the end of the current fiscal year.

In other action before it adjourned, the legislature:

Earmarked $3 million of the school-aid appropriation to support ongoing work on the evaluation portion of the career ladder for teachers.

Approved a 12-year program to reduce pupil-teacher ratios in kin4dergarten through 12th grade. The program is expected to cost a total of $21 million over the course of the project.

Revised Alabama's child-labor law to prohibit school-age children from working past 10 P.M. on school nights.

Passed a bill making teachers and aides immune from lawsuits if they come to the assistance of children hurt on school grounds.--tm

North Carolina legislators, concerned about the growing academic demands placed on pupils in the 1st and 2nd grades, have voted to discontinue mandatory norm-referenced testing in those grades.

The lawmakers, however, voted to allow the department of education to develop "developmentally appropriate, individualized assessment instruments" for 1st and 2nd graders.

Reeves McGlohon, the department's senior associate superintendent, said a new criterion-referenced examination that the state expects to pilot test next spring would be a more accurate, and less stressful, evaluation of student achievement.

Page McCullough, the director of the Atlantic Center for Research in Education, a Durham-based advocacy group that fought against the standardized tests for five years, called the change a "victory for the kids."

"[Teachers] drill on the items that the test is going to cover to the exclusion of other things that should be taught in the 1st and 2nd grades," she said. "It really distorts the curriculum in an unfortunate way."

In the session that ended last month, the legislature also:

Approved $5.4 billion in aid to schools for the 1988-89 biennium, up from $4.5 billion. Total state spending was set at $12.1 billion.

Increased business taxes to raise $1.1 billion over the next 10 years for school construction.

Adopted a resolution declaring English the state's official language.--ef

Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin has approved a budget that will boost state spending for elementary and secondary education by more than 9 percent next year.

Under the budget, aid to schools will increase from the current $1.39- billion to $1.52 billion in the 1987-88 fiscal year. The Governor approved $7.6 billion in overall state spending.

The school-aid increase reflects an effort by lawmakers and Governor Thompson to reduce the state's reliance on local property taxes as a source of school revenues. During his election campaign last year, Mr. Thompson pledged to increase the state's share of school funding to half or more by 1991--a promise that has been popular in the state's economically depressed farm communities.

The new budget will raise the state's share of local school costs from an average of 45.6 percent to 46.7 percent in the next fiscal year, according to Robert Hanle, a state budget analyst.--dv

Vol. 07, Issue 01

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