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Oklahoma Insurance Plan Said Fiscally Unsound

An analysis prepared for the Oklahoma Senate concludes that a plan to provide health insurance for teachers through the state retirement fund would bankrupt the system.

Under the new plan, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, the cost of medical benefits for active teachers would be split evenly among the state, the school district, and individual teachers. The state would cover full costs for retired teachers.

But the analysis found that the $1.7-billion state retirement fund would be bankrupt within 15 years if the plan is implemented.

"The fund just wasn't designed to take on the increased cost of medical benefits,'' said Robert E. Jones, a fiscal analyst for the Senate.

He said medical benefits for teachers total an estimated $55 million annually.

Several senators last week called the passage of the health-insurance plan as part of last year's omnibus appropriations measure a "big mistake,'' Mr. Jones said.

Joel Robison, president of the Oklahoma Federation of Teachers, said he expected implementation to be delayed until an alternative source of funding is found. The Senate has voted to look for one, but Mr. Jones said that "at this time, there is no reason to believe the plan will be delayed.''

South Dakota Commission Favors Easing Mandates

A panel appointed by Gov. George S. Mickelson of South Dakota has recommended eliminating new, tougher state requirements for high-school graduation.
The six-member committee of school superintendents and principals was charged with suggesting ways to give schools more management control without raising costs.

The panelists concluded that the 20-credit graduation requirement and more specific state guidelines on course offerings had driven most students to a college-preparatory curriculum at the expense of vocational programs.

The committee made 20 recommendations on areas in which the state board of education or the legislature could act to provide more cost-efficiency and local control. It called for easing regulations and instituting state financing of some mandated programs, including school accreditation and the testing of private-school students.

More demanding teacher-certification requirements also should be reviewed, the committee said. Current requirements, it argued, sometimes limit school flexibility in course offerings.

The panel also suggested that school reorganization would be the best way to save money, but made no specific recommendations on the issue.

Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson of Kentucky, whose education initiatives have hit a roadblock in the House, says he will call a special legislative session to force consideration of his proposals.

Mr. Wilkinson has proposed a program that would establish 21 "benchmark'' schools and provide financial incentives to "successful'' schools. But funding for the program would come at the expense of education reforms adopted by the legislature in 1985.

Although the Senate has approved Mr. Wilkinson's program, Roger Noe, chairman of the House education committee, has said the plan will not be considered by the House in the regular session, scheduled to adjourn April 15.

In what has been a tight budget session, both the House and the Senate cut funds for the new programs from the Governor's proposed budget in order to fund the reforms already adopted.

In other action, Mr. Wilkinson signed a bill creating a tuition-savings program that will allow parents or others to pay into an investment fund that will guarantee the cost of tuition at a state college or approved vocational school.

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature erred last year when it took $61 million earmarked for education and appropriated it for a variety of other agencies.

The decision upholds a lower-court ruling in a lawsuit filed last August by the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, Paul Hubbert, and his wife.

As a result of the new ruling, the legislature now must pass separate appropriations bills for 21 agencies that have traditionally drawn money from the state's education trust fund.

The agencies must also repay the funds they received for the first six months of fiscal 1988.

Although the supreme court ruled out the use of education funds for other than "educational purposes,'' an aide to Gov. Guy Hunt said the legislature would continue to look to the trust fund as a source of funding for some agencies.

In February, the House defeated a proposal by Governor Hunt to divert $41 million from state utility-tax revenues earmarked for education to agencies supported by the state's financially strapped general fund.

The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would standardize the calendar for all public schools and state universities, beginning in the 1991-92 school year.

The bill, approved by a vote of 37 to 7 late last month, would modify a law that prevents public schools from starting classes before Sept. 1. The measure would allow districts to start classes any time during the week that includes Sept. 1.

It also proposes that school calendars be standardized, to allow schools to share programs and teachers. In addition, it would create a committee to make recommendations to the legislature on the matter.

The change would not be enforced unless lawmakers take further action in 1990, the bill stipulates. The House has not yet acted on the measure.

Vol. 07, Issue 28

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