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Michigan Reform Plan Dealt New Setback

Prospects for an education- and tax-reform plan in Michigan appeared dimmer than ever last week following a key tax bill's second defeat in the House in as many months.

Faced with strong Republican opposition, the Democratic-controlled chamber fell two votes short of the 72 needed to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would have raised the state's sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent.

Backers of the reform effort said it now seems unlikely that the legislature will be able to pass such an amendment in time to place it before voters on the August ballot, as requested by Gov. James J. Blanchard, a Democrat. A measure could still be put before voters during a special election in September or during the November general election, but proponents say they are reluctant to adopt the second approach for fear of linking the issue to Presidential politics.

The Republican-controlled Senate has already approved a version of the bill that would raise the sales tax by 2 percent but provide more property-tax relief to businesses than Democratic lawmakers want. Action on related school-reform bills has been delayed by the dispute over taxes.

Unlike the measure that was rejected in April, the proposal defeated by the House on May 17 would not have changed propery-tax rates. Observers said House Republicans objected to the Democratic leadership's plan to send this so-called "blank bill'' to a House-Senate conference committee--a strategy aimed at striking a deal on property taxes with Senate Republicans.

Branstad Vetoes Measure On Asbestos Tax Levies

Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa has vetoed a bill that would have allowed school districts to levy property and income taxes without voter approval to pay for asbestos removal.

"Local taxpayers should not be saddled with a possible $36-million tax increase without a chance to vote on it,'' Mr. Branstad said last week in rejecting the legislation.

He also noted that proposed federal legislation to delay the Environmental Protection Agency's Oct. 12 deadline for school asbestos inspections could ease the immediate financial pressure on districts.

The state education department has estimated that $36 million would be needed statewide to remove the cancer-causing material from schools.

The Governor's veto will severely limit the ability of districts to pay for asbestos clean-up efforts, said Philip C. Dunshee, a spokesman for the Iowa Association of School Boards, which supported the measure.

"We understand the desire to have voter participation, but we have federal guidelines looming on the horizon,'' he said.

The Arizona Board of Education has approved an alternative-certification program for liberal-arts graduates who wish to become teachers.

Under the plan, which must be approved by the state attorney general, participating districts would organize year-long training programs for college graduates who have taken at least 30 credit hours in the subject they intend to teach. Candidates would teach under the supervision of a master teacher, a subject-area specialist, an evaluator, and an outside expert.

State officials hope to pilot-test the program in the coming school year. James Brunstein, the education department's associate superintendent for general operations, said the agency had already received inquiries about the program from 500 people.

Convinced that they can do a better job with less state interference, local school boards in Illinois have issued a challenge to state policymakers: Select five districts and give them free rein to operate without state regulation for 12 years.

After completing that experiment, the president of the Illinois Association of School Boards said in a recent speech, the state could evaluate the schools involved to see if they showed "substantial improvement.''

"State requirements are often costly and time-consuming,'' the association's president, Barbara Wheeler, said at a meeting last month of Illinois Women in Government. "They destroy the initiative, creativity, and effectiveness of teachers and administrators by forcing them to spend their time in non-productive ways.''

"We despair of ever trying some of the more provocative reform proposals,'' Ms. Wheeler said, "if we have to sort through the tangled web of state statutes, rules and regulations, negotiated contracts, and even local board and administrator regulations.''

Vol. 07, Issue 35

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