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Faced with the threat of a school-finance lawsuit, Oregon legislators are considering whether to let voters decide how their taxes should be raised to increase state aid to schools.

A spokesman for House Speaker Vera Katz said last week that legislators were holding preliminary discussions with Gov. Neil Goldschmidt about a possible referendum that would allow voters to decide whether to increase the state income tax or adopt a state sales or property tax.

Under the plan, lawmakers would reconvene in a special session later this year to enact the voters' choice, said Chris Boehme, Ms. Katz's spokesman. He stressed that the idea was still in the discussion stage.

Oregon voters recently rejected a ballot proposal that would have created permanent, up-to-date tax bases for about a third of the state's 303 school districts. Oregon ranks nearly last in the nation in terms of state aid to education. The state provides slightly more than one-fourth of districts' budgets.

Florida Boards Get Option To Ban Student Spanking

A measure allowing Florida school boards to ban corporal pun4ishment was on its way to Gov. Bob Martinez last week after winning approval in the legislature.

Current state law requires local boards to allow their principals to set their own policies on spanking.

Passage of the bill ended a four-year effort by Senator Peter M. Weinstein to change the corporal-punishment law.

"We're just delighted that this year it has come together and passed through the legislature," said John Wilson, an aide to Senator Weinstein. He credited the bill's passage to a change in position by Senator Robert Johnson, who had blocked previous bills as chairman of the education committee.

California's unique "safe schools" amendment does not hold the Oakland district responsible for the attack of a student by another student at school, a state appellate court has ruled.

In its decision last week in Hosemann v. Oakland Unified School District, the First District Court of Appeals held that the 1982 amendment to the California constitution, which guaranteed students and staff members a safe school environment, was not "self-executing." Additional legislation would thus be needed to make schools liable for claims resulting from such incidents.

The panel overturned a superior court's ruling in 1986 that the Oakland districts had "affirmative duty to make schools safe" and its order forcing district officials to develop a school-security plan.

Kevin Washburn, the student's lawyer, said he may seek a rehearing before the appeals court or ask the state supreme court to hear the suit.

A legislative panel in Maine has rejected Gov. John R. McKernan Jr.'s proposal to extend the school year from 175 to 180 days.

The Joint Committee on Education voted unanimously last week against the bill, which would have added one day a year for five years. The bill was one of the Governor's top priorities for this session.

The vote came despite a recent shift by the Maine Teachers Association to back the Governor's plan.

Thomas Vassallo, president of the mta, said most of his organization's members had decided to support the proposal as long as it included increased pay for the longer year and the legislature passed a union-backed "educational enhancement" bill. That measure, which calls for grants to veteran teachers and aid to help teachers earn advanced degrees, has cleared the education committee, Mr. Vassallo said.

The Louisiana Senate has passed legislation that would exempt private schools from having to administer the state's standardized graduation tests.

The two measures would overrule a controversial ruling by the state board of elementary and secondary education requiring private-school students to pass the examinations to earn a state diploma.

Wilmer S. Cody, Louisiana's superintendent of education, has defended the mandate by arguing that 46 percent of the state's private-school graduates require remedial coursework in college.

Representatives of the state's Roman Catholic schools have countered that the exams put church-school students at a disadvantage because they are geared toward the public-school curriculum. They have also argued that the requirement infringes on religious freedom.

The California legislature has voted to appropriate $50 million in federal funds to keep education programs for illegal aliens seeking to become naturalized citizens operating through the end of June.

Aliens seeking amnesty under the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act have swamped the state's civics and English-as-a-second-language programs. Many state and private agencies have closed or scaled back due to lack of funds.

Bill Honig, the state's school chief, had argued that Gov. George Deukmejian--who signed the bill last week--had shortchanged alien-education programs in favor of health services.

The measure will allow the state to borrow against $486 million in federal funding over four years to keep the education programs open.

The Washington State Board of Education has given the green light to school-construction projects in seven districts.

The board voted early this year to bar all construction projects in an effort to pressure state lawmakers to increase funding for capital improvements to schools. Last month, the legislature passed a budget that would add $252 million over two years to the state construction fund, which currently has a backlog of 207 school projects, according to a spokesman for the state board.

The board did not, however, lift the moratorium entirely. It will remain in effect at least until the end of the year. The board is currently revising eligibility rules governing districts' qualifications for state construction funds.

The seven districts that will be allowed to begin construction had all passed local bond issues before the moratorium was imposed.

The attorney general of Kansas is considering whether to take legal steps to remove a professor at a state college from the state board of education.

The attorney general issued an opinion last month stating that Everett Johnson, a professor of electrical engineering at Witchita State University, was ineligible to serve on the board because a law prohibiting state employees from serving on the panel. Mr. Johnson was selected to fill a vacancy on the board in early May.

Vol. 08, Issue 37

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