'Let's Make a Deal' Decides Fate of School Proposal

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Recent action in the Virginia legislature illustrates how state education policy is sometimes shaped by "wheelin' and dealin"' among lawmakers negotiating over seemingly unrelated issues.

In this case, the fate of a proposal that could have forced the closing of many small schools in the state's largely rural southern counties turned out to rest on a brewing debate over zoning laws in fast-growing Northern Virginia.

The final budget submitted by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, who left office last month, contained a proposal to cut off most state funding for elementary schools with fewer than 200 students, middle schools with fewer than 300 students, and high schools with fewer than 400 students.

That idea disturbed Delegate Thomas M. Jackson Jr., a Democrat who represents several southern counties. Eleven schools in Mr. Jackson's home county of Carroll stood to lose funding under the plan.

Statewide, 125 schools would have been affected so severely that they would have had to close down, officials estimated.

So Mr. Jackson cut a deal.

He got delegates from the northern part of the state to support his move to have the school language struck from the budget. In exchange, he killed a bill he had introduced that would have protected land developers from changes in lo8cal zoning laws.

In Fairfax County last year, local lawmakers approved controversial ''downzoning" legislation to stem growth in the area. Mr. Jackson's bill would have given "vested rights" to land developers who had already begun investing in a project--thus overriding any subsequent zoning decisions made by a local government.

Northern Virginia lawmakers, who are struggling to defend the Fairfax County law, described Mr. Jackson's bill as a "developer's protection act."

As a result of a compromise, Mr. Jackson's bill was withdrawn and the school proposal will be deferred for study.--rrw

Vol. 09, Issue 23

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