State Journal: District destruction; Leave it to people

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Minnesota education officials, who pioneered in the development of school-choice programs, are pondering a proposal for school restructuring on a scale far beyond that undertaken in any other state.

Doug Wallace, a member of the state board of education, recently outlined a plan for fundamental changes in the way the schools are governed, financed, and regulated.

To begin with, Mr. Wallace's plan would abolish the state's 433 school districts. "It is time to destruct the district system," he says, arguing that the local units are run by entrenched bureaucracies resistant to change.

In their place, Mr. Wallace would create a system of individually state-chartered schools, which would be accredited solely on the basis of their students' achievement. All state rules--other than those on safety, affirmative action, and student performance--would be eliminated.

The plan also would end reliance on local property taxes by providing 100 percent state funding of education. Schools would receive a flat per-pupil allotment, plus an additional amount for each handicapped or disadvantaged student.

In addition, the plan would create an intensive retraining program for teachers, at an estimated cost of $334 million.

Mr. Wallace concedes that it would be "naive" to expect his idea to be adopted quickly. "Most of us could immediately list a dozen reasons why this wouldn't work," he says.

Nevertheless, the plan has attracted considerable interest in the state and, Mr. Wallace hopes, will be introduced as legislation next year.

Gov. George Sinner of North Dakota agrees with a citzens' group that his state's fiscally pressed schools desperately need more money.

But Mr. Sinner said recently that he would not campaign on behalf of a referendum to be submitted to state voters in June, which would raise the sales tax from 5 cents to 6 cents. Virtually all the resulting $44 million would be earmarked for the schools.

"It's time for the people to make their judgments on this issue," the Governor said. "This is a specifically people-derived, people-oriented effort, and I'm going to leave it pretty much at that."

The referendum has initiated by a group led by John Conrad, a former member of the Bismarck school board.

State voters' rejection last December of several tax-raising measures approved by the legislature with Mr. Sinner's support was seen in the state as a major political setback for the Democratic Governor.--hd

Vol. 09, Issue 29

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