$6.2-Billion School-Finance Plan Faces Uncertain Fate in Texas

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Texas legislators have approved a five-year, $6.2-billion school-finance plan, but its exact status--and prospects for becoming law--were uncertain late last week.

"The bill's in the Governor's office but not on his desk," said Rossanna Salazar, spokesman for Gov. William P. Clements Jr.

Speaker of the House Gib Lewis, President of the Senate William P. Hobby Jr., and other lawmakers were trying last week to avert a veto of the bill. They were negotiating with Mr. Clements, who has said the bill is too costly.

The Governor has objected to other parts of the bill also, Ms. Salazar added. It fails to provide enough deregulation for "exemplary" schools, she said, and could lead to "an explosion in property taxes" by requiring a minimum tax effort to qualify for state aid.

Some proponents of the measure, on the other hand, said the legislature had already conceded too much to Mr. Clements.

"We're officially opposed to the bill now," said Donna J. Blevins, a spokesman for the Equity Center, a group of low-wealth districts that were plaintiffs in the court case that ultimately led to the4current legislation.

Ms. Blevins said the bill's "equity standard" was too low. That standard was 95 percent in earlier versions of the bill, but only 90 percent in the current measure.

Essentially, the equity standard determines to what degree the state equalizes school spending.

If Mr. Clements vetoes the bill, said a spokesman for the Speaker, Mr. Lewis would not attempt an override until this week--and then only if "he was fairly sure it would pass.".

A court-appointed master will devise a plan if the Governor vetoes a plan and the legislature does not override.

The master is William W. Kilgarlin, a former justice on the state supreme court. He was appointed May 9 by State District Judge Scott McCown.

Judge McCown also appointed two associate masters: Billy D. Walker, director of the Texas Center for Educational Research; and Jose Cardenas, former superintendent of the Edgewood school district in San Antonio.

The master has the authority only to fashion a plan that does not require additional revenue.--m.n.

Vol. 09, Issue 35

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