Okla., Neb. Initiatives Face New Legal Hurdles

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Petitions calling for statewide referendums that would overturn school-finance measures in Oklahoma and Nebraska appear to have enough signatures to win places on the November ballot, according to state officials.

In both states, however, supporters of the new reform laws have mounted legal challenges aimed at preventing the initiatives from being put before the voters.

In Oklahoma, anti-tax groups apparently were able to mobilize widespread public opposition to a law passed by the legislature this year that raised income and sales taxes in order to fund a $223-million package of school reforms. The secretary of state last month certified and sent to the state supreme court nearly 146,000 signatures--50 percent more than the number needed to get the measure overturning the new law on the ballot.

A similar situation holds true in Nebraska, where the legislature this year approved a bill that sought to reduce local property taxes by raising sales and income taxes to provide more state aid to education.

Virginia's budget deficit, which is expected to reach $1.4 billion by fiscal 1992, has led Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to call for a $173-million reduction in state aid to schools over the next two years.

Governor Wilder, who has said he will not propose a tax increase to make up for sagging revenues, is expected this month to announce a total of more than $870 million in budget cuts for state agencies.

Officials have blamed the budget crisis on an unexpectedly large drop in anticipated revenues caused by a softening of the state's economy.

The entire budget-reduction package will be submitted to the legislature early next year.

Citing more optimistic revenue projections, Gov. George Sinner of North Dakota has proposed restoring about a quarter of the $33 million cut from the precolleeducation budget.

Last December, Mr. Sinner sliced nearly $96 million from the state's overall budget after voters rejected several tax measures previously approved by the legislature.

But new forecasts indicate that the state will collect an additional $93.2 million over the next two years. As a result, the Governor said last month that he will restore $22.4 million to the budget, including $8.3 million for the schools.

More than 60 percent of Kentucky's 176 school districts have responded to the state's reform law by raising local taxes.

The higher tax rates will enable districts to earn the maximum amount of state incentive funds under the new law, although the unexpectedly large number of qualifiers means each will get a smaller slice of the $20 million available this year.

State education department officials also said last month that all districts had at least met the minimum requirement for local funding under the law, which guarantees state funding increases of between 8 percent and 25 percent for all districts.

The districts' relative prosperity is leading some teachers, however, to ask for more from school boards that have pleaded poverty in the past.

Boyd County teachers staged a three-day strike last month that ended with an agreement for raises of at least 11.2 percent, up 2 percent from the school board's previous offer. A teacher strike also was continuing last week in Floyd County. The teacher walkouts were the first in Kentucky since 1976.

The performance of Illinois students is clearly related to the property wealth of their school districts, according to a report by the state board of education.

Students in high-wealth districts--the top quarter of districts based on equalized assessed valuation per pupil--outperform their counterparts in poorer areas on all parts of the American College Test and the Illinois Goal Assessment Program, the report said.

The report could provide new ammunition for an expected lawsuit against the state's school-finance system, which organizers plan to file this fall.

Vol. 10, Issue 1

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