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A group of Florida educators has sued the state over what it alleges are wide variations in the way property values are assessed in different counties.

Current practice often strays from the state constitution's requirement that property be assessed at its full market value, said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which filed the suit last month in a Tallahassee circuit court along with the Palm Beach and Sarasota school districts.

The issue is a major one for education, since property-tax receipts account for nearly all local school revenues in the state. Local spending, in turn, accounts for about 20 percent of the state's overall education funding.

The suit challenges the state revenue department's guidance to county assessors, who in every county but Dade are elected. The lawsuit comes in the wake of statewide grand jury report that termed the assessment system "broken" and found that landowners are unevenly taxed.

While a few counties base their taxes on the fair market value of property, Mr. Blanton said, taxes in others are based on a price that is less than half of the market rate.

Mr. Blanton added that more districts and education associations are expected to join the lawsuit. "There's a possibility that education could receive a substantial amount of money from this," he said.

Court officials are awaiting a response from the state revenue department before setting a trial date.

A federal judge last week lifted a temporary injunction against enforcing Wisconsin's Learnfare program in Milwaukee County.

Under the program, the welfare checks of families are reduced when their teenage children have more than two unexcused absences from school per month.

Charging that inaccurate procedures used to check student absences made some sanctions unfair, U.S. District Judge Terence Evans last summer temporarily halted the pro in the Milwaukee schools, where the largest concentration of covered students is enrolled. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

Satisfied with a plan to improve monitoring by state and county officials, however, Judge Evans lifted the injunction last week.

Under the plan worked out by state officials and Legal Action of Wisconsin--the advocacy group that filed suit against Learnfare--families of truant students will receive notification that they are being monitored for possible sanctions. Officials will also grant personal interviews to determine if absences were for "good cause," inform parents of the reasons when sanctions are imposed, and furnish the phone number of a case manager for further assistance.

If the school system reports students as dropouts, county officials will corroborate the information with the family and schools.

A class action by LAW relating to other criticisms of Learnfare--including concerns that students and families do not receive enough support services or have sufficient access to alternative educational programs--is still pending.

Vol. 10, Issue 10

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