State Journal: Held hostage; Mushroom treatment; No racks required

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When a group of Alabama school districts filed a finance lawsuit last year, several state officials who were named as defendants said they agreed with the plaintiffs and sought to switch to the side of those who said the state's method of funding education was unfair.

Not so, however, for Gov. Guy Hunt, who this month responded to the suit.

While his formal reply to the finance challenge focused on such legal questions as the specificity of its drafting, Mr. Hunt in a press conference was bluntly critical of efforts to "hold the state of Alabama hostage" for more education money.

"I am gravely concerned that this lawsuit appears to be just an attempt to force massive tax increases on the people of Alabama without requiring " the school districts that would receive millions and millions of dollars to do anything to improve the education of their children," he said.

Mr. Hunt's attempt to forge a consensus on improving Alabama education, meanwhile, may be in trouble due to a tight budget and some sharp rhetoric.

Seeking to improve his relations with the education community, Mr. Hunt this year appointed a task force of educators and business leaders that issued a lengthy list of recommended school reforms.

But Mr. Hunt made clear that the proposals he would submit to the legislature, which convenes this week, would not call for increased funding for the schools, which have undergone significant cuts in state aid this year. The Governor's stand brought a stinging rebuke from State Superintendent of Education Wayne Teague.

The Governor is treating taxpayers like "mushrooms ... keep them in the dark and feed them horse manure," Mr. Teague said.

Gov. Ned McWherter's massive education-reform proposal has received a mostly skeptical reaction so far in the Tennessee legislature, both over its cost and over uncertainty about exactly what it would change in state schools.

Illustrating for lawmakers what would be involved in a shift from state regulation to local accountability, the state board of education this month replaced $ 3,700 outdated and redundant rules filling many volumes with 200 pages of general instructions to schools.

Among the requirements being dropped were those mandating 15 minutes of safety instruction each week and stipulating how many coat racks a school must have.--hd

Vol. 10, Issue 30

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