News In Brief

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Gov. Pete Wilson of California and leading legislators have reached an agreement not to suspend Proposition 98, the constitutional provision that guarantees schools about 40 percent of state revenues.

With the Governor's assurance that the school-funding guarantee would be held intact, the legislature was expected to pass a measure that would recapture an additional $400 million in funds budgeted to districts this year, before the state's growing deficit triggered automatic reductions in state school aid.

When added to about $840 million already recaptured in a similar fashion this month, the funds bridged the gap between the Governor and legislature on their education-funding proposals.

The accord was seen as a hollow victory, however, for the state's education lobbies, which had bitterly fought a Proposition 98 suspension. (See Education Week, April 24, 1991.)

Even with the funding guarantee in place, state schools are likely to be $1.2 billion short of meeting their projected budget needs for the coming fiscal year, state education officials said, and may have to save $800 million by freezing teacher salaries and $400 million by slashing funding for educational programs.

Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa has vetoed a bill that would have enabled schools to teach after-school parenting classes, claiming the plan could boost property taxes.

In passing the measure, lawmakers had sought to ensure that children begin school with strong educational preparation. Fearful of imposing new programs on school districts, however, legislators left it to school boards to decide whether and how to devise parenting courses.

The bill authorized districts to increase their budgets to pay for the programs, with a promise that state money might eventually replace the property taxes that districts would use to fund them.

But Mr. Branstad warned that the measure could raise property taxes by as much as $19 million. A tight budgetary outlook, he added, made it unlikely that state funds would become available in the near future.

The Indiana legislature last week was still working out an agreement on a budget that is expected to provide a modest increase in school aid.

The legislature ended its regular session in early May without a budget and had to be called back by Gov. Evan Bayh for two consecutive special sessions to resolve lingering partisan disputes, primarily centering around Congressional redistricting. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991.)

The House and Senate budget plans, which were still being reconciled by a conference committee last week, both call for a 4 percent increase in tuition support in the first year of the 1992-93 biennium and 3 percent in the second. But budget negotiators had not yet settled on how much of the increase should be funded through local property taxes, the suspension of an automobile excise-tax cut, or the use of state cash reserves.

Illinois Board of Education officials said last week that they have been taking steps to keep a state law that provides funds for safety-related school improvements from being used by districts to fund other work.

The Chicago Tribune last week reported that districts are continuing to exploit the law to fund, without local voter approval, new schools and other improvements that are not safety-related and later cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Money earmarked to protect children has been used to buy gymnasium floors, install lockers, remodel auditoriums, and repair swimming pools, the newspaper said.

The state's Health and Life Safety Code, enacted in response to a 1958 fire in a Roman Catholic school that killed 92 children and three nuns, allows public school districts to fund safety-enhancement projects without voter approval by levying special property taxes or selling bonds.

A spokesman for the state education department said officials there have been seeking to halt abuse of the law since 1987. But the Tribune reported that districts continue to exploit the code to fund projects that voters had rejected.

Louisiana would be required to add 30 minutes of instructional time to the school day by the 1993-94 academic year, under legislation approved by the House Education Committee.

Current law requires schools to provide 330 minutes of instruction a day, and have the option of providing 360 minutes. Under the bill, approved this month, 10 minutes would be added to the school day each academic year until a mandatory level of 360 minutes was reached. Schools would have the option of providing up to 390 minutes.

Last month, the panel reported out a measure that would add 20 instructional days to the school year by the 2000-01 academic year.

Oklahoma legislators have ordered the state education department to study other tests before considering the General Educational Development test for a high-school competency exam.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett this spring proposed using the ged as an exit examination for all high-school seniors. (See Education Week, April 3, 1991.)

But after many lawmakers complained that the ged was neither rigorous enough nor geared to the state's specific needs, the legislature this month asked Ms. Garrett to prepare a study of existing alternative tests by Sept. 1.

Wisconsin students should be required to obtain a "certificate of initial mastery" by age 16 or the end of the 10th grade before becoming eligible for work, a state panel studying workforce issues has recommended.

The idea put forward by the Governor's Commission for a Quality Workforce in Wisconsin is based on a report issued last year by a national commission and is similar to proposals being considered by task forces in several other states. In addition, a high-school-achievement requirement is a key element of a school-reform bill under consideration in the Oregon legislature. (See Education Week, May 15, 1991.)

Vol. 10, Issue 39

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