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The Oklahoma legislature has passed a measure designed to restore the state's teacher-retirement fund to firm financial footing by injecting $1 billion into the system over the next 25 years.

The fund, which currently has about $2.4 billion in assets but $6 billion in future liabilities, was on its way to being bankrupt within 20 years, said the bill's principal author, Senator William M. Schuelein.

The bill was approved unanimously by both chambers late last month and is expected to be signed by Gov. David Walters.

The measure would gradually increase the contribution to teacher retirement provided by school districts and change the contribution of teachers, raising the amount required from some levels of income and lowering it on others.

School districts' current level of contribution is 1.5 percent of a teacher's annual salary, but was already slated to go up to 2.5 percent by 1993 under a previous law.

Under the new law, the rate would continue to go up until the year 2004, when it would reach 18 percent--5 percent of which would be funded by an energy tax.

In addition, the bill would remove an $18,000 death-benefit insurance policy for teachers and increase the number of years--age plus years served--that a teacher must have in order to retire without losing benefits. The combined number of years would rise to 90, from 80 under current law.

The proposed changes would only affect teachers hired after this month.

The Rhode Island House has rejected a bill prohibiting the state and local school districts from imposing school-desegregation guidelines that are more stringent than those of the federal government.

The measure had been introduced by Representative Armand E. Batastini Jr., a Providence Democrat whose constituents are angry about a proposed desegregation plan that could result in white elementary-school children being bused to schools in other neighborhoods.

But critics of the bill, which was defeated this month by a 59-to-23 vote, argued that it would mark a severe setback for desegregation and civil rights in the state.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week trimmed Gov. Edwin W. Edwards's $1.9-billion education-budget plan by $22.8 million, after lawmakers questioned some of the proposed additional spending for poorer school districts.

The House Appropriations Committee earlier had declined to endorse Mr. Edwards's proposal to add $38 million to the state school-financing formula, and asked the BESE to reconsider its budget request.

Action by the board did not squash the new funding formula, which would supplement per-pupil funding for 51 of the state's 66 districts, but it reduced the base amount of state aid from $1,965 per pupil to $1,930.

Although the Senate and the House Education Committee had already endorsed the Governor's proposal, the first year of a five-year plan, a new resolution revising the Minimum Foundation Program and reflecting the board's vote will go to the legislature. (See Education Week, May 27, 1992.)

Gov. Barbara Roberts of Oregon announced last week that she will propose legislation creating a joint education-policy board, rather than consolidate the state's existing education and higher-education boards.

In January, a task force had recommended that the state replace the two boards with a single board of regents in order to promote greater efficiency and streamline decisionmaking.

The task force had also recommended eliminating the state's teaching-standards-and-practice board and its scholarship commission.

Instead, Governor Roberts said the state should retain the four organizations while also creating a joint board that will "strongly integrate'' education policy at all levels.

Under the Governor's proposal, the new board's membership would include representatives from each of the four existing boards.

North Carolina lawmakers are considering a number of proposals to refine the state's existing school-reform efforts.

One bill, approved this month by the House Education Committee and sent to the Appropriations Committee, would require every school in the state to file a year-end report documenting its progress toward meeting the goals outlined in school improvement plans. The plans are part of Senate Bill 2, the School Improvement and Accountability Act of 1989.

Representative Anne C. Barnes, the chairman of the Education Committee and the bill's sponsor, said the measure is intended to help schools measure their own progress in reaching their goals. But some critics fear the reports will instead be used to compare schools with each other.

In addition, Ms. Barnes wants to change the makeup of the advisory panels that help develop local improvement plans by requiring that at least half the committee members be teachers. The panels would also have to include parents.

Another bill, passed earlier by the Senate and now being considered by the House, also calls for increased teacher and parent involvement, but at the building, rather than district, level.

"What we have now are a number of pieces [of legislation] that need to be pulled together,'' Ms. Barnes said. "None of these represents a complete plan.''

New Jersey lawmakers, who were already facing a gap in the state budget, must come up with another $450 million, the state treasurer announced this month.

State Treasurer Samuel F. Crane said the newest shortfall was due to the federal government's denial of certain Medicaid reimbursements.

The state intends to appeal the denial, a process that ordinarily takes seven to eight months. But in a letter to Speaker of the General Assembly Garabed "Chuck'' Haytaian, a Republican, Samuel Skinner, the White House chief of staff, pledged that the Bush Administration would help expedite the process.

Richard McGrath, a spokesman for the treasurer's office, said the state also faces a $310-million shortfall in income-tax revenue, as well as $600 million less in sales taxes as a result of the legislature's passage last month of a bill rolling back the tax by one cent.

The G.O.P.-controlled legislature has not yet produced a budget, but when it does, it is expected to pare Gov. James J. Florio's $15.7-billion proposal.

"It looks like it's going to be a long June,'' a spokesman for the state education department said.

The fiscal year begins July 1, and the state constitution prohibits budget deficits.

Texas schools, meanwhile, are bracing for a $343-million shortfall in state aid next year as increased enrollments and unrealized projected savings have combined to sap the anticipated funds for the 1992-93 school year.

State officials have already announced more than $200 million in midyear cuts during this school year.

The cuts come despite a revision in the state's school-finance system that increased property-tax rates in most school districts. Those taxes, which remain temporarily in effect even after being ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court, are slated to rise next year.

While lawmakers are expected to convene in special session following the November elections to hammer out a new finance system, officials said they were unsure how the state budget picture would change by then and how lawmakers might address it.

The shortfall represents about 5 percent of next year's state-aid budget.

The Louisiana House has defeated a measure to institute a single "uniform minimum standard'' for the licensing of day-care centers.

The state currently has two categories of day-care licenses, known as "class A'' and "class B.'' Centers that receive federal or state day-care aid must meet class-A standards, which are stricter than the class-B requirements for centers not receiving such aid.

"We don't have class-B children, so we don't need class-B child care,'' argued Senator Diana Bajoie, who introduced the measure that would have set uniform standards for both groups. To develop the standards, the bill would have established a 25-member committee involving providers in both categories as well as parents of day-care children, early-childhood experts, social-service officials, and lawmakers.

The measure also would have banned corporal punishment in day-care centers and prohibited the employment of anyone convicted of a crime involving a sexual offense against a minor.

Although the measure passed by 29 to 10 in the Senate, it was defeated on a 72-to-32 vote in the House.

Several amendments had been added to ensure that the regulations would not control the religious content of church-sponsored programs or bar them from giving preference in hiring or admissions to members of their own church. But fundamentalist churches opposed to the bill still saw it as undue government infringement in their activities.

Vol. 11, Issue 39, Page 26

Published in Print: June 17, 1992, as News In Brief
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