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State programs providing aid to the poor were cut more sharply in each of the last two years than in any year since the early 1980's, a new report contends.

The report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for the Study of the States found that 44 states cut or froze welfare benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in 1992, while 40 states made similar reductions in 1991.

The cuts will hit the "poorest of the poor'' harder than the federal budget cuts of the early 1980's, the report argues, adding that they will spur "increased hardship and even homelessness'' for very poor families.

"These cuts are especially biting because they come amid a weak economy, precisely the time when a strong safety net is needed most,'' the report says.

The report notes that many states with lagging revenues cut programs to balance their budgets without raising taxes, or increased tax revenues through regressive policies that hit the poorest hardest. Besides the A.F.D.C. cuts, it cites cuts in general-assistance benefits and in benefits to recipients of Supplemental Security Income.

The report points to Maryland, California, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Wyoming as making the harshest cuts over all.

Copies of the report, "The States and the Poor: Budget Decisions Hurt Low Income People in 1992,'' are available for $12 each from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 777 North Capitol St., N.E., Suite 705, Washington, D.C. 20002.

The Montana House has adopted a resolution calling for a $37 million cut, or roughly 10 percent, in the state's basic school-aid formula over the coming biennium to help balance a projected budget deficit of almost $200 million.

The action, which does not have the force of law and is not binding in the Senate, is part of an overall deficit-reduction strategy that also would pare $24 million from higher education in order to produce $99 million in spending cuts and an equal amount of new taxes.

The Utah House has passed a bill clarifying what the public schools can teach about religion.

The bill allows schools to teach about religion, political or religious thought, or their influence on music, art, literature, and other areas as long as it is done "to achieve secular educational objectives.''

It also states that no "aspect of cultural heritage, political theory, moral theory, or societal value'' shall be included or excluded from the curriculum for the "primary reason'' that it affirms or denies a religious belief.

The proposal was developed last year by a panel of educators, civil libertarians, and representatives of religious groups.

South Carolina students would have to have enrolled in algebra and geometry classes before they could take the Scholastic Aptitude Test, under legislation approved by a House subcommittee this month.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Douglas E. McTeer Jr., who says the requirement would help raise the state's low average S.A.T. scores.

Some parents and lawmakers have suggested, however, that the proposal may be unconstitutional, since the tests are privately administered and not paid for by the state.

The Mississippi Senate has unanimously approved a $56 million package providing pay raises and improved health benefits for teachers.

The bill allocates about $26 million for pay raises, primarily for teachers with 19 or more years of experience.

With an average salary of $24,609, Mississippi currently ranks 49th in the nation for teacher salaries.

The legislation also adds an additional $20 million into a statewide insurance pool for teachers. The state currently appropriates $5 million for the pool, in which about 12,000 of the state's 32,000 public school teachers participate. As of next summer, all teachers would receive health benefits.

The Kentucky House and Senate have agreed to raise a cap on spending for consultants helping to implement the state's school-technology initiative.

The measure would allow up to $12 million over the remaining 16 months of the biennium to be used for consulting fees to Digital Equipment Corporation.

The legislature last year capped spending on technology consultants at $1 million annually. But officials of the state education department complained that the cap was putting a drag on the progress of the project.

The Michigan Education Association has proposed a school-reform plan calling for the wholesale reorganization of the state's education system to distribute resources more equitably.

The plan announced by the teachers' union last month calls for the state to establish 14 regional "financial districts'' and to divide its 563 local school districts among them.

The 14 districts, which would work with the state to try to distribute education funding more equitably, would have the authority to seek additional revenue through an enhancement millage or local income tax.

The financial districts also would seek to help their member schools improve efficiency in such areas as personnel and transportation.

Local school boards could continue to exist, but mainly to set academic policies, the M.E.A. plan states.

Vol. 12, Issue 21

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