News In Brief
The Michigan Senate has approved a plan by Gov. John Engler to cut school property taxes by 20 percent over three years.
The Republican-majority Senate narrowly passed the G.O.P. Governor's proposal this month after talk of a bipartisan compromise disintegrated into conflict over how the state would come up with new revenue to replace the lost property-tax funds.
Mr. Engler has touted the proposal as designed to create jobs and improve the state's economy. But Senate Democrats characterized the plan as failing to address the basic question of how the state would make up property-tax revenues.
The bill was amended to say lost property-tax funds would be replaced by the state, but did not specify the source of the money.
Despite the loss of one vote from their own ranks, Republican leaders in the Senate held on to a 19-to-17 majority to pass the measure, which called for a net tax cut of $1.23 billion by 1996.
But the measure faces an uncertain future in the House, where the Republican and Democratic parties each hold 55 votes.
The Mississippi Senate has again rejected a proposal to move to appointed, rather than elected, local school superintendents.
Senators voted 35 to 15 this month against a bill to mandate a shift to appointed superintendents by 2000.
Mississippi, where 63 of 149 superintendents currently are elected, is one of only six states with elected superintendents. Two of those--Georgia and Tennessee--have voted to eliminate the practice over the next few years.
Previous efforts to eliminate the practice in Mississippi have been defeated in the legislature. In 1988, residents of school systems that elect superintendents were allowed to vote on whether to cease the practice, but no districts voted to do so.
"People don't want to give up the opportunity to elect superintendents,'' observed Sen. Ronnie Musgrove, the chairman of the Senate education committee.
The South Dakota Senate last week was slated to consider a bill to alter the state school-aid formula by directing aid to districts most in need of a supplement to their local property-tax revenues.
The bill, approved on a 4-to-3 vote by the Senate education committee this month, would use state aid to make up the difference between a district's assessed property wealth per student and the statewide average for per-pupil property wealth.
Under the current system, state aid is based on a comparison between the assessed property wealth of each district and its expenditures on education. A district with relatively low wealth and high expenditures, for example, is considered in greater need and receives more state aid than other districts, explained Dale Hegg, the finance director for the state education department.
The Wyoming legislature is debating a proposal to give policymaking autonomy to the state's teacher-standards board.
The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, would give the standards board, which includes teachers, administrators, school board members, and college faculty, control over certification requirements. Since 1983, the 13-member board has acted as an advisory panel, making recommendations to the state board of education, which then made final decisions on certification policy.
The bill is backed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Ohman but opposed by the state board.
One controversial provision of the legislation would require that the six teachers on the standards board be chosen from a list provided by the Wyoming Education Association.
Sen. Dick Wallis this month offered an unsuccessful amendment to guarantee three non-union members on the standards board. "The W.E.A. does not represent all teachers,'' he said. "I was trying to equalize the influence of both groups.''
But Wanda Bowman, a spokeswoman for the W.E.A., said the union would consider non-union members as nominees for the standards board.
A proposal by Gov. William Donald Schaefer of Maryland to provide state vouchers for students at private and parochial schools would survive a constitutional challenge, an assistant state attorney general has contended.
The plan, which has received mixed reviews in the legislature since the Governor unveiled it last month, would be the first school-choice program in the nation to allow tuition vouchers to be used at parochial schools.
Some state lawmakers and civil libertarians claim the program would violate the constitutional prohibition on state establishment of religion because it would provide a subsidy to religious organizations in the form of student tuitions.
But Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe, who advised the Governor about the legality of the program, argued that it would be constitutional because the majority of recipients would be secular institutions. "The program would not be found to have a primary effect of advancing religion,'' she said.
The $600,000 program would provide $3,000 vouchers to 200 low-income
Vol. 12, Issue 22