State Journal: Ultimate weapon; Prisoner parity

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Montana lawmakers are threatening to unlimber the ultimate weapon in their ongoing feud with the state board of education by passing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the board from taking any action that costs the state money without first receiving the legislature's approval.

A bill that would put the proposed amendment before the state's voters passed the House last month on a vote of 59 to 40.

Advocates of the measure are adamant in wanting to curb the board's independence.

"We have to decide who has the authority to tax, that's what it boils down to,'' said Rep. Ray Brandweis, a Republican advocate of the amendment.

The showdown between lawmakers and board members stems in large measure from the board's decision of two years' standing to require each school to establish programs for gifted and talented students. The mandate contradicted a law approved by the legislature that made those programs optional.

A state district judge last year upheld the board's power to institute the rule.

Rep. Ted Schye, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House, has opposed the amendment, arguing that it would effectively strip the board of its powers and make lawmakers the arbiters of such issues as the appropriateness of curriculum.

The Senate education committee held a hearing on the measure last week.

Opening up a new rhetorical front in their battle for more education funding, Florida's two major teachers' unions have launched a campaign comparing the treatment of the state's schoolchildren unfavorably with that of its convicts.

The Florida Education Association/United and the Florida Teaching Profession-N.E.A. joined with a state lawmaker last month to unveil legislation calling for "guaranteed rights and services for children at least equal to those received by the state's 48,000 prisoners.''

In a press release, the unions noted that prisoners get three meals a day, while "too many of Florida's children often come to school hungry and unable to learn.''

Similarly, while the striped-suit set can get job training in the slammer, "our children have no guarantee of assistance for a successful transition into society,'' the release says.

"All I'm asking for is parity--that our schoolchildren get the same treatment as convicts,'' said Sen. Ronald A. Silver, whose bill would impose caps on class size and provide new health services to students.--P.W. & H.D.

Vol. 12, Issue 24

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