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The Colorado House of Representatives has passed a sweeping measure that would eliminate property taxes for education beginning in 1996, as long as next year's legislature places an alternative funding system before voters.

The House voted 56 to 5 for the measure on April 22, just a day after it was introduced as an amendment to a routine property-tax measure. Property taxes account for about $1 billion in annual education funding in the state, or about 44 percent of the total.

The House measure would leave it up to next year's legislature to decide whether to replace property taxes with increased sales, income, or other taxes. Voters would have to approve the new system in 1995 before property taxes would be scrapped.

But the bill faces obstacles.

"My best guess is that it won't pass the Senate,'' said Phil Fox, the chief lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Executives. "It's too much, too soon.''

Property-Tax Freeze: Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin has signed into law a measure designed to substantially reduce the amount of school funding derived from property taxes.

The measure freezes local school tax levies and calls for the amount raised through property taxes to drop by nearly $1 billion a year by 1997. It does not specify how those funds will be replaced.

However, supporters expect the state's share of local school costs to rise to two-thirds, a substantial increase over the 42 percent it currently contributes. The law calls for a commission of state officials to propose new revenue sources.

Finance Suit: A coalition of 43 school districts, 11 students, and their parents has sued Gov. Lawton Chiles, Commissioner of Education Douglas L. Jamerson, and Florida legislators for failing to provide sufficient and equitable funding for education.

The suit, filed last month in state circuit court, claims that the state system of financing public education is unconstitutional because it fails to make "adequate provision ... for a uniform system of public schools.''

It charges that state funding policies further deprive disadvantaged children, which "relegates them to a lower standard of living throughout their lifetime.''

The plaintiffs also claim that officials have violated state law by using lottery monies to offset cuts in general revenues to the schools.

Voluntary Prayer: The Minnesota Senate has rejected a measure that would have allowed voluntary participation in silent prayer or other religious observation in public school classrooms.

Senators last month passed an amendment that stripped the school-prayer proposal from a pending omnibus education bill.

But House lawmakers have already approved a similar school-prayer plan in their version of the bill. A conference committee was to open debate on the issue last week.

Special Session: Gov. Fife Symington of Arizona has indicated that he plans to call a special session to reconsider both a child-welfare program and an education-reform bill that died in the Senate last month after Democrats unanimously opposed the measures.

Barbara Robey, the director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said last week that the legislature is likely to reconsider the "success by 6'' welfare package, including a $10 million preschool program.

But she said it was still unclear whether lawmakers would agree to confront the issues raised by the school-reform bill, which included a statewide private school voucher program and which led to an "acrimonious and divided'' session.

If a special session is called, Mr. Symington has said, the voucher issue would not be part of the reform bill brought up for debate.

Class-Size Veto: Gov. George F. Allen of Virginia said last week that he plans to veto a bill that would mandate reduced class sizes for elementary school students.

But supporters say that the veto would not threaten a $103 million program, already included in the 1994-96 budget, that allows poor schools to use funds to reduce class size, improve technology, and develop preschool programs.

"The veto is more symbolic than anything else,'' said Sen. Elliot S. Schewel, who helped draft the bills.

Governor Allen, who is expected to sign the budget bill this month, is not opposed to the idea of reducing class size, but to the state mandating it, a spokesman said.

Vol. 13, Issue 32

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