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Plans to equalize school funding across Arkansas are becoming more popular as Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and lawmakers review all their options and react to the implications of various bills.

Most recently, lawmakers have proposed bills that would pump an additional $50 million to $90 million into the formula to help poor districts; scrap local property taxes as a primary school-funding mechanism and raise the sales tax by 2 cents; and amend the constitution to allow the state to set local property-tax rates.

Earlier this month, Mr. Tucker presented a bill to the legislature that had many small districts fearing consolidation. It would have created 34 "superdistricts"--all with similar property wealth--to oversee local school boards. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

A new compromise would establish an undesignated number of regional districts, but their authority would be strictly financial.

School officials anticipate that the eventual solution will be a combination of the various finance proposals. The state is under pressure to overhaul the finance system after a state judge last fall declared the present system unconstitutional.

In a separate matter, a bill is moving through the legislature that would give the state authority to temporarily take over local districts in severe fiscal or academic distress. That bill passed the House earlier this month.

Massachusetts Revamps Welfare

Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts has signed a welfare-reform measure that requires teenage mothers to live with a parent and make progress toward high school graduation to receive benefits.

The law will also require some 18,400 welfare recipients, or one-fifth of the total in the state, who are able-bodied and have children over age 6 to find a job or perform community service after 60 days of benefits. Able recipients with children younger than 6 must enroll in education or training.

The law also bars additional benefits to mothers who have more children while on welfare.

Governor Weld, a Republican, signed the compromise measure into law on Feb. 10, one day after it passed both houses of the Democratic-controlled legislature.

State lawmakers have debated revisions of the welfare system for two years. The state must get federal permission for most of the changes to take effect.

Vol. 14, Issue 22

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