News in Brief: Minnesota Governor Says He May Back Vouchers

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Reversing his position as a candidate in 1990, Gov. Arne Carlson of Minnesota has said he may back a plan to give parents public money to send their children to private schools.

The Republican Governor, who was elected to a second term last November, said last month that he may support a recently introduced school-voucher bill that would give low-income parents up to $2,500 a year to help pay tuition if they chose to enroll their child in a private school. Religious schools would be eligible to participate.

A spokesman for the Governor said Mr. Carlson sees the bill as a compromise because not all the state aid drawn by students would follow those who left the public system.

Voucher Veto?: Republican leaders in the Illinois House say they want to hear from Gov. Jim Edgar before they begin seriously pushing school-voucher legislation that recently passed in the Senate.

Officials in the Governor's office said that no meeting had taken place last week. Rep. Al Salvi, who is sponsoring the House bill, has indicated that House officials are reluctant to pass a bill that Mr. Edgar, a Republican, might veto.

The Senate bill would allow some Chicago parents to use state-paid vouchers to send their children to private or parochial schools. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

Mr. Edgar has said in the past that he would only sign off on a pilot voucher program that he believed could pass constitutional muster. Observers say the Governor remains concerned that a voucher bill could run into trouble in court.

Charter Legality: The Michigan Senate is asking the state supreme court to determine the constitutionality of the state's charter schools.

The Senate passed a resolution on a 20-to-15 vote urging the supreme court to intervene. A circuit-court judge ruled the legislature's charter-school law unconstitutional last year, and the case is now pending before the state court of appeals, which is the step before the supreme court, the state's highest.

Lawmakers are frustrated that the appeals court may not hear the case this year. (See Education Week, 11/30/94.)

In the meantime, the legislature has passed a new charter bill in an effort to answer the lower court's concerns.

Senate Republicans said that teachers, parents, and students in charter schools need to know the schools' legal status. But the high court is not required to respond to the Senate's resolution.

Nominee Rejected: The Mississippi Senate's education committee has shot down Gov. Kirk Fordice's nominee for the state board of education, the first time a candidate has been rejected since the board's creation 13 years ago.

The committee axed the Republican Governor's nomination of a parent activist, Dot Ward, by a voice vote last month.

Sen. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat who is the committee's chairman, said Ms. Ward had little involvement in public education, was ill-informed about it, and held "preformed opinions" she was unwilling to change, even if presented with contradictory evidence.

Ms. Ward released a statement expressing her disappointment in the committee's decision.

She complained about the presence of "a formidable and very powerful education lobby in this state that seeks to maintain complete control of public education [and] insure that only those in agreement with their policies are allowed to serve in decisionmaking positions."

Taxes Disputed: Oklahoma's state superintendent of education has pleaded with pipeline and utility companies to release $63 million in disputed property taxes, rather than deprive school districts and local governments of the funds while their legal status is debated in court.

All 551 districts in the state are affected, and some will end the year in the red without the roughly $43 million in taxes that is the schools' share. The remaining $20 million is owed to county governments.

The dispute arose last year, after the state board of equalization stopped lowering the utilities' tax rate after several years of doing so.

Utilities have sought a lower rate more in line with what railroads and airlines pay. The utility companies decided to challenge the board's authority to set different tax levels on different classes of property.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett's plea came last month after the state supreme court denied a request from the companies to reconsider an earlier ruling in favor of the equalization board.

The companies have until June to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has turned down similar appeals.

The deadline for paying property taxes was March 31, and state officials should know by this week whether any of the companies involved have decided to release some or all of the money while they ponder an appeal.

Vol. 14, Issue 28

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