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Tenn. Senate Kills Anti-Evolution Bill

The Tennessee Senate voted 20-13 last week to kill a controversial bill that would have allowed local districts to fire teachers who taught the theory of evolution as fact.

Fourteen Democrats and six Republicans voted to kill the measure, while 10 Republicans and three Democrats voted for it. The bill was voted out of the chamber's education subcommittee on a 6-3 vote earlier last month.

But its chances for passage in the full Senate faded last week because of subcommittee amendments that would have required the state to spend about $2 million to update biology textbooks.

Opponents, including the Tennessee Teachers' Association, had argued that the legislature was the wrong place to establish curriculum policy. The bill had also faced possible constitutional challenges.

The teaching of evolution has long been controversial in Tennessee, which was the site of the famous 1925 "monkey trial," in which teacher John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution as fact.

Gay-Related Bill Vetoed

Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt has vetoed legislation that sought to bar school employees from condoning or supporting "immoral or illegal" activity, a proposal prompted by the controversy over an organization for gay students.

The legislature cleared the bill after lawmakers objected to the proposed support group for gay students at a Salt Lake City high school. The issue received national attention after the local school board banned all extracurricular clubs rather than allow the Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on school property. (See Education Week, Feb. 28 and March 6, 1996.)

The legislation would have prohibited teachers and school officials from encouraging criminal conduct, including sodomy, with the intent of barring educators from openly supporting gay student groups. The measure also covered actions by school employees off campus that led to disruptions on school grounds.

Mr. Leavitt, a Republican, agreed with critics of the bill who warned it would trample educators' constitutional rights.

The bill "may have the effect of chilling free speech," the governor wrote to legislative leaders last month. "This would not only be bad policy, but could also subject the state to expensive legal challenges."

Tax Alternatives

Texans will debate whether to scrap property taxes as a school-funding source in a series of town-hall meetings called by Gov. George W. Bush.

The governor said last month that he will name a committee to organize the meetings and gauge public reaction to proposed alternatives. The committee, headed by Elton Bomer, the commissioner of the state insurance department, will report to the governor next fall.

A commission of economic experts appointed by Mr. Bush has recommended that an expanded state sales tax or new business taxes could serve as alternatives to the property tax.

Mr. Bush, a Republican, made property-tax relief a central issue in his 1994 campaign against Democratic incumbent Ann W. Richards. Property-tax rates have more than doubled in Texas in the past decade.

About three-fifths of the revenue from the taxes--about $10 billion annually--goes to schools.

Funding Case Dismissed

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has dismissed a lawsuit charging that the state's school-funding system is unconstitutional.

North Carolina's constitution requires the state to provide children equal access to education, but not equal educational opportunities, the three-judge panel ruled in a unanimous decision last month.

The suit was filed in 1994 by five low-wealth districts, which argued that they cannot provide an adequate education under the current funding formula.

A lawyer representing the plaintiff districts said the decision will probably be appealed to the state supreme court.

Vol. 15, Issue 28

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