News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ohio Plan Ties Vouchers, Funds

A group of Republicans in the Ohio legislature has laid out a plan to pay for school improvements with a temporary tax increase. But theres a hitch: They want the funding proposal combined with such hotly debated changes as vouchers and charter schools.

Fifteen House Republicans unveiled the proposal late last month. It calls for a November ballot initiative on raising the state sales tax 1 percent for five years, a move that could generate a total of $5 billion. The money would be directed toward improving school buildings, buying new books, and updating classroom technology.

But as a condition of that tax increase, the lawmakers are calling for the elimination of the required "prevailing" wage, generally the union wage, in construction projects to repair school buildings. They also want districts with a graduation rate below 50 percent to begin offering limited voucher programs. And in those same districts, they want to allow entities other than the school district to sponsor charter schools.

So far, the plan has received a tepid reaction from the governor and legislative leaders. Nevertheless, it is expected to be one of several proposals to address funding issues as legislators wait for the state supreme court to hand down a school finance decision. ("Ohio High Court Hears Arguments in Finance Case," Oct. 2, 1996.)

Calif. Bill Recruits Retirees

California lawmakers last week delivered a bill to Gov. Pete Wilson that would encourage retired teachers to return to school to help the state reduce class sizes.

The measure easily passed the House and last week cleared the Senate on a 31-2 vote.

The bill would allow teachers who come out of retirement to collect both their full pension and a teaching salary for up to three years. State law now lowers retirement benefits if former teachers earn more than $17,850 annually.

California lawmakers last year approved nearly $1 billion to limit K-3 classrooms to 20 students for every teacher. The bill has already led to a wave of emergency hirings and a construction boom.

Mr. Wilson signed a similar bill urging retired teachers back to their old jobs, but that bill never became law because it was connected to another bill that died in the legislature.

California officials say they need about 20,000 more teachers to meet the class-size reduction goals. Teachers covered under the bill could not have taught within the past 39 months and would have to pass the state's teacher-competency test within a year.

Idaho Panel Rejects New Rules

Idaho's House education committee recently rejected five of 380 proposed rules rewritten by the state school board, including a new statewide testing provision.

New resolutions covering each of the rejected rules will be put before lawmakers. If those bills are approved, the state board members will be sent back to the drawing board.

The legislature in 1994 repealed all school operating rules, with the revamped education code to take effect this April.

In addition to the statewide testing plan, lawmakers also nixed a rule to expand counseling programs so that elementary school students would get career information; a regulation that would make it harder for teachers to teach outside of the subjects in which they are certified; a plank that eliminated K-3 student-teacher ratios; and a rule that would have amended high school graduation requirements.

Nev. Teachers: 'Enough Already'

A group of Nevada teachers has told lawmakers there to stop adding course requirements in the state's schools.

At a Senate committee hearing late last month, teachers said they were frustrated that the legislature keeps adding more requirements without removing any. Along with the testimony, the panel received a state education department report echoing the call for a moratorium on mandatory courses.

The report itself grew out of one lawmaker's effort in 1995 to get rid of required instruction in patriotic exercises, technology, environmental education, physiology, and more. His plan would have let local officials decide how to parcel out classroom time.

Among other mandates, the state has three separate driver's education requirements.

Senators were split on the issue, with the panel's chairman stating the importance of the legislature's role in school decisions. Republican Sen. Raymond D. Rawson called the education department's report a "major disappointment."

Kan. Bill Gives Boards Leeway

The Senate education committee in Kansas has moved to give local school boards more power, while killing a plan to require local board members to enroll in annual training.

A bill sent to the full Senate would give school boards the same "home rule" powers as municipalities, meaning that they could adopt any policy unless it was explicitly forbidden by state law. School board actions now are limited to the powers spelled out in state law.

The Kansas Association of School Boards, the proposal's main backer, was joined in supporting the measure by the state's biggest teachers' union after lawmakers included language in the bill that would prevent local boards from reinterpreting state or federal personnel laws.

Neb. Tackles Consolidation

Nebraska lawmakers recently reopened the state's contentious debate over school district consolidation with bills that would gradually combine school districts through 2001.

The state has 662 districts, the fifth most of any state. While many lawmakers insist that the issue must be addressed, observers say a study of the issue is this year's likely outcome.

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