News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.H. Kindergarten Bill Passes

After being held up for several days as part of a budget battle, a bill to encourage all New Hampshire 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten won passage in the legislature last week.

A cornerstone of Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's agenda, the plan would raise state aid per kindergartner to $750, a $250 increase. It also would provide $22.5 million to pay 75 percent of the costs of new kindergarten classrooms over the next five years.

Half of all New Hampshire 5-year-olds attend public kindergarten, while 35 percent go to private programs and 15 percent attend no kindergarten.

As part of a compromise, lawmakers dropped a proposal for vouchers in districts that don't offer kindergarten. But the bill lets school boards contract with private kindergartens that don't meet state standards.

N.C. Reform Measure Moves Forward

The North Carolina legislature late last week overwhelmingly approved a compromise bill to raise teacher salaries, increase certification requirements, and reward high-performing schools.

The Excellent Schools Act would provide funding for an average 6.5 percent pay raise for teachers next year. Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat, proposed the measure, which aims to raise student achievement by attracting and retaining better teachers in the state's 119 school districts.

North Carolina teachers' salaries are now among the lowest in the nation and have contributed to a high turnover rate.

By 2000, teachers' starting salaries would increase to $25,000, a boost of nearly $4,000. Those who earn master's degrees would be eligible for a 10 percent raise, and those gaining national certification would receive an additional 12 percent increase.

Teachers qualifying for both could earn up to $53,000 a year by the turn of the century.

The initiative would give districts more authority to fire teachers and would increase state certification and recertification requirements. Schools meeting or exceeding academic standards set by the state would receive extra state funding for each teacher and teacher assistant.

Conn. Desegregation Case Continues

Plaintiffs in the long-running Connecticut desegregation case of Sheff v. O'Neill announced plans last week to revive their claims in state superior court.

Since filing suit in 1989, the group has argued that the racial and ethnic isolation around the Hartford schools violates the state constitution. Responding to last summer's state supreme court ruling in the plaintiffs' favor, Connecticut lawmakers recently passed legislation expanding school choice and preschool programs. ("New Chapters Written in Saga of Conn. Desegregation Case," June 11, 1997.)

But the package of measures "fails to provide a comprehensive solution," John Brittain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said.

Mr. Brittain, meanwhile, has announced that he is leaving Connecticut this August for a one-year position at the law school at Texas Southern University in Houston. He is also in the running for the dean's post at Howard University's law school in Washington.

Although several lawyers have represented the Sheff plaintiffs, Mr. Brittain has long been one of the case's leading spokesmen. If he does leave Connecticut permanently, he said he still plans to remain active in the case.

La. School Staff Bill Advances

The Louisiana House was expected last week to approve the Senate's expansion of a proposed pay raise for school support workers.

The $12.6 billion fiscal 1998 state operating budget approved by the Senate on June 13 contains a $350 pay increase for employees such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers. In addition, thanks to a Senate amendment, workers would receive an extra $150 by June 30. The bill also would give classroom teachers and principals pay raises ranging from $1,000 to $1,400 a year.

The Senate would pay for the $150 bonus for support workers by tapping the governor's proposed $45 million fund earmarked for classroom computers, reducing that fund to about $38 million, said John Rombach, a legislative fiscal officer.

The House was expected to go along with the addition of the one-time bonus and avoid the need for a conference committee. The measure would then to go to Gov. Mike Foster.

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