News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Rowland To Stress Education Funding

When he proposes amendments to state's current biennial budget for education to Connecticut lawmakers next month, Gov. John G. Rowland plans to include $93 million in new funding for fiscal 1998 for new and expanded efforts, from reading initiatives to vocational education programs.

The Republican governor, who otherwise pledges to cut government spending and lower taxes, outlined his education budget proposal in a speech to the state school board Jan. 7.

The plan includes: $10 million for a one-time state grant to hire up to 300 new 1st and 2nd grade teachers to improve reading education and reduce class sizes; $10 million each year for the next five years to put more computers into classrooms; $25 million a year for five years to improve school infrastructure; and $75 million over five years to improve vocational education schools.

Mr. Rowland, who is making a re-election bid this year, had been criticized by education groups in previous years for proposing only modest increases in school funding.

In addition to the new spending, the governor called for legislation to allow local school boards to close and replace the staffs of failing schools, even overriding collective bargaining agreements if necessary. He also said the legislature should ensure that parents have the choice to keep their children out of sex education programs.

Connecticut's legislative session begins Feb. 4.

Wash. Gets Plan for Standards

Reacting to the sobering results of Washington state's first test pegged to its new academic standards, Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a $28 million tutorial program designed to help students succeed on the state's 4th grade reading exam.

Under the initiative, which will be included in the governor's policy and budget proposals for this year's legislative session, 25,000 volunteers would be called on to tutor 82,000 students in grades 2-5. Students selected for the program--those considered most in danger of failing the exam--would receive a minimum of 80 hours of instruction after school and over the summer.

Forty-six percent of the 4th graders who took the voluntary reading exam last year scored below the state standard. "The parents of these students want to know what we're doing now" to improve reading scores, said Chris Thompson, a spokesman for the Democratic governor.

Texas Board's Contracting Said Legal

The Texas state school board did not break the law when it hired private firms last year to manage $2.5 billion of the Permanent School Fund, an opinion by the Texas Education Agency's lead counsel has concluded.

Six board members had alleged that agency staff overstepped its authority and violated bidding procedures in seeking proposals to manage a portion of the $16 billion school trust fund, which is used to buy textbooks and pay for other expenses.

But in an opinion this month, David Anderson, the chief counsel for the education agency, wrote that there was no evidence of bidding violations and that the board's approval of the contracts was legally sound. He did say that the board ignored some of its own rules for contracting for private services, but added that the actions were legal.

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