News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Union, Reiner Drop Plans for Ballot Initiative

The California Teachers Association and the filmmaker and children’s advocate Rob Reiner have decided to end their campaign for a November ballot initiative aimed at raising property taxes to boost education funding.

Too many competing initiatives on the state’s fall ballot would have diluted the effect of their proposal and confused voters, CTA officials and Mr. Reiner said. California voters will be faced with at least four other initiatives to raise taxes for specific purposes on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The measure backed by the National Education Association affiliate and Mr. Reiner would have raised about $6 billion each year for schools and universal preschool in the state. The supporters said they had already gathered the more than 1 million signatures needed to bring the initiative to voters in the upcoming general election.

"Our decision is the result of a realistic assessment of the complicated nature of the November ballot," said a statement from CTA President Barbara E. Kerr and Mr. Reiner. They said they would reassess the need for the measure or a similar measure after this year’s budget is completed.

The measure was opposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, other Republicans, and the state’s anti-tax groups.

—Joetta L. Sack

Special Session Convened To Address Texas School Aid

Texas lawmakers are scheduled to be in Austin this week for a much- anticipated special session of the state legislature to address school funding.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, announced last week that he would call legislators back to the state capital on April 20 to discuss—and most likely overhaul—the Texas school finance system.

"The time for pondering is over," the governor said in a press release. "The time for action is now."

Earlier this month, the governor announced his own plan to overhaul the current formula for financing schools. ("Texas Governor Unveils School Funding Plan," April 14, 2004.)

Essentially, Mr. Perry proposes lowering property taxes and increasing the amount of money the state would give to schools.

—Michelle Galley

Kentucky to Establish New Option for Dropouts

The Kentucky state board of education plans to create a new way for dropouts to earn a credential that is equivalent to a high school diploma.

At its meeting this month, the board said it would establish the alternative program and will make sure it is linked to state learning standards and may require participants to pass state tests.

The proposed program will be similar to the General Educational Development and may even carry that name, according to Lisa Y. Gross, the press secretary of the state’s department of education.

The proposal would address the needs of recent high school dropouts. In Kentucky, the GED program, which is operated by the American Council of Education in Washington, only serves dropouts older than 17 and have been out of school for at least a year.

The alternative program would be available to students as soon as they left school.

"The goal of the board and the department of education is to make sure that every child gets what he or she needs," Ms. Gross said. The new credential may be available as soon as the 2004-05 school year, Ms. Gross said.

—David J. Hoff

Tenn. Lawmakers Consider Plan to Raise Teacher Pay

The Tennessee legislature is considering Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s plan for meeting a state supreme court order to raise teachers’ salaries in rural areas.

His $35 million plan would increase the average salary from $39,799 to $43,127, and shift more money to rural and fast-growing districts. The state would pay slightly less to districts in its matching-grant formula for salaries, thus giving districts less incentive to raise salaries locally and cause disparities.

Committees in the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the plan this month. Some urban lawmakers oppose the plan, arguing that their districts would no longer be able to offer higher salaries as an incentive.

The groups that brought the original 1988 lawsuit on behalf of the rural districts back the plan.

—Joetta L. Sack

After Ethics Offenses in Ohio, Ex-Official Leads Ark. Study

A former chief of Ohio’s school construction program, who was found guilty of violating state ethics laws last year, is heading a school facilities study in Arkansas.

Randall A. Fischer, the former executive director of the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission, is the program manager of a $9 million study for the legislature to assess Arkansas’ 5,600 school buildings. Mr. Fischer is employed by the Dublin, Ohio-based Summit Consulting Services, a subcontractor of the DeJong Group, which was hired by Arkansas under a one-year, $2.3 million contract.

Last July, an Ohio judge found Mr. Fischer guilty of conflict-of-interest offenses for not reporting $1,289 in lodging, meals, and golf outings from companies he had approved for multimillion-dollar school construction contracts, according to the Ohio Ethics Commission. He paid the maximum fine of $1,250.

Mr. Fischer resigned from the Ohio agency in August 2002.

Some Arkansas legislators who hired him knew about the violations, but weren’t concerned, according to reports in The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio.

—Rhea R. Borja

Vol. 23, Issue 32, Page 22

Published in Print: April 21, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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