California dreamer to let teachers off tax


THE Governor of California has an attention-getting scheme to improve the schools in America's most populous state: shower them with money.

Using a huge budget surplus that resulted from income tax on residents' massive stock market gains, Governor Gray Davis has proposed income tax exemption and performance bonuses for teachers, university scholarships for top-performing students, cash rewards for educators who agree to work in urban and low-income schools, and hundreds of thousands more computers in schools.

The most audacious proposal is for the state's 280,000 qualified teachers to be excused income tax. A typical teacher would save about $1,350 (pound;910) under the plan.

"In the year 2000, there is no profession more valuable to America's economy and national security than teaching," Mr Davis said. "So we are making a value judgment that being a teacher is the most important thing you can do for your country."

Police officers, nurses, firefighters and other public servants quickly begged to differ, and Mr Davis's detractors suggested he was merely trying to win favour with large teachers' unions. The prospects for the proposal, which would cost the state an estimated $545 million (pound;367.4m), did not appear good.

"It's offensive to say that a teacher who earns $50,000 to $60,000 (pound;33,700 to pound;40,400) a year with summers off needs morerelief than a day-care worker," said Scott Baugh, Republican leader in the state assembly.

California ranks 40th among the 50 states in per-student spending on education. Mandated reduction in class size and population increases have created a severe shortage of qualified teachers.

Mr Davis, who has chosen to dramatically increase funding for schools to one-third of the state government budget, has introduced plans for individual and collective teacher bonuses.

Individual teachers would be rewarded with up to $25,000 if they could raise their students' standardised test scores by at least 10 per cent.

In addition, $2,000 would go to all teachers in any school where test scores improve by 5 per cent, rising to $5,000 where they increase by 20 per cent or more.

Teachers who agreed to work in under-performing schools would be eligible for $20,000 bonuses. And students who score in the top 5 per cent on the state's assessment test would receive $1,000 scholarships toward their university tuition.

When the budget surplus exceeded expectations by more than $3 billion, the governor announced that the state would also buy hundreds of thousands of new computers for schools and provide Internet connections and teacher training. The plan would lower the ratio of computers to students from one computer for every 15 students to one for every eight.

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