- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2002

RICHMOND A familiar education issue will be debated in the 2002 Virginia General Assembly: whether the Standards of Learning should be revised further to reduce the emphasis on end-of-course tests.
Several bills requiring a "multiple criteria" approach to the public education accountability program died last year, but some are likely to be revived in the 60-day session that began Wednesday.
The State Board of Education is scheduled to decide today which of several approaches to endorse, President Kirk T. Schroder said.
Critics have said the SOLs put too much weight on exam scores. Starting with last year's ninth-graders, high school students must pass at least six of 12 end-of-course SOL tests, or board-approved equivalents, to graduate.
Among the potential changes are giving some leeway to students who take the tests twice and come close to passing and an appeals process for "transition students" those in the first three classes subjected to the pass-or-else mandate.
The General Assembly also will consider legislation to raise more money for public schools.
Delegate Jim Dillard, Fairfax Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said he will propose a half-cent statewide sales tax increase for education.
Mr. Dillard said he is organizing a news conference for tomorrow to announce results of a survey showing overwhelming public support for a referendum on a sales-tax increase for public schools. His bill does not call for the referendum, Mr. Dillard said, but he would not object if it was amended to add one.
Even legislators who don't want to raise taxes themselves should be able to support letting the voters decide the issue.
"Whether you've signed a no-tax-increase pledge or not, are you going to deny people the right to vote?"he said. "Are you going to say to the voter, 'I know better than you?' "
Other bills would authorize referendums for regional or local sales-tax increases. Mr. Dillard is sponsoring one such bill that would earmark the money for school construction.
The bills are certain to draw opposition. Similar legislation to benefit schools and highway projects died last year.
Without a tax increase, education will feel the same constraints as other state services as the General Assembly deals with budget shortfalls of $1.3 billion in the current budget and more than $2 billion in the next two-year budget.
"No doubt the budget looms over everything," Mr. Schroder said. "My hope is that education doesn't get lost in the tough debates that will come about as a result of the budget."

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