States News Roundup
Wyoming's school-finance reform, ordered by the state supreme court and approved in principle by the state's voters last fall, has been passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Ed 'Herschler.
The measure, as modified by the State Senate, will set property-tax levies in all districts at between 25 and 28 mills. Districts whose local per-pupil revenues fall below the statewide average will receive enough state funds to bring them up to the average, while local revenues in property-wealthy districts are subject to "recapture" by the state if they exceed 150 percent of the statewide average.
The measure also repeals state "supplemental aid," which in the past has gone to poor districts, and puts more money into the state foundation fund, thus enlarging the base of revenue that can be used for equalization. The state will now guarantee that each "classroom unit" will receive $73,000 per year from state and local sources; the previous figure was $41,550 per classroom unit.
Most of the reform will be paid for by the state's collection and redistribution of funds currently collected and spent at the local level, according to state officials. About $9 million in new money will flow into the system as wealthier districts raise their tax rates to meet the new minimum local levy.
The move, which will increase the state foundation program's share of educational expenses from an average of about 32 percent to 42 percent, will greatly lessen the disparities between districts' tax bases, which were found unconstitutional in 1981, according to Mel Gillispie, assistant state superintendent.
The Minnesota Department of Education has begun an investigation into allegations made by the Minnesota Education Association that classes in some school districts exceed the state board's rule on class size.
The mea charged last year that 41 of the state's 436 school districts violated the state rule on student-teacher ratio. The union had planned to file a lawsuit against the state board unless the department investigated the charges, according to E. Raymond Peterson, associate commissioner of education.
Mr. Peterson said the department only collects data on teacher licensing and the number of students in each school building and not on individual classrooms.
The department has sent letters to school officials asking for the information, according to Mr. Peterson. Based on some early returns, he said, it appears that many of the school officials have either hired teachers or reassigned students to correct the violation.
Lawsuits seeking $590,000 in damages have been filed against two Illinois school districts stemming from incidents involving strip searches of students.
Patricia Loney is seeking $515,000 from the Rockford school district, its superintendent, a principal, and two teachers on behalf of her son, James Hershey. The child, she alleges, was forced to "disrobe to the skin" in an attempt to find $4 reported missing by a female student at Vandercook Elementary School in February.
The suit alleges violation of the 10-year-old boy's rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search.
In the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Dayle Murphy filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking $75,000 on behalf of her 12-year-old daughter.
That suit was filed in response to an incident that occurred last October, in which 14 students, ranging in age from 11 to 13, reportedly stripped to their underwear after consenting to a search by teachers attempting to find a $40 pocket calculator that a 6th-grade boy reported missing. The calculator was later found in a book belonging to the boy.
A third district, Sandoval, also banned the searches after 28 students were allegedly searched.
A New York State appeals court ruled last week that a public school may not set up a scholarship fund that discriminates on the basis of sex, even if the grant is financed by a private source.
When he died in 1978, Edwin Irving Johnson left the Croton-Har-mon Union Free School District $195,000 in his will to establish a college scholarship for young men in financial need. But the fund has not been touched since then because of litigation.
The recent decision--which overturns a surrogate's earlier approval of the scholarship--held that the grant should be opened to women as well as men. School officials said they would be happy to comply.
Charles Keir, the principal of Croton-Harmon High School, said the school has in recent years opened to women many previously all-male scholarships. The will's wording, he said, "puts us in a very difficult position. We would be discriminating."
Jonathan B. Blattmachr, a lawyer appointed to represent the Johnson estate, has not said whether he will appeal the case to the state's highest court.
The Connecticut legislature will soon consider a measure that would free school officials from the obligation to provide alternative-education programs for students expelled from school for possessing a "dangerous instrument with the intent" of using it on school property.
Under state law, school districts are required to provide these students, if they are age 16 and older, with an instructional program "only if the child expressed interest," according to Scott Brohinksy, legislative assistant to the state education commissioner.
"The onus was on the child to request" the service and the district had to comply, Mr. Brohinsky said.
The new measure, which was recently approved by the legislature's education committee, would allow school officials to decide whether they will provide the educational services, according to Mr. Brohinsky. Mr. Brohinsky said the bill was meant to apply to situations in which there is concern about the safety of the person who would have to provide the outside educational services.
Connecticut students would be re-quired to attend school at age 5 rather than at age 7 under a controversial bill pending before the state's General Assembly.
If the bill is approved, Connecticut would have the lowest minimim school age in the nation. No other state has lowered its mandatory-attendance age below age 6, according to the Education Commission of the States.
The state board of education, which proposed the bill, maintains that students will benefit from starting school at a younger age.
"The earlier you get children into school, the better it is educationally for those children down the line," said Scott Brohinsky, the department's legislative director.
Not everyone agrees. "We're concerned about children who are immature, whose parents decide that they are not ready for kindergarten at age 5," said Pamela Granucci, president of the Kindergarten Association of Connecticut, a group of about 200 teachers.
Opponents also contend that the proposed bill would penalize working parents who currently place their 5-year-old children in all-day day-care centers. Since Connecticut schools must provide only a half-day of kindergarten, Ms. Granucci said, those parents would have to to find alternate forms of child-care.