News in Brief
New Jersey's current school-funding method is sufficient to meet the needs of districts that consider themselves property poor, the state education commissioner ruled late last week.
Commissioner Saul Cooperman added, however, that the method should be changed to reimburse districts for expenses in the year they are incurred, rather than for the previous year as provided for under the existing formula.
Mr. Cooperman was required to assess the aid system as part of the state's long-running school-finance suit, Abbott v. Burke. In his report, he rejected a finding by an administrative law judge last August that New Jersey's courts would probably declare the current system unconstitutional.
If they are dissatisfied with the commissioner's ruling, the districts that filed the suit would have to appeal to the state board of education before they could take their case to the state courts.
Mr. Cooperman's recommendation that the legislature reimburse districts for their expenses during the same fiscal year in which they are incurred would cost the state an additional $250 million, said Seymour Weiss, director of the bureau of controversies and disputes.
A Kentucky county school board has voted to file suit to challenge the constitutionality of a law that allowed the state board of education to take over the county's schools.
In Mississippi, meanwhile, Gov. Raymond Mabus is expected to sign a similar measure that received final legislative approval last week.
Last January, the Kentucky board ordered state education officials to assume control over the Floyd and Whitley county schools, due to their financial and academic problems. That move marked the first time the state had invoked its full powers under a 1985 academic-bankruptcy law.
In an reversal of an earlier decision, the Whitley County board voted unanimously on Feb. 9 to challenge the takeover in the courts.
Vernon Reynolds, a county board member, said the panel changed its position in part because it took nearly a month for the state to send an investigatory team to the district.
The Mississippi bill would allow that state's board of education to take control of districts that have lost their accreditation due to chronic academic or financial deficiencies.
The Colorado House has defeated a bill that would have denied driving privileges to youths under age 18 who have dropped out of school, are chronically truant, or are failing to make "satisfactory progress" toward graduation.
The bill, sponsored by Representative Chris Paulson of Englewood, was similar to laws enacted recently in Wisconsin and West Virginia.
In a separate development, a House committee rejected a bill that would have helped clear the records of teachers falsely accused of child abuse.
The bill would have helped such teachers remove their names from the registry of abuse incidents kept by the social-services department.
A measure requiring all Montana school districts to offer kindergarten programs has been approved by the House.
Lawmakers had killed the bill earlier this session. But its sponsor, Representative David Brown, convinced his colleagues to reconsider it in the wake of a state supreme court ruling that held Montana's current school-aid system unconstitutional.
"The argument that swayed people in rural areas [to support the bill] was that the court recently mandated equalization," said Mr. Brown. "And since 97 percent of the districts already offer kindergarten programs, it wouldn't be too long before someone would file a suit to require the rest to offer it."
The Mississippi Senate has overwhelmingly approved a measure that would require the state's 152 school districts to levy a minimum property tax.
The bill, passed by a vote of 46 to 6, would force districts beginning in 1990 to levy a minimum tax of 25 mills or a rate sufficient to raise $418 per student.
The state would provide "entitlements" to districts that failed to achieve the required spending level despite "good faith efforts." Lawmakers have yet to act on a separate bill to fund the entitlements.
Senator Irb Benjamin, chairman of the Senate education committee, said the measure faces an uphill battle in the House. "The time factor is going to be a problem [because] it's a kind of complicated concept,'' he said.
The bill has cleared the House education committee and been referred to the ways and means committee.
Iowa high-school students would be able to earn foreign-language credits for studying American Sign Language, under a bill passed by the House.
"There's a big need for interpreters for the deaf here," said Representative Patricia Harper, the Waterloo Democrat who guided the bill to passage last month.
If the bill is approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, Iowa would become at least the second state to confer foreign-language status on sign language. California approved a similar measure in 1987.