News in Brief
The Arkansas legislature has agreed to fund the state's share of a negotiated settlement in the Little Rock school-desegregation lawsuit, following intensive lobbying by Gov. Bill Clinton and prominent members of the state's legal and business communities.
The House rejected the measure three times before it won approval by a 55-42 vote on the fourth try. The settlement requires the state to provide the three school districts involved in the case with $118 million over the next 10 years.
The settlement has also been approved by the other state and local officials involved in the case. It has yet to receive final approval from U.S. District Judge Henry Woods, who oversees the case.
In a separate development, a group of state lawmakers has filed suit challenging a 1956 amendment to the state's constitution that requires officials to oppose desegregation efforts.
State officials have not yet decided how they will respond to the suit filed in federal district court, according to James E. Lee, a spokesman for the attorney general.
The amendment was approved by voters 33 years ago in a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
The Arizona Senate has passed legislation that would allow high-school students, with some exceptions, to enroll in any school district in the state.
The measure, which now moves to the House, includes provisions designed to maintain racial balance in school enrollments.
Student transfers, for example, would be prohibited if they affected either the sending or receiving district's racial composition by more than 20 percent.
In addition, student transfers would be disallowed if they adversely affected a district's desegregation status.
While districts could choose not to enroll any additional students, they could not prevent students from leaving, unless their departure would make the district's racial composition more homogenous.
A similar bill died in the legislature last year.
The Oklahoma House passed legislation last week to allow counties to adopt a 1-cent sales tax to fund local schools.
The House vote came shortly after the Senate had defeated a separate bill that would have permitted school districts to raise their property taxes by 10 mills.
Property-tax reform has been a high priority for the legislature because all of the state's 600 districts are currently assessing the maximum 36-mill property-tax rate allowed by the constitution.
South Carolina public schools would be required to begin their day with a minute of "silent contemplation," under a bill approved by the Senate.
The House rejected a similar Senate-approved bill last year.
The measure, however, is expected to meet with less opposition in the lower chamber this year because the state attorney general has issued an opinion stating the the proposal would not violate the state constitution.
Proposed legislation to provide tax breaks to Nebraska parents with children in private or public schools would violate the state constitution, according to Attorney General Robert M. Spire.
The measure, which is similar to laws in Minnesota and Iowa, would allow parents to deduct from their taxable income up to $1,700 in educational expenses for each child.
In a recent opinion, Mr. Spire8and Assistant Attorney General Harold I. Mosher said the the proposed deductions would be unconstitutional because they would be "the practical equivalent of direct government grants" to private schools.
Senate Democrats in Illinois have introduced a bill that would give schools and colleges at least half of all new general-fund revenues collected by the state annually.
Precollegiate education would receive two-thirds of the additional funds and higher education the remaining third, the senators said.
If approved, the bill would raise education spending next year to $444 million, $100 million above the amount sought by Gov. James R. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson opposes the bill because it would reduce the state's flexibility to meet other needs, according to a spokesman for the Governor. The state education department has not taken a position on the bill, but supports efforts to increase aid to schools, a spokesman said.
The Hawaii Senate has defeated legislation that would have allowed the governor to appoint the state superintendent of education.
The measure, which had been approved by the House, also would have reduced the state board of education to a policymaking body only.
Lawmakers said the bill's defeat effectively ended discussion this year of efforts to restructure the governance of the state's school system.
A trial program in Illinois to measure the wealth of school districts has not produced reliable data, according to a state school official.
For the past three years, taxpayers have been asked to identify their school district when filing their state income-tax returns.
A significant portion, however, have failed to report this information, Michael Belletire, associate state superintendent for finance, recently told local reporters.
The shortcomings of the data make them virtually impossible to use as an alternative to property-tax assessments as a method of measuring a local community's ability to fund its schools, he said.