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Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as News in Brief

News in Brief

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A segregation-era provision of the Alabama constitution that denies that state residents have a guaranteed right to public education violates the U.S. Constitution, a state judge has ruled.

Backers of a pending lawsuit challenging the fairness of Alabama's school-finance system hailed the decision last month as "a major victory" for their effort.

In a three-page ruling, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Reese ordered that the 1956 amendment be voided under the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

In its place, the judge resurrected a mandate of the state's 1901 constitution, which provides that the state will provide a "liberal system of public schools" for children between the ages of 7 and 21.

The ruling also clears the way for the plaintiffs, who include individual parents and children as well as school beards, to try to prove that Alabama's system of public education is "both inequitable and inadequate," said Helen Hershkoff, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The suit, which names as defendants Gov. Guy Hunt and State Superintendent of Education Wayne Teague, was brought last year by the Alabama Coalition for Equity on behalf of school districts in low-wealth areas, and was later joined by the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

Gov. Barbara Roberts of Oregon has vetoed a bill establishing new rules for home schooling in the state.

The bill was favored by the state's home-schooling community, which saw the measure as a way to set rules that could not be changed by the state board of education.

Home-schooling advocates clashed with the state board last year after board members hastily tried to set new rules before a statewide vote on a ballot proposition that would have limited their authority to do so. The ballot proposition, which also would have granted tax credits to parents who taught their children at home or sent them to private schools, was defeated. (See Education Week, Nov. 14, 1990.)

The home-schooling bill passed by the legislature this year would have largely codified existing regulations. One change would have allowed students whose test scores fell below the 15th percentile on a standardized test to remain at home, provided they were receiving part-time instruction from a certified teacher, rather than having automatically to return to school.

Governor Roberts said she believed authority over home-schooling families should be kept with the state board.

The bill "would lock into statute the existing minimum standards for home schooling at a time when we are taking a hard new look at the flexibility of educational standards for both public and home-schooled children," she said in her veto message.

Gov. James J. Florio of New Jersey has signed a bill requiring the state school chief to determine how the state's finance-reform law will affect the state's poorest 30 school districts, and to make recommendations on how a massive increase in state aid to those districts should be spent.

Sponsors of the measure say they hope the law will stave off a pending lawsuit that claims last year's Quality Education Act did not go far enough to equalize spending between the state's richest and poorest districts. The suit was filed before the state supreme court in June by the Newark-based Education Law Center, whose earlier legal challenge resulted in the high court's 1990 ruling declaring the education-funding mechanism unconstitutional.

The legislation instructs the superintendent to recommend specifically how districts could best use this year's $750-million aid increase to bring education achievement in poorer districts to the levels of the more affluent ones.

The New Jersey legislature also has voted to abolish career tenure for school-district superintendents.

Governor Florio is expected to sign the legislation, which will end the state's unique practice of granting job guarantees to superintendents.

Opposition to the tenure law, first passed in 1906, has grown in recent years in part because of public anger over reports of six-figure buyouts of superintendents. (See Education Week, Nov. 14, 1990.)

To address concerns raised by superintendents, the new bill requires local school boards to award three- to five-year contracts with automatic renewal unless the board provides a year's notice to terminate.

Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio has signed a measure that allows local school officials to extend student suspensions and expulsions from one school year to the next.

The measure is designed to curb the disruptive behavior of students who broke rules at the end of the school year knowing that their suspensions and expulsions would last only for a short time.

Mr. Voinovich's predecessor, Gov. Richard Celeste, had vetoed a similar measure on the grounds that it would increase the dropout rate. But Governor Voinovich contended that improving discipline was a more important concern.

The Ohio Senate has passed a bill that would replace the 21- member elected state board of education with a 11-member board appointed by the governor.

The measure represents a compromise between Governor Voinovich, who has pushed for an appointed beard, and those who argued that the voters should be allowed to remain directly involved in state education governance.

The bill calls for the governor to appoint one board member for each of 11 regions made up of three Senate districts. Voters in each region could reject the appointed board member, however, thus forcing the governor to make a new appointment. The measure requires that no more than 6 of the 11 board appointees be from the same political party.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York has signed a bill requiring students with jobs to get written permission from school officials, as well as from their parents or guardians, before being allowed to work past 10 P.M. on school nights.

The new law, slated to take effect this week, also reduces from 48 to 28 the number of hours that 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to work each week while school is in session.

While some other states require parental approval for working students, the New York measure is said to be the first to mandate permission from students' schools.

A Kansas judge has upheld a provision of the state's new school-finance law that caps the amount of state aid to some large school districts.

Shawnee County Judge Terry Bullock last month rejected an argument by the Wichita School District that the provision is arbitrary.

Wichita officials contended that the spending cap would cause the district to lose more than $10 million in state aid during the coming school year.

But Judge Bullock said that the Wichita school board could have increased property taxes to head off budget cuts, but decided not to for political reasons. He also maintained that striking down the finance formula would cause more harm to poor districts, which would receive less money under the old system.

Howard B. Dean, a Democrat, is the new governor of Vermont, following the death last month of Gov. Richard A. Snelling.

Governor Dean, a physician who had been serving in a part-time capacity as the state's lieutenant governor, will hold his new office at least until 1993, when the late incumbent's term expires.

Mr. Snelling, a Republican, had previously served as governor from 1977 to 1985, and was elected to a new two-year term in 1990.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 1

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