State News Roundup
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that local tax revenues cannot be used to finance tuition vouchers for students at private religious schools.
Last session, the state Senate asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of a school-choice bill filed by Sen. Gordon Humphrey. If enacted, it would have required local governments to pay up to 75 percent of the tuition costs of students who attend religious or nonreligious private schools, or who enroll at public schools outside their own districts.
The high court ruled last month that the use of public funds to subsidize religious schools would violate a clause of the state constitution stating that "no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.''
The court held such a plan would also violate an article calling for the general separation of church and state institutions.
The ruling, however, did not address the constitutionality of using public money to pay tuition at nonsectarian private schools or at public schools in other districts. Observers expect several new school-choice plans that include only such institutions to be submitted in the upcoming legislative session.
A federal appeals court has upheld as constitutional an Illinois law that says children shall recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school.
The decision, handed down late last month, represents a setback for the plaintiffs, Robert I. Sherman and his 10-year-old son, Richard H. Sherman. The two atheists filed suit in 1988 when the younger Sherman was a 1st grader in the Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21 in Cook County. In their suit, they argued that the law unconstitutionally required students to say the pledge's phrase "under God.''
But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that because the 1979 state law says that students "shall'' recite the flag salute, it is meant to refer to willing students only, according to Richard Grossman, the Shermans' lawyer.
Therefore, the court found, the law does not violate the protection of free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The court also said the phrase "under God'' does not amount to an endorsement of religion because it has lost any religious significance through rote repetition, now amounting to "ceremonial deism.''
Mr. Grossman called the ruling "completely specious and disingenuous'' and said it "flies in the face of logic'' because the law requiring recitation of the pledge is "clearly ... unambiguous,'' as is its religious intent.
Mr. Grossman said he will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court but does not expect the Justices to accept the case, referring to it as "too hot to handle.''
Richard Sherman, now a 5th grader, attends public school in the Wheeling district but does not recite the "under God'' portion of the pledge, Mr. Grossman said.
Only a small fraction of Kentucky parents have participated in elections for local school councils, according to a study by the state school boards' association that recommends giving parents more places on the management teams.
The survey last summer of the 378 schools that had opted to set up the councils, which are being phased in under the state's 1990 school-reform law, showed that fewer than 4 percent of the eligible parents voted for parent representatives to the councils.
The Kentucky School Boards Association, which is currently lobbying to limit the decisionmaking power of the school teams, said its survey showed that involvement would increase if parents were given four seats on the councils rather than two. The school principal and two teachers also sit on the councils, which must be in place in all of the state's schools by 1996.
State education department officials and reform advocates, however, said that while parent participation has been below expectations, they believe it will grow as the councils begin to operate.
Officials also discounted the suggestion that parents make up a majority on the councils, noting that the reform act was designed to make educators more accountable for the success of individual schools.
The Arizona state board of education has approved a policy that allows school districts and individual schools to apply for waivers from regulations adopted by the board.
The measure, which was approved unanimously late last month, is designed to allow districts more leeway in their efforts to improve schools.
A spokesman for State Superintendent of Public Instruction C. Diane Bishop said she supports the rule, but also expects that the education department will support further measures to allows schools to deviate from policies adopted by state lawmakers and local boards.
The new policy, which requires local boards to adopt procedures
under which schools can apply for waivers, must be approved by the
state attorney general within 90 days.