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Georgia Bill Would Allow Student-Initiated Prayer

Georgia teachers may soon be required to begin each school day with a 60-second moment of silence during which students can initiate prayer.

Both chambers of the legislature this month overwhelmingly voted to approve and send to Gov. Zell Miller a bill opening the door to student-led prayer in the state's public schools.

A legislative conference committee amended the measure to include direct references to prayer after the House rejected a Senate version that did not have them.

The bill contains a provision that would keep the moment of silence on the books in the event that the courts strike down such specific references as unconstitutional.

Student Searches: Principals in Tennessee can legally search student property based solely on informants' charges that a student is in possession of certain contraband, under a measure signed this month by Gov. Ned McWherter.

The measure, which was passed overwhelmingly by the legislature, authorizes principals to search students' cars, lockers, or purses if informed of the presence of weapons, drugs, or drug paraphernalia.

In making "reasonable suspicion'' the standard for such searches, the measure gives the state's principals significantly more leeway than is allowed to police, who must show "probable cause.''

The measure reflects a U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a separate, lower standard for searches on school grounds based on the fact that schools need to maintain discipline.

Interdistrict Transfers: The Colorado legislature has approved a school-choice bill that would allow for interdistrict transfers of students as long as classroom space is available.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Jeanne Faatz, would expand a recent state law that allowed for intradistrict choice.

The bill states that districts may deny outside students permission to enroll in their schools only if there is a lack of space in the requested program, or if the student has been expelled from his resident district.

Students would have to apply for such transfers by Oct. 1 of each year. Districts could refuse to accept them after that date. The state portion of per-pupil funding would follow students to their districts of choice.

Gov. Roy Romer is expected to sign the bill. Some education lobbyists hope the measure will deflate support for a new education-voucher proposal that may be included on the statewide ballot in the fall.

Choice 'Cushion' Blocked: Members of the Iowa House last week thwarted a Senate effort to financially cushion school districts that lose students under the state's open-enrollment law.

The Senate added an amendment to a measure intended to fine-tune the law that would allow school districts that lose a student under the open-enrollment system to keep half the per-student revenue generated by local property taxes. Statewide, this would amount to an average of about $800 per student.

"In our haste for choice, we don't want to forget the students who are left behind,'' said Sen. Michael W. Connolly, the chairman of his chamber's education committee, who argued that open enrollment is placing a hardship on districts that lose students.

Members of the House education committee objected to the amendment, however, arguing that it would erode the open-enrollment law and create inequities in the amount of funding per student that schools receive. The panel voted to kill the entire Senate-passed bill.

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