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Justices May Take Case on School District Boundaries

The U.S. Supreme Court last week asked the Clinton Administration for its views on whether a Mississippi law affecting school district boundaries dilutes the political strength of black voters.

The case in question, which the Court is considering taking up, centers on a 1986 law under which school districts no longer automatically expand their boundaries when cities annex land.

Members of the Hattiesburg school board challenged the law. They argued that because the board is appointed by the city council, city voters who live outside the school district--who are mostly white--will have some electoral authority over the predominantly black school district.

A special three-judge federal district court ruled last year that the state failed to properly highlight changes that would affect electoral authority when it submitted the 1986 law to the U.S. Justice Department for approval. Under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department must "preclear" any change in voting procedures in Mississippi or other states with a history of racial discrimination in voting practices.

The state and the Lamar County school board have appealed to the Supreme Court in Moore v. Dupree and Lamar County Board of Education v. Dupree (Cases No. 94-66 and 94-82).

The High Court specifically asked the Administration for an opinion on whether the federal courts can offer any remedy when a state changes electoral procedures without proper clearance from the Justice Department.

Minority Students

The National Science Foundation last week announced a $125 million grant program intended to increase the number and quality of graduates majoring in science, engineering, and mathematics at colleges and universities that serve primarily minority students.

Under the "Model Institutions for Excellence" program, 20 colleges will compete for awards of up to $25 million each, to be disbursed over an 11-year period. The group includes historically black colleges and universities and institutions that serve many Hispanics and Native Americans.

Each of the 20 institutions selected last week will receive $75,000 planning grants. Next spring, the N.S.F. will select six finalists, which it hopes to use as models for increasing the number of minority math and science majors at other institutions.

The program is a partnership of the N.S.F., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Hispanic Education

Members of a Presidential commission established this year to work on educational issues facing Hispanic students have developed a preliminary list of priorities.

The 23-member commission, created by executive order in February, will focus on:

  • Increasing the number of Hispanic teachers at all grade levels;
  • Assuring Hispanic participation in federal education programs and analyzing their effectiveness;
  • Encouraging collaboration among federal agencies in developing and administering education programs;
  • Boosting outreach and technical-assistance efforts to schools to help Hispanic students reach the national education goals; and
  • Standardizing the way federal agencies collect data so that they all can report specifically on Hispanic students.

"We need an infusion of supports," said Alfred R. Ramirez, the commission's director.

The commission will next meet in December.

Special Education

The National Council on Disability is planning 10 one-day hearings to develop recommendations for the upcoming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Hearings are scheduled for Nov. 4 in Albuquerque; Nov. 5 in Des Moines and New York City; Nov. 9 in Philadelphia; Nov. 10 in Charlotte, N.C.; Nov. 14 in Milwaukee; Nov. 15 in Denver; Nov. 18 in Boston; and Nov. 21 in Berkeley, Calif. The first hearing took place last week in Anchorage, Alaska.

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