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Ind. Lawmakers' Suit Aims to Stop Testing

Four Republican state lawmakers sued the Indiana Department of Education last week in an attempt to stop administration of a state achievement test that is to be given in March.

The lawsuit argues that new questions in the revised Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam will require students to disclose personal information about themselves and their families, said the legislators' lawyer, John Price.

Although a court hearing is set for Sept. 29, Kevin McDowell, the education department's general counsel, predicted that the lawmakers will try to delay it.

"The suit has no merit," said Mr. McDowell. "They will delay as long as they can to keep this [testing] from ever being achieved."

Earlier this year, lawmakers killed legislation to implement a new statewide assessment, citing both its cost and the subjective nature of the questions. (See Education Week, April 12, 1995.)

This year's test is intended to be a compromise between that proposal and the older istep, with essay and short-answer questions added to the traditional multiple-choice items. The test is to be given to students in the 3rd, 6th, and 10th grades.

Closing the Gap

The new school-finance program adopted by Michigan lawmakers in 1993 has begun to close the spending gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest districts, according to a district-by-district analysis published in the Lansing State Journal newspaper.

The biggest factor in reducing disparities was the state's promise to ensure spending of at least $4,200 per student statewide, which has meant a major infusion of aid for the poorest districts.

The newspaper studied the 526 Michigan districts with more than 100 students. The 37 wealthiest districts analyzed--which the state guaranteed $6,500 per student--saw their funding rise $153 over last year. The poorest districts saw an increase approximately twice as large.

Schools are beginning their second year under the new system, which drastically reduced districts' reliance on local property taxes.

Making Peace

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has arranged an early reappointment for the Maryland state schools chief--after engineering a truce between the chief, Nancy S. Grasmick, and the state's teachers' unions.

Mr. Glendening was elected last year with support from the unions, but he wanted to retain Ms. Grasmick, who has tangled with them since she was appointed by his predecessor. So the governor brought together union officials and the superintendent for weeks of meetings on issues such as teacher training and certification that have long divided them.

The state board of education, which must approve the governor's nominee for the top school post, voted unanimously last month to renew Ms. Grasmick's four-year contract, although it does not expire until 1996.

Mr. Glendening said in a statement last week that her reappointment was "vital to ensuring the continued partnership of everyone involved in the state's education efforts."

After the board's vote, Pat Foerster, the vice president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said she was impressed with the governor's approach.

"A dialogue has been opened up, and we believe that Ms. Grasmick has demonstrated good faith to move forward," Ms. Foerster said.

Finance Appeal

A lawyer representing 32 Idaho school districts asked the state supreme court last week to revive a school-finance lawsuit that a lower court dismissed last year. The districts argue that state lawmakers have not yet done enough to insure adequate funding for schools.

Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity is one of two coalitions of districts that have sued the state, charging that its finance system does not provide a "uniform and thorough" system of public education as required by the state constitution. The group of 32 districts has focused on the total amount of money spent, while the other group stressed spending disparities.

The courts consolidated the cases into one suit. But the supreme court threw out the equity claims in 1993, sending the case back to district court to determine whether the state was meeting its "thoroughness" obligation.

The group of districts that had brought the equity complaint formally withdrew from the suit last year, after the legislature approved a $92 million increase for public schools--the largest in the state's history--and rewrote the state aid formula.

Later in the year, the district court ruled that the legislature had rendered the case moot by responding to some of the plaintiffs' complaints. (See Education Week, Dec. 14, 1994 )

Making It Official

Despite calls for a nationwide search, Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad apparently does not intend to replace a veteran state official now serving as the acting schools chief.

Frederick M. "Ted" Stilwill was named the acting director of the state education department last month after Al Ramirez left to pursue business opportunities.

Mr. Stilwill, who had been the administrator for the division of elementary and secondary education since 1988, could be formally named to the top state school post by next spring, an aide to Mr. Branstad said.

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