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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Neb. Summit Sparks Debate

The scheduling of a state education summit for this week in Nebraska was preceded by a political scuffle between the state school board and the governor's office.

When Gov. Ben Nelson announced he planned to kick off his Oct. 1 summit, some board members complained that he intentionally timed the event to boost his candidacy in the November election. The Democratic governor is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

"It's a political move for him to get some good PR before the election," said board member Kathleen McCallister. The board asked that the summit be postponed, but the governor refused.

"The summit is not and had never been about politics or party," Gov. Nelson said at a press conference. "It is about the education and future of our children, and we must move forward."

Minn. Hit With Finance Suit

The St. Paul school board has voted to sue the state of Minnesota in a bid for more state funding and other aid to provide an "adequate education" to the district's 43,000 students.

The district is in tight financial straits, officials said, because of the need to provide special services to a high concentration of poor students and an increasing enrollment of non-English-speaking students. Fifty-nine percent of the district's students receive a free or reduced-price lunch.

The lawsuit seeks to secure for St. Paul students the adequate education guaranteed by the state constitution. Officials have not specified a dollar figure for what they seek from the state.

"In allocating resources and other assistance for schools, the state has failed to take sufficient account of the substantially greater services needed to provide adequate educational opportunities for our students," said a statement released by board Chairwoman Mary Thornton Phillips.

With an "appropriate" level of resources, district officials said, the district could provide such services as an extended school day and school year, attendance monitoring, and expanded intra- and inter-district efforts to increase racial and socioeconomic integration.

State officials have not commented on the suit, which was filed in Ramsey County District Court. The NAACP filed a similar lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court last year.

Native To Lead Vt. Schools

Bringing an end to a yearlong search, Vermont's governor and state school board have named a new commissioner of education.

Marc E. Hull, a native Vermonter, has served as the superintendent of the 1,100-student Caledonia Central Supervisory Union district since 1992. Before that, he was the director of the instructional-support-services division for the state education department.

Mr. Hull will begin his open-ended contract at a salary of $65,000 per year. He will remain with the Caledonia district for three or four weeks to finish his work there before he assumes the job of commissioner, a department spokesman said last week.

The state chief's position has been open for a year, since Richard P. Mills left the job to take the helm of the New York state education department.

After the Vermont board had winnowed its original list of candidates to a handful, disagreements between the board and the governor caused the first search to be abruptly canceled.

A second search turned up a more palatable list for Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, who had asked for more candidates who were native Vermonters. ("Politics Gums Up Search for Vermont Schools Chief," Jan. 31, 1996.)

Ga. Disabilities Plan Disputed

Black students in Georgia with learning disabilities may not be getting the special instruction they need in school, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., alleges that the state's testing procedure for identifying learning-disabled children is faulty and has excluded almost 7,000 black students from receiving special education services. Statewide, white students were 1.7 times more likely than black students to be diagnosed with a learning disability.

Richard Cohen, the center's legal director, said Georgia school officials were notified about the problem last year when they were invited to a forum in Alabama about the same issue.

But a statement from Georgia state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko says her staff "received no allegations, inquiries, concerns, or other similar expressions from either OCR or the Southern Poverty Law Center either in general or in relation to minority students."

Her statement also says the state education department took a "proactive position" and is reviewing the number of students identified with learning disabilities. The department will cooperate with the OCR investigation, Ms. Schrenko said

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