News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Judge Says Arizona Finance Fix Falls Short
Arizona lawmakers now have a deadline to meet in reworking their states school finance system, after a state judge said a recent fix did not pass constitutional muster.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rebecca A. Albrecht ruled that a new finance system must be in place by June 30, 1998, or the state must stop distributing state aid to schools.
Lawmakers last year created a $100 million school construction fund intended to help schools meet emergency health and safety needs in buildings. The legislators were responding to a decision from the state supreme court that found unconstitutional disparities among districts in construction, maintenance, and equipment. Some lawmakers had hoped the school fund would satisfy the courts; others called for more-substantial finance reform. In her Nov. 19 decision, Judge Albrecht clearly agreed with the latter.
State schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan--who for more than a year has plugged her own finance reform plan--hailed the ruling.
"We now have a hammer over our heads, and it's an appropriate one," she said.
Lawmakers are considering requesting a special session next year to revamp the finance system.
Mo. Supreme Court Upholds 1993 Finance Law
The Missouri Supreme Court has unanimously backed the main sections of the state's Outstanding Schools Act.
The decision upholds a $310 million income tax increase that was part of the 1993 law and gives the high court's approval to the state's school finance system. The law was a response to a state judge's decision that the finance system was unconstitutional.
The court approved programs like the state's new academic standards that were rolled into the finance overhaul. The ruling, however, struck down a section of the law that said the tax increase would need to go before voters if the supreme court invalidated the state judge's ruling. The high court has never gotten the original finance case and called the tax-referendum language a "void attempt to delegate legislative authority."
State leaders, including Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan and state education Commissioner Robert E. Bartman, said they were pleased with the decision.
Texas Gov. Calls Draft of Standards Too Vague
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has criticized the latest draft of state curriculum standards--which are being revised for the first time since 1986--as unclear and vague.
"We must say plainly what we want students to know and when we want them to know it," he told the Texas Business and Education Coalition last month. "No touchy-feely essays on learning by osmosis."
The state school board will hold public hearings on the 1,400-page Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills document early next year. Board passage of the package is expected in April, when a schedule for implementation will also be adopted.
Officials at the Texas Education Agency say the new curriculum standards, covering 15 subject areas, will shift the focus of the current "essential skills" from how teachers teach to what students should learn.
"This document will determine the learning landscape for all Texans," Mr. Bush, a Republican, added. "So it's important that we get it right."
After Vote, Officials Rethink Taxes in Idaho
Following the defeat of an initiative to limit property taxes, Idaho legislators are discussing a proposal to extend an existing 3 percent property tax limit to public school budgets.
Educators are worried the cap could have a devastating impact on the growing enrollment in public schools, said Mike Friend, the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
Initial estimates show that extending the cap--a topic for next year's legislative session--could cut about $12 million in local school funds, a spokeswoman for the Idaho education department said.
The cuts would affect each of the state's 112 school districts differently, depending on what percentage of their budgets come from property taxes, Mr. Friend said. It is still uncertain whether the state would consider reimbursing districts for lost local funds, he said.