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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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MEA Fined for Violating Campaign Rules

An administrative law judge has fined the Michigan Education Association $61,651 for violating the state's campaign-finance law.

According to the Oct. 13 ruling, the union failed to collect payment for polling data that it collected and shared with a committee that helped elect Democrats to the state House. Michigan law bars labor unions from making donations or loans to support political candidates. The value of the data was estimated at $62,000.

"Our theory is that MEA's inaction to collect the debt was forbearance, and thus a loan," said Anne Corgan, the director of the compliance and rules division of the Michigan secretary of state's office.

David Oppliger, a lawyer for the Michigan House Democratic Fund, which received the data, said that as of last week, the group had paid the MEA $5,000, at a rate of $1,000 a month.

Officials with of the state union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said recently that the union will appeal. The union has 60 days to pay the fine or file an appeal.

Md. May Get $45 Million To Educate Poor Children

Following criticism that the state's $254 million funding package for the Baltimore city schools, which was approved in April, was unfair to other jurisdictions with needy children, Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has proposed a $45 million package to help educate poor children in the state's 23 counties.

The Baltimore measure approved by the legislature will funnel the millions of extra dollars into the poorly performing city schools in exchange for management changes. The deal put an end to a string of lawsuits over the adequacy of funding for the 108,000-student school system. ("Plan Tying Increased Aid, State Control Of Baltimore Schools Backed," April 16, 1997.)

Under the proposal Ms. Grasmick announced last month, the $45 million would be divided among the jurisdictions based on the population of poor children in each county. Some county leaders said last week that they were pleased with the state superintendent's plan.

"We are not interested in challenging whether Baltimore needs additional resources," said David Weaver, a spokesman for the county executive of suburban Montgomery County. The 125,000-student county district stands to gain $9 million if the package is approved when the legislature reconvenes in January. "We just want the rest of the state to be treated fairly," he said.

Ky. Education Committee Pushes for Change

A special committee set up by Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wilmer S. Cody has recommended several changes to state law in an effort to lower a stubborn dropout rate.

Among other proposals, the Dropout Prevention Steering Committee recommended last month that the state adopt a "no pass, no drive" policy, suspending the driving privileges of failing students and dropouts. The committee also recommended that the state fine parents whose children have more than eight unexcused absences from school.

Another recommendation is to require school districts to disclose to local newspapers their numbers of dropouts and the amount of state money schools lose because of the dropouts. State aid is determined by attendance.

The committee also suggested the state reduce or eliminate the cash grants given to schools with high dropout rates under the the state assessment system. Kentucky's dropout rate for the 1995-96 school year was 5.53 percent, about the same rate as the previous year and a slight increase from 5.06 percent in 1992-93, according to state education department data.

Iowa Mulling Sale of Communications Network

For the third time in three years, the Iowa board of education has come to the defense of the state's pioneering educational communications network. Selling the network, as some legislators and telephone companies have proposed, would discourage schools from investing in technology and set back reform efforts, the board said in a formal statement late last month.

The network, which relies on a $200 million fiber-optic backbone, links Iowa's schools, libraries, and hospitals with real-time audio and video and provides Internet access.

Some legislators, pointing to future maintenance costs on top of the $500 million the state has already spent building the system, want to consider selling. Also, dozens of small phone companies continue to decry the competition from the state.

The debate is likely to surface in the legislative session that begins in January, although lawmakers acknowledge no sale is likely in the short term.

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