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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Pa. Offers $1.6 Million for Abstinence

Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania has announced that, for the first time, state money will go to school and community-based programs that promote sexual-abstinence education for children ages 9 to 14.

The news came this month when the Republican governor awarded more than $1.6 million in grants to 24 community-based organizations through the state's Project for Community Building.

For example, the 1,407-student Lackawanna Trail district, located in northeastern Pennsylvania, will receive a $55,000 grant. That money is intended to supplement the district's health curriculum, as well as its counseling and tutoring programs.

Other money from the five-year statewide initiative will cover a broad range of local and statewide training and education programs and media campaigns focusing on the benefits of sexual abstinence and the consequences of teenage pregnancy.

Legislator Tests Board of Regents

A Republican state senator in New York has filed a lawsuit challenging the way the legislature selects members of the powerful state board of regents.

Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle argues in the lawsuit in state court that the selection process violates the state constitution.

The legislature has chosen 14 of the board's 16 current members through a joint session of both chambers, and that, the suit contends, diminishes the power of the 61-seat Senate because the 150-seat Assembly can form a quorum all by itself.

Political observers say the lawsuit has a political motivation.

The Senate has a Republican majority, while the Assembly is controlled by Democrats. Some Republicans in the state view the board of regents, which has broad powers over K-12 and higher education, as too liberal.

When the legislature meets in joint session, Democrats outnumber Republicans 122-87. Last week, to protest their lack of input, Senate Republicans sat out a joint session in which two new regents were selected.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the state law spelling out the joint-session selection procedure, as well as to void the election of the 14 regents chosen by a joint session since 1994.

A spokesman for the board declined last week to comment on the suit.

Ariz. House Approves ESL Limits

Under a bill passed by Arizona's House, most students with limited English proficiency could spend no more than four years in bilingual education or English-as-a-second-language programs.

In addition, HB 2532 calls for districts to stop claiming extra state aid for LEP students after they have spent four years in a special program.

On average, for each LEP student in their schools, districts receive an additional $152 under the state's funding formula.

Current state law does not impose time limits for students in such programs or limit how long the state helps pay for the programs, a state spokeswoman said.

The bill would permit exceptions to the four-year limit on a case-by-case basis. Some 105,100 of the state's 760,000 public school students are considered LEP.

Bill supporters said the measure passed late last month is needed to increase accountability in programs for LEP students.

Critics said the time limit is arbitrary and could force children out of programs before they are prepared to do work in English in the mainstream.

As of last week, it was unclear when the Senate would take up the measure.

N.C. Board Opposes Staff Testing

The North Carolina board of education wants state lawmakers to reconsider a new requirement that staff members at low-performing schools take general-knowledge tests.

The 13-member board voted unanimously March 5 to ask the legislature to amend the 1997 law, which mandates that certified employees--including administrators, counselors, and teachers--take such tests if their school's students fail to meet state standards and if their schools do not meet overall improvement goals set by the state.

As a result, the staffs of 15 schools, or about 350 people, must take the University of Florida College Level Academic Skills Test in May.

Although state board members plan to administer the tests this year, they want lawmakers to eliminate the requirement starting next year.

Board members argue that by requiring the tests, the state is encouraging employees to leave struggling schools.

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