News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Illinois Governor Signs Bill Allowing Tuition Tax Credits
Parents in Illinois who pay tuition to send their children to private, religious, and out-of-district public schools will be able to receive a state tax break of up to $500, under a measure Gov. George Ryan signed into law this month.
The plan, which was approved by the legislature in May, will provide a state income-tax credit directly linked to educational expenses and comes with an estimated price tag of $150 million a year. The credit is redeemable for 25 percent of the cost of tuition and other educational expenses, with a maximum credit of $500. ("Ill. Lawmakers OK Tax Credit for Tuition, Private School Costs," May 19, 1999.)
Critics contend that the plan will mainly help middle- and upper-class families and direct money away from the low-income families who most need help. But Mr. Ryan, a Republican, said in a recent statement that "fairness and opportunity means extending a hand to all children in private and public schools."
--Jessica L. Sandham
Gay-Bias Ban Fails in California
A proposal that would have barred discrimination against gay and lesbian students in California's publicly funded schools fell one vote shy of passing the state Assembly this month.
Barely missing the 41 votes required for passage, the legislature's lower chamber voted 40-38 in the bill's favor on June 4, with two lawmakers abstaining. The measure won support from 39 Democrats and one Green Party member, but failed to win a simple majority in the 80-member body as a whole; 30 Republicans and eight Democrats opposed it.
The Dignity for All Students Act, introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila James Kuehl, would have amended the state education code to add "sexual orientation" to the list of protections against discrimination. The code now forbids bias based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, and economic status. The bill, which would have barred anti-gay bias in public schools and nonpublic schools receiving state funding, contained an exemption for religiously affiliated schools.
Religious conservatives rallied against the bill and placed newspaper and radio advertisements opposing it. Ms. Kuehl, who has sought twice before in recent years to win passage of her bill, is expected to reintroduce it next year.
--Erik W. Robelen
Ky. Changes School Rating System
The Kentucky board of education has approved a plan that changes the rating system used to gauge student achievement at individual schools.
The new system, which becomes effective in the 2001-02 school year, changes accountability provisions of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. Last year, lawmakers ordered the state board to revise the school accountability system to address structural flaws in it, according to Jim Parks, the spokesman for the state education department. For instance, high-performing schools that failed to post achievement gains have in the past been penalized by the state.
Under the new system, which will assign schools ratings of zero to 140 based on their students' performance on standardized tests, schools will be expected to reach a "100" rating by 2014. However, as long as a school shows some improvement or progression in student achievement, it will still be able to receive cash rewards from the state.
But if a school falls below its original rating, it will undergo a scholastic audit, the state board said. The system also will require high schools to meet dropout-rate standards before they can qualify for cash rewards.
--Karen L. Abercrombie
Vol. 18, Issue 40, Page 13