News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Florida Lawmakers Take Another Look at Budget
Florida's budget-cutting isn't over yet.
Gov. Jeb Bush has called lawmakers back to Tallahassee for their second special session this fall. Their goal: Cut up to $500 million more from the current fiscal year's budget.
Sunshine State legislators trimmed $800 million from the state budget earlier this month, but fell short of balancing the state's projected $1.3 billion deficit.
"The House and Senate passed a budget that was good as far as it went, but that left important issues unaddressed," the Republican governor said Nov. 6 in announcing the new session.
Lawmakers will report to the session on Nov. 26, and hope to finish by Dec. 6.
So far, Florida school districts have been told to cut about 1 percent from their current budgets. While schools have been shielded from the brunt of reductions, new cuts of up to 2 percent may be ordered in the special session.
NCSL Sees 'Bleak' Fiscal Future
At least 28 states will likely cut their budgets because of revenue shortfalls, according to a report released this month by the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
Calling the states' fiscal outlook "bleak," and one that will likely worsen, the NCSL's comprehensive report found that revenues dipped below the levels forecasted in the start of the fiscal year, and that at least 19 states were spending beyond their budgets.
Almost half the states may have to use reserves to balance this year's budgets, while a handful may tap tobacco- settlement funds, the report adds.
Medicaid is the big-ticket item most states point to as a source of budget woes. Other areas include health and human services, corrections, and welfare.
Only six states reported that revenues were meeting projections. They were Alabama, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Texas.
—Rhea R. Borja
Michigan Debates Ritalin Use
Taking a cue from other states, Michigan legislators are considering laws to clarify the role of educators in recommending drugs such as Ritalin to help control students' behavior.
Michigan's House passed a bill Nov. 1 that would let teachers identify a child's behavior problem to parents. But teachers could not offer opinions on a diagnosis or medication, according to the measure.
Rep. Susan Tabor, a Republican, introduced the bill because of rising Ritalin use. The drug best- known by that brand name is a popular treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
"The decision to put children on psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin is a difficult one," Ms. Tabor said. "This legislation ensures that it is made by trained professionals in consultation with parents."
Opponents said the bill was unnecessary and might inhibit teachers from talking about a child's behavior.
Similar laws in Connecticut and Minnesota went into effect in July. ("Study: Ritalin May Cause Lasting Brain Damage," this issue.)
Michigan representatives also passed a bill that would give parents the right to forgo use of Ritalin for their children without fear of losing custody of them under the state's educational neglect law.
A commission to study whether schools promote psychotropic medication unnecessarily would be formed under another bill the House passed.
All three bills now move to the senate.
Schools' Test Results on Hold
Maryland education officials have delayed the release of scores on this year's state assessments until early next year so that testing experts can re-examine possible discrepancies in the results.
Schools across the state showed unexpectedly high or low scores in early reviews of the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, given in May. The findings prompted state officials, who do not suspect cheating as a cause, to study possible problems in the evaluation process of the 8-year-old exam, given annually to 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders.
Schools, but not individual students, are graded on the MSPAP. The scores from the tests were to be released Nov. 27.
"The integrity of the process depends on our having the utmost of confidence in the 2001 MSPAP results," state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said.
The state education department will hire experts from the Portsmouth, N.H.-based National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment to examine the test data.
Md. Panel to Urge More School Aid
A governor-appointed panel in Maryland is recommending that state aid to public schools increase by $1.1 billion over the next five years.
The two-year-old panel, known as the Thorton Commission, rejected a proposal for more than $2 billion in new aid, saying it was too costly.
Under the commission's plan, the money would go to current general education programs, special education students, students with limited English proficiency, and those living in poverty.
"This is the state stepping up to the plate to provide for these students," said Tina Bjarekull, the deputy state superintendent of schools.
The commission must work out some details before sending its recommendations to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and the legislature for review.
Vol. 21, Issue 11, Page 20