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Published in Print: January 23, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.J. Requires Permission for Student Surveys

A new law in New Jersey will require that schools obtain parents' written consent before asking students certain kinds of personal questions in surveys.

The law, signed by acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco on Jan. 9, grew out of a controversy in the fall of 1999 in which 2,000 7th through 12th graders in the suburban Ridgewood district were given a voluntary survey that asked them about their drug and alcohol use, social attitudes, and sexual habits.

The survey, which district officials described as voluntary, was designed to profile student behavior and attitudes. ("Parental Rights at Issue in Probe of Student Survey," Jan. 26, 2000.) Seven parents demanded an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, which found on Dec. 18 that the district violated the 1994 federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment. That law requires parents' written consent before students can be asked certain types of personal questions on federally funded surveys.

Three parents filed suit over the survey as well. A trial judge dismissed the suit, saying no federal funds had been used. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reinstated the lawsuit on Dec. 10.

The New Jersey statute extends the requirements of the federal law, requiring written parental consent before students can be asked personal questions on any surveys, regardless of funding source.

—Catherine Gewertz

Ventura Says Cuts Are a Must

In a move that is already drawing barbs from Democratic lawmakers, Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota is proposing to cut state school aid as part of a larger plan to close a nearly $2 billion budget deficit.

Under Mr. Ventura's blueprint, released last week, K-12 education would lose $100.5 million, or just under 1 percent of its total budget for the current two-year budget cycle.

Mr. Ventura, an Independent, said that none of his cuts would come from the per-pupil spending formula that pays for most day-to-day classroom needs. And he predicted that per-student revenues would still increase an average 5.3 percent from fiscal 2002 to 2003, the second year of the two-year budget. The governor warned of deeper cuts in the subsequent budget cycle. Education remains a priority, he said, but few areas escaped his administration's analysis unscathed.

"While this is considerably less than many other areas of the budget, I imagine that like everything I do in education, it will be controversial. But I will not be deterred," the governor said in a Jan. 10 speech.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Small Raise Eyed for Ga. Teachers

Economic conditions may not be as bad in Georgia as they are in many other states, but that doesn't mean there's much room for teacher-pay raises in Gov. Roy E. Barnes' fiscal 2003 budget proposal.

Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, laid out his education spending plans last week, which include a 3.5 percent raise for teachers—smaller than they had hoped for.

"Now I know we all wish we could do more for our teachers," Mr. Barnes said. "But I also think we can be proud of what we have already done."

Reaction from teachers falls "somewhere between ho-hum and disappointment," said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a nonunion organization with close to 50,000 members. "The 3.5 percent is pretty much cost-of-living."

Other school items proposed by the governor include an extra $7.2 million to continue implementing a new testing system, and $12.7 million more for school improvement programs.

—Linda Jacobson

N.Y. Mayors to Talk of Takeovers

The mayors of New York's largest cities hope that unity will bring them greater control over the public schools in their municipalities.

To that end, New York City's new Republican mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, has agreed to meet soon with his Democratic counterparts from the upstate cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany.

With the legislative session just under way, the city executives seek a common lobbying agenda in the state capital, with school governance first on their list.

Mr. Bloomberg raised that issue in his inaugural address Jan. 1, pressing for the power to appoint his city's board of education.

In his Jan. 9 State of the State Address, Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, promised to fight for the change this year. A bill to abolish the New York City school board died in the legislature last year.

Mr. Bloomberg, meanwhile, indicated he may be willing to settle for something less than full control of the schools as long as his authority expands, a position that lines up with those taken publicly by the mayors of Albany and Buffalo.

—Bess Keller

Utah Teacher Bonus a Hit

Almost 1,200 mathematics, science, and computer teachers in Utah have applied for bonuses of up to $20,000 under a new state program. The program is designed to attract educators to those difficult-to-fill subjects and keep them there.

Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican, proposed the program, which was approved by the legislature last year. Lawmakers budgeted $8 million for the awards for middle and high school teachers in the three fields.

A committee is reviewing the applications and plans to pick the winners by the end of the month, according to the governor's office.

Eligible teachers can apply for $20,000 to help them earn advanced degrees, or as much as $10,000 in cash bonuses for excellence in the classroom. As of the Jan. 4 deadline, 742 teachers had applied for bonuses, and 447 had sought scholarships.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 21, Issue 19, Page 15

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