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Published in Print: February 13, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Student Exposure to Drugs On the Rise in Nevada

A survey of more than 20,700 middle and high school students has found that increasing numbers of Nevada adolescents are succumbing to the lure of illegal drugs, while sexual activity and suicide are in decline among that age group.

According to the study released last month by the Nevada education department, 35.7 percent of students in grades 9-12 indicated that someone had offered, sold, or given them illegal drugs on school grounds last year—up from 31 percent in 1999. The proportion of high school students having sexual intercourse, however, fell from 58 percent in 1993 to 49 percent last year. Pregnancy rates also dropped from 10 percent to 6 percent.

The Nevada Youth Risk Behavior Survey is based on survey questions devised by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The biennial survey examines behaviors that are considered major risk factors in the lives of young people, including suicide, smoking, drug and alcohol use, physical inactivity, sexual activity, and poor nutrition.

In Nevada, many districts use state data and their own local survey results to detect trends in behavior that may call for broader assistance and educational programs. For example, a 1999 school district survey showed an increase in students who were contemplating suicide in one district. The unidentified district implemented a program to address the problem and offered students more complete counseling and support.

The full implications and trend results of this year's survey will be available online at the Nevada education's department's Web site, www.nde.state.nv.us, by the end of March.

—Marianne Hurst

Interim Illinois Chief Resigns

After one month as Illinois' interim schools chief, Ernest R. Wish has resigned because he refused to terminate a consulting agreement with a Chicago-based insurance company.

The state board of education replaced Mr. Wish, who stepped down Feb. 1, with Respicio Vazquez, the board's general counsel, that same day.

The board had requested that Mr. Wish sever his ties with Near North National Group, where he was a paid consultant to the company's chief executive officer, Michael Segal. Mr. Segal faces federal charges for allegedly misappropriating funds and resigned as the company's CEO Jan. 31.

"The state superintendent can work only for the schoolchildren and taxpayers of Illinois," Ronald J. Gidwitz, the school board chairman, said in a statement.

He added that Mr. Wish's consulting work "violates no laws."

Mr. Wish moved forward last month with a three-step reorganization of the state education department, and eliminated 13 of the top 21 administrative jobs. Mr. Vazquez announced the second phase of the plan last week, which is expected to result in the reduction of 60 more positions next month.

A former Illinois assistant attorney general and lawyer for the Chicago schools, Mr. Vazquez will serve as interim state superintendent while the board continues its search for a more permanent replacement.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Pa. Eyes Tracking of Buses

Spurred by last month's alleged hijacking of a school bus, two Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation asking police and education officials to evaluate the feasibility of equipping all school buses with tracking devices.

The resolution, introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate Jan. 31, asks the state police and the departments of education and transportation to study measures that could "enhance school bus safety," including vehicle-tracking systems.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Timothy Murphy, R-Allegheny, asks the police to report its findings to the Senate within three months of the bill's enactment.

Tracking systems have gotten renewed attention since an Oley, Pa., bus driver took 13 private school children on a six-hour drive into Maryland Jan. 24, saying he was taking them on a field trip to Washington. Though authorities said the driver had a gun on the bus, the children were returned unharmed. He faces kidnapping charges.

Terri Zizzi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Murphy, said that the types and costs of tracking devices vary so widely that it was not realistic to draft legislation mandating their installation in all the state's 25,000 school buses. After the possibilities are studied, she said, officials can evaluate what steps to take. The measure was referred to the Senate's transportation committee, she said.

—Catherine Gewertz

La. Schools Get New Awards

The Louisiana education department is slated this month to begin distributing approximately $9.5 million in reward money to 800 schools that met or exceeded performance goals set through the state's accountability program.

Schools qualify to receive money through the rewards program, which was approved by state lawmakers last spring, if they advanced by 5 points on a state-set scale that incorporates student performance on state tests, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and each school's dropout rate. Schools that met those goals will receive a minimum of $2,500, while those that advanced 10 points on the scale will receive at least $5,000.

A full 70 percent of the state's primary and middle schools will receive rewards. Louisiana high schools will be able to participate in the rewards program by 2004.

"We're ecstatic about it," Superintendent of Education Cecil J. Picard said of the schools' success.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 21, Issue 22, Page 25

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