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Published in Print: February 27, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Extension Granted in Ohio Funding Case

The Ohio Supreme Court has granted the mediator seeking to resolve that state's school funding suit a month's extension of the deadline for filing his final report.

The court ruled 4-3 for the extension, which gives mediator Howard S. Bellman until March 21 to find a way to end the lengthy and contentious finance dispute that dates back to 1991. Since then, the state's school funding system has been struck down twice by the court as unconstitutional.

Mr. Bellman was hired in December after the court ruled 4-3 on Nov. 16 to take the unusual step of seeking outside mediation to resolve the case. ("Mediator Has Tough Job in Ohio Funding Case," Jan. 23, 2002.)

If Mr. Bellman fails to get the two sides to agree, the state supreme court will once again take up the case, known as DeRolph v. State of Ohio.

Mr. Bellman had requested the extension in a Feb. 14 letter in which he wrote that "the mediated negotiations of the parties are neither completed or at impasse."

Warren G. Russell, the deputy executive director of the Ohio School Boards Association, said the original, six-week mediation period was an unrealistic amount of time to digest 10 years of litigation and negotiate a resolution.

While the mediation is confidential, Mr. Russell said the state has made two proposals, and the plaintiffs have responded with counterproposals. The details of those proposals are not known, however.

Mr. Russell said while some state lawmakers have remarked in local newspapers that the two sides are far from resolving the funding suit, legislators are still eager to end the dispute.

But with Mr. Bellman out of town on vacation, the earliest the parties can meet again will be March 4, Mr. Russell said. He said Mr. Bellman could request an additional extension if the parties again failed to reach an accord.

—Karla Scoon Reid

States Join Forces on Teacher Quality

State policymakers will collaborate with college and university officials in five states to improve teacher preparation, thanks in part to a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The two-year-long collaboration will seek to help the parties involved devise policies and a common approach aimed at improving teacher education, said John Thomasian, the director of the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices.

The Washington-based organization partnered with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures to set up the project and will provide technical assistance to the state participants.

"While there is a growing consensus among researchers, policymakers, and educators about the essential elements of quality preparation programs, a fully integrated approach has been elusive," Mr. Thomasian said in a statement.

The $500,000 grant will be applied to efforts in California, Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, and Vermont. The discussions will include each governor's education adviser, lawmakers, and representatives from the higher education community, among others.

—Julie Blair

Broad Florida Voucher Bill May Stall in Senate

A bill establishing a full-fledged school voucher program in Florida is headed to the House floor, but passage seems unlikely. Support appears shaky in the Senate, and even Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican and school choice supporter, has told Florida reporters that he opposes the bill.

The "No Strings Attached" Act, as the bill is called, would allow any student in Florida to seek state money to help pay for a private school education.

A leader in the Senate said that the state education department couldn't handle such a program right now, and he called it a "blank check."

The state already allows students who attend schools with chronically low test scores to use vouchers to attend private schools, but only two schools so far have done poorly enough for their students to qualify. ("Board to Close Fla. 'Voucher' School," Feb. 6, 2002.)

A court challenge to that system has been put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Cleveland school voucher case. The high court heard arguments in that case last week.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 21, Issue 24, Page 15

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