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Published in Print: May 15, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ariz. Lawmakers Reject Ruling on School Funds

Arizona's judicial and legislative branches may be headed for a showdown over the state's court-mandated school repair fund.

Judge Edward Burke of Maricopa County Superior Court has ruled that the legislature's use of the state's school building fund to fill a nearly $1 billion state budget deficit is unconstitutional. Lawmakers voted in March to move $69 million from the program, called Students FIRST, to balance the budget this fiscal year.

Legislative leaders balked last week at the May 2 court ruling and vowed to continue with a plan to divert another $90 million from the account next year for the same purpose.

Legislators met with the state attorney general May 7 to discuss their options. That response will likely prompt a new round of legal battles with Timothy M. Hogan, the director of the Phoenix-based Center for Law in the Public Interest, which filed the original lawsuit that brought about the creation of Students FIRST.

The lawyer said he would likely pursue contempt-of-court charges against the legislature, and may seek a court-ordered cutoff of all state education funds if lawmakers move more money out of the program.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Illinois Eyes Elected State Chief

A legislative committee has passed a resolution that would make the job of Illinois superintendent of education an elected position, rather than an appointed one.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Douglas L. Hoeft, a Republican, was approved by the House elementary and secondary education committee this month.

Because it would amend the state constitution, the resolution would need the approval both of the legislature and of voters through a referendum. Rep. Hoeft said he doubted the proposal could pass this year, but he was confident legislators would arrange to have the issue weighed in public hearings over the summer.

Illinois has seen too much job turnover, and too little accountability, from appointed school chiefs, Mr. Hoeft argues.

"It's a statement that we as legislators are disgusted with superintendents coming and going on a rotating basis," he said of the proposal.

But Steve Brown, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan, a Democrat, questioned whether an elected official would raise standards for the office. Illinois switched to filling the superintendent's position by appointment, rather than election, about 30 years ago. The current schools chief, Respicio Vazquez, is serving on an interim basis.

"While it may bring accountability, or a sense of accountability, I'm not sure it would bring somebody with credentials for the job," Mr. Brown said of the proposed elected position.

—Sean Cavanagh

Mich. Court Rejects Funding Suit

In a long-running dispute over state- mandated programs, the Michigan Court of Appeals has rebuffed a lawsuit by school districts seeking millions of dollars to pay for programs they must offer.

The 467 districts that sued the state are seeking compensation for scores of programs, such as services for children with autism, AIDS training for teachers, data reporting, and other state-required actions.

They plan to appeal the April 24 decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, according to Dennis Pollard, a lawyer for the 3,100-student Fitzgerald school district, which is the lead plaintiff in the case.

The plaintiffs argue that the programs at issue violate the state's 1978 Hadlee Amendment, which requires the state department of education to pay for the programs it mandates.

But the 2-1 decision by the state appellate court held that the plaintiffs should have presented their arguments during the 17-year Durant v. Michigan lawsuit, in which school districts argued successfully that the state had failed to adequately finance its special education requirements. The districts could not seek the same compensation again in a separate suit, the judges in the majority said.

—Robert C. Johnston

N.C. to Appeal Finance Decision

North Carolina officials have decided to go directly to the state supreme court for a fast-track appeal of last month's decision in the state's long-running school finance lawsuit.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr., in his third and final ruling in the case, released April 4, said the state is ultimately responsible for ensuring all children have access to a sound, basic education. ("Do More for Needy Students, N.C. Court Orders," April 10, 2002.)

Gov. Michael F. Easley Jr., a Democrat, and state Attorney General Roy Cooper will bypass the state court of appeals, however, in an effort to speed a final decision on the constitutionality of the lower-court ruling.

Judge Manning's resolution in the 8-year-old case calls on the state to ensure schools have well-trained teachers and administrators and sufficient resources to provide a high-quality education for each of the state's 1.3 million schoolchildren. He also ordered the state to provide preschool for 4-year-olds deemed at risk for academic failure and to intervene more aggressively in failing schools.

Mr. Cooper filed the three-page appeal May 6. State officials hope for a decision by the end of the calendar year.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 21, Issue 36, Page 22

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