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Published in Print: September 25, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ex-Secretary Reich Loses Mass. Primary

State Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien won Massachusetts' Democratic primary for governor Sept. 17, defeating a slate of candidates that included a top former Clinton administration official and the state Senate president who helped write a major education reform law.

Ms. O' Brien, who became the first female gubernatorial candidate nominated by a major party in Massachusetts' history, won by a solid margin as she took the city of Boston and swept suburban communities.

Robert B. Reich, a well-known figure nationally from his service as U.S. secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, edged out Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham for second place.

Mr. Birmingham had the support of the state's teachers' unions. ("Teachers' Unions Pass Over Reno and Reich," Sept. 4, 2002.)

Ms. O'Brien will now face Republican Mitt Romney, the former president of the 2002 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee, in the general election, which takes place Nov. 5.

—John Gehring

Scholarships on Hold Pending Mich. Vote

Some 34,000 members of Michigan's high school class of 2003 have received a bit of good and bad news.

A Sept. 5 letter from the department of treasury congratulates them for scoring high enough on state exams to qualify for a Michigan Merit Award of up to $2,500.

In the next paragraph, however, comes the bad news, informing them that the process for completing the awards is on hold "because your Michigan Merit Award may be in serious jeopardy."

The department is halting the process pending the outcome of voting Nov. 5 on a ballot measure that would redirect state funding for the scholarships.

The ballot proposal would send about $300 million a year in tobacco-settlement funds from the scholarship program to tobacco prevention, research, and health care.

Proponents of the measure, which is being led by Citizens for a Healthy Michigan, a coalition of health-care groups, accused state officials of using taxpayer dollars to fight the proposal.

Lori Latham, the campaign manager for the measure, said that the group is considering filing a complaint against the letter.

"We believe it's a violation to use state resources," she said. "It's not the job of the state to get involved in the politics of a ballot initiative."

—Robert C. Johnston

Calif. Allows New Restrictions On Pesticides Near Schools

Gov. Gray Davis of California has signed legislation that will give local agricultural officials more power to regulate the use of chemical pesticides near schools.

The new law allows county agricultural officials to place restrictions on the use of pesticides used on crops and other areas within a quarter-mile radius of schools.

The measure was sponsored by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat, who said she was concerned that pesticide use in and near California schools was excessive. An elementary school in her Santa Barbara-area district had to be evacuated in 2000 because of airborne pesticides that drifted onto school grounds and later was detected in classrooms.

She pointed to a 1997 study conducted by the California Public Interest Research Group that found that 87 percent of schools surveyed used pesticides identified by the government as suspected carcinogens, nerve, or reproductive toxins.

The governor signed the measure on Sept. 12.

— Joetta L. Sack

Michigan Governor Unveils School-Data Web Site

The most complete source for information about public schools in Michigan is now online.

Republican Gov. John Engler unveiled a new Web site Sept. 18 that allows users to look up test scores for every public school in the state, including charter schools, and to disaggregate school data by gender and various ethnic and economic groups.

Educators and the public can compare schools with similar demographics on the Web site, and find examples of high- poverty schools that top state averages on test scores and test-participation rates. The site includes detailed, written reports that walk users through the data from each school.

"Our goal is that this will be a standard feature in every state we're working in," said William J. Cox, the managing director of performance-evaluation services for Standard and Poor's, the New York City- based firm that developed the data system.

Standard & Poor's is working with Pennsylvania as well, and is in talks with other states, Mr. Cox said.

The firm has a five-year, $11 million contract with the state of Michigan to provide the service. Mr. Cox said it's the first system of its kind that analyzes data in ways the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 now requires.

—Alan Richard

Books by the Pound? Maybe, in California

California schools may soon consider not only the content, but also the weight of new textbooks.

Shortly before adjourning last month, the legislature approved a measure that would require the state school board to adopt maximum-weight standards for textbooks by July 2004.

Advocates pointed out that students must lug heavy backpacks all day because they don't have a place to put them. In part, this is because many schools in the state have removed lockers because of safety concerns, believing students might hide weapons or illegal drugs in them.

The bill's supporters brought in chiropractors, physical therapists, and pediatricians to testify that they are seeing more children with spinal-cord injuries and back pain due to the heavy backpacks. The experts recommended that backpacks not exceed 15 percent of a child's weight.

But some pundits poked fun at the measure, saying California would become the only state to buy textbooks by the pound instead of by content. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, has not yet taken a position on the bill, said his spokesman, Russ Lopez. The governor has until Sept. 30 to decide whether to sign it.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 22, Issue 4, Page 18

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