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Published in Print: December 4, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Virginia Governor Pledges Immigration Review

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has told the state's Hispanic leaders that he will form a task force to study whether illegal immigrants should be barred from state colleges and universities.

The question of whether Virginia's public colleges and universities should admit prospective students who have entered the country illegally became a matter of public debate in September after Jerry W. Kilgore, the state's Republican attorney general, issued a memo advising against the practice. The memo upset the state's rapidly growing Hispanic population, some of whom argued that non-naturalized Hispanic parents want their children to go to college as much as anyone else.

The governor, a Democrat, called for the task force last month in response to questions posed to him at the state's first-ever summit of Latino activists. Some summit leaders reportedly said a task force simply would prolong debate on the issue.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Mr. Kilgore, said the attorney general welcomed the task force idea.

"We don't think it's too much to ask to observe the rules and laws of society before taking advantage of what society has to offer," he added. Mr. Murtaugh said the attorney general's recommendation also stems in part from post-Sept. 11 concerns about the potential security threats such students might pose.

—Debra Viadero

Kentucky Schools Pay Up
For Attendance-Count Errors

Schools in Kentucky have reaped big benefits from a loophole in the state's funding formula, according to a recent report.

During the 2001-02 school year, schools received a total of $30 million that was not owed to them, said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman of the state department of education. Because the state's funding formula is based on average daily attendance, when schools overreport their data, they end up with more state aid than they are due. Even if schools overestimate by as little as 1 percent statewide, that translates into an extra $19.5 million in a year, state officials say.

Before the 2001- 02 school year, schools were allowed to keep the extra state money. But this year, the state is doing some belt-tightening, so the legislature withheld money from districts that got extra funding because of their overestimates. The education department now plans to provide extra training to the school employees who oversee attendance and to audit every school's attendance records every four years. Previously, schools with high test scores received exemptions from state audits.

—Michelle Galley

Texas Targets Charters For Overpayments by State

Texas officials say the state is owed $5.7 million in overpayments to charter schools that have shut down, including $4.5 million by two closed Dallas-area schools that are the subjects of a criminal investigation.

At the request of a state lawmaker who sponsored a 2001 bill that tightened charter school oversight, the Texas Education Agency has compiled a list of 19 closed schools that the agency says owe the state money for allegedly overreporting enrollment.

Topping the list are the Renaissance Charter School in Irving, with $2.9 million owed, and the Heritage Academy, a Dallas school that owes $1.6 million, according to the TEA.

The schools, both of which abruptly closed in September 2000, are targets of an investigation announced early last month by a state-financed public-integrity unit of the Travis County prosecutor's office. The operators of the schools, some of whom are members of the same family, have denied wrongdoing.

In separate civil litigation related to the funding disputes, the state attorney general's office sued former officers and employees of the Heritage Academy in July.

A lawyer representing former Heritage officials in that case denied last week that the school overreported the number of students it enrolled full time, as the state contends, or that it owes the state money.

—Caroline Hendrie

Florida Senate Report: Teacher-Hiring Boom Ahead

Even without the added pressure from Florida's new class-size-reduction plan, the Sunshine State faces an awesome teacher-recruitment challenge next year. According to an analysis prepared for the state Senate last month, Florida districts will need to hire nearly 17,000 teachers for the 2003-04 school year just to accommodate expected teacher turnover and enrollment growth.

As if that weren't enough, district recruiters expect to be further taxed as the state begins to phase in the plan to limit class sizes that voters narrowly passed Nov. 5. The new constitutional amendment gives the state until 2010 to reduce class sizes to 18 in grades K-3, 22 in grades 4-8, and 25 in high school. With that added demand for teachers, Florida expects to have to hire a whopping 25,000 teachers next year, reportedly 60 percent more than it hired this school year.

The scale of the demand requires that districts not just recruit teachers, but also help more people become teachers, said Gracie Diaz, the director of instructional staffing for the 270,000-student Broward County public schools. Her district has helped substitutes and other paraprofessionals receive teacher training, and has allowed career-changers to enter the profession by taking licensing courses online.

"You've got to look beyond the education school graduates," Ms. Diaz said.

—Jeff Archer

Michigan Supreme Court Leaves Special Ed. Formula Intact

A suit seeking to change the way Michigan pays for special education has again failed to make progress in the courts.

Acting late last month, the Michigan Supreme Court refused in a 5-2 vote to review a Michigan Court of Appeals decision last spring that upheld the constitutionality of the current school aid system.

The supreme court's action could end a lengthy quest on the part of most of the state's school districts for more state funding to cover the costs of special education. ("Mich. Sued 3rd Time Over Spec. Ed. Funds," Dec. 6, 2000.)

A majority of justices on the state's highest court said they weren't persuaded that the case, known as Durant III, should be reopened. In the suit, more than 400 districts argue for money to cover special education services above the per-pupil allotments provided by the state. The lawyer for the districts has indicated he might seek another hearing.

Outgoing Gov. John Engler, a Republican, has long advocated an end to the suit, and he said through a spokeswoman that he was pleased at the result, which he took as being final.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 22, Issue 14, Page 19

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