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Published in Print: February 5, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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S.C. Charter Statute Upheld by High Court

The Supreme Court of South Carolina last week upheld an amended law that eased requirements on the racial makeup of charter schools.

The unanimous ruling in Beaufort County Board of Education v. Lighthouse Charter School caps a 1996 lawsuit filed by a group of parents who wanted to create a charter school. The suit challenged a state law that barred charter school enrollments from diverging by more than 10 percent from the racial composition of the district in which they are located. But the state legislature amended that law last July by widening the allowable gap to 20 percent and letting local school boards waive the racial-composition requirement altogether if they find charter schools are not actively discriminating against students.

Before the revised charter law was enacted, a circuit court had declared the racial-composition requirement unlawful.

On Jan. 27, the five justices of the state supreme court upheld the amended law and said the new provisions have changed the character of the racial- composition requirement to a "fact-based determination regarding discrimination rather than mandating a straightforward quota."

—John Gehring

N.C. Schools Chief Won't Run Again

North Carolina's top education official has announced that he will not seek a third term in the elected position next year. Michael E. Ward said he will leave the office to return to teaching and relief work, as well as to support his wife's work as a minister for the United Methodist Church.

Mr. Ward was first elected state schools superintendent in 1996, the same year the state began rolling out its current school improvement plan. He was re-elected in 2000. Throughout his tenure, he has pushed for continued funding and implementation of the state's testing and accountability plan, bringing the state prominence as a leader in school reform. His term ends in January 2005.

In November, Mr. Ward was elected to a one-year term as president of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Va. Governor Picked as ECS Chairman

Gov. Mark R. Warner

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner is the new chairman of the Education Commission of the States, the Denver-based group announced last week.

Gov. Warner, a Democrat elected in 2001, will replace former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, who was unexpectedly ousted in last November's elections. Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, chose to step down as ECS chairman late last year after his defeat at the polls.

Gov. Warner will finish the remainder of Mr. Barnes' term, which expires in July 2004.

Since taking office in January of last year, Gov. Warner has battled a budget shortfall while trying to maintain funding for K- 12 education, school construction, and student financial aid. As of last week, he had not decided what his top priorities as ECS chairman will be.

The ECS chairmanship alternates between Democrats and Republicans, and new chairmen are usually elected by all of the agency's commissioners. But in this case the group's executive director and other staff members were charged with choosing a finalist. Their recommendation of Gov. Warner was unanimously accepted by the nominating and executive committees in December, an ECS official said.

—Joetta L. Sack

Ky. Lifts Ban on Aid To Religion Major

Kentucky has reversed its stance barring recipients of state-financed college scholarships from using the funds to major in religious studies.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia Beach, Va.-based group affiliated with religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, had sued the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority on behalf of Michael Woods Nash, a student at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky.

Mr. Nash received a $2,900 state scholarship in both his freshman and sophomore years. But once he declared a major in philosophy and religion, he was notified by the state agency that his scholarship aid would end because it violated the program's rules against aiding students "enrolled in a program of study leading to a degree in theology, divinity, or religious education."

The ACLJ lawsuit, filed in December in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky., said the policy constituted religious discrimination.

In a letter to Cumberland College in January, the higher education authority said students such as Mr. Nash, who are majoring in philosophy and religion, may get state aid. The letter said the authority would send out "revised guidance" on which specific majors are eligible for state scholarship funds. In light of the change, the ACLJ has filed a motion to drop its suit.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 22, Issue 21, Page 16

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