News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Va. Governor Vetoes Bill On Immigrants' Tuition
Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia vetoed a Republican-supported bill last week that would have required undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state college- tuition rates.
Earlier this spring, the legislature rejected the Democratic governor's amendment to the bill that would have allowed some of those students to pay in-state tuition. His exception would have applied to undocumented students who had been residing in Virginia for five years, had attended Virginia high schools for at least three years, and were in the process of becoming legal residents or U.S. citizens. ("States Debate In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students," April 16, 2003.)
Out-of-state tuition in Virginia is three to four times more than in-state rates.
In issuing his veto April 30, Gov. Warner said that the bill would have done nothing to reduce the number of undocumented workers in Virginia, strengthen the enforcement of federal immigration laws, or fight crime and terrorism.
"Indeed, this bill would have done nothing at all, other than score a political victory against 'illegal aliens' and contribute to anti- immigrant sentiment in this country," the governor said. His veto did not change the fact, however, that under current state policy, undocumented immigrant students in Virginia are denied in-state rates.
State Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a strong proponent of the bill, said he was disappointed with the veto. He said in a statement, "I continue to believe that it is not too much to ask that people obey the laws of our society before they take advantage of what our society has to offer."
—Rhea R. Borja
Pending Mass. Budget Plan Would Not Raise School Aid
If approved, the budget plan now being studied by Massachusetts lawmakers would be the first in a decade not to increase state aid to schools.
Education activists and teachers' unions are arguing that the proposed budget from the House ways and means committee could have devastating effects on schools and roll back years of progress.
The proposed budget would cut the state's main source of funding to cities and towns, known there as Chapter 70 funds, by about $226 million. That would represent about a 5 percent overall cut in education funding.
According to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, at least 181 districts would face budget cuts of 20 percent in state aid.
The union sent a memo to House members calling for increased funding. "If the current budget is passed," it said, "class sizes will increase and students will not receive the attention they need to succeed, new schools will not be built, and needed repairs will not be made."
Governor Taps Fellow Democrat To Head Illinois School Board
Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has picked Janet Steiner, a member of the Illinois state board of education since 1999, to chair the nine-member board. She takes over the helm from Ronald J. Gidwitz, who will remain a board member until January 2005.
Officially, Ms. Steiner will be the board's acting chairwoman until the Illinois Senate confirms her appointment, which is considered likely.
Like Ms. Steiner, Gov. Blagojevich, who was elected last November, is a Democrat. Mr. Gidwitz is a Republican who was appointed by Mr. Blagojevich's GOP predecessor.
It's not unusual for a governor to choose a state board head of his own political party after an election, said a spokeswoman for the board.
Ms. Steiner is a former teacher and administrator for the Carlinville, Ill., public schools. She recently retired from the faculty at Blackburn College, also in Carlinville, where she supervised student-teachers.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Legislators in Alaska Agree 'No Child' Law Poses Problems
Alaska lawmakers have passed a resolution that expresses support for the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, but contends that the law poses many problems for the state.
"Specific provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act do not consider the specific needs of Alaska's rural, remote, and small-enrollment schools," the resolution reads.
It passed a mostly Republican conference committee of Senate and House members on April 24, said Cody Rice, an aide to the House education committee. Republican Rep. Carl Gatto, a former teacher and local school board member, sponsored the House resolution.
The resolution is similar to a measure passed recently by the Alaska state board of education.
Elected leaders and educators in rural states increasingly are saying they will have tremendous difficulty meeting some parts of the federal law, including new rules on teacher quality, test- score increases, and analysis of student test results. ("Montana Leads Choir of Rural Concerns Over 'No Child' Law," April 2, 2003.)
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has said he recognizes those challenges and wants to help states address them.
California Senate Approves Bailout for Oakland System
The California Senate has approved a bill calling for a $100 million emergency loan for the 48,000-student Oakland Unified School District. The measure, which would amount to the largest school bailout in California history, passed the Senate on a 27-5 vote, and was scheduled to be reviewed by the Assembly education committee on May 7.
If approved, the loan would pay off the district's past debt and require that a state administrator be named to run the school system.
"This takeover will be unlike any other state takeover because there's no evidence of fraud," said Chris Lehman, a legislative consultant for Sen. Don Perato, a Democrat from Oakland who was the author of the bill.
The school district, which had a $41 million deficit in the 2001- 02 and 2002-03 school years out of total budgets of about $450 million became fiscally unstable because of financial losses stemming from declining enrollment, excessive special education spending, and a failure to make adequate budget cuts.
If the bill is approved by the Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber, supporters hope to have it signed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis by the end of this month. California has bailed out six other districts since 1991.
—Marianne D. Hurst
Future of 'Robin Hood' Uncertain in Texas
School finance reform is front and center in the Texas legislature.
The House passed a much-amended bill last week that would do away with the existing system of requiring property-wealthy school districts to share some of their property-tax revenue with less well-off districts. The change would take effect in fall 2004, provided lawmakers have a substitute plan.
Originally, the legislation had called for the unconditional end of the so- called "Robin Hood" system in September 2005.
Now, everyone seems to be scrambling to help shape a new aid system.
Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, a Republican, is forming a 27-member advisory committee to study the current school finance system, according to a written statement released last week.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, announced his plans to call a special session on school finance next year.
And earlier this month, another top GOP officeholder, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, announced his own plan to amend the system by increasing the state's sales tax and by seeking a ballot measure that would give voters the chance to amend the state constitution to create a statewide property tax.
Vol. 22, Issue 34, Page 24