News in Brief: A State Capitols Roundup
School Funding Inequities Highlighted in Report
In roughly half the states, school districts that educate the greatest number of low-income and minority children receive less money per student than districts with the fewest low-income and minority students, concludes a report released last week.
"The Funding Gap" report, commissioned by the Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy and research group, found that in 22 of the 49 states studied, the 25 percent of districts educating the greatest number of poor students receive less state and local money per student than the 25 percent of districts educating the fewest poor students.
The report also found that in 28 of the states studied, districts enrolling the highest proportions of minority students receive fewer state and local education dollars per student than districts enrolling the lowest percentages of minority students.
Nationally, the study also shows that the per-student funding gap narrowed slightly from 1997 to 2001. But funding gaps increased in 13 states.
Dropouts Would Lose Licenses Under Proposed Minn. Policy
Minnesota high school students who drop out of school or habitually miss classes would face more than detention, under a proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The plan, which still must be introduced in the legislature, would suspend the driver's licenses of students who miss more than 20 percent of a quarter, semester, or school year. The measure would also apply to students who dropped out, even though they can legally stop going to school at 16.
"This is common sense: Students who do not regularly attend school do not learn and do not succeed academically," Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican, said in a press release. "We want to make sure parents and students know it is their responsibility—and to their advantage—to be a full participant in education. And if they're not fully involved, we want to make sure there are consequences."
In 1997, a similar Minnesota plan was proposed to suspend the licenses of truant students and dropouts, but it did not pass.
Georgia Panel Recommends Cuts for HOPE Program
A special legislative committee studying the future of Georgia's popular HOPE Scholarship benefits is expected to recommend that the program no longer cover the cost of books and mandatory student fees.
State budget officials estimate that eliminating textbooks and fees—which can cost about $1,000 per student—would save more than $125 million during the next fiscal year and more than $200 million in subsequent years.
The 20-member commission, which has been meeting since July, informally agreed to the plan late last month. But the group will meet again this month before making its final report before the legislature convenes in January.
The commission is charged with finding ways to preserve the lottery-financed scholarship program, which covers tuition for B-average-or-better students. Budget projections show that by 2007, lottery revenues could fall $221 million short of meeting the demand for the scholarship.
Oregon Board to Phase Out Use of Mercury in Schools
Laboratory equipment containing mercury will be phased out of science classrooms in Oregon.
Acting on legislation that was passed last year, the Oregon state board of education unanimously approved a policy late last month that orders schools to replace outdated equipment with new models that do not contain elemental mercury, a toxic material ("Mercury Experiments in Class Can Be Poison," Oct. 22, 2003.) No timeline has been established for schools to replace their equipment, according to Gene Evans, a spokesman for the state board.
Meanwhile, charges were filed last week against the student who allegedly stole about half a cup of metallic mercury from an unlocked science laboratory at Ballou Senior High School in Washington.
The student, whose identity is being kept confidential because he is a juvenile, was charged with first-degree theft, according to Peter Lavallee, a spokesman for the District of Columbia's office of the corporate council.
Texas State Board Sued After Rejecting Textbook
The Texas state school board is being sued over its decision to reject an environmental-science textbook.
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington-based public-interest law firm, filed the suit last week in the U.S. District Court in Dallas, alleging that the board violated the free- speech rights of Texas schoolchildren and of David D. Chiras, the author of the textbook, Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future (6th Edition).
The board rejected the text after the book came under attack for "promoting radical policies" and being "anti-free enterprise, and anti- American," according to a release from the law firm.
Instead, the advocacy group says, the state board chose a science textbook that was partially financed by a group of mining companies.
Officials with the state board were unavailable for comment.
Vol. 23, Issue 10, Page 26