News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Colorado Judge Upholds Injunction on Vouchers
A Colorado judge last week scuttled efforts to go forward with a new
statewide voucher program while a legal battle over the effort is
played out in the courts.
In his Jan. 6 ruling, Denver District Court Judge Joseph E. Meyer III upheld the injunction that he placed on the program on Dec. 3. In that decision, he ruled that the voucher program encroached on constitutionally protected local control of schools. ("Colo. Judge Puts State's Vouchers On Hold," Dec. 10, 2003).
Voucher supporters had hoped the program could begin taking effect while the case was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which could take it up this spring.
Up to 20,000 students were expected to use the vouchers within four years.
"This is tragic news for the thousands of low-income Colorado schoolchildren who can never recover the educational opportunities lost to them," said Chip Mellor, the president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, in a statement. The Washington-based legal-advocacy group represents Colorado families who want the vouchers.
Ron Brady, the president of the Colorado Education Association, which has supported the suit, applauded the ruling. "This is an untested, experimental program which violates the Colorado Constitution," he said in a statement. "There is no reason to allow it to be put into place."
—Robert C. Johnston
Public Awareness Urged On Irradiated Beef in Schools
School districts that seek to use irradiated beef in meals should consider sponsoring public-awareness campaigns on the product's safety, a recent report concludes.
The report was based on a yearlong study in three Minnesota school districts. Conducted by the Minnesota Department of Education with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the study includes surveys of members of the public and school officials about their perceptions of irradiated beef.
The researchers also came up with materials aimed at describing its use. The USDA will begin allowing schools the option of ordering irradiated beef through the National School Lunch Program this month. ("Irradiation Choice for Lunches Now a District Matter," June 11, 2003).
Advocacy organizations, including Washington-based consumer watchdog Public Citizen, contended the study would present biased information supporting the use of irradiated food. Irradiation is the process of exposing food to radiant energy to prevent food- borne diseases. Critics of irradiated beef question the long-term health impact on consumers and say that the meat's effects have not been adequately studied.
Political-Speech Guidelines Have No Force, Court Says
The Washington Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit by the state's largest teachers' union that attempted to quash state guidelines limiting the use of public school facilities and resources to spread political messages. But the court did so by deciding that the guidelines have no force of law.
The guidelines by the state's Public Disclosure Commission say union representatives "shall not distribute promotional materials in classrooms or other public areas" and "shall not use the school's internal mail or e-mail system to communicate campaign-related information, including endorsements."
Another provision says employees "may, during nonwork hours, make available campaign materials to employees in lunchrooms and break rooms, which are used only by staff or other authorized individuals."
Those provisions, the Washington Education Association alleged, violate teachers' free-speech rights—a position supported by the King County Superior Court, which declared in 2002 that the guidelines were unconstitutional and "an arbitrary and capricious agency action."
Acting on Dec. 11, the state high court reversed the lower-court ruling. The high court held 5-4 that the guidelines had no legal or regulatory effect—making a judicial decision unwarranted.
Proposed Calif. Measure Seeks Class Use of Bible
Bibles would be given to students for use in literature classes in California public schools, under a ballot measure proposed by an Orange County lawyer.
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley gave the go-ahead last week to Matt McLaughlin to collect signatures for the initiative. It calls for a state constitutional amendment to provide the King James Bible as a literature textbook to students in grades 1-12 whose parents did not opt to remove their children from the program.
Mr. McLaughlin has until May 24 to collect 598,105 valid signatures, which would then qualify the measure for November's statewide ballot.
The state's legislative analyst estimates the start-up cost to the state and school districts would be around $200 million.
Mr. McLaughlin says in a letter to state officials that the study of the Bible would be "without a devotional purpose" and not for "doctrinal instruction." A Web site, KingJamesTextbook.com, has been set up to promote the measure.
—Robert C. Johnston
Ariz. Schools Chief Gives 'State of Education' Speech
Arizona state schools Superintendent Tom Horne took to the road last week with what officials say was the state's first State of Education Address.
Touting "promises kept" in his first year in office, Mr. Horne used the speech to tell Arizonans how far, in his view, the state education system has come under his leadership and to propose new directions for the future.
He surprised educators and observers by announcing a plan to expand a state pilot program in Tucson that brings music, dance, and drama education to elementary schools.
Mr. Horne also outlined the state education department's plans to expand professional development opportunities for teachers under the federal Reading First program to all 1,800 public schools in the state. Currently, only 63 Arizona schools participate in the six-year, $100 million initiative.
The superintendent, who was elected in November 2002, also announced in his speech that the department would send teams of outstanding administrators and teachers across the state to counsel schools in danger of being labeled "failing" under the state's academic-accountability system.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Vol. 23, Issue 18, Page 17