Briefly Stated: March 30, 2022

March 29, 2022 6 min read
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GOP Governors Veto Sports Bans Targeting Transgender Youth

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox last week vetoed a ban on transgender students playing girls’ sports, becoming the second Republican governor in a week to overrule state legislators taking on youth sports amid broader culture wars.

Leaders in the GOP-dominated legislature, however, quickly called a veto override session and indicated they had enough support to keep the ban in place.

There’s also pushback against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a ban. Holcomb said the legislature had not shown that transgender kids had undermined fairness in sports.

Cox, for his part, referenced the potential effects on transgender youth.

“I struggle to understand so much of it, and the science is conflicting. When in doubt, however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy, and compassion,” he wrote in a letter to legislative leaders.

The vetoes come as Cox and Holcomb’s counterparts in nearly a dozen conservative-leaning states have enacted similar legislation, and politicians have homed in on transgender kids in sports as a campaign issue.

As election season approaches, Utah GOP leaders said listening to their constituents inspired the move to override the veto. “Doing nothing is taking a step backward for women. Finding a solution to this complicated issue is necessary to maintain fair competition now and in the future,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said.

Shortly after announcing his veto, the governor also called for a special session to provide taxpayer funding for lawsuits filed against school districts and youth sports organizations, an apparent acknowledgement that his veto would not stand.

Utah has four transgender players out of 85,000 who are competing in school sports after being ruled eligible by the state’s high school athletic association.

In his letter, Cox cited suicide rates for transgender youth. “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live.”

The Kids Aren’t All Right, Finds a New Analysis of Mental and Physical Health and Behavior

It’s not looking good out there for the kids. That’s the bottom line from a new analysis of federal data on child well-being.

On the upswing: rates of children’s physical inactivity, misbehavior, and unmet health needs during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the numbers of children diagnosed with depression and anxiety stayed on prepandemic trend lines, growing steadily between 2016 and 2020. Yet the analysis detected no statistically significant uptick in the proportion of children who received mental health treatment in that time span.

Nor did as many children receive preventive health care. Visits dropped by 9 percent between 2019 and 2020 after remaining relatively stable the previous four years.

Still, researchers at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration say it’s too early to draw a definitive causal link between those issues and the pandemic.

The HRSA researchers examined a trove of parent-reported data collected between 2016 and 2020. They analyzed five-year trends and looked for statistically significant increases between 2019 and 2020 to identify problems that may have been worsened by the pandemic and the continuation of troubling patterns that predate the national crisis.

Examining 36 indicators of child well-being, researchers also saw a 21 percent increase in children with behavior or conduct problems between 2019 and 2020.

The data come as school districts grapple with growing student needs by creating new mental health programs, connecting families to community resources, and improving methods of supporting homeless students. Schools are getting an unprecedented infusion of federal relief aid, but district administrators say they still face significant hurdles, such as staffing challenges.

In his State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden pledged to ease some of those concerns.

“This analysis provides an opportunity to evaluate the nation’s progress (or lack thereof) in improving the health and well-being of U.S. children and their families, including the first opportunity to ... investigate potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study’s authors write.

N.C. Chief Justice Replaces Judge in School Aid Case

Don’t like the outcome of legal proceedings? Remove the judge and find another with the same political leanings.

That’s what’s happening in North Carolina, some say, in a school funding case that’s been going on for nearly three decades.

A superior court judge who had ordered state leaders to transfer $1.7 billion to increase funding for North Carolina’s public schools has been removed from the Leandro school funding case.

The state’s supreme court chief justice, Paul Newby, issued a court order last week replacing Superior Court Judge David Lee, a Democrat, with fellow Republican Michael L. Robinson.

Lee, who had accused GOP lawmakers of failing to provide students with the opportunity to receive a sound basic education, had ordered state leaders to transfer the money to increase funding for public schools.

Newby gave no reason for the change in his order, only saying he has the authority to make the switch.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature have been critical of Lee and the Leandro school action plan. They argue that only the legislature has the authority to appropriate state money.

The court order is the latest chapter in the long-running case, initially filed in 1994 by low-wealth districts to get more state funding.

Lee was assigned the case by the Supreme Court in 2016.

In his Nov. 10 court order, Lee wrote that the courts had waited long enough for state lawmakers to act. He ordered the state treasurer, state controller, and state budget director to transfer $1.7 billion to fund the next two years of a multiyear action plan developed by an education consultant.

Soon after, a three-judge state court of appeals panel blocked enforcement of Lee’s order.

“This is akin to a losing basketball team changing out a referee in its favor,” tweeted state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Democrat.

In Ariz., Voter-Approved Tax for Schools Declared Dead

Extra money for Arizona’s public schools has gotten shot down once again—despite what voters wanted and near-the-bottom per-pupil spending.

This time, a superior court judge declared that a tax on high-earning state residents to fund education spending voters approved in 2020 can’t be enforced because of a state supreme court ruling.

The ruling from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah was widely expected after the supreme court ruled in August that the tax was unconstitutional if it put schools above a legal spending cap. It sent the case back to Hannah to make that determination.

Backers of Proposition 208 and GOP opponents agreed in January that new revenue from the tax on the wealthy was almost certain to put spending over that threshold.

“This court understands the remand order as a direction to declare Proposition 208 unconstitutional in its entirety, and to enjoin its operation permanently, if the court finds as a fact that the annual education spending limits imposed by the Arizona constitution will prevent Arizona’s public schools from spending a ‘material’ amount of Proposition 208 tax revenue in 2023,” Hannah wrote. “On that basis, the court is obligated to strike down Proposition 208.”

The ruling follows years of efforts by education proponents to boost school spending in the state. Arizona has some of the lowest teacher pay and per-student spending in the nation, even after the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey increased spending by more than $1 billion a year since 2018.

The constitutional cap on school spending passed by voters in 1980 has been a major issue this legislative session, and the house and senate waived its provisions for this budget year last month.

Schools were going to reach their limit by March 1 and would have been forced to enact major spending cuts because they would have been unable to legally spend more than $1 billion the legislature already appropriated for the current school year.

Lawmakers can raise the constitutional spending cap year to year.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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