News in Brief

November 12, 2003 4 min read
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Mass. Governor Pushes Parent-Preparation Idea

Gov. Mitt Romney

Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts wants to require parents in struggling school districts to take a parental-preparation class before they can use full-day kindergarten programs for their children.

The Republican governor, who did not specify how much the plan would cost, floated the idea at an Oct. 29 teacher conference in Marlboro, Mass.

Under the proposal, parents would take a weekend course in which they would learn about their child’s school district, the importance of reading at home, and suggestions for “what kind of TV your child should watch and what kind they shouldn’t watch,” the governor said in his speech.

Some critics, who noted the governor vetoed kindergarten- expansion grants just a few months ago before the legislature restored them, dismissed the idea as grandstanding.

Besides, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said a mandatory class could be unconstitutional.

But Margaret Blood, who directs a statewide campaign called Early Education for All that is pushing for universal full-day kindergarten, said while a mandatory class may not be the answer, Gov. Romney was showing the right instincts.

“We’re excited the governor is focusing on kindergarten,” she said.

—John Gehring

Iowa’s Student Enrollment Continues Steady Decline

More than half of Iowa’s school districts reported drops in public school enrollment this school year, marking the seventh year in a row that student numbers have declined.

According to a preliminary report released by the Iowa Department of Education last month, the total number of students attending public schools this school year is 484,959, which is a dip of 2,062 students—or less than half a percent—from the previous year.

The report found that 232, or 63 percent, of the Hawkeye State’s 370 districts reported having fewer students than in the previous school year.

The decreases in those districts were partly offset by enrollment gains of 3,847 students in 138 districts.

From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Iowa public school student numbers climbed. But since 1997, enrollment has declined by 4 percent, or 20,564 students.

Education department officials reported that the state’s 12th grade enrollment for 2002-03 exceeded the incoming kindergarten enrollment by 2,683 students.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Michigan House Panel Probes Districts’ Finances

A Michigan House of Representatives panel says it will be looking into the spending practices of several intermediate school districts, which provide services to local school systems.

An education subcommittee charged with review of the districts voted 3-2 last month to request financial records from the Genesee intermediate district near Flint and others that go unnamed.

The subcommittee has been probing the finances of the Oakland intermediate district in the Detroit area since questions were raised early this year about the way officials there spent money. Allegations include the use of special education funds to finance an administration building, conflicts of interest, and unjustified travel.

The state attorney general is also investigating the Oakland intermediate district.

Rep. Ruth Johnson, the Republican who heads the subcommittee, has also introduced a package of legislation designed to bring greater accountability to the intermediate districts. One bill calls for popular election of intermediate school board members, who are now chosen by local school boards.

—Bess Keller

Florida Lawmaker Petitions To End Class-Size Measure

A state senator in Florida has begun a petition drive to repeal a voter-approved constitutional amendment that has set class-size limits in public schools starting this year.

Sen. Burt Saunders, a Republican, started his petition drive in September. Nearly 500,000 signatures would be required for a November 2004 ballot question to repeal the class-size amendment approved last year.

Mr. Saunders’ effort begins as Florida lawmakers prepare for next year’s legislative session. A proposed repeal of the class-size amendment found little support in the 2003 session in Tallahassee. Legislative approval of a new ballot question would require support from three-fifths of lawmakers in both chambers.

Gov. Jeb Bush and other Republican state leaders still oppose the class-size amendment, saying it’s too expensive. Mr. Saunders’ petition calls for enrollment caps only through the 3rd grade.

Supporters who pushed for the class-size amendment say Republican leaders are disobeying the public’s will by fighting the plan.

—Alan Richard

Idaho Judge Strikes Down Facilities-Finance Law

School finance legislation passed in Idaho last spring is unconstitutional, a state judge has ruled.

The decision late last month from the state’s Fourth District Court marks the latest development in a 13-year- old lawsuit over school facility funding.

The measure required districts to inspect their facilities and report their findings to the state.

If facilities needed improvement that districts could not afford, the legislation called on the state court system to intervene to mandate property-tax hikes, without voter approval, to cover the costs. That reliance on the court system was deemed unconstitutional by Judge Deborah Bail.

Before that legislation, all property-tax increases had to be approved through local referendums that passed with at least two-thirds of the vote.

The new law’s “sole reliance on property taxes for school construction leaves out the poorest districts who often have the oldest and most dangerous structures,” Judge Bail wrote in her opinion.

The state’s attorney general’s office has appealed her ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court.

—Michelle Galley


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