News in Brief

November 26, 2003 6 min read
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Court Hears Arguments On Colo. Voucher Plan

Arguments have been heard in a Denver district court over the constitutionality of Colorado’s new voucher law, signed by Gov. Bill Owens in April.

The law is intended to provide disadvantaged students attending low-performing or unsatisfactory public schools financial assistance to help cover private school tuition. (“Gov. Owens Pledges to Sign Colorado Voucher Bill,” April 9, 2003.)

Opponents include the Colorado PTA, a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the vouchers, and the Colorado Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. They argued earlier this month that the law is unconstitutional because it violates state provisions that prohibit state appropriations to private institutions and protect the right of local school boards to retain control over student education in their districts.

The lawsuit was filed in May.

Officials at the governor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, but did say they will await a decision in the case.

Deborah Fallin, the spokeswoman for the 37,000-member Colorado Education Association, said that singling out districts and funneling state money toward private schools was not the answer to problems in public education.

“We think it’s better to improve [neighborhood] public schools,” she said.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Missouri Districts to Challenge Governor’s Budget Authority

A group of Missouri school districts plans to appeal a recent court decision supporting Gov. Bob Holden’s authority to withhold money appropriated by the legislature for public schools.

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled on Nov. 10 that the governor, a Democrat, did have the power to withhold money from any area of spending in order to balance the state budget.

Gov. Holden had ordered that $190 million be withheld from public schools in May, when he learned there would be a $300 million gap in expected revenue.

The three Kansas City-area districts—Liberty, Lee’s Summit, and Fort Osage—filed a suit in August contending that the state constitution protects education funding from such a cut.

Stephanie Smith, a spokeswoman for the Fort Osage district, said the paperwork would be filed at the Missouri Supreme Court petitioning the judge to review the case. The case may not be heard until March, but the districts also requested an expedited review for the case to be heard in December.

—Lisa Goldstein

Alaska Teenagers Found To Be Smoking Less

Smoking has become less popular over the past decade among Alaska high school students, though Alaska Natives continue to use tobacco products at a much higher rate than their white peers, according to a survey released by state health officials.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 19 percent of high school students polled said they had smoked at least one cigarette during the most recent month, compared with 37 percent in 1995. Eight percent of those surveyed said they had used cigarettes on at least 20 days during the previous month, compared with 21 percent who had smoked that often eight years earlier.

Forty-nine percent of Alaska Native girls and 40 percent of Alaska Native boys, however, said they had smoked at least once during the previous month, compared with 12 percent of white girls and 13 percent of white boys. Of the state’s 134,000 public school students, about 23 percent are Alaska Natives.

The survey, which Alaska participated in for the first time in 1995, was devised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency has conducted the national surveys since 1990, along with individual state surveys.

Alaska’s results are based on 2,200 questionnaires sent out to 42 schools across the state; 38 of the schools and 68 percent of the students responded. The survey, which is available online, has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

—Sean Cavanagh

Arizona to Merge Exams, Cut Time on Testing

The Arizona state board of education has approved a plan that will reduce testing time for students by combining elements of the national Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition with the state’s own standardized exam.

State schools Superintendent Tom Horne proposed the change last month, arguing that it would cut testing time in half, preserve more classroom time for instruction, and save money for the state.

Arizona students take the Stanford-9, which measures their performance against that of students in other states, and the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, the state’s assessment tool for various grade levels.

Mr. Horne’s proposal, approved by the state board Nov. 17, would combine the two tests into what would be called a “norm-reference embedded AIMS test.” The state will produce separate reports as though two tests were given, but students will answer roughly half as many questions as they do now on the two separate exams, according to the superintendent’s description of his proposal.

The state education department will ask testing companies to write an exam that could be implemented as early as the next school year, according to a statement by Mr. Horne.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

New Governors Taking Over In California, Louisiana, Utah

Three new names are being added to the nation’s roster of governors.

In a low- key but widely watched ceremony last week on the steps of the California Capitol in Sacramento, Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the state’s 38th governor.

The Austrian-born actor and former professional bodybuilder will fill the final three years of the term that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis had been elected to serve prior to his recall last month. (“Educators Watchful as California Opens Schwarzenegger Era,” Oct. 15, 2003.)

In a brief inaugural address before a crowd of about 8,000 on Nov. 17, Gov. Schwarzenegger said: “I realize I was elected on faith and hope. And I feel a great responsibility not to let the people down.”

The Republican chief executive now must address an estimated $10 billion deficit in a total state budget of about $100 billion. He has said that he would not cut education programs or raise taxes, and already has rescinded an unpopular car-tax increase and called a special legislative session that began last week.

Meanwhile, Louisiana voters elected Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, as their first woman governor. A former business education teacher, Ms. Blanco defeated Republican Bobby Jindal, a 32-year-old former Bush administration official and state health care director. (“Candidates for Governor Wrangle Over School Issues,” Oct. 22, 2003.)

Ms. Blanco won 52 percent of about 1.4 million votes cast on Nov. 15, according to unofficial results. She ran as a moderate conservative and cited her experience in the state’s No. 2 office and as a former state lawmaker.

The Democrat, whose win prevented a Republican sweep of Southern elections for governor this month, following GOP victories in Mississippi and Kentucky, has said she wants laptop computers for every 7th grader in the state and low-interest loans for adults to continue their schooling. She criticized her opponent for budget cuts in the state’s health-care system under his watch.

Mr. Jindal, who campaigned as a social conservative, favored merit pay for teachers and authority for the state or universities to take control of some failing schools.

And in Utah, meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Olene S. Walker was sworn in on Nov. 5 as governor, taking over from Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, who stepped down to join the Bush administration as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Gov. Walker, a Republican as is Mr. Leavitt, said in her inaugural speech that, when it comes to schools, “we must put the emphasis on students’ mastering the basic skills rather than time in the classroom.”

She also called on adults read to a child 20 minutes every day.

—Robert C. Johnston & Alan Richard


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