News in Brief: A State Capital Roundup

May 21, 2003 6 min read
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Indiana Governor Signs Sexual-Misconduct Bill

Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon has signed legislation aimed at cracking down on malfeasance by school employees, including those who have sex with students.

The Indiana Democrat signed a multi-faceted measure May 5 that, among other provisions, requires prosecutors to notify state and local school officials when a licensed educator is convicted of certain crimes, mainly those that involve drug dealing or sexual misconduct with minors.

Some features of the legislation, which was strongly backed by the state department of education, were inspired by three cases of educator-student sex that arose in an Indianapolis suburb during a three-month period in 2001. (“States Target Sexual Abuse by Educators,” April 30, 2003.)

Under the new statute, all employees of public and private schools in Indiana are prohibited from having sex with students under 18 and who are enrolled in the schools where they work. Under the previous law, that ban was limited to school employees who provided “care, supervision, or instruction” to children.

The legislation also expands the definition of prohibited sexual conduct to include fondling, making it a felony for school employees to engage in such behavior with students under 18.

—Caroline Hendrie

Connecticut State Board OKs Computer Tutoring Program

The Connecticut state board of education has ruled that an alternative program that uses computers to help tutor high school students does not violate a state requirement that a certified teacher must oversee instruction.

Teachers from Nonnewaug High School who agreed to be tutors in the Region 14 district’s Student Technology Education Program complained during the last school year that they had cursory contact with students, yet were asked to assign grades based on scores on computer-based tests. (“Digital Dilemma: Can Computers Sub for Teachers?,” Oct. 16, 2002.)

The state board’s May 7 ruling on the complaint by the Nonnewaug Teachers Association and the Connecticut Education Association acknowledges that district administrators have made changes to the program in response to teachers’ concerns.

“There is sufficient evidence to establish that it is planned, ongoing, and systemic as required,” the board stated, adding that its conclusion includes an expectation the program has “sufficient instructional involvement and oversight” by a certified teacher.

Tim Cleary, the president of the Nonnewaug union and one of the teachers who objected, said the ruling clears the way for the union’s teachers to participate in the program this summer. During the current school year, the tutors have been teachers hired from outside the district.

—Andrew Trotter

Texas Legislature Eyes No-Interest College Loans

The Texas Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would provide state residents enrolled in high school with zero-interest loans for college—then forgive those loans for recipients who graduated from postsecondary institutions on time.

Called the “Texas B-on-Time” loan program, Senate Bill 4 proposes to make students from public or private high schools eligible to receive yearly college loans, if they maintain at least B averages in high school and are eligible for federal student financial aid, among other requirements. The amounts of the loans could be adjusted each year, and the program would be overseen by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a network of public university systems.

Undergraduate students’ loans would be forgiven if they were awarded degrees with grade point averages of 3.0 or above on a 4-point scale, within two, four, or five years, depending on whether they were attending community colleges, four-year institutions, or specialized programs.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat, has been publicly backed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican. It passed the Senate earlier this month and is expected to be considered by the House.

—Sean Cavanagh

California Schools Chief Urges Break on Energy Bills

California’s chief educator is calling on the state’s utility companies to cut schools a break.

In a press briefing last week, state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell asked the state Public Utilities Commission to reduce the rates that it charges public schools for utilities. The request comes as the commission, which regulates rates for privately owned utilities and telecommunications companies, is selecting customers for $1 billion in reduced rates as part of a settlement that will give refunds to utility customers for the increased amounts they were forced to pay when the state was hit with an energy crisis that began in March 2001.

Mr. O’Connell’s request came just before Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, released new figures that showed the state’s budget crisis is getting even worse—a development that does not bode well for state aid to schools.

With a projected budget shortfall now estimated at $38 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year and next, in the state’s roughly $80 billion overall yearly budget, deep cuts to school budgets are inevitable, Mr. O’Connell said. He added that the reduced utilities rates could save schools up to $200 million a year. That, in turn, could save the jobs of 3,000 teachers, Mr. O’Connell said.

PUC President Michael R. Peevey said in a statement that the commission would “work quickly to fairly distribute the rate decrease among California’s customers.”

—Joetta L. Sack

Fewer Chaperones Required Under Revised Pa. Law

Pennsylvania has repealed a law that required schools to step up the number of chaperones required at school events held in places where alcohol is sold.

The repeal, signed May 8 by Gov. Edward G. Rendell and effective immediately, restores the requirements that were in effect before the law was passed three months ago.

The state once again requires schools to provide one chaperone at least 25 years old for every 50 students at events in places where alcohol is sold. The law that was repealed had raised that requirement to one chaperone for every five students—a mandate that many districts found too onerous.

Gov. Rendell, a Democrat, issued a statement saying he had signed the repeal because it “eases the burden on schools to furnish an unreasonably high number of chaperones for school functions,” without compromising the safety of young people.

—Catherine Gewertz

State Leaders to Get a Hand From New Partnership

Two national education groups are teaming up to provide new learning and training opportunities for top state education officials.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, based in Alexandria, Va., and the Council of Chief State School Officers, located in Washington, recently announced their new partnership.

As part of the arrangement, the groups will offer professional development to state superintendents and commissioners and other top state education officials through a National Education Leadership Center, an effort that is in its early stages of development.

The center will focus on providing management training, leadership resources and networks, and a career center. “The idea is to have a portal to other professional-development opportunities,” said Scott Montgomery, the chief of staff for the CCSSO.

In addition, the groups will share editorial space in their publications, and will form a joint task force on redesigning high schools.

—Robert C. Johnston


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