News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

April 09, 2003 5 min read
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Va. to Bar In-State Rates For Illegal Immigrants

Virginia lawmakers outdueled Democratic Gov. Mark Warner last week when they barred undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state college tuition.

Legislators in the Republican-dominated legislature found enough votes to pass the veto-proof bill and reject Mr. Warner’s proposed amendments that would have softened the bill’s effects.

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, a Republican, argued that if military families stationed in Virginia can’t receive the lower tuition rates, then neither can people living there unlawfully.

Gov. Warner pushed for amendments that would have allowed young people who had lived in the state for five years, whose families had paid state taxes for three years, and who were applying for proper immigrant status to be eligible for in-state tuition.

Ellen Qualls, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the GOP-led bill was mean-spirited and would affect a few hundred students each year. She said the military-family argument was an empty one, because those families can tap in-state rates if they live in Virginia longer than a year.

—Alan Richard

Vermont Sued Over Ban On Religious School Aid

Backed by a Washington-based law center that has played a key role in advancing school vouchers, a group of Vermont parents has sued to overturn a state ban on providing public funds for students to attend religious schools.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, is the latest salvo in a long-running legal war in the state over “tuitioning,” the practice of paying the tuition of students in communities without public schools to attend private ones.

Vermont’s policy of prohibiting tuition payments to schools with religious affiliations was upheld by the state supreme court in 1999. But the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Washington that was also involved in that earlier case, argues in the new lawsuit that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of freedom of religion and guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The new suit, filed March 20, is part of a broader push by the Institute for Justice to challenge state bans on public aid to religious schools.

The institute’s effort was spurred by last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Cleveland voucher program, and has so far involved two lawsuits filed last fall: one aimed at Maine’s tuitioning policies and another challenging Washington state’s constitutional restrictions on public aid for religious schools. (Latest Front for Fight on Choice: Washington State,” Oct. 2, 2002.)

—Caroline Hendrie

City Sues to Overturn Mass. Charter Approval

City officials in North Adams, Mass., have filed a lawsuit against the state education department challenging the approval of a charter school there.

The lawsuit, filed March 25 in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield, represents the first time that the opening of a charter school is being challenged under a clause of the state constitution that prohibits public money from going to schools that are not controlled by “public agents” such as local school boards.

Known as the anti-aid amendment, the clause has been used in the past to prohibit students from using vouchers to attend private schools.

In February, the state board of education approved a charter school for 6th through 12th grade in North Adams despite widespread opposition from the community. Plaintiffs in the suit include the city of North Adams and the city’s school board.

North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who is also the chairman of the school board, said the charter would drain money from the district. He maintains that the larger issue is who has the authority to set education policy.

The suit alleges that some state school board members had conflicts of interest in voting to open the charter school because of their affiliations with the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank that trained the charter school’s founder.

—John Gehring

Ohio Sees Bright Future For its Schools, Poll Finds

As Ohio’s schools grapple with shrinking education aid, a new statewide poll finds most Buckeye State residents believe their schools have a promising future.

The third annual “Ohio’s Education Matters” poll, conducted by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, an education philanthropy based in Cincinnati, was released last month. The poll assessed the attitudes and concerns of 800 residents in November and December and has a standard sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Of those polled, 60 percent believe Ohio’s schools are headed in the right direction, though 72 percent believe schools can’t improve unless residents get involved.

“The poll gives voice to one of the most important players in quality education: the Ohio public,” said Chad P. Wick, the president and chief executive officer of KnowledgeWorks.

The poll found that 71 percent of respondents believe residents should take part in the planning for new and renovated school facilities for which $23 billion in state and local funds has been earmarked.

Support for the school building levy jumps from 47 percent to 65 percent if new schools include multipurpose facilities that can be used year-round and after school hours. More than 75 percent of respondents prefer high schools with fewer than 400 students over those with more than 1,000 students.

—Karla Scoon Reid

School Readiness Varies, Maryland Report Says

More than half of Maryland’s kindergartners are fully prepared for their first year of school, a slight increase over last year, the state reports.

But the gap in school readiness between racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups is still wide, says the report released last month. For example, the readiness gap between low-and middle-income students is 18 percentage points. The gap between limited-English-proficient students and English-speakers is 16 percentage points.

“The data confirm what educators have already known,” Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, said in a statement. “There are enormous disparities in young children’s skill levels even before they come to school.”

Overall, 52 percent of Maryland’s kindergartners had the literacy, social, and mathematical skills they need to succeed in kindergarten, 3 percentage points over the 2001-02 school year.

But 7 percent of this year’s class need “considerable instructional support and intervention” to make it through kindergarten, found the report, which summarized teachers’ evaluations of all students in the state.

—David J. Hoff


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