News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

April 23, 2003 4 min read
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Gov. Owens Signs Colorado Voucher Bill

Colorado has become the first state to adopt a school voucher program since the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the constitutionality of state aid for tuition at religious schools last year.

Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, signed legislation on April 16 that establishes the Colorado Opportunity Contract Pilot Program in fall 2004. The program will provide financial help to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in districts with academic performance ratings of “low” or “unsatisfactory” on the Colorado School Accountability Report. To be eligible, students must qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. (“Gov. Owens Pledges to Sign Colorado Voucher Bill,” April 9, 2003.)

Families will be allowed to use the vouchers worth up to $5,000 to attend private schools, including religious schools. About 3,500 students may be eligible when the program begins, and as many as 20,000 could be eligible to join by the 2007-08 school year.

A court challenge is expected by the People for the American Way Foundation and other groups that argue that channeling public dollars to private schools violates the state constitution. Colorado voters rejected vouchers on state ballot measures in 1992 and 1998.

—John Gehring

Hawaii House OKs Resolution Against ‘No Child Left Behind’

The Hawaii House has passed a resolution urging state school officials not to comply with the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 and to send Title I funds attached to that legislation back to the federal government.

According to the nonbinding resolution, which was sponsored by Rep. K. Mark Takai, it is unreasonable to expect schools “to make the ‘adequate yearly progress’ required by the act given the high level of student needs and the low level of federal funding.”

Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Education, said he understands that Rep. Takai, a Democrat, and other lawmakers see the law as an “underfunded mandate,” but he said refusing the money—about $35 million—is not practical.

“Our position is that despite some of the questions it raises, we’re doing our best to implement it,” he said of the federal law, which makes states more accountable for academic performance.

The Democratic- backed resolution passed the House April 11, and now is before the Senate education committee.

—Linda Jacobson

Streamlined Reform Plan Unveiled by Minn. Governor

Minnesota students may get some breathing room if the legislature decides to approve the state department of education’s latest proposal on academic standards.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, and state Commissioner of Education Cheri Pierson Yecke presented a trimmed-down version of an original March 11 proposal to the legislature last week.

The package is designed to replace the state’s current Profile of Learning standards, which were phased in nearly a decade ago. The standards prompted calls for change because they are too process-oriented, inflexible, and require a lot of paperwork, according to Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the education department.

An 80-member committee composed of parents and educators assembled in February to draft new mathematics and language arts standards, but the sheer size of their proposal, which contained 479 math standards and 635 language arts standards, raised concern. In response, the committee’s latest version reduces the number of standards by nearly 30 percent.

The legislature is set to review the plan by May 19. If approved, the new standards would take effect immediately, but the state would not begin testing under them until 2005.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Missouri Educators Rally To Back Tax Hikes for Schools

Facing steep local budget cuts, school board members, teachers, and superintendents in Missouri are asking state lawmakers to support higher taxes.

About 800 school officials held a rally at the Capitol in Jefferson City earlier this month to try to win support for increasing taxes rather than cutting state education funding. With the state facing a $700 million projected revenue shortfall, legislators have proposed cutting state aid for education by $100 million to $340 million in fiscal 2004. The budget is slated to be final by May 9.

Education groups, including the Missouri National Education Association, have asked lawmakers to put the question of raising taxes, perhaps the existing sales tax, to voters. They are hoping such a question would appear on the state’s August ballot.

The educators may have a tough sell ahead. The Republican-controlled House and Senate have been mostly against tax increases this session, said Carol K. Schmoock, the assistant executive director of the Missouri union. “We hope to convince legislators that the impact of budget cuts to school districts would be so severe,” Ms. Schmoock said.

—Lisa Goldstein

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