News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

June 18, 2003 5 min read
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Massachusetts Sues Over Tainted Food

The Massachusetts Department of Education has filed a lawsuit seeking roughly $2.4 million in damages from the owners of a storage facility that the state agency alleges kept food in unsanitary conditions before shipping it to schools, summer programs, and adult- and child-care operations.

State Attorney General Tom F. Reilly filed the suit last week in the Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of the education department. The civil action was taken against Dolphin Forwarding Inc., the Brockton, Mass., company that owned the warehouse.

The monetary damages are meant to recoup the money the department spent on food that was spoiled, among other financial losses, said Corey Welford, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. The lawsuit was based partly on findings made during an inspection of the facility by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2000, Mr. Welford said.

A woman who identified herself as a family member of the owner of Dolphin Forwarding declined to comment, saying she did not have enough information on the case. She said the company was no longer in business. The Massachusetts action comes at a time of increased national attention to the problem of tainted food in school meal programs. (“Tainted Food on the Rise in Cafeterias,” June 4, 2003.)

—Sean Cavanagh

N.C. Governor Vetoes Teacher-Licensure Provision

Gov. Michael F. Easley has vetoed a bill that would have stripped the North Carolina state board of education of its control over teacher-licensing standards.

The bill contained a provision that would have left it to the legislature to set licensing requirements for teachers.

The Republican- sponsored bill faced little opposition in either chamber of the legislature. But Mr. Easley, a Democrat, said the measure would endanger the school improvement program the state initiated in 1997.

Gov. Michael F. Easley

“We have made substantial progress over the past five years in education in this state because the state board of education has implemented rigorous standards,” Gov. Easley said in a statement after the veto. “I am not going to let the state board’s hands be tied while they are trying to make greater gains.”

As a result of the veto, the state board called an emergency meeting via telephone to take up a controversial portion of the bill that would have eliminated a requirement that teachers submit portfolios of their work to earn and maintain state certification. The board voted to do away with the requirement.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

ACLU Faults Massachusetts For Gaps in Juvenile Justice

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union says Massachusetts has failed to address the overrepresentation of minorities in its juvenile-justice system.

Released this month, the report is titled “Disproportionate Minority Confinement in Massachusetts: Failures in Assessing and Addressing Overrepresentation of Minorities in the Massachusetts’ Juvenile Justice System.” It found that of the $35 million in federal and state funds the state has received over the past five years for youth-related programs, less than 1 percent has gone to programs designed to minimize such racial disparities.

The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act requires states to identify ways in which minorities are overrepresented in their juvenile-justice systems and to address those problems. The 26-page report recommends that the governor reorganize the state advisory committee responsible for addressing such disparities, and urges the legislature to provide funding to enable courts and local police to better monitor data collection.

David Shaw, a spokesman with the Massachusetts executive office of public safety, said the ACLU report was being reviewed, though he disputed its finding about state spending on minimizing racial disparities. Prior to the report, he added, a new chairman was named to the state advisory committee. A new slate of members is also being considered.

—John Gehring

Slots Could Be Jackpot For Ohio’s College-Bound

Ohio lawmakers are considering a package of legislation that would use revenue from slot machines at racetracks to provide $5,000 college scholarships for high school graduates who earn at least a 3.0 grade point average and who pass a graduation test.

The scholarships are long way from becoming a reality, however.

First, lawmakers must make good on their stated intention to allow voters to vote up or down on allowing slot machines at existing racetracks. A measure to do just that was being debated last week as part of final negotiations over the state budget. Separately, the legislature is considering various plans for how to use revenue from slot machines, should they be approved.

“If we’re going to do this, then we should use the money for education, and not to fund the state’s general revenue,” said Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, the Democrat who sponsored the bill to create an Ohio Scholars Program from slot-machine proceeds.

Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, has said that he will campaign against the slot measure if it goes to the polls.

—Robert C. Johnston

New Jersey to Help, Reward Nationally Certified Teachers

In a bid to improve its teaching corps, New Jersey has announced a program to provide mentoring, financial support, and graduate credit for teachers who attain national certification.

Other states already offer incentives for teachers to obtain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. New Jersey’s program, announced June 12 by Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, combines three elements: pairing certification applicants with mentors, covering the $2,300 application cost, and offering credit for graduate courses, which can lead to raises.

New Jersey will use state and federal money to subsidize applicants’ fees. Thomas Edison State College, an online “virtual college,” has agreed to provide graduate credits to teachers who complete the work required for national certification, state officials said.

The Business Coalition for Educational Excellence, a group of New Jersey companies and policymakers that has pushed for education standards and accountability, will help pair teachers seeking certification with mentors who are board-certified teachers.

—Catherine Gewertz

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