News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

August 06, 2003 5 min read
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Illinois Locks in Rates For University Tuition

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois has signed into law a “truth in tuition” measure setting the price that incoming freshmen at the state’s public universities have to pay for the rest of their undergraduate careers.

Beginning with the entering class in 2004-05, students at the nine public universities will have their annual tuition set in place for four years, or longer, if their degree programs require additional study. Rep. Kevin Carey Joyce, a Democrat, sponsored the bill, which the first-year governor, also a Democrat, signed July 22.

The tuition limit applies only to Illinois residents.

—Sean Cavanagh

Surfers Lobby Hawaii Board For Official Status as Sport

Supporters of making surfing a competitive school sport in Hawaii will have another chance to make their case next month, when a state board of education committee gives the issue another look.

The board’s student-services committee, which is scheduled to take up the issue in September, has expressed reservations about the proposal to allow schools to have official surfing teams.

State education officials say the sport is too dangerous, would be too expensive, and would likely result in lawsuits against the Hawaii education department.

School surfing advocates dispute the state’s cost estimates.

—Linda Jacobson

Minn. to Rate Its Schools With Five-Star System

Minnesota parents will soon have access to annual report cards that rate the state’s public schools on a five-star system.

The new accountability tool, unveiled late last month by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, and Commissioner of Education Cheri Pierson Yecke, will evaluate schools based on academic achievement, school safety, student-attendance, dropout rates, and staff areas such as how many teachers are licensed in the subjects they teach.

The report card, designed as a colorful, easy-to-read pamphlet, uses the star ratings for academic achievement in reading and mathematics. They should be ready for the start of the school year. Schools that made “adequate yearly progress” in a subject area under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 will receive five stars. Schools that have not made adequate progress for two consecutive years will get one star.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Federal Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania Pledge Law

A federal judge has struck down as unconstitutional a Pennsylvania law that requires students in public and private schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem at the start of each school day.

The law allows students to opt out “on the basis of religious conviction or personal belief.” If they do, schools must notify their parents. U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly ruled the notification provision would have a coercive effect that would violate students’ First Amendment rights to free speech.

He also found that the law unjustly infringes on parents’ 14th Amendment rights to choose how to educate their children, and on schools’ First Amendment protections of free association and expression.

The July 15 ruling makes permanent a bar against enforcing the law imposed in February after four private, nonreligious schools, two parents, and a student filed suit in the Philadelphia-based federal court.

—Caroline Hendrie

Mass. Legislators Override Anti-Bilingual-Ed. Law Vetoes

Massachusetts legislators have voted to override Gov. Mitt Romney’s vetoes of several amendments to the state’s budget bill for fiscal 2004 that change the state’s new English-immersion law.

The law, approved by 68 percent of voters as a ballot initiative last November, aims to replace bilingual education with English immersion. The measure is scheduled to be implemented this coming school year.

Because of the overrides, schools will be permitted to continue to enroll children of all ages in two-way bilingual programs, in which children whose first language is English and children who are native speakers of another language learn both languages alongside each other. Without the legislative action, the English-immersion law would permit schools to enroll children in two-way bilingual programs only if they already knew English or were age 10 or older.

—Mary Ann Zehr

New Jersey Court Caps Abbott Supplemental Aid

The state of New Jersey, citing fiscal constraints, has won the right for the second year in a row to cap spending for services and programs that are funded beyond basic state aid in the state’s 30 poorest districts.

In a July 23 order, the New Jersey Supreme Court said the state could treat the 2003-04 academic year as a “maintenance year” for calculating state funding that goes to districts in addition to their basic aid.

As part of the long-running Abbott v. Burke school finance case, the 30 plaintiff districts can apply for “supplemental aid” for services such as tutors and after-school programs that seek to mitigate the impact of poverty.

Requests for that aid had grown to $380 million by the 2002-03 school year, said David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, which represents the Abbott districts.

The state, grappling with a $5 billion shortfall in its $24 billion budget, had sought to halt further growth. Overall, the Abbott districts receive basic aid on a par with the state’s wealthiest districts: $10,100 per pupil last year and $10,700 in 2003-04, Mr. Sciarra said.

—Catherine Gewertz

Washington Governor Will Not Run Again

Gov. Gary Locke, Washington state’s two-term chief executive, who ran under the banner of improving the public schools, will not seek a third term in 2004.

Mr. Locke cited family reasons for his decision, announced July 21. The state has no limit on the number of terms a governor may serve.

Had the Democrat run again, he would have done so without the support of the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, which represents 76,000 school employees. The union has been a mainstay of Mr. Locke’s electoral success and helped him cruise to re-election in 2000.

But the WEA’s leadership has since accused Mr. Locke of undermining two voter initiatives passed in 2000 that increased teacher salaries and sent more money to schools. During this year’s legislative session, Mr. Locke and lawmakers were criticized by the union after they cut funding for both initiatives as part of a deal to bridge a $2.6 billion state budget gap.

—Andrew Trotter


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