News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

September 03, 2003 4 min read
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Mass. Voter Initiative Would Blunt Exit Exam

A proposed ballot initiative filed by a Massachusetts parent would prohibit any “centralized state assessment system used in the public schools to determine a student’s eligibility to graduate.”

The initiative, filed Aug. 6 with the office of state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, does not mention by name the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams that all students must now pass in mathematics and English language arts to graduate. But the proposal was filed by a parent whose son is in special education and has struggled with the exams.

For the ballot initiative to reach voters in November 2004, it must overcome a series of procedural hurdles. It states that “a student’s eligibility for graduation shall be determined by those persons who are most familiar and directly involved with the student’s overall academic performance, taking into account the diversity of learning styles and the varied academic abilities of the student population.”

—John Gehring

Michigan Ballot Drive Targets Racial Policies

Critics of affirmative action are collecting signatures for a statewide ballot initiative in Michigan that would ban racial preferences in public education, contracting, and employment.

The move comes after this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a general affirmative action program for admissions at the University of Michigan’s law school.

Among other provisions, the initiative would end race and gender as factors in admissions and hiring in public K-12 and higher education institutions, as well as other government entities.

Supporters must garner about 320,000 signatures—one-tenth the number of votes in the state’s last gubernatorial election—to get the issue on the ballot in the November 2004 election.

The driving force behind the effort is the American Civil Rights Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento, Calif., whose chairman is the prominent affirmative-action opponent Ward Connerly.

—Joetta L. Sack

Wash. State Teachers Sue Over Loss of Day’s Pay

Teachers have sued the state of Washington for cutting one day of teacher pay last year, alleging that the move violates the state constitution and a ballot initiative that voters passed in 2000.

The 76,000-member Washington Education Association and nine teachers from six school districts filed the lawsuit on Aug. 5 in King County Superior Court.

In 2002, the legislature voted to cut one of three “learning improvement days” that teachers use for planning when students are out of school. By not weighing that action’s impact on basic education, the legislature violated a provision of the state constitution, the lawsuit alleges.

The change meant, on average, a $250 pay cut for teachers for the 2002-03 school year, which reduced a cost-of-living raise for teachers that was mandated by Initiative 732, the suit contends.

Last spring, the legislature voted to suspend funding for the initiative for two years.

—Andrew Trotter

Former Ga. Chief Fined For Ethics Violations

The Georgia Ethics Commission has fined former state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko $5,000 for violating ethics laws, including her failure to explain what happened to more than $19,000 in campaign funds.

The two-term superintendent, who lost in last year’s Republican primary election for governor, also did not turn in four reports disclosing campaign contributions, the commission found.

Those violations, according to Teddy Lee, the commission’s executive director, were just two in a “whole series of deficiencies” stemming from both her campaign for governor and her time as superintendent.

During the Aug. 22 hearing before the commission, Ms. Schrenko’s lawyer, Peter Theodocian, said that the former superintendent was guilty only of poor bookkeeping, and that she could not afford to hire an accountant, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

—Linda Jacobson

Kansas Board’s Action Defers Evolution Debate

The Kansas state board of education has ordered an external review of the state’s science standards, a move that is likely to postpone a potential showdown over the thorny topic of evolution until after next year’s elections.

Last month’s 7- 3 vote called for the review to start in August 2004, which means that it will likely wrap up after the next board election that November, said a spokeswoman for the state department of education.

Half the seats on the 10-member board are put to a vote every other year, and evolution has been an issue in recent elections. The board must review the state’s academic standards every few years.

References to evolution were deleted from the science standards in 1999 at the state board’s request because some members objected to the theory on religious grounds. That move sparked national debate. But the topic was restored to the standards in early 2001 after changes in the board’s composition. (“Evolution Restored to Kansas Standards, But Called ‘Controversial’ in Alabama’s,” Feb. 21, 2001.)

—Michelle Galley

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