News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

April 14, 2004 4 min read
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Special-Needs Students To Receive Diplomas

Alaska last week reached an agreement that will allow students with disabilities in the class of 2004 to get diplomas without passing the state’s high school exit exam.

The estimated 500 affected students still must complete other graduation requirements to earn their diplomas.

Advocates for people with disabilities had filed a class action on March 16 in a federal district court, demanding that Alaska’s exit exam be made more accessible. The accord does not end the lawsuit, but calls for the state to take steps in hopes of settling the lawsuit.

Joan Wilson, a lawyer representing the students, credited state officials for negotiating with the plaintiffs. Education Commissioner Roger Sampson said his department would seek guidance from the legislature and state school board on resolving the suit.

—Sean Cavanagh

Desegregation Aid Could Be Shared in Minnesota

The Minnesota House has approved a measure that would give school districts statewide a share of the desegregation aid that has traditionally benefited urban schools.

Rep. Marty Seifer, a Republican from rural Marshall, proposed the legislation to end a program that he called “lopsided and unfair,” by spreading the state desegregation money more equally among suburban, urban, and rural districts. The measure was passed March 31 as part of a larger education bill.

The desegregation money has been used by urban and racially diverse suburban districts for everything from artwork to integration specialists.

Under Mr. Seifer’s plan, eight districts would suffer financial losses. The St. Paul and Minneapolis school systems would take the biggest hits, each losing around $10 million a year.

Most districts, however, would gain an extra $28 per student.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Minnesota Bill Takes Stab At Regulating Gym Classes

Another bill pending in the Minnesota legislature would require elementary and middle school students to take physical education classes three times a week and mandate that high school students take a one-credit physical education class as well.

Legislation sponsored by Democratic Sen. David Tomassoni, which is now before the Senate finance committee, comes in the wake of some confusion over physical education requirements after the legislature repealed the state’s Profile of Learning standards last year.

Some physical education teachers worried that gym classes would no longer be required. But Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the state education department, said districts must still offer them. A 1959 compulsory education law, Mr. Walsh said, among other provisions, requires students between the ages of 7 and 16 to take physical education classes.

—John Gehring

Mass. Plan Would Identify Schools’ Juvenile Offenders

Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor is endorsing a bill that would compel courts to share records of juvenile offenders with schools.

The measure would create local councils that included officials from police, courts, social-service agencies, and schools who would work together to address the needs of children being overseen by the juvenile-justice system.

The proposal is part of Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey’s sweeping proposal to overhaul the state’s criminal-justice system. A task force led by the Republican issued a report this month that questioned the effectiveness of “boot camps” for juvenile offenders and the popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education—or DARE—program, among other law-enforcement efforts.

In announcing her support, Ms. Healey argued that the legislation would prevent incidents such as the 2001 stabbing death of a counselor at Springfield High School. Because of confidentiality laws, school officials were unaware that the student who stabbed the counselor had earlier wounded his own mother.

—David J. Hoff

School Groups Sue Okla. Over Oil-Refinery Tax

Representatives from three Oklahoma school associations are suing the state over a tax exemption the legislature granted last year to oil refineries.

The exemption, which would apply to new pollution-reduction equipment five refineries must install, would cost the state $10 million in property taxes, according to Keith Ballard, the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, who filed the suit along with the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.

Mr. Ballard said the potential funding loss to schools is of grave concern because economic woes have cost them $200 million in funding in the past two years.

The suit contends that the state constitution does not allow for such exemptions, and that the state would need to put the suggested change before voters.

The new equipment is a federal mandate to reduce air pollution, said Mickey Thompson, the president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. The exemption, he added, would apply only to the new equipment.

—Michelle Galley

Forces Mobilize to Contest Wash. Funding Initiative

The Washington state chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy has unveiled a new political action committee to oppose a voter initiative to increase the sales tax and raise $1 billion for education.

Jamie W. Daniels, the executive director of the League of Freedom Voters, said the group would tell potential voters, that the economy would suffer from the initiative’s sales-tax increase of 1 percentage point, which would boost the state tax to 7.9 percent.

The PAC’s founder is former speaker of the House, J. Clyde Ballard, a Republican.

Mark N. Usdane, the executive director of the League of Education Voters, which advocates the tax increase, charges that the new organization is simply carrying out the anti-tax agenda of the national Citizens for a Sound Economy, based in Washington and headed by Dick Armey, a former Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ms. Daniels countered that the Washington state chapter has 13,000 in-state members.

—Andrew Trotter


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