News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

July 14, 2004 6 min read

Ariz. Teachers Targeted For English Immersion

At the recommendation of Arizona state Superintendent Tom Horne, the state board of education has approved a plan to require all teachers and administrators to become trained in structured English immersion, the state’s primary method for teaching English as a new language.

At the recommendation of Arizona state Superintendent Tom Horne, the state board of education has approved a plan to require all teachers and administrators to become trained in structured English immersion, the state’s primary method for teaching English as a new language.

The board has asked the state attorney general to approve the rule change. The new requirement would go into effect 60 days after such approval, according to Margaret Garcia Dugan, the associate superintendent of academic achievement for the Arizona Department of Education.

The proposal calls for all in-service teachers and administrators to receive 15 hours, or one college credit, of training in structured English immersion by August 2006. Teachers would have to take an additional 45 hours of training in structured English immersion upon recertification every six years.

—Mary Ann Zehr

N.J.'s Abbott Districts Settle Supplemental-Funding Dispute

New Jersey’s poorest school districts have reached a settlement with the state that gives them more than $627 million in funding for the 2004- 05 year for programs to help students from low-income families.

The settlement, announced June 25, averts what could have been another round of legal fighting about how much the 30 districts should receive in aid for a category of programs known as supplemental services.

Known as Abbott districts for their role as plaintiffs in the long-running school finance case Abbott v. Burke, the systems fought several legal rounds with the state during the past year over aid for supplemental services. According to the Education Law Center, which represents the plaintiffs, the settlement provides $167 million more in supplemental-services aid in the 2004-05 school year than the $336 million the state department of education approved in May.

New Jersey Department of Education spokesman Jon said the department was still finalizing the exact dollar amounts that would go to each district.

—Catherine Gewertz

Gov. Bush Vetoes Plan For Pilot Preschool Effort

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has vetoed $7 million appropriated by the legislature for a pilot universal preschool program in 10 school districts.

The program was to begin this fall as Florida prepares for statewide preschool by the fall of 2005. Voters approved a state constitutional amendment in November 2002 requiring universal preschool in the state. (“Schools to See Big Windfalls from State Ballot Measures,” Nov. 13, 2002.)

Gov. Bush vetoed the plan after expressing concerns that the funding and the design of the program were not as substantial as voters expect.

The pilot program had been designed as the model for all schools to follow after the coming school year.

—Alan Richard

Sexual-Abstinence Message Required by New Mich. Law

Michigan school districts choosing to teach safe-sex practices must give equal time to the benefits of sexual abstinence, under a new state law.

The measure, signed last month by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, also requires schools to give parents notice of sex education lessons so they can pull their children out of those classes. In addition, parents must make up the majority of school district panels that oversee sex education curricula. Districts could lose 1 percent of their state aid if they don’t follow the law.

The bill was passed in June by the Republican-controlled legislature. Proponents said that it would increase parents’ say over what their children are taught about a sensitive subject, while promoting safe-sex practices. Opponents argued that it would undercut sex education and decrease local control.

—Bess Keller

Mass. Governor Vetoes Charter School Moratorium

Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has vetoed a legislative effort to impose a moratorium on opening new charter schools in the state.

Gov. Mitt Romney

The June 25 veto from the Republican governor came after House and Senate lawmakers approved a one-year moratorium on the independently operated public schools, during which time the state was to study how they are financed. The measure also would have halted the opening of five new charter schools already approved by the state education department.

Charter school critics say the schools drain money from districts and towns when students leave regular public schools for charters. (“Backers, Foes Draw Battle Lines Over Mass. Charters,” May 19, 2004.)

Mr. Romney, in a June 23 statement, praised the schools: “Charter schools make other public schools stronger because they have to respond to competition.”

A threatened override vote had not been scheduled as of late last week.

—John Gehring

Texas Education Agency Gets OK to Buy Textbooks

Texas lawmakers have authorized state school officials to purchase $63 million in textbooks using money from other accounts to make up a shortfall in tax revenue earmarked for the books.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and the leaders of the House and the Senate gave the Texas Education Agency permission to spend money from other accounts to buy the books in June. Ordering the books last month means they will be delivered by the time school starts in August, Mr. Perry said.

Texas textbook funding fell about $70 million short of projections because a new method of collecting diesel taxes failed meet state revenue predictions. The replacement money will ensure the state will have $434 million to spend in the biennial budget that goes through Aug. 31, 2005.

Without the changes, Texas schools would not have been able to buy enough books to cover enrollment increases. The legislature promised to reimburse the agency for the funds.

—David J. Hoff

Mich. Affirmative Action Bid Put On Hold Till Next Year

Proponents of a constitutional amendment to end affirmative action in Michigan’s public universities have abandoned their effort to put the proposal on this November’s ballot. They will aim for 2006 instead.

A state appeals court ruling last month overturned a circuit court decision in April that said the proposal would illegally alter the civil rights provisions of the Michigan Constitution.

The higher court’s ruling had cleared the way for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative—which is backed by California businessman Ward Connerly, a leading opponent of racial preferences in admissions—to continue gathering signatures for a statewide vote in November. But the proponents decided that there was not enough time to meet the July 6 signature- gathering deadline.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan law school could continue to consider race or sex in admission, but that the undergraduate school’s affirmative action policy was too formulaic to be legal. (“Justices Give K-12 Go-Ahead to Promote Diversity,” July 9, 2003.)

—Bess Keller

Iowa Sets New Rules For Homeless Students

New guidelines approved by the Iowa state board of education will allow homeless students to remain enrolled in the same school system even if they move with their families into another district.

State officials hope that the administrative rule change approved last month will give homeless students more stability during their school careers.

Ray Morley, a consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, said 16 percent of the state’s estimated 22,000 homeless students drop out of school each year.

School systems also will be required to encourage homeless preschool-age children to attend school, expanding the existing rule, which had asked districts to identify homeless students ages 5 to 21.

—Karla Scoon Reid

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup