News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

August 11, 2004 5 min read

Alaska Agrees to Provide Test Accomodations

Students with disabilities in Alaska will be allowed to use a range of accommodations on the state’s high school exit exam and still be able to receive high school diplomas, under a legal settlement announced last week.

The settlement in the class action on behalf of such students will let them use oral presentations, spell-checkers, voice-recognition software, help from test proctors, and other state-approved accommodations on the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Disability Rights Advocates, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Alaska. Stephen Tollafield, a lawyer for the group, said he believes that the accommodations planned for Alaska are the most comprehensive of any state’s. (“Alaska Seeks to Tighten Rules on Correspondence Schools,” April 14, 2004.)

Alaska officials hope to have the testing accommodations available by this fall.

—Sean Cavanagh

Illinois Drops State Exams In Writing, Other Subjects

Illinois students will no longer be tested in writing, social studies, physical development, and fine arts, under a budget compromise that will save the state an estimated $6.3 million a year.

The legislature approved $9.1 billion of its $46 billion state budget for education July 24. The budget includes money for the state to continue testing students in reading, mathematics, and science, as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

State education officials opposed the changes, citing the important role the assessments have played in ensuring that students are taught to state standards in the subjects.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Conn. Desegregation Efforts Faulted for Lack of Progress

The plaintiffs in Connecticut’s long-running Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case have gone back to court to prod state officials to put more effort into meeting the terms of a settlement reached last year.

Under the agreement approved by the two sides, Connecticut was to open two new magnet schools in the Hartford area each year between 2003 and 2007. Each new school was to serve about 600 students. The schools were intended to reduce racial and ethnic isolation in the 24,500-student Hartford district. (“Deal Announced to Desegregate Hartford Schools,” Jan. 29, 2003.)

In a complaint filed Aug. 3 in state superior court, the plaintiffs say that although two new magnet schools opened in Hartford in the 2003-04 school year, one served 450 students and the other fewer than 100 students.

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Betty J. Sternberg agreed last week that the enrollment targets likely would not be met by 2007, but she predicted they could be by 2010. Helping in the expansion will be an $8.6 million federal grant that the Hartford district won this month to support magnet schools.

—Jeff Archer

New York State Comptroller To Expand School Audits

New York state Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi has assigned auditors to review the finances of four Long Island school districts, where prosecutors recently arrested officials from two districts and charged them with stealing public funds.

Mr. Hevesi said his office would randomly review the independent audits submitted by other districts in the state to “determine if they are conducted properly.”

He added that his investigations unit would assist local prosecutors in tracking misuse of school money.

In addition to the new activities, Mr. Hevesi asked state officials to appropriate $5.4 million a year to hire enough auditors to review the accounts of every district in the state once every five years.

—David J. Hoff

Former Schools Chief Runs To Reclaim Washington Job

Judith A. Billings, a former superintendent of public instruction in Washington state, wants her old job back.

Ms. Billings, 64, who served as schools chief from 1989 to 1996, has announced that she will run in November’s nonpartisan election for the job now held by Terry Bergeson.

Ms. Billings, a former school principal, says public education has become too focused on testing students and doesn’t have enough money.

She hopes to win the endorsement of the political action committee of the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

In April, WEA-PAC voted not to endorse either of the two other candidates: Ms. Bergeson, a former WEA president, and Juanita Doyon.

—Andrew Trotter

Gov. Holden Defeated In Missouri Primary

Missouri Democrats gave a thumbs-down to Gov. Bob Holden in the state’s primary election Aug. 3, voting instead for state Auditor Claire McCaskill by a margin of 6 percentage points.

During the campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, Ms. McCaskill criticized the incumbent for using his executive power to withhold state aid for education last year as part of his running battle with the Republican-led legislature over the state budget.

Her education platform calls for requiring each of the state’s 524 school districts to be audited by the state auditor once every three years and re-writing the school aid formula, which is being challenged in court.

Ms. McCaskill will face Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who easily won the Republican primary last week, in the November general election.

—Robert C. Johnston


  • Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania has chosen the superintendent of a small school district as the state’s next secretary of education. If confirmed by the state Senate this fall, Francis V. Barnes will become the first African-American to occupy that post in the Keystone State. Mr. Barnes, 55, currently is the superintendent of the 2,200-student Palisades district in eastern Pennsylvania.

—Catherine Gewertz

  • Ted Stilwill, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, announced last week that he is leaving the post that he has held since 1995. Mr. Stilwill, 56, is participating in the state’s early-retirement program and must leave office Aug. 12. He will step down as the president of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers.

—Robert C. Johnston

  • North Dakota’s K-12 public school enrollment is expected to be 99,147 in the 2004-05 school year—the first time since the 1930s that state enrollment has fallen below 100,000. A state official attributed the decline to a migration of young people from rural to urban areas outside the state, an aging population, and an average family size that continues to decrease.

—Tal Barak

  • The Texas Education Agency last week lifted the yearlong probation placed on the Houston school district after the 211,000-student system underreported its high school dropout numbers. The district regained its rating of academically “acceptable” because it showed significant progress in improving the quality of dropout reporting during the nine-week follow-up investigation by the state, district spokesman Terry Abbott said.

—Tal Barak