News In Brief

August 02, 1989 9 min read

The Wisconsin legislature adjourned this summer after rejecting all school “choice” proposals that came before it--including a last-minute compromise version for the Milwaukee schools that was endorsed by the governor and the city’s mayor and school superintendent.

Lawmakers decided to resume the debate on choice next year, and ordered the legislature’s research arm to complete a study on the topic by Jan. 30, 1990.

The compromise Milwaukee plan would have given 1,000 disadvantaged elementary-school students the option of enrolling in any nonprofit, nonsectarian private school in the city that entered into a contract with the Milwaukee school board. Earlier versions had been proposed separately by the school board and Gov. Tommy G. Thompson.

Lawmakers also declined to consider the Governor’s proposals to give all high-school students the option of enrolling in any public school in the state, and to permit 11th and 12th graders to take courses in postsecondary institutions.

The Kentucky General Assembly has created a 21-member commission to begin addressing the state supreme court’s unprecedented decision declaring the state’s “entire system” of precollegiate education unconstitutional.

The Task Force on Education Reform comprises 16 legislative leaders and five members of Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson’s staff. The group has divided itself into three subcommittees on the issues of governance, curriculum, and finance.

According to Representative Roger C. Noe, chairman of the House education committee and head of the task force’s governance subcommittee, the three panels are assembling teams of nationally recognized consultants from nominees suggested by the Education Commission of the States, the National Governors’ Association, and other major education groups.

The state high court ordered the legislature to rebuild Kentucky’s education system from the ground up by the end of its 1990 session. Mr. Noe predicted lawmakers would address the issues of governance and curriculum first before turning to the more difficult question of finance.

In a related development, legislative leaders named as defendants in the suit have asked the court to clarify portions of its ruling.

Specifically, they asked the court whether it would require that property-tax rates be identical in all districts, and whether it would uphold supplementary taxes in districts that wish to adopt them.

Texas high-school graduates have swollen enrollments in the state’s two-year colleges by more than 25 percent this summer, apparently to avoid a testing requirement for college freshmen that takes effect this fall.

Some 195,400 students have enrolled in the first six-week summer session at the state’s 65 campuses this year, compared with 155,639 in 1988, according to Winston Cave, director of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s educational-data center.

Although there is “no concrete evidence,” the enrollment surge appears to be linked to the new test requirement, Mr. Cave said.

Beginning this fall, all freshmen at state colleges and universities will be required to pass the Texas Academic Skills Program test to become eligible to take upper-level courses. Students who score below a certain level on the 150-question test of reading, writing, and mathematics skills will be required to take remedial courses.

The 1987 law mandating the new test included an exemption for students who earn three or more college credit hours before September 1989.

For freshmen and sophomores intending to enroll in teacher-training programs, the tasp test replaces the controversial Pre-Professional Skills Test, which had been administered since 1984.

Florida lawmakers have passed a bill requiring all of the state’s public schools to offer gun-safety programs.

The measure, passed during a special session in June devoted to transportation issues, also requires parents to keep their guns under lock and key. The bill was spurred by the accidental shooting deaths of three children.

Dade County currently is the only Florida district with a gun-safety program. The state education department will develop a program by the legislature’s March 1 deadline, a spokesman said.

In other action, Gov. Bob Martinez vetoed bills passed during the legislature’s regular session to begin dropout-prevention efforts in early grades and to assist teenage parents.

Representative Michael Friedman, chairman of the House education committee, said Democratic lawmakers would attempt to override the vetoes during an upcoming special session to review the state’s abortion laws.

House and Senate conferees in North Carolina have agreed to finance a teacher pay raise by diverting $335 million from a 13-year, $9.1-billion highway-construction project.

Under the plan, which must still be passed by both houses, teacher pay would rise by 6 percent in each year of the next biennium.

Gov. James G. Martin, who favors raising the sales tax by 1 cent to pay for the raises, “doesn’t think very highly” of drawing on the state highway funds, said his education aide, Lee Monroe. “It’s like digging one hole to cover another.”

Thus far, the legislature also has rejected the Governor’s call for statewide implementation of a pilot career-ladder program that is set to expire this year.

The Senate has approved a bill to give districts the option of adopting their own performance-based pay plans in consultation with teachers. A House subcommittee has endorsed a companion measure.

Neither chamber, however, has authorized sufficient funds for such programs.

Texas school districts will have to begin using buses that run on alternative fuels, under a bill signed by Gov. William P. Clements.

The new law, which takes effect Aug. 8, requires districts to stop8buying, leasing, or contracting for buses that run on gasoline or diesel fuel and to begin converting their existing fleets to run on compressed natural gas or other alternative fuels.

Districts are being encouraged to use natural gas, which is plentiful in Texas. The bill’s backers say the switch will reduce air pollution and bolster the state’s economy.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York has signed legislation creating a public school district for the Hasidic Jewish community of Kiryas Joel.

Lawmakers approved the bill to settle a dispute over the education of up to 200 handicapped children who live in the village. A federal court ruled recently that the Monroe-Woodbury school district did not have to provide the Hasidic children with separate special-education services as their parents had demanded.

Under the measure, Kiryas Joel will receive state aid for special education. The funds, however, cannot be used to support the religious schools that most of the community’s children attend.

The bill was supported by the Monroe-Woodbury district but opposed by the state education department, which questions its constitutionality.

Iowa parents who teach their children at home have filed suit to overturn a state law requiring that children be taught only by certified teachers.

The group of parents argue that the 1953 requirement violates the state constitution because it was included in a measure that focused on more than one subject. The constitution mandates that laws address only one topic.

Iowa lawmakers have tried without success for two years to reach a compromise on teacher qualifications for home schools and church-affiliated schools. A one-year moratorium on prosecuting violators of the law expired July 1.

New York’s state pension funds for teachers and other employees should be barred from financing the hostile takeovers of corporations, a panel appointed by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo has concluded.

“Taxpayers should be assured that public pension funds won’t be used in ways that will threaten their jobs,” said Dan Walsh, president of the New York State Business Council and a member of the task force. The state’s three pension funds have a combined value of $100 billion. Governor Cuomo will propose legislation next year addressing the task force’s recommendations, a spokesman said.

Pension-fund investment practices came under heightened scrutiny last year after 11 state funds participated in the $25-billion leveraged buyout of the rjr Nabisco Company.

An Arkansas court’s decision invalidating some 300 appropriations bills has jeopardized a negotiated settlement between the state and the plaintiffs in the Little Rock school-desegregation case.

The settlement, which would cost the state between $118 million and $130 million over 10 years, was included in one of hundreds of appropriation bills struck down by the court in June on procedural grounds.

During a special legislative session called to reapprove the bills, the votes in favor of the desegregation settlement were disallowed under House rules. A second state court has been asked to decide whether the settlement received sufficient votes for passage.

In a related development, the federal district judge who oversees the Little Rock case has ordered the state to pay $6.8 million for the district’s past desegregation efforts. He also scheduled hearings to consider the state’s future financial obligations to the district.

A legislative standoff in Louisiana will force the state school board to reconsider a rule requiring private-school students to take a standardized test in order to receive a state diploma.

Lawmakers, urged on by private-school advocates, approved a bill to overturn the state board of elementary and secondary education’s decision to require private-school students to pass the examination after the 1990 school year. They also approved a measure to prevent the board from implementing a similar rule in the future.

After Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed both bills, the legislature adopted a concurrent resolution that nullifies the new rule and requires “interested parties” to discuss alternatives to the existing law.

The state board is expected to begin reviewing options this fall.

Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado has vetoed a bill designed to encourage businesses to provide on-site day care for their workers’ children.

The Governor said he agreed that job-site day care was needed, but objected to a provision in the bill that would have prevented the state department of social services from regulating such facilities.

The Whitley County, Ky., school district, which has been taken over by the state, is mired in politics, suffers from defeatist attitudes, and lacks clear goals and direction, an audit by the state education department has found.

The curriculum audit released this summer was conducted in February, one month after the state assumed control of the Whitley and Floyd County schools under the terms of a 1984 “academic bankruptcy” law. The education department released its audit of the Floyd County district earlier this year.

The Whitley County school board has filed a suit challenging the state takeover. A county circuit court began hearings in the case last month.

The Alabama Board of Education has agreed to release $7.1 million appropriated by the legislature for special projects in some lawmakers’ districts.

The board voted in June to freeze funding for the so-called “pork” projects after learning that the state lacked funds to update its achievement-testing program.

Spencer Bachus, a member of the board, said the move “was an attempt by a desperate board not only to call attention to the legislature’s pork-barrel politics,” but also to spotlight “the monumental inequities and disparities in funding as well as the vital need for additional revenue for education.”

The board released the money after the state attorney general held that it can withhold funding only if a court finds that an appropriation is unconstitutional.

A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 1989 edition of Education Week as News In Brief