Slew of School-Related Bills Clears Va. Legislature

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Fast approaching the end of the 1994 legislative session, Virginia lawmakers have approved a raft of bills dealing with school prayer, teacher licensure, the composition of local school boards, and college tuition.

The most controversial education-related measure to clear the legislature in recent weeks would permit students in public schools to initiate voluntary prayer in the classroom. A companion bill directs state education officials to develop school-prayer guidelines for local schools, according to James Foudriat, a spokesman for the state education department.

Virginia is one of a number of states to consider student-prayer bills this year. While critics say such measures violate the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion, backers say they were validated by a 1992 federal appeals-court ruling. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

Gov. George F. Allen has said he will sign the bills.

Another bill approved last week would establish a 19-member policy board, appointed by the governor, that would be responsible for licensure and certification of teachers and administrators. The measure would transfer to the new independent body authority currently held by the state education department.

School Board Elections

Late last month, lawmakers cleared legislation to restrict school employees from running for local school boards unless they resigned their employment with the school system.

If signed into law, the measure would affect the state's first school board elections, which will be held in 14 cities in May.

The legislature in 1992 gave local jurisdictions the option of moving from appointed to elected school boards. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1992.)

Backers of this year's bill--including the Virginia Education Association--said it would eliminate any question of conflicts of interest involving school employees. Teachers, they argued, should not be in a position to vote on their own salaries.

Another measure on the Governor's desk would allow parents to pay their children's state-college tuition in advance and secure the current tuition rate. Under the bill, parents could make monthly payments into a tax-deferred bank account established by a state authority in the child's name.

When the child reaches college age, the parents would receive a voucher or tuition waiver for a state college or university. The program must first be approved by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, according to Trisha Swab, a Senate aide.

The newly elected Republican Governor suffered a setback last week, however, when the Senate Education and Health Committee effectively killed a bill to require a physician to notify a parent "at least 24 hours'' before performing an abortion on a minor.

Late last week, the Governor's office was attempting to salvage the parental-notification measure by introducing a special amendment to circumvent the Senate committee.

Vol. 13, Issue 25

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