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Alabama Supreme Court Upholds Finance Ruling

The Alabama Supreme Court last week denied Gov. Fob James Jr.'s request that it void a lower-court ruling that had found the state's school system inequitable and unconstitutional.

In a terse, one-page order, the justices ruled 7 to 0 that any appeal in the school-finance case would had to have been filed by July 21, 1993, four months after Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eugene W. Reese issued the controversial ruling.

The Governor at the time, James E. Folsom Jr., backed the ruling and tried unsuccessfully to push school-reform measures through the legislature. Mr. James took office in January after defeating Mr. Folsom in the November elections.

The justices also said they would deny appeals of any of the orders Judge Reese has issued since the 1993 decision because they must be raised first in the lower court.

In February, Governor James and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the high court to order Judge Reese to vacate his ruling and subsequent remedy orders. (See Education Week, 3/8/95.)

Chuck Spurlock, a spokesman for Mr. Sessions, said the decision last week was a disappointment. He said Mr. Sessions would meet soon with lawyers representing the Governor to discuss a next step, leaving open the possibility of further appeals.

"We need to sit down and analyze our options," the spokesman said.

One Time Only: Wyoming lawmakers have put school superintendents in a bind by specifying that this year's budget increase should be considered a one-time bonus.

The state is hedging its bets as the Wyoming Supreme Court considers a school-finance case that could force lawmakers to drastically revamp the state's school-funding program next year. To keep from building up its obligation to schools, the legislature specifically earmarked this year's $4.7 million increase as a one-time infusion, stating that lawmakers would use last year's funding level as a starting point for next year's budget.

Gov. Jim Geringer, who had requested that lawmakers take the novel approach, signed the bill.

Local school officials are finding the extra money hard to deal with, since they are afraid to use it for continuing expenses like salaries, which could commit them to future expenditures. Their disappointment is compounded by the fact that the increase amounts to less than 1 percent.

Sex-Education Notice: The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill that would require public schools to notify parents when sex-education lessons are planned and to give them the option of excusing their children from the classes.

The bill passed on a voice vote early this month and was sent to the House. The original bill, which was scaled back last month by the legislature's joint education committee, would have also required parental notification of lessons on such topics as divorce, self-esteem, suicide, and death.

The Senate bill requires it for lessons related to "heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, transvestitism, contraception, abortion, or sexually transmitted diseases."

Choice Survey: School-choice legislation was considered in 25 state legislatures last year, and while there were no major new programs passed, the prospects are much brighter this year, according to a report from the Heritage Foundation.

"School-choice advocates are once again playing offense," the report says.

The conservative Washington think tank's annual review of school-choice activity says that "many states are poised to pass school-choice or charter legislation in 1995."

The report cites the election of pro-choice chief state school officers in four states, as well as pro-choice Governors such as George W. Bush of Texas and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.

At least 41 states have policy groups or grassroots organizations working for educational choice, according to the report, "School Choice Programs: What's Happening in the States."

Information on how to obtain the report is available from the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002-4999; (202) 546-4400.

Ariz. Takeover Bills Die: Bills that would allow state officials in Arizona to take over failing schools died in the legislature this month after lawmakers expressed reservations about the open-ended wording of the proposals.

A Senate bill left unanswered questions about what would happen when the state took control of a district and how local and state officials would interact. The bill could not make it out of the education committee.

A similar takeover plan also died in the House, where it was expanded to resurrect a voucher proposal. Written largely by C. Diane Bishop, a former state schools chief who is an education-policy adviser to Gov. Fife Symington, the House plan would have allowed parents in failing districts to remove their children and use state vouchers to send them to other public or private schools.

Most of that bill was deleted on the House floor. All that remained was a proposal for a study committee to recommend details of a takeover plan that lawmakers might consider in the future.

Standard Expenses: Minnesota school districts should expect to spend more than $64 million over two years to implement the state's new high school graduation requirements, according to a consultant's report.

The program is expected to cost $28.4 million in 1996-97, when 9th graders would begin working under the new standards for academic achievement. Another $36.1 million would be needed in 1997-98, when more students would come under the requirements, the report says.

However, a significant portion of the costs could be offset by existing state and federal aid, said John Myers, a partner in the Denver-based consulting firm Augenblick, Van de Water, & Myers, which prepared the report.

The report estimates that the net cost to districts statewide would be $6 million in the 1996-97 school year and $12 million in 1997-98, or $7.13 per pupil in the first year and $14.12 per pupil in the second.

In addition to training for teachers and counselors, implementation costs include developing and administering new tests, advising students and parents, and informing the public.

The legislature is still considering how much money to provide for implementation of the standards. Meanwhile, the state school board is expected to finish its regulations for the graduation standards by the end of the year.

Prostitute-Free Zones: Prostitutes caught a mile and a half of Tennessee elementary and secondary schools would face at least seven days in jail and fines of $1,000 under legislation now before Gov. Don Sundquist.

The measure sailed through the House and the Senate on nearly unanimous votes.

While prostitution is already illegal in Tennessee, the new law would enhance existing penalties. It would apply to anyone soliciting or promoting prostitution near a public or private school.

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, introduced the bill in response to complaints from students about the presence of prostitutes and their clients and having to step over needles and condoms near their schools.

"What I was asking for is a way for our children to be protected and free from these kinds of activities," she said in an interview.

Two senators and one representative opposed the bill, saying it covers too large an area around schools and applies at times when children are away.

Vol. 14, Issue 30, Page 21

Published in Print: April 19, 1995, as News In Brief
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