State Journal: Line items; Clinic control
The pet projects of Alabama legislators often pop up as line items in the state education budget. This year, for example, lawmakers earmarked $200,000 for a Sports Hall of Fame and $2.4 million for Alabama Science in Motion, a moving van full of science instructors and equipment that travels from high school to high school.
But with the state under a court order to provide an adequate education to all of its K-12 students, the Alabama Association of School Boards is arguing that there would be more money for public schools if the state did not give 5 percent of its $3.2 billion education budget to projects unrelated to classroom instruction. As part of the ongoing school-finance lawsuit, the association late last month asked a state judge for permission to request injunctions to prevent such expenditures.
Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, the group's executive director, said even a worthy cause should not divert money from schools.
"Should we give it education dollars that are depriving public school children of adequate and equitable education? That's the question," she said.
A lawyer testified before the Pennsylvania legislature last month that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is investing in school clinics in the state to promote a national health-care-reform agenda, sparking debate about who controls ancillary services offered in public schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 33 states paid for school-health services in 1994, but not all of the nation's approximately 700 school clinics have legislative approval. Private foundations often finance the clinics; the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has provided over $48 million in such grants to states and districts since 1972.
Kent Masterson Brown, a Lexington, Ky., lawyer, told the Pennsylvania lawmakers that voters were robbed of a chance to comment when the clinics were set up without legislative approval.
"If clinics don't have appropriate standards to govern them, you're going to have a potential nightmare of litigation where students have things done to them that their parents are unaware of," Mr. Brown argued.
But supporters say requiring state approval for every service would be burdensome for schools. Frank Karel, a spokesman for the foundation, said that school clinics are often monitored by government officials and are essential to providing needy students access to health care.
--Millicent Lawton & Jessica Portner
Vol. 15, Issue 15