News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Alaska High Court Upholds School Finance Law

The Alaska Supreme Court has upheld a law that gives a greater share of state money to regional school districts than to municipal and borough systems.

Officials in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough school district and several residents there challenged the school funding policy in 1986, arguing before a state judge that different treatment of rural and city districts violated the right of equal protection under the state constitution.

Alaska's rural communities are not required to contribute to school operating costs and must only contribute 2 percent of school construction costs to receive state building grants. Municipalities must contribute comparatively large amounts to both operating and construction costs.

But the high court on Jan. 31 affirmed the state judge's decision that the plaintiffs failed to show that the state's system translated into disparities in educational opportunities for students.

The court said concerns about taxation differences were minor compared to the public interest in assuring equitable educational opportunities for children attending Alaska's public schools.

Paddling Remains Legal Yet Forbidden in Utah

The Utah House spiked a bill last week that would have outlawed corporal punishment in state schools. Opponents of the measure argued that teachers should have the option with written parental permission.

"Most of us grew up with a little paddle from the teacher, and I think it worked well," said Rep. Bradley T. Johnson. "I think we hurt kids when we don't teach them discipline and respect."

GOP Rep. Sheryl L. Allen, the bill's sponsor, argued that "corporal punishment teaches violence."

Rep. Allen said she was surprised the House defeated the bill. The Senate passed the bill two weeks ago. The state school board adopted a policy in 1992 that prohibits corporal punishment.

Bill Would End Free Passes for Troubled Teens

The Utah legislature passed a bill this month that would stop providing free schooling to out-of-state students enrolled in Utah-based programs for troubled youths.

Under current law, the students are considered state residents and are allowed to attend public schools for free.

Doug Bates, a spokesman for the Utah education department, said that while officials do not know exactly how much the provision has cost the state, 5,000 out-of-state students are enrolled under the tuition exemption. Rural areas, where many of the alternative programs are located, suffer the greatest strain in the fast-growing state, he said.

"We're having trouble trying to keep up with our own kids," Mr. Bates said. "We can't educate the world."

Ark. Senate To Debate Lowering Dropout Age

The Arkansas House has had second thoughts about a 6-year-old law that forces students to stay in school until they turn 17.

The House voted 70-22 this month for a bill that would return the legal dropout age to 16, where it had been before the change.

Lawmakers expected that the change would boost retention rates, but Arkansas' high school dropout rate has risen slightly over the past several years. Meanwhile, some administrators have complained that the law foists disruptive 16-year-olds on the schools, where they interfere with other students' learning.

Tony Minicozzi, the legislature's education analyst, said that alternative placements for students who have a hard time in regular classrooms are not widely available in Arkansas: "We're not doing alternative education that helps all the kids who need it."

The proposal is expected to face stiffer opposition when it comes before the Senate education committee as early as this week.

Minn. Seeks Classroom Software Controls

Public schools in Minnesota would have to install special software on school computers to block students' access to pornography on the Internet, under a proposal by Rep. Charlie Weaver.

"The feedback I'm getting from teachers is they are spending more and more time looking over their kids' shoulders, as more [pornographic] sites pop up and kids become more proficient in using the computers," the Republican lawmaker said.

The state would provide districts with free blocking software, which Mr. Weaver estimates would cost $200,000.

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