News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Rural Colo. Schools File Funding Suit
Parents in five rural Colorado districts have filed a class action asking that the state's system of financing school construction and repairs be declared unconstitutional.
The current system, which relies largely on local property taxes, results in some students' attending schools "not fit for habitation, while other students in neighboring school districts attend schools with virtually unlimited educational facilities," the lawsuit contends.
The suit, which was filed Jan. 13 on behalf of parents and students in the five property-poor districts, says the districts have condemned portions of schools because of leaky and failing roofs, substandard wiring, and other maintenance problems. The Lake County district, for example, has $16 million in capital requirements, but would only be able to raise $8 million even if it incurred the maximum bonded debt allowed by law, the suit says.
The suit does not seek a system of equal per-pupil funding, but it does ask the Denver County district court to declare the current capital-finance system to be in violation of the state constitution's guarantee of a "thorough and uniform system" of public schools.
The suit names members of the state school board and other state officials as defendants. Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton has responded that the state supreme court rejected a challenge to the school finance system 10 years ago, and that the state will defend the constitutionality of the current system.
Ala. Suit Charges Conflict of Interest
Three Alabama citizens have filed suit against 21 state legislators, claiming it is illegal for the lawmakers to work for state-financed public schools or colleges at the same time they hold seats in the Statehouse.
The suit, filed Jan. 20 in Jefferson County circuit court in Birmingham, names three public school administrators and two precollegiate teachers among the 21 defendants. All the defendants are Democrats and educators, except for one Republican who heads the state board of medical examiners.
In their complaint, the citizens argue that the legislators are violating the state constitution's conflict-of-interest prohibitions on one person holding two paid positions in state government, as well as the state's separation-of-powers doctrine, said Michael L. Jackson, a lawyer representing them. The plaintiffs want each of the legislators ousted from one of the two state jobs, whichever one was held first.
Mr. Jackson said his clients believe that the practice of K-12 educators also holding legislative seats is detrimental both to the state and to the students left behind during the three-month legislative session.
None of the lawmakers could be reached for comment last week.
Ky. House Passes School Prayer Bill
The Kentucky House has approved a bill that would prohibit school officials from limiting voluntary, student-initiated prayer during noninstructional time.
The lawmakers passed the single-sentence bill Jan. 20 by a vote of 85-9, after contentious debate.
Critics of the measure argue that the bill could be used to impose the views of the state's Christian majority on religious minorities, and that it would strip authority from teachers and principals.
But supporters of the House bill say that it simply restates what is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
A Senate school prayer bill, passed unanimously Jan. 22, meanwhile, would require schools to be "neutral in matters of faith." It is backed by several education and religious groups.
House and Senate leaders are hammering out the differences between the measures and are expected to have a revised bill ready this month.
Pa. Education Advocate To Retire
After 24 years in the Pennsylvania legislature, a longtime education advocate has announced that he will not seek re-election this year.
Rep. Ronald R. Cowell, a Pittsburgh-area Democrat who is currently the minority co-chairman of the House education committee, has been a prominent player in two national groups.
He represents Pennsylvania as a commissioner of the Education Commission of the States, and has been the chairman of the education committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures.