News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Court Upholds Engler's Orders On Schools Chief's Authority

A Michigan appeals court has upheld Michigan Gov. John Engler's executive orders to transfer vast authority over school policy from the state board of education to the state schools superintendent.

By a 2-1 vote this month, the court ruled that the governor's 1996 orders did not violate the state constitution's separation-of-powers precepts, as was argued by the four Democratic board members who filed the lawsuit.

The decision, effective immediately, overturned a lower-court ruling.

Mr. Engler, a Republican, wants to take rule-making, teacher certification, and school accreditation authority away from the board's eight elected members and give it to his appointed schools chief.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Arthur E. Ellis would not comment last week on when he might assume those powers. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs are planning an appeal to the state supreme court.

"We expected this ruling. Two of the three judges were appointed by [Gov. Engler]," said board member Barbara Roberts Mason, a Democrat. "I think the supreme court will be looking at this with an unbiased view."

Ore. Reform Challenge Loses

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled against a conservative-backed lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of Oregon's 1991 comprehensive school reform law.

In its unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that in setting academic standards and requiring academic tests, the law does not force students to agree with a particular belief system.

"The [U.S.] Constitution does not prohibit a state from imposing an educational structure and philosophy on its public schools," Judge Otto R. Skopil wrote for the panel. "The Oregon Educational Act does nothing more."

The law had been challenged by several Oregon students and parents who were represented by the American Family Association, a conservative education and advocacy group in Tupelo, Miss.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the law violated the First Amendment because it "confines students to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved."

Board Maps Prop. 227 Strategy

California's state school board plans to hammer out emergency rules to help schools carry out a voter-approved ballot measure that would virtually eliminate bilingual education.

Board members promised at a June 12 meeting to convene weekly over the summer to issue regulations by August for Proposition 227. The state education department plans to issue guidance for schools in the coming weeks.

Among the issues the board will address is whether districts could receive state waivers from parts of Proposition 227, which includes a call for students with limited English proficiency to be taught in special English-immersion classes--usually for no more than a year--before moving into the mainstream. At least half a dozen districts have filed requests with the state board seeking exemptions.

Meanwhile, Proposition 227 is scheduled to be the subject of a July 15 hearing in the federal district court in San Francisco. Civil rights groups went to court to challenge the measure immediately after voters approved it June 2. ("Will Calif.'s Bellwether Reputation Ring True?," June 17, 1998.)

SREB Issues Progress Report

The percentage of adults in Southern states with college degrees is higher than the percentage that had high school diplomas 60 years ago, according to a report released last week by the Southern Regional Education Board.

"Education and Progress in the South" summarizes the educational and economic gains made by Southern states in the six decades since President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the region "the nation's No. 1 economic problem." The report also cites the region's current educational shortcomings, including the fact that 40 percent of all Americans without a high school diploma live in the South.

"Noting one's accomplishments shouldn't be a reason for complacency," said Joseph Marks, the director of data services for the Atlanta-based board. "We can celebrate progress, but do so as a way of rededicating ourselves to ensure that the progress continues."

The report is available from the Southern Regional Education Board.

Mo. Passes Language Law

Missouri has become the 23rd state to adopt a law declaring English its official language.

But the bill signed into law June 11 by Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, also carries with it a call for the state to help pay for English classes for non-English-speaking residents. Lawmakers are expected to set aside money for the programs next year, which could be run through school districts, community groups, and other nonprofit agencies.

Efforts to establish English as Missouri's common language had stalled in the past and been attacked as unnecessary and discriminatory. Adding provisions for state-supported English classes helped defuse that criticism in the Democratic-led state, said Tim Schultz, a spokesman for the Washington-based U.S. English, which lobbies for official-English measures nationwide.

While most of the state dollars would likely be channeled into adult English classes, children's programs might also receive funding.

Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 25

Published in Print: June 24, 1998, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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