News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Christie Says He May Resign As Texas School Board Chief

The chairman of the Texas board of education says he is "90 percent" sure that he will quit the 15-member panel by the end of the year, cutting short his term on the board by two years.

"I've not given them a letter of resignation, but I've shared these thoughts with the governor's office," said Jack Christie, who was elected to the board in 1990. He added that he is likely to step down because eight years is long enough for any board member to serve. ("Pace Is Relentless for Texas School Board Chairman," Feb. 4, 1998.)

Jack Christie

The news could put Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, in an awkward election-year position. If Mr. Christie, a moderate Republican, leaves, Mr. Bush would not only pick the replacement to finish his term, but he could name that replacement as the next chairman, thus making the politically sticky move of bypassing Republicans now on the board.

Mr. Bush, who faces re-election this fall, is often at odds with the socially conservative Republicans on the panel. "The fact that we don't support the governor in a lot of education initiatives may cause him to look outside of the board," acknowledged David Bradley, a GOP board member.

Linda Edwards, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bush, said it was too early to speculate on a replacement since Mr. Christie has not actually resigned.

Child-Aid Plan Set for Ballot

A California initiative to add 50 cents to the state tax on a pack of cigarettes to pay for early-childhood-education and anti-smoking programs has qualified for the Nov. 3 general-election ballot.

Organizers of the "California Children and Families First Initiative" collected 1,189,571 signatures. The measure needed 693,230 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

"Through this initiative, communities throughout California will be able to provide infants and young children with the building blocks for healthy lives," filmmaker Rob Reiner, the chairman of the initiative group, said in a statement.

If approved, funding from the new tax would allow counties in California to qualify for millions in federal matching dollars, and county commissions would be formed to control how the money was spent. The measure would more than double the 37-cent-per-pack cigarette tax in California.

Mich. To Promote Job Skills

Beginning this fall, Michigan will award the first of 10,000 scholarships worth $2,000 each to students interested in high-skill jobs that don't require a four-year college degree, Gov. John Engler has announced.

The program, which he first outlined in February, is designed to address a shortage of workers in fields such as construction, drafting, computer programming, and health care.

The scholarships will go to students who enroll in associate's degree or certificate training programs in community colleges across the state.

"About 40 percent of Michigan high school graduates do not go on to college, but they do need to think about going to work," Mr. Engler said at a recent school-to-work conference.

The money will come from a state fund set aside for economic development.

James Wins Ala. GOP Runoff

Gov. Fob James Jr. of Alabama, a vocal proponent of school prayer, easily captured the Republican nomination for governor last week in a runoff primary against challenger Winton Blount.

Gov. Fob James Jr.

According to incomplete and unofficial results, Mr. James garnered 55.7 percent of the vote compared with 44.3 percent for Mr. Blount, a businessman from Montgomery, across 66 of 67 counties reporting. Three of the 66 counties had incomplete totals. More than 460,000 people voted in the runoff, which was not limited to Republican voters.

The Alabama Republican Party supplied the vote counts. The Alabama secretary of state's office declined to release results last week. The office planned to release the results when they become final on July 6.

The runoff was necessary because Mr. James had failed to attract 50 percent of the vote in a five-way gubernatorial primary June 2. The incumbent governor will face Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, in the general election in November. In campaign speeches, Mr. Siegelman has indicated support for creating a state lottery system that would benefit public schools. ("In Alabama, Gubernatorial Primary Sets Stage for a GOP Rematch," June 10, 1998.)

Small Classes Gaining in Calif.

California's push to lower K-3 class sizes to 20 students involved nearly 1.6 million children in the 1997-98 school year, or 84 percent of the state's pupils in those grades, according to a state report.

Of 895 eligible school districts, 875 received about $1.2 billion, or between $800 and $400 per student, to shrink their K-3 classes in the just-completed school year, the second since the initiative began.

In a written statement, state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin called class-size reduction "the largest educational reform in California's history." Her office released the report.

Ninety-nine percent of 1st graders, 96 percent of 2nd graders, 67 percent of 3rd graders, and 69 percent of kindergartners are in the program. The biggest challenges for the initiative continue to be preparing enough qualified teachers and finding classroom space, Ms. Eastin added. She also urged state lawmakers to put a statewide school bond before voters in November.

N.H. Teacher-Firing Bill Fails

A bill that would have eliminated binding arbitration in teacher contracts in New Hampshire and made it easier to fire teachers has died.

New Hampshire's Republican-majority House failed to override Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's veto of the measure when it voted 195-132 in the bill's favor last month. The tally was 21 votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary to overturn a veto. The bill, which was favored by Republican leaders, was opposed by the state's teachers' unions.

"The governor agrees that we need to streamline the process to remove teachers who are not performing well," said Douglas Hattaway, the press secretary for Gov. Shaheen. "Simply removing binding arbitration will not do it." The governor is assembling a commission to examine teacher performance and professional development, Mr. Hattaway added.

Race, Gender Data Dropped

Ohio legislators have voted to bar state education officials from including comparative information on race and gender on report cards designed to let parents and community members assess how their schools are performing.

In early June, the state education department completed a pilot distribution of report cards that included information on student test scores broken down by race and gender. The report cards were sent to parents in 109 of the state's 611 school districts in the test run. Such cards will be distributed throughout the state next year.

Previously, the state board of education voted 16-1 to include racial and gender data after parents and community members indicated in a study that they would find the information useful, said Stacie Lawell, a spokeswoman for the education department.

But after complaints from superintendents that comparing test scores by race and sex could unfairly stigmatize some students and schools, the legislature last month included an amendment barring such information from the report cards as a part of a larger budget-corrections bill.

Vol. 17, Issue 42, Page 24

Published in Print: July 8, 1998, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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