News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Texas State School Board Votes To Sell Disney Stock

Declaring that the company behind Mickey Mouse also helps produce movies with too much sex and violence, the Texas school board has voted 8-4 to sell its $46.4 million in Walt Disney Co. stocks.

The stocks will be dumped from the $17.65 billion Texas Permanent School Fund, an investment pool overseen by the state board.

The eight Republicans who voted for the sale said they were making a moral statement as well as a sound business move by unloading stock in a company that is controversial, especially among social conservatives.

Claudia Peters, a spokeswoman for Disney, said that the company does not comment on investors' decisions. On the same day of the vote last month, however, Disney stock closed at $38.12 1/2 per share, up $1.12 1/2.

Four Democrats voted no and two abstained.

Democratic board member Alma Allen called the vote hypocritical because the fund still owns alcohol and gambling stocks. Besides, there are ways to take a moral stand without limiting investment options, she said.

"I think there should be adult movies and choice. This is America," she added. "I wish I had the money to buy the same stocks that we sold."

Mass. Picks Interim Chief

David P. Driscoll has been appointed Massachusetts' interim commissioner of education. He replaces Frank W. Haydu III, who abruptly resigned from the position July 1.

Mr. Driscoll, a former math teacher and school administrator who was chosen in a unanimous vote by the state school board, has served as the deputy commissioner since 1993. He will earn the commissioner's salary of $138,000 until the board names a new state chief, a decision that is expected in November.

In one of his first official acts, Mr. Driscoll announced last month that scores for the state's student tests, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Program, or MCAS, would be released in mid-November.

Mr. Haydu, a businessman who had promised to stay on through this year's elections, left office amid fallout over the failure rate of the state's first teacher-certification test. ("Mass. Reacts to More Test Data; Teacher Proposal Outlined," in This Week's News.)

Brogan Joins GOP Ticket in Fla.

Republican candidate Jeb Bush has set the stage for an education showdown in the Florida governor's race by selecting the state's popular schools chief as his would-be lieutenant governor.

Mr. Bush and Commissioner of Education Frank T. Brogan are expected to face the Democratic team of current Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay and his running mate, former state Sen. Rick Dantzler, in the November election.

Mr. Brogan, a Republican, had been expected to easily snag a second term as the elected education commissioner, and Mr. Bush's announcement last month left party leaders scrambling to find candidates for the Cabinet seat. Both parties expect to have contested races for commissioner in the state's Sept. 1 primary.

State Rep. Faye B. Culp, a former teacher and Hillsborough County school board member, will face former Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, state Rep. J. Keith Arnold will run against former state Speaker of the House Peter Rudy Wallace.

Tenn. Teacher Lawsuit Filed

A Tennessee lawyer who successfully challenged the state school funding method on behalf of rural school systems is leading a case against the state once again, this time over teacher salaries.

Lewis Donelson, who represents the Tennessee Small Schools Association, a coalition of 75 districts, filed a motion in July to force the state to equalize teacher pay between rural and urban districts. In Tennessee, the average starting salary for a teacher in a rural district is $28,000, while average starting salaries in an urban district are up to $9,000 more, Mr. Donelson said in a recent interview.

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office last week declined comment on the case through a spokeswoman.

In 1993, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the school funding system unconstitutionally deprived rural children of a basic education. As a result, the Basic Education Program, which provides extra state money to districts where the local sales tax is insufficient to support basic educational services, was created.

"The state's contributions have been increased, but locally the funds have been substantially different," Mr. Donelson said. "It is the state's responsibility to equalize pay."

Wilson Plan Makes Ballot

Gov. Pete Wilson of California will get a chance to do at the polls what he failed to accomplish in the legislature now that his broad school reform package has qualified for the state's November ballot.

Proposition 8 would make the state's current class-size-reduction effort permanent, require teachers to pass subject-matter examinations, and create the office of a chief inspector of public schools.

The inspector would work independently of the state education department and be responsible for reviewing the performance of every public school in the state at least once every two years and making the findings public.

Petition circulators collected 740,000 signatures, far exceeding the 433,269 that were needed to qualify for this fall's general elections. The secretary of state's office completed the signature-validation process last month and certified the measure for the Nov. 3 ballot.

La. School Case May Continue

A coalition of Louisiana districts and parents plans to ask the state supreme court to issue a final ruling in a 7-year-old legal battle over whether the state is fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to provide children with an adequate education.

In June, for the second time in 15 months, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the state government is already providing students with the minimum education required by the state constitution.

The appeals court first dismissed the suit in March 1997, but its one-sentence opinion was remanded by the Louisiana Supreme Court for further clarification. ("La. Court Dismisses Finance Case With One Sentence; Appeal Promised," April 2, 1997.)

Although state legislators recently voted to increase the education budget by almost 5 percent, from $2.09 billion in fiscal 1998 to $2.19 billion in 1999, Louisiana remains one of the lowest-ranking states in terms of education funding, said Martha Kegel, a New Orleans-based lawyer who represents parents and students in the case.

"It's the state's responsibility to ensure an adequate education," Ms. Kegel said. "More money well-supervised would contribute a great deal."

Ark. To Revamp Assessment

The Arkansas school board has voted to overhaul its assessment of high school students' progress toward meeting state standards.

Instead of giving the literacy and mathematics exams to every high school junior, the state will require seniors to take the reading and writing exam and will administer the math assessments when students complete algebra and geometry courses. The board adopted the change last month.

The legislature originally required seniors to pass the high school proficiency exam to be eligible for a diploma. But it later removed the link to graduation and after last month's decision the board will simply require the scores to appear on students' transcripts.

The state also plans to add high school exams in biology and American history within two years. When they are available, Arkansas will end its requirement that 10th graders take norm-referenced tests.

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 21

Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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