News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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California Dropping Appeal Of Proposition 187 Ruling

Gov. Gray Davis of California and civil rights groups announced a deal last Thursday to drop legal challenges to a 1994 voter-approved initiative that sought to end public services, including education, to illegal immigrants.

The first-term Democratic governor said in a July 29 press briefing that he would drop the state's appeal of a federal court ruling that found much of the initiative unconstitutional, including the education provisions. The appeal was filed under former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in five legal actions against Proposition 187 agreed not to file any additional lawsuits. The agreement was mediated, at Gov. Davis' request in April, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The San Francisco-based court approved the agreement last week.

Proposition 187 backers, who were left out of the negotiations, were unsure last week about their legal options. "We are really disappointed," said Sharon Browne, a principal lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a legal advocacy group that represented supporters of the measure. "There was no one to defend Proposition 187."

Certain provisions of the initiative that the court had not deemed illegal have been enacted through other legislation.

--Robert C. Johnston

Student Scores Rise on Va. Exams

Virginia educators breathed a collective sigh of relief last week as state officials announced that students had improved their performance on this year's Standards of Learning exams, the tests that will be used to accredit the state's schools beginning in 2007.

Students posted higher scores this year than last on each of the 27 exams given in grades 3, 5, and 8 and throughout high school. The biggest gain was on the high school Algebra 1 exam, whose passing rate rose 20 percentage points, to 51 percent.

Test-takers also posted a 16-percentage-point gain, to 56 percent, in the passing rate for Algebra 2. In contrast, the passing rate on the high school history exam was just 32 percent, a increase of 2 percentage points from last year.

School-by-school results on the SOL exams, which were given for the first time last year, will be released this month. Just 39 of the state's 1,800 schools met state benchmarks on the 1998 test.

Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, praised the 1999 scores.

"These results clearly show that all the hard work by Virginia's students and teachers is paying off," he said in a written statement.

--Robert C. Johnston

Arizona Sued Over School Aid

Four Arizona school districts have sued the state, charging that it has failed to fully pay for school renovations as required by law.

The lawsuit, filed on July 23 in the Arizona Supreme Court, claims the state has underfunded building renovations for districts by $50 million. It comes one year after the governor signed a new school capital-finance program into law; the state's prior system had been ruled unconstitutional for creating disparities between districts.

The new system, called Students FIRST, has distributed $350 million in facilities aid to districts.

At issue in the lawsuit is a fund created to pay for major maintenance projects. Lawmakers had set aside $75 million, an estimate made before districts submitted data on their needs.

According to the lawsuit, the formula that allocates aid indicated a total need of $104 million--a difference of $29 million. An additional $21 million gap is expected in the fiscal year that began July 1, the suit contends.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull, a Republican, has said that the law requires the state to verify the data that districts submitted, and that the state then will fully fund the program. Some aides have suggested that the formula may need to be changed.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

La. 'Respect' Bill Signed Into Law

Respect is the law of the land in Louisiana now that Republican Gov. Mike Foster has signed a bill requiring "yes, sirs" and "no, ma'ams" from students when addressing their teachers.

The plan, which has attracted nationwide attention, is believed to be the first statewide effort to legislate respectful behavior from students. The law requires public school students in grades K-5 to address teachers and other school employees with respectful titles. It will take effect for the coming school year; students in grades 6-12 will be phased in to the policy annually, one grade at a time.

Initiated by Gov. Foster and signed into law last month, the policy originally would have required students to stand up when an adult entered the room. The legislature removed that provision. Under the new law, each district school board is asked to devise its own penalties for students who fail to comply, but suspension and expulsion are prohibited.

--Erik W. Robelen

Mich. Choice Program Expanded

Michigan's K-12 students can now choose to attend schools in neighboring counties, under a measure signed by Gov. John Engler last month.

The law expands the state's school choice policy, which had limited such choice to districts within a student's home county.

About half the state's 570 districts currently participate in the voluntary program, which the Republican governor had pledged to expand.

"There's a growing trend toward offering parents more choices," said Michael Williamson, the assistant state superintendent of schools. "We're now seeing school districts engage in marketing to attract students."

But transportation costs, and the limited number of contiguous counties statewide, could hold down the number of participants this fall.

"I don't anticipate huge numbers of people taking advantage of this, mostly because of the cost of transportation," said Tony Derezinski, the director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "It will be helpful to some, but not many."

--Robert C. Johnston

Moses Resigning as Texas Chief

Mike Moses has announced that he will step down as the Texas commissioner of education, effective Sept. 3, to become the deputy chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.

Since taking over the state's top education post in March 1995, Mr. Moses has led the downsizing of the state education department from 1,144 employees to its current 833 employees.

He has also helped the state implement stricter curriculum standards, expand early-literacy programs, and improve student performance on statewide tests.

"The linkage between public education and higher education is increasingly important," Mr. Moses said in a written statement. "I hope to do all that I can to strengthen the relationship between Texas Tech and our public schools."

Mr. Moses was tapped as state schools chief by Gov. George W. Bush. The Republican governor has not yet picked a replacement for Mr. Moses, according to a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency.

--Robert C. Johnston

Minn. Adequacy Lawsuit Dropped

The St. Paul, Minn., school board has voted to drop the "educational adequacy" lawsuit it filed against the state of Minnesota in 1996.

The board, which had filed the suit in a bid for more aid to meet the needs of the district's diverse enrollment, reached an agreement last month with the administration of Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Board Chairwoman Mary Thornton Phillips said in a statement that the leadership of the Reform Party governor, who took office in January, had resulted in "a new spirit of cooperation and partnership that allows us to continue to pursue adequate funding without ongoing court action."

--Ann Bradley

Vol. 18, Issue 43, Page 26

Published in Print: August 4, 1999, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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