News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Wisconsin Schools Chief Announces Plan To Retire Next Year at End of Second Term

Wisconsin's two-term schools chief won't seek re-election in April 2001, opting instead to retire next year. "I wanted to notify people now so that others will begin to work toward coming to this office," John T. Benson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview following his March 15 announcement.

Mr. Benson was elected to the nonpartisan office in 1993 and again in 1997. He intends to step down at the end of his term, June 30, 2001, when he will be 63. Some 900,000 children attend K-12 schools in Wisconsin.

Mr. Benson cited his efforts to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 and write new state standards for students in grades 4, 8, and 10 as his administration's most significant accomplishments to date. He has also overseen the development of charter schools, a voucher program in Milwaukee, and challenges to the state's education finance system.

Mr. Benson "helped guide public schools in Wisconsin through a difficult era," said Ken Cole, the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. "There are more changes taking place than ever before, and a lot of that is to his credit."

—Julie Blair

Utah Bill Would Require Schools To Teach Abstinence

The Utah legislature has approved a bill that would restrict sex education to an abstinence-only curriculum.

The measure, which won final legislative approval from the House earlier this month, requires schools to teach sexual abstinence as the only sure way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The Senate had approved a version of the measure in late February by a vote of 16-13, and the House followed suit on March 1 by a vote of 40-27.

Rep. Bill Wright, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said a state mandate was needed to prevent organizations such as Planned Parenthood from promoting their materials in schools.

He also argued that because extramarital sex is a crime in Utah, "if we teach other options besides abstinence, we are teaching students how to break state law."

The bill's opponents cited the state's high pregnancy rates and HIV/AIDS cases among teenagers as good reasons to leave sex education as it is. Sen. Pete Suazo, a Democrat, said that although abstinence is a good message, "it just isn't enough."

Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a Republican, had until this week to decide whether to sign the bill.

—Candice Furlan

New Michigan Law Lets Students Carry Inhalers

Michigan children with asthma will now be allowed to carry inhalers with them to school as a result of a law that took effect this month.

Under prior Michigan law, students were prohibited from making use of inhalers on their own. Instead, the devices had to be kept in the office of a school nurse or other authorized staff member, and students needing to use them had to do so under the supervision of school personnel.

The "inhaler bill," which was introduced last June by Sen. John J.H. Schwarz, a Republican, allows students, with written approval from their parents or guardians, to keep an inhaler with them and use it as needed, either to alleviate asthmatic symptoms or to prevent their onset.

In a statement, the American Lung Association of Michigan applauded Gov. John Engler, a Republican, and state legislators for "putting the bill through unimpeded and without dissent."

—Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 19, Issue 28, Page 26

Published in Print: March 22, 2000, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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