News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Pa. Gov. Seeks $1 Million for Possible Philadelphia Takeover

Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania is asking legislators to give the state education department $1 million so that it can prepare for the possibility of a state takeover of the Philadelphia school system.

In April 1998, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed legislation allowing the state to take over the 212,000-student system if Philadelphia school officials followed through on threats of a possible shutdown because of a funding shortfall.

Though that threat passed, fiscal divisions between state and city officials have continued. For example, the city's school board in March passed a preliminary, $1.6 billion spending plan for 2000-01 that includes a $204 million deficit. And Philadelphia's new mayor, John Street, a Democrat, is urging the state to come up with more aid for the city's schools so that they will not have to close.

Mr. Ridge, a Republican, raised the stakes last month by seeking the takeover funds in a supplemental state budget request for fiscal 2000-01.

"The state is not ready to sweep down and take over the Philadelphia school district," said Dan Langan, a spokesman for the education department. "But the state felt it was ready to begin planning a possible takeover."

The money, which could be available as early as this summer, could be used to begin searching for a state-appointed administrator, Mr. Langan said.

—Robert C. Johnston

Ky OKs Posting Commandments

Kentucky schools may post the Ten Commandments as a part of a display of historic documents, under a resolution signed by Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat.

The resolution signed last month, which declares that the commandments are the foundation of state and federal law, states that any such display should advance "the secular purpose of illustrating how the Bible and the Ten Commandments have influenced the faith, morals, and character of American leaders."

The bill proved popular in the legislature, garnering votes of 77-17 in the House and 33-2 in the Senate, though its opponents argue that it will cost taxpayers dearly in litigation expenses.

David A. Friedman, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said that while the group probably would not sue the state for encouraging school districts to post the commandments, it could sue districts that failed to put the commandments in the appropriate context.

"The question is whether a display sufficiently secularizes the religious document in it," he said.

Indiana Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon, a Democrat, and South Dakota Gov. William J. Janklow, a Republican, signed similar measures into law in their respective states in March.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Judge Upholds Illinois Tax Credits

A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging an Illinois law that gives families state income-tax credits to help pay the costs of private school.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Appleton ruled in a suit filed by the Illinois Education Association and several families challenging the law, which allows a tax credit of up to $500 per family for 25 percent of private school tuition, book fees, and other costs.

George King, a spokesman for the state teachers' union, said last week that the National Education Association affiliate had already appealed the ruling. "Tuition tax credits are unconstitutional," he said.

But Judge Appleton ruled April 21 that the tax credits are constitutional because they are also offered to parents with children in public school. His ruling agrees with an earlier state court decision dismissing a similar case. Matthew Berry, a lawyer with the Washington-based Institute for Justice, which represents 12 families named as defendants along with the state, predicted the law would be upheld on appeal. "The tax credit is equally available for expenses incurred at public, private, and religious schools," he said.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that offer such tax credits, including Arizona, Iowa, and Minnesota.

—Alan Richard

Ky. Enacts Teacher-Quality Law

Gov. Paul E. Patton last week signed legislation aimed at improving teacher training in Kentucky, ending a knock-down, drag-out fight that left the measure substantially scaled down.

The final bill lacked two provisions that were removed following heavy lobbying by the state teachers' unions: One would have created new requirements for middle school teachers to demonstrate adequate background in the subjects they teach, and the other would have given a new, independent professional-standards board broad powers to set policies on teacher quality.

Senate budget writers also initially refused to allocate funding for many of the bill's initiatives. ("Kentucky Teacher-Quality Plan Fights for Life," March 29, 2000.) Although lawmakers failed to agree on the plan by the end of the regular legislative session in late March, the measure's supporters managed to resurrect some of the provisions in the conference-committee process. The final budget includes as much as $20 million in new money for the initiatives over the next two years.

The bill Mr. Patton, a Democrat, signed into law expands summer school training for middle school teachers, calls on the state to keep a closer eye on out-of-field teaching, and creates a new system for evaluating teacher-preparation programs.

—Jeff Archer

Special Session Planned in Ariz.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull of Arizona plans to summon lawmakers back to Phoenix this month for a special session focused on her proposal to increase education spending with proceeds from a hike in the state sales tax.

In March, Gov. Hull and state schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan proposed raising the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.6 percent.

The governor, a Republican, wants lawmakers to put the measure on the November ballot. The tax increase would raise an estimated $445 million a year, 80 percent for K-12 initiatives and the rest for higher education.

As Ms. Hull plans for the special session, she is also preparing to collect the signatures necessary to get the measure on the ballot without a vote of the legislature, a spokeswoman said. Those signatures must be collected by July 6.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 19, Issue 34, Page 28

Published in Print: May 3, 2000, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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