News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Texas Board Warns Schools
Not To Push Drugs for ADHD

Concerned that psychiatric drugs such as Ritalin are being overprescribed to schoolchildren, the Texas board of education has adopted a resolution recommending that schools consider alternative, nonmedical solutions to behavior problems in the classroom.

In approving the measure by a 8-6 vote this month, the 15-member Texas board joins the Colorado school board, which took a similar step earlier this year. The nonbinding resolution urges schools to use "proven academic solutions" for dealing with hyperactive students.

The vote follows congressional hearings this fall that highlighted a spike in the number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as those treated with medications like Ritalin. Mental-health professionals are divided over whether the drugs are overused as a means of pacifying unruly children who don't suffer from the condition.

Chase Untermeyer, the chairman of the Texas state board, said last week that he was concerned that teachers might be too quick to recommend such medications to parents.

"We are asking schools to examine their policies to see to what extent they are encouraging parents to get these kids on drugs," Mr. Untermeyer said. "If a child needs medication, it should be a physician who says so, not a teacher."

—Jessica Portner

Wash. Rejecting Charter Measure

With a ballot measure to authorize charter schools in Washington state facing almost certain defeat last week, supporters were looking ahead to a possible compromise in the legislature next year.

The charter schools proposal, known as Initiative 729, was failing by nearly 90,000 votes late last week, with an estimated 140,000 mail-in ballots still outstanding. Aimed at authorizing up to 80 charter schools that would be publicly financed but largely free of state and local regulation, the campaign for the measure received some $3.2 million dollars from the family of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

The Allen family took over the campaign from Jim and Fawn Spady, citizen-activists who staged a similar effort in 1996 that failed. Far from admitting defeat, the Spadys saw the recent polling as proof that support for charters is growing in their state. As of last Friday, nearly 48 percent of the ballots counted were in favor of the proposal.

"Regardless of the outcome of this election, charter schools are coming to Washington state— the only question is when," Mr. Spady wrote in an e-mail to fellow supporters.

Mr. Spady has proposed compromises for the legislature to consider, one of which would allow charter schools to open in communities where support for the initiative was strongest.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

California Postpones Test Dates

The California board of education directed local districts last week to push back state-mandated testing to about 18 days later in the school year to give students more time in the classroom before the assessments begin.

The move follows similar actions this year by school officials in Virginia and Illinois, where policymakers, like those in California, were worried that teachers had too little time to cover standards assessed on the exams.

But California's change comes later in the school year than the others and is expected to cause headaches for some districts as they try to rearrange complicated spring schedules. The shift could also delay results from the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, which is currently the basis of the state's fledgling accountability system. Test scores are used to identify weak schools, which are eligible for assistance, and strong ones, which are eligible for rewards.

The new regulations do not specify a single date for administering the tests, in part because schools and districts start on different days. Instead, students must now be in school for 153 days, plus or minus 10 days, before the exams can be administered. The previous rule specified 135 days, plus or minus 10.

—Bess Keller

Texas Teachers Want Health Plan

Hundreds of Texas teachers rallied last week in more than half a dozen Texas cities in support of state-financed health insurance for teachers and other school employees.

All four Texas state teacher groups have formed a coalition with other educators to push for the insurance plan in the coming session of the legislature.

Saying that better benefits are needed to stem a growing teacher shortage in Texas, Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt "prefiled" a bill last week calling for the insurance. State legislators are set to convene again in January for their biennial session.

Ms. Ehrhardt, a Democrat, sponsored a similar bill in the last legislative session, in 1999, but its chances dimmed when three of the four teachers' groups said they preferred a proposed $3,000 pay raise that was also before the legislature. Lawmakers approved that hike, which went into effect last year. Now, many teachers are saying that much of the increase has been eaten up by soaring health-insurance costs. About 40 of Texas's 1,000 districts have no health-insurance program at all.

Estimates for the cost of the insurance go as high as $4 billion for the coming two years, about the same as the projected surplus in the state budget for that period.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 20, Issue 12, Page 21

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