News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Texas Agrees To Help Districts With Teachers' Health Plans

Texas lawmakers have agreed on a health-insurance program for school employees, achieving what teachers' groups and legislative leaders alike called their top education priority for this year's session of the legislature.

Initially, the plan would focus mainly on easing the woes of small school districts looking for affordable insurance, while providing some insurance help to every school system and every system employee. The cost is estimated at $1.2 billion in 2002-03, the first year of the program.

In that year, the smallest districts would be required to join a statewide plan, with larger districts given the choice of joining as early as 2003-04.

A House-Senate conference committee was expected to approve the proposal at the end of last week, with votes to follow soon in both chambers. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has said he supports a statewide health-insurance program for teachers, help that many other states already provide.

The compromise largely resembles the version of the legislation passed in the House, which teachers favored because it provided more funding overall and gave all employees an additional $1,000, which could be used for insurance costs or simply as a salary supplement. The Senate bill, with a price tag of about $1 billion the first year, would have allowed every district into the program in the first year.

Legislators said that the new plan would make sure that school employees anywhere in the state were reasonably covered by health insurance. The lack of such coverage and its high cost have aggravated widespread teachers shortages in Texas, educators say.

—Bess Keller

Ariz. Test Is Focus of OCR Complaint

A public advocacy group has filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that minority students in Arizona are being hurt by disproportionate failure rates on the state's graduation test.

Citing failure rates in excess of 80 percent for minority students on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test, or AIMS, the Tucson-based William E. Morris Institute for Justice filed a complaint in mid-May asking the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights to investigate and possibly penalize the state.

Unless the state "shifts its present course, the vast majority of minority high school students will be prevented from obtaining a high school diploma," the group contends in its May 17 complaint.

The state's recently appointed superintendent of education, Jaime Molera, and the state school board met May 17 with legislators to discuss the exam's use as a graduation standard. Mr. Molera's predecessor, Lisa Graham Keegan, recommended last fall that the board revisit the timeline for that requirement, saying that scores on the test suggested that some students were not being taught the material needed to pass the exam. ("Arizona Poised To Revisit Graduation Exam," Nov. 29, 2000.)

Currently, the classes of 2002 and 2003 must pass the reading and writing sections of AIMS to graduate. The math requirement kicks in for the class of 2004.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

'Cyber' Charter Dispute Flares in Pa.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education can move forward with its plans to withhold an estimated $840,000 in state aid to about 100 school districts that refused to pay invoices from the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, a state judge has ruled.

On May 11, Commonwealth Court Judge Warren Morgan refused a request by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and four school districts to block the state's withholding. They have challenged the legality of "cyber" charter schools, which provide most instruction to students online.

State law allows a charter school to charge any of the state's school districts a fee when it enrolls a student who resides in the district.

But the school boards and their state association claim that cyber charter schools— a handful of which have cropped up in the state—are a form of home schooling that does not meet the state's definition of a charter school.

The school boards' association is considering appealing the ruling to the state supreme court.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 20, Issue 38, Page 23

Published in Print: May 30, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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