News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Legislative Panel Says No To Columbine Inquiry

The civil justice and judiciary committee of the Colorado House has voted against starting a new investigation into the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Jefferson County.

A proposed measure would have created a six-member commission with the power to subpoena local law-enforcement officers and other witnesses. The panel's goal would have been to review the events surrounding the shooting and the responses by school officials and law enforcement agencies, and then make sure policies have been developed or implemented to address such issues as leadership protocol.

A staff member with the Colorado Legislative Council said the measure failed because many legislators believed "it would be an investigation into nowhere," costing time and money without providing any real answers.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Shawn Mitchell, a Republican, was disappointed by the 7-2 vote against the proposal March 7. He acknowledged that many committee members had expressed worries that a legislative probe might lead to "political grandstanding," but he argued that there are questions only the legislature has the power to resolve.

For example, he said, one issue that remains a concern to some is why police did not seek a search warrant after receiving a complaint about the two teenager killers from one of the victim's parents prior to the shootings.The measure's sponsor, Republican Rep. Don Lee, said he intends to carry the proposal to another committee. "There's a lot of support for this on the House floor," he said.

—Marianne Hurst

Arkansas Takes Two Districts' Reins

Arkansas has taken control of two small rural school districts, where low student performance on state tests has not improved in six years. But state officials stop short of calling the action a "takeover."

"We have not used the term 'takeover,' we use the term 'extended partnership,'" said Ray Simon, director of the Arkansas Department of Education. "We stopped short of a total takeover in that there is still a lot of local governance in the districts."

It is the first time the state has taken such extreme action against districts, Mr. Simon said.

Last week, the state school board approved a plan to install a panel of instructional supervisors in the 380-student Elaine schools, near the Mississippi line. The local school board there will still operate, but the state can override any decision it makes.

The outcome is more severe for the 534-student Altheimer schools, where the school board was stripped of its authority.

In each district, Mr. Simon will appoint a chief academic officer and a curriculum and assessment monitor. The new arrangement took effect last week and will be reviewed on Feb. 3, 2003.

"We want the district officials to devote themselves to working with the state," Mr. Simon said. "We are confident positive results will occur there."

—Lisa Fine

Vermont Voters Nix School Budgets

Almost two dozen school budgets were defeated by local voters in Vermont this month, a result that analysts attribute to troubled economic times and an education finance system that requires the state to adjust property valuations in communities to keep pace with the state norm.

It was the highest number of proposed school budgets rejected in the state since 1997, when voters in 27 of the state's 274 districts defeated spending plans, according to the Vermont Superintendents Association.

The budgets were rejected on March 5, when citizens across the state cast votes on school and municipal budgets during town meetings in their communities.

Overall, 214 budgets passed, 11 of them after having been trimmed by voters; 23 were defeated; two were deferred; and 35 others remain to be acted on this spring.

As part of Vermont's system of paying for schools, property values in communities must be adjusted each year so they have a fair-market value in relation with the state as a whole. Some adjustments were larger this year and led to tax-rate increases in some communities, even if there was no increase in their school budgets, according to Jeff Francis, the executive director of the superintendents' association.

—John Gehring

Wyoming Board OKs First Charter

Wyoming's first charter school is on track to open next fall.

Five years in the making, the Snowy Range Academy was approved in December by the school board of Albany County School District #1. The state board of education was not required to formally approve the new charter school, but gave its go-ahead for the school last month at the district's request.

The school will use Core Knowledge, a curriculum package based on the ideas of "cultural literacy" champion E.D. Hirsch Jr. Roughly a half-dozen teachers will instruct about 100 pupils, said Lin Poyer, the chairwoman of the board that will oversee the Snowy Range Academy.

The charter school will receive 95 percent of the annual $6,500 per-pupil funding the district gets. Snowy Range also has received more than $200,000 in private money.

The 3,850-student Albany County schools will also benefit. The legislature approved giving the school district the per-pupil funding for the students attending the charter school for the first year, said Charles Head, the district's superintendent.

"This allows us to wind down the expenses already obligated for those 106 students," he said.

Mr. Head said that the Albany County schools are strong academically, but that parents want more options for their children's education. "Wyoming folks are pretty darn independent, and they want to make their own decisions," he said. "They just thought parents ought to have another choice."

—Rhea R. Borja

Hawaii Weighs Governance Shift

Various proposals to decentralize Hawaii's single, statewide school district have circulated for years.

The latest—a plan to abolish the current state board of education and replace it with 15 local boards—has passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. The proposed legislation, spelled out in two different bills, would also require the governor to appoint the state schools superintendent. The superintendent currently is appointed by the state board.

Any change to the governance structure would require a constitutional amendment, and would go before voters on the Nov. 5 ballot. The legislature must have passed proposed amendments by April 18. Supporters of the bills say local boards would give citizens greater representation. But the plan also has drawn widespread opposition.

"There are some real serious questions: How will any of this help raise student performance? What kind of decisionmaking would they have?" said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Education. He noted that the local boards wouldn't have the authority to levy taxes.

—Linda Jacobson

Arizona to Release Test Questions

Arizona education officials have agreed to release to the public questions from the state's K-12 exams, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards.

The decision this month was part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed in 1999 by TheArizona Republic newspaper, which sought to review questions from past AIMS exams.

Arizona state schools Superintendent Jaime Molera said that sharing existing and future versions of the AIMS is part of his effort to educate parents and the public about the controversial tests.

"Parents and students must always be the focal point of our state's education policies," Mr. Molera said in a statement. "The steps we are taking with AIMS and with school accountability are parent- and student-centered."

Initial test items were scheduled to be released late last week. Subsequent releases are being scheduled.

The AIMS exams have sparked debate, in part, because of failure rates that have exceeded 70 percent on some tests. AIMS initially included a set of 10th grade exams that were required for students graduating this spring. That requirement has been delayed until 2006.

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 21, Issue 27, Page 15

Published in Print: March 20, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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