News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ore. Funding Questions Grow With School Aid Measure Loss

Already hammered by $332 million in cuts in state education aid this year, Oregon districts are looking at even more dramatic reductions after voters rejected a plan to generate $220 million for new school aid.

Measure 13, which would have allowed the legislature to make emergency withdrawals from lottery funds earmarked for school construction and scholarships, fell short by garnering 48 percent of the votes cast May 21.

The 55,000-student Portland school system, which already had axed $36 million from its $390 million budget this year, lost another $22 million in emergency funds when Measure 13 died. The state's largest school system has shaved eight to nine days out of the coming school year, closed two schools, and trimmed employee benefits, among other steps.

The 35,000-student Salem- Keizer district also took a wallop. Having already planned for $9.3 million in cuts to the estimated $243 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the district now must find a total of $37 million in savings following the measure's rejection. "We're chiseling into the bone," said Rich F. Goward, the district's director of financial services.

Legislators will meet in a third special session this month to address Oregon's $900 million revenue shortfall in its two-year, $12.3 billion budget.

—Rhea R. Borja

N.C. Studies Budget-Bailout Plan

In a sign of North Carolina's financial straits, Gov. Michael F. Easley has proposed cutting more than $450 million in spending during the second year of the state's two-year budget—the first such cuts in 30 years. But the Democrat hopes to protect school aid in fiscal 2003 by creation of a state lottery, delays in some tax cuts, and reductions in state payments to local governments.

Gov. Michael F. Easley

The governor, who unveiled his plan May 21 for dealing with a budget shortfall of up to $2 billion, has drawn considerable criticism for the plan, particularly for relying on a lottery that does not yet exist. The legislature has rejected several lottery proposals over the past decade.

Mr. Easley said a lottery would provide more than $250 million for education, allowing the state to expand its prekindergarten program and continue reducing class sizes in the early grades. The plan would also pay for 600 new teaching positions statewide at the same time that more than 1,400 state workers in other agencies would be laid off.

The governor's $14.3 billion budget proposal for the second year of the biennium that began July 1 is under review by the legislature, which returned for a short session late last month.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Ohio Charter Case Goes to Judge

Advocates and opponents of Ohio's charter school law have agreed to ask a judge to rule on the constitutionality of the law rather than taking the case to a jury.

A coalition of Ohio education groups, including the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio School Boards Association, sued the state in May 2001, claiming that the charter school law violates a provision in the state constitution that calls for a system of common schools. The suit also contends that charter schools are unconstitutional because they are not subject to the jurisdiction of locally elected school boards, said Tom Mooney, the president of the state teachers' union. ("Millionaire Industrialist Touts 'White Hat' Firm to Build Charter Model," May 22, 2002.)

The education groups filed the new motions with Judge Patrick McGrath in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus on May 20.

Charter school supporters are challenging the coalition's interpretations of the law, said Clint F. Satow, the director of the Ohio Community School Center, a resource agency for charter schools. Avoiding the jury trial, he added, will spare charter schools from having to comply with lengthy requests for information that could interfere with daily operations.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Dropouts Expensive to Ariz., Study Says

Arizona will lose about $214.4 million in lost earning capacity and incarceration expenses yearly on high school students who dropped out before their scheduled graduation in 2000, according to a recent report.

In a study commissioned by the Arizona Minority Policy Analysis Center in Phoenix, researchers found that about 32 percent of the students who enter high school in the state don't graduate, and that 168,000 students have dropped out since 1994.

The dropout rate is particularly high among minority students, according to the report by the agency, which is an arm of the Arizona Commission on Postsecondary Education. Nearly 43 percent of Hispanics in the 1996-97 class left school before graduation, while the rate was 48 percent for Native Americans and almost 33 percent for African-Americans.

The report recommends that the state education department continue to require all school districts to submit enrollment data yearly and strengthen penalties for schools that fail to submit required dropout or graduation data, as well as rewards for schools that comply.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Mass. Chief Drops Transcript Addition

Massachusetts' state schools chief has withdrawn his proposal to include students' best scores from state exams on their high school transcripts.

In January, after discussions with state higher education officials, Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said he was considering placing students' strongest scores from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, on the transcripts. The scores would have had value, the commissioner believed, for placement in college classes but not as an admissions measure.

Passing the MCAS exams in mathematics and English/language arts is a graduation requirement for students beginning with the class of 2003.

After almost 200 public comments, most of them critical of the idea, Mr. Driscoll withdrew the idea at a May 28 meeting of the state board of education.

"The outcry swayed me," Mr. Driscoll said. The state board is now looking at whether to indicate on students' transcripts whether they have passed the MCAS.

—John Gehring

Calif. Bill to Ban Indian Mascots Dies

The California Assembly has killed a measure that would have made California the first state to bar public schools from using Native American mascots.

Introduced by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Democrat, the bill had passed out of two policy committees before running into stiff opposition last week from Republicans and many Democrats in the Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber.

Led by Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox, opponents of the measure attacked it as a case of state control running amok. "This is an issue best addressed at local levels," said Mr. Cox's spokesman, Peter DeMarco. "If local boards want to change mascots, they should vote on it."

Foes of the bill also charged that it was a case of excessive political correctness. The measure failed May 28 on a 35-29 vote.

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 21, Issue 39, Page 17

Published in Print: June 5, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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