News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Florida Ballot Questions Seek Changes to New K-20 System

Florida voters will vote on at least two education-related constitutional amendments in November.

A ballot question championed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and approved last month for the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court would revise the state's newly adopted K-20 system of education.

Mainly, it would establish a statewide board of governors to oversee the individual college boards of trustees that were established last year by the Republican-led legislature and appointed by GOP Gov. Jeb Bush.

Mr. Graham and other critics of the K-20 system argue that a statewide body would keep colleges from making decisions that overlap, such as establishing new higher education programs.

Another ballot question approved by the court will focus on early-childhood education. Voters will be asked whether the state should be required to provide free preschool programs by 2005 for all 4-year-olds whose families wish to enroll them. The move would require new state funding for the preschool programs.

Florida's preschool program underwent a major overhaul last year when lawmakers approved the new K-20 education system. The current early-care system depends more on private providers and requires many parents to help pay for preschool.

—Alan Richard

Legislature to Curb N.Y.C. Board's Power

New York's legislative leaders last week reached a tentative agreement that would strip most powers from New York City's school board and hand over control to the mayor, including the ability to appoint a schools chancellor.

Both legislative chambers have been discussing ways to give the mayor's office more control over New York City's education system, as many feel the current system of local control is too disjointed and ineffective.

A bill approved by the Republican-controlled Senate last week would replace the current seven-member board, which is appointed by the mayor and borough presidents, with a 13-member advisory panel, eight of whom would be appointed by the mayor. The mayor would have final say over matters such as hiring and the budget.

Under the agreement with the Democratic leaders of the Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber, the city would be required to at least retain its current level of spending on the 1.1- million student district.

—Joetta L. Sack

Calif. Lawmakers Take Up Backpacks

With many schools doing away with lockers, a new bill would require California school boards to figure out ways to lighten the load of student backpacks.

The Assembly approved the measure, 71-1, on May 28. It's expected to be considered by a Senate committee this month.

Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, a Republican, proposed the bill after seeing his elementary-age daughters drag heavy backpacks home from school daily, a legislative aide to Mr. Pacheco said.

The Assembly members have also heard testimony from local doctors who worry that more students nationally will see spinal problems related to heavy backpacks. A group of high school students also brought their weighty backpacks to a committee hearing to advocate for the measure.

The bill would require local school boards to create a voluntary survey to help figure out ways to reduce backpack weight.

Most new schools in California are being built without lockers, the aide said, making the backpack issue more pressing because students have few places to store belongings.

—Joetta L. Sack

Study: Kansas Students Need More Money

Kansas would have to spend $229 million more in order to provide students with a "suitable education" as required by the state constitution, a new report finds.

The seven-month study, released May 30 by the Denver-based consulting firm Augenblick & Myers Inc., recommends increasing annual per-student spending in Kansas by $512.

This would amount to a 13 percent increase in the roughly $2.1 billion that the state now spends on K-12 education each year. Currently, Kansas provides school districts with $3,890 per student.

Findings of the 166- page report have been given to the state's legislative educational planning committee, which will use the recommendations to come up with education spending proposals.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the adequacy of school funding in Kansas. Consultants interviewed a host of education and business officials to draft the recommendations.

The report received a mixed reaction from lawmakers. Some said it presented a strong case for more state school aid. Others doubted lawmakers would agree on big tax hikes.

—John Gehring

La. Teachers Get a Hand Buying Homes

Louisiana teachers can get some help buying their first homes, under a $10 million state initiative.

The new Homes for Teachers Program helps certified public school teachers obtain low interest rates on home loans and offers subsidies for the purchase of new homes.

"This program is designed to make it affordable for teachers to continue teaching in Louisiana," said John, the state treasurer and chairman of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, which runs the program. To be eligible, a teacher'sannual family income cannot exceed $77,000, and the home's purchase price cannot exceed $175,000. The recipient gets a subsidy equal to 4 percent of the entire mortgage on the new home.

The agency estimates that between 85 and 100 teachers will be able to get financing help under the program. The assistance, which became available June 3, is provided on a first-come, first- served basis. It must, however, be allotted evenly among the seven congressional districts in Louisiana.

The housing agency is hoping to make another $10 million available for this purpose next fall.

—Erik W. Robelen

Mo. Law Aligns Requirements for Disabled

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden has signed a law that aligns state accommodation standards for special-needs students with less demanding federal law.

Gov. Bob Holden

Despite protests by parents, the Democratic governor signed the law May 28, saying it could help clarify the standard of services that school districts provide students with disabilities.

Some parents of the state's 137,000 special education students objected to the change because the language of the Kansas statute had a higher standard, and contended that their children would be shortchanged as a result.

"I do want to assure those with concerns about this legislation, that neither I, nor our state department of education have any intention of allowing schools to use this legislation as a justification to reduce existing special education services," Gov. Holden said, in a statement.

The 1973 Missouri law required "services sufficient to meet the needs and maximize the capabilities of handicapped and severely handicapped children." Meanwhile, the less stringent 1975 federal law required a "free appropriate public education."

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 23

Published in Print: June 12, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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