News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Court Denies Challenge To Ohio School Aid Cuts

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a challenge brought by teachers and parents to put $100 million back into the state's K-12 education budget.

The court motion sought by the Ohio Education Association—rejected on May 7 by a 4-2 vote—would have ordered Gov. Bob Taft to restore funding that was cut this spring from the fiscal 2003 education budget.

In making its case, the 130,000-member teachers' union had argued that further cuts to the education budget would be "devastating" and would violate constitutional mandates for education funding.

The state supreme court has declared Ohio's system of education funding unconstitutional three times, most recently last year, because it relies too heavily on local property taxes and leads to sharp disparities in district funding levels.

Orest Holubec, the press secretary for Gov. Taft, a Republican, said the ruling last week underscored the governor's authority to make such cuts. The cuts came after the legislature rejected increased taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, he said.

—Joetta L. Sack

Gov. Romney Vows to Veto Anti-Bilingual-Law Changes

Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has promised to veto any amendments the legislature approves to change the measure passed by voters in November to curtail bilingual education in the state.

Several legislators have proposed amendments to the law, which calls for bilingual education to be replaced with programs of structured English immersion, starting this coming school year.

Lawmakers have filed nine such amendments, according to a key legislative staff aide. One calls for kindergartners and 1st graders who are English-language learners to be placed in mainstream classrooms rather than in separate English-immersion classes. Another aims to preserve two-way bilingual education programs, which typically teach native speakers of English and native speakers of Spanish in both languages in the same classroom.

Mr. Romney, a Republican, won't support any amendments to the law, said Heidi Perlman, a spokeswoman for the governor on education issues.

He is, however, backing regulations being drafted by the state board of education that would alter a provision in the law that permits parents to sue teachers who don't adequately carry out the law. The regulation would make it more difficult for parents to sue teachers.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Wash. Plaintiffs Drop Suit Over Student Teaching

A lawsuit that challenged the refusal by public universities in Washington state to allow teacher education students to choose religious schools for their student-teaching assignments has been withdrawn.

The Institute for Justice says the lawsuit it filed on behalf on two education students seeking to student-teach in religious schools accomplished one important goal: It persuaded the state to drop a justification for student-teaching restrictions based on a state constitutional provision that prohibits government aid to religious institutions. That change allowed Caroline E. Harrison, a student at the University of Washington's Tacoma campus, to begin a student-teaching internship at a Jesuit elementary school in Tacoma.

But the state still contends that public universities may choose to allow or deny student-teaching placements in any private schools, whether they are secular or religious. Eastern Washington University maintains that its prohibition against student teaching in private schools was not based on the state constitution's religious-aid prohibition.

That is why the Eastern Washington student who was the other plaintiff in the lawsuit, Donell R. Penhallurick, is still not permitted to student-teach at a Seventh-day Adventist school.

Clint Bolick, a vice president of the institute, a legal-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said that to continue the lawsuit would lead to a lengthy factual dispute that was not warranted when the main goal of getting the state to drop the religious-based justification for its policy had been achieved.

—Mark Walsh

Hawaii Group Can Hand Out Religious Materials in Schools

The Hawaii Department of Education has decided that students belonging to the Jesus Hawaii Project, a Christian organization, are within their rights in distributing a set of religious-themed materials on school grounds.

The group, based in Honolulu, began a project in mid-April to have its teenage members hand out "Student Survival Kits" that included a videocassette, a music CD, a book, and other materials with religious themes to fellow students at Hawaii's public and private schools. The project, which is aimed at students in the 7th through 12th grades, raised concerns among some parents and others who questioned whether it was appropriate to allow the material to be distributed in schools.

The department decided that the activity was permissible, partly because the materials were being distributed by individual students and because the effort did not involve access by an organization to school grounds, said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the education agency. The materials cannot be distributed during instructional time, he noted.

Though state Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto reaffirmed those procedures in an April 8 letter to secondary school principals, some parents are continuing to object.

—Sean Cavanagh

N.C. Board of Education Taps First Black Chairman

Former state Sen. Howard Lee has been elected chairman of the North Carolina state board of education. He is the first African-American to head the board.

The 69-year-old Democrat, a former mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., was a Cabinet-level secretary in the state for four years ending in 1981, and served 10 years as a state senator ending in 2002. While a legislator, he was a key supporter of Gov. James B. Hunt's education improvement efforts.

Mr. Lee has worked as an adviser to current Gov. Michael F. Easley, also a Democrat, since February, but is expected to leave that post later this month.

The former state senator has been a longtime member of the Southern Regional Education Board, a 16-state compact that works on education policy.

Mr. Lee was chosen by the 16-member board for the chairmanship on May 1 after being appointed to the board by Gov. Easley. He succeeds Phillip J. Kirk, who is retiring from the board after more than five years as its chairman.

—Alan Richard

Fewer Districts Seen Benefiting From Illinois Budget Proposal

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's first budget would boost overall state funding for K-12 education, but about 35 percent of the state's school districts would still lose money under the proposal, according to an analysis by the state school board.

While the state board initially said that 680 out of Illinois' 893 districts, or 76 percent, would see more funding under the proposal, it recently revised that estimate to say that only 65 percent would see a rise in spending.

The fortunes of individual districts will depend partly upon a proposed shift in school funding in Gov. Blagojevich's plan. His budget calls for a reduction in spending on categorical grants, and an increase in money flowing to the per-pupil state aid funding formula, said Wade Nelson, a spokesman for the Illinois state board of education.

The governor's proposed spending plan, released last month, would increase funding for K-12 schools from $5.2 billion in fiscal 2003 to $5.3 billion next fiscal year, a jump of 2.2 percent. Illinois is coping with a statewide budget deficit of roughly $5 billion, out of a general fund budget of $23.1 billion, and Mr. Blagojevich told state lawmakers that reducing that shortfall was a top priority.

Under his plan, state general aid would increase by $250 per student, to $4,810, at a total cost of $235 million. Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat who was elected last November, said he would increase funding until it reached $5,665 per pupil, a level recommended by an education task force last year.

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 22, Issue 36, Pages 18-19

Published in Print: May 14, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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