News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ohio Charter Foes Appeal Court Ruling

A coalition led by the Ohio Federation of Teachers is asking a state appeals court to overturn a recent ruling that dismissed legal claims by the union and its allies that the Ohio charter school law is unconstitutional.

The Coalition for Public Education, which includes that affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers as well as the Ohio School Boards Association, has appealed an April 21 ruling that handed a victory to the state and numerous charter schools that are defendants in the coalition's 2001 lawsuit. ("Challenges to Charter Laws Mount," May 2, 2001.)

The portions of the suit thrown out by Judge Patrick McGrath of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas argued that the state's 134 charter schools violate the state constitution because, among other reasons, they are held to standards different from those for other public schools, are not run by local school boards, and use local tax dollars.

At a time when teachers' unions around the country have stepped up opposition to charter schools, the OFT has emerged as a leading critic of what it sees as abuses by charter operators, especially for-profit management companies.

"There are a whole lot of outright scams going on, and the state is allowing them," Tom Mooney, the OFT's president, charged in an interview last week.

But Clint F. Satow, a vice president of the Ohio Charter Schools Association, condemned the appeal as a self-interested attempt by the union and its allies to snuff out parental choice. "At this point, they're just grasping at straws," he said.

—Caroline Hendrie

Virginia Governor Unveils Plan to Help 2004 Seniors

Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia announced a remedial pilot program last week designed to help fight high failure rates on the state's Standards of Learning exams. Beginning with the class of 2004, high school seniors will be required to have passed six standards-based tests to graduate.

Project Graduation will go into effect this summer. As part of the program, students in three rural Virginia districts who have passed the required courses for graduation, but have failed SOL exams, will be eligible for three-week summer academies in reading, writing, and algebra.

Up to 200 students statewide who are considered at risk of not meeting graduation requirements also will have access to online tutorials and to distance-learning courses in mathematics, social studies, and science. Gov. Warner also announced that the Arlington County school district will be awarded a grant to help share its "case manager" approach to aiding struggling high schoolers with other districts across the state.

"Project Graduation represents our commitment to ... provide help to the students who need it, regardless of how many or how few," Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said in a statement.

—Marianne D. Hurst

More Home Schoolers Registering in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Education has reported that the number of children in the state who were registered as being home schooled nearly tripled from 1998 to 2002.

While 7,664 Indiana home school pupils were registered with the state in 1998, 21,091 were registered last year, according to the department.

But the statistics may indicate a much greater growth in home schooling in the state than is actually the case, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, the director of communications for the department.

"It's much more broadly understood now that [home schoolers] are supposed to register," Ms. Wilhelmus explained. "Back years ago, it wasn't so well known."

She also noted that parents sometimes register their children with the state as being schooled at home, but then put them back into public schools without notifying the state.

Indiana considers home-schooled children to be attending "unaccredited nonpublic schools," Ms. Wilhelmus said. The state makes no requirements of such students except that they receive 180 days of instruction a year.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Texas High Court Sends Finance Challenge to Trial

After years of dismissals, appeals, and political wrangling, four Texas school districts opposing the state's existing "share the wealth" school finance system will have their lawsuit heard in a trial court.

In an 8-1 ruling handed down May 29, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the districts and sent the case to a trial court, overturning two lower-court rulings dismissing the case.

At issue is whether the finance system, which requires that property-wealthy districts share some of their property-tax income with less well-off districts, amounts to a state property tax, as the plaintiffs have argued. Such a tax would violate the Texas Constitution.

The state has countered, though, that districts can set their tax rates anywhere up to the maximum rate allowed by state law. That lack of control proves that there is no state property tax, lawyers for the state contend.

No trial date has been set for the case. The legislature has formed a committee to study the issue, and Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has promised to call a special legislative session to resolve the matter.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 22, Issue 40, Page 16

Published in Print: June 11, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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