News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Schwarzenegger Names 24 Education Advisers

California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced a 24-member panel of education advisers last week and pledged to change the way the state runs public education.

The panel is headed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan, a Republican who ran for governor in 2002 but lost in the primary. It also includes Lisa Graham Keegan, the head of the Washington-based Education Leaders Council and a former Arizona state schools superintendent; Jaime Escalante, the mathematics teacher who was portrayed in the movie "Stand and Deliver"; Mr. Schwarzenegger's mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded and chairs the Special Olympics; and numerous educators and school board members from California.

The actor is the leading Republican candidate on a special ballot Oct. 7 to choose a prospective replacement for Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat who is facing a recall vote that day. Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement after a summit with the advisers that he sees education as a top priority and wants to reduce bureaucracy.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has also pledged that, if elected, he will not reduce funding for education and will support state student assessments.

—Joetta L. Sack

New York Commission Stirs Up Controversy

A new commission convened by New York Gov. George E. Pataki to study how the state can meet a court order to create a more equitable school funding system has caused political division and drawn criticism for leaving out important voices from the education community.

The New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled in June that the current funding system has failed New York City students, The court gave the legislature a year to revise the system. ("Court Orders New York City Funding Shift," July 9, 2003.)

The Republican governor wants the committee, which is lead by former Nasdaq Chairman Frank G. Zarb, to make recommendations by March 1.

But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City was not consulted before the commission was formed, and no one from his administration was among the first appointees. The mayor has questioned the need for a commission and has said state lawmakers should address inequities in the next budget.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which brought the funding suit against the state, said the commission was "off to the wrong start—stirring up political rivalries after being established in a cloud of secrecy and without adequate participation from the statewide education community," according to a statement on the New York City-based group's Web site.

Mr. Pataki, who has so far appointed 16 of the 25 expected members, recently promised to appoint more members from New York City.

—John Gehring

Gov. Warner Unveils Education Proposals

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia last week rolled out the last of his education proposals that aim for a better-trained workforce, higher achievement for struggling students, and tighter financial accountability in school districts.

The Democrat's "Education for a Lifetime" program calls for a $525 million hike to the $8.4 billion budgeted for K-12 spending in the current two-year budget cycle, college courses for high school seniors interested in technical careers, and the assignment of state budget auditors who would work with districts to make them more efficient.

The Virginia state board of education has pushed for a funding increase, which would require approval from the Republican-controlled legislature

Gov. Warner, who made the last of a two-part announcement of the program on Sept. 9, said he modeled the proposed school audit program after efforts in Arizona and Texas, where managerial and fiscal audits helped schools find ways to use their money more effectively.

He also proposed a revised teacher-mentor program to keep more teachers in the profession as well as state-financed "turnaround specialists" who would be assigned to low-performing schools.

"Our reforms will be measurable and grounded in the idea of accountability," Mr. Warner said.

—Alan Richard

Florida Leaders Respond To NAACP Bias Complaint

Contentions in a federal complaint by the Florida branch of the NAACP that the state has failed to adequately help minority students have drawn a strongly worded response from the state schools chief.

The 33-page complaint, filed Aug. 28 with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights, accuses the state of allowing student-enrollment and -assignment policies that substantially segregate some schools and districts. Other parts of the complaint allege inequities in advanced courses and programs for gifted and talented students, special education, dropout prevention, and high-stakes tests.

Commissioner of Education Jim Horne was quoted in newspapers saying that NAACP leaders "had based their career on agitating," but then tried to clarify his position.

"While agitation may not have been the best use of words earlier today ... it is clear that all of the progress we have made in Florida—from the elementary level through the university level—flies in the face of the NAACP's claims of racial discrimination in our schools," Mr. Horne said in a written public statement.

A spokeswoman for the federal agency said that the OCR was reviewing the racial discrimination complaint and would determine soon whether to investigate officially.

Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, and other state leaders endured criticism earlier this year when they held to strict new graduation and student-retention policies, which some say hit minority groups the hardest. ("Fla., Texas Retain 3rd Graders With Poor Reading Scores," Sept. 3, 2003.)

—Alan Richard

Conflict in South Dakota Law May Affect Home Schoolers

A new South Dakota law that allows children who are being home-schooled to participate in public school athletic and fine arts activities may run afoul of the state's compulsory education law, according to the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

Wayne Carney, the executive director of the group, said some school districts fear their athletic teams might forfeit their entire seasons if some players who are home schoolers are later declared ineligible.

The problem is that the participation law, passed this year, requires the students to have applied for state exemptions to be schooled at home. But the state's home schooling law requires such exemptions only for children between the ages of 6 and 16. At 16, school is no longer compulsory. The bottom-line concern is that home-schooled students who are 16 or over will not have applied for the exemptions because the law that governs home schooling doesn't require them to.

Students in South Dakota schools can participate in interscholastic athletics and arts activities, such as the state chorus and orchestra, up to and including age 19, according to the constitution and bylaws of the association, which governs such activities.

"We don't want to come back later and find that somebody was allowed to participate because they weren't excused to be home-schooled as to the current law," Mr. Carney said.

The association has approached the legislator who wrote the participation law about possible changes.

"I think the situation will be resolved," Mr. Carney said.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 23, Issue 3, Page 22

Published in Print: September 17, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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