News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Court Refuses to Block Mass. Graduation Tests

The highest court in Massachusetts has denied a request to block the state from giving high-stakes exams until a lawsuit challenging their use is decided.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Jan. 27 that a stopping the exams "would undermine educator accountability and hinder education reform."

The ruling marks the latest development in a class action originally filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield in 2002 on behalf of students in the class of 2003 who failed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in English or mathematics. All students must pass the exams to graduate from high school.

The case was referred to state court, where it is pending, after the federal judge ruled the suit centered on issues of state law.

David P. Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, praised the high court's ruling. "This historic decision ensures that no student will ever again graduate from a Massachusetts public school without the fundamental skills needed to succeed in this country," he said in a statement.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who have argued that Massachusetts is not complying with its 1993 education reform law that calls for a range of assessments, vowed to continue making their case that the exams are unconstitutional because they discriminate against minority and special education students.

—John Gehring

Alabama Board Names Interim Schools Chief

The No. 2 man in the Alabama state education agency has moved into the top slot, at least on an interim basis.

Joe Morton, who was a district superintendent before joining the agency in 1995, was selected late last month by the state board of education to replace Secretary of Education Ed Richardson, who resigned Jan. 23.

Mr. Richardson has been named the interim president of Auburn University. He had served as state superintendent for more than eight years. The state board has not yet signaled when it will choose a permanent replacement.

Mr. Richardson, 57, has overseen many changes in K-12 education in Alabama since his tenure at the agency began in 1995. They include implementation of an education accountability law, the development of performance report cards for schools, districts, and the state, and the creation of the state's respect reading initiative.

State board Vice President Ethel Hall, in a press release, called Mr. Richardson "a stalwart champion for our children."

—Erik W. Robelen

Federal Court Rejects Indiana Curfew Law

A federal appeals court has ruled that Indiana's curfew law violated the U.S. Constitution because the possibility of arrest might prevent minors from exercising First Amendment rights.

The family of Colin Hodgkins, a 15-year-old boy, sued the city of Indianapolis and others after the boy was arrested in August 1999 while leaving a restaurant after the curfew. He and his friends had stopped at the restaurant after attending a soccer game, according to court documents.

A federal district judge struck down the law in July 2000 as violating children's First Amendment rights. The Indiana legislature changed the law the following year, saying that minors who were arrested could avoid a charge of disobeying the curfew if they had been attending an event in which they exercised their First Amendment rights, such as a religious service or political rally.

The Hodgkins family continued to fight the matter, arguing that a threat of arrest would still deter children from exercising their rights. On Jan. 22, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, agreed. It struck the law down by a unanimous vote. The state has not decided if it will appeal the ruling.

—Mary Ann Zehr

N.J. Ordered to Reinstate Funds for Poor Districts

New Jersey acted improperly when it cut $124 million from the budgets of 21 of its poorest school districts, a state court has ruled.

Three judges of the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled Jan. 26 that the state department of education must recalculate an appropriate amount of "supplemental" aid, which the districts use for items such as after-school programs and tutoring.

The state had reduced supplemental aid last summer after winning court permission to treat the 2003-04 school year as a "maintenance year."

But some districts argued that the revised amounts were insufficient to maintain programs and services from the 2002-03 year.

Last week's ruling was the latest in long-running litigation that has required the state to boost spending in its poorest districts to parity with its wealthiest. In addition to the supplemental aid, the so-called Abbott districts receive $10,700 per pupil in basic aid.

The state education department released a statement saying that it was still assessing the financial impact of the panel's ruling.

—Catherine Gewertz

Partnership Unveils School-Data Web Site

A new private-public partnership last week launched a Web site that delivers school-by-school data in six states.

It will "show where children are making the grade and where they need help," said Eli Broad, the president of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, a member of the School Information Partnership.

The Web site will allow parents and school officials to compare individual schools and their success at teaching all students, as well as those in specific socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic subgroups.

As of last week, information from Delaware, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington state was posted at

By this summer, the group plans to post data on all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. ("President Bush Unveils State Data- Collection Effort," Sept. 17, 2003.) The Web site will help states complete their reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, Mr. Broad said.

Funding for the project comes from the Broad Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The Web site was constructed by the National Center for Educational Accountability, located in Austin, Texas, and the Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services, a division of the New York City-based financial-analysis firm.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 21, Page 17

Published in Print: February 4, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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