News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Kansas Supreme Court Issues Stay in Aid Ruling

The Kansas Supreme Court has voided a May 11 lower-court ruling in a finance case that had ordered the state’s schools to shut down as of June 30.

The high court’s stay, issued May 19, reversed Shawnee County District Judge Terry L. Bullock’s order for the state to close its public school system and stop the flow of state aid to schools in an effort to transform the school finance system, which has been declared unconstitutional by Judge Bullock. ("Kansas Judge Orders State to Shut Schools," May 19, 2004.)

The stay came one day after Judge Bullock, in a subsequent clarification of his May 11 decision, said that school districts would still be able to make payments on bonds.

According to Kathy Toelkes, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Education, the supreme court has put the case on a fast track, with oral arguments starting Aug. 30, and a decision is expected by the end of this year.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Colo. Coalition Urges Action On Closing Achievement Gaps

A Colorado advisory panel has urged the state board of education to bolster efforts to identify schools with achievement gaps between students of different backgrounds.

Bill De La Cruz, a co-chairman of the Closing the Learning Gap Coalition, a grassroots organization formed in 2001, said that the state board needs to consider and adopt measures to identify effectively the achievement gaps in all schools, not just low-performing districts, and then review available funding resources to help schools combat the problem.

Colorado’s achievement gaps are highest among African-American and Latino students, he said. In some areas, for instance, the graduation rate for Latino students is 65 percent, compared with 90 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

"[The problem] is prevalent throughout the system," Mr. De La Cruz said. "The question now is, what do we do about it?"

State board member Rico Munn said that the board hopes to establish new policies for identifying achievement gaps by the beginning of the 2004-05 school year.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Wyoming Construction Case Is Sent Back to Lower Court

The Wyoming Supreme Court has denied the state’s request for a decision on whether the state has complied with the court’s order to the financing of school construction.

In the same ruling, it also rejected the bid of various school groups for the appointment of a special master to oversee the state-financed capital projects.

Acting on May 10, the state supreme court ordered a lower court to investigate whether the state program meets the criteria the high court set for compliance in a school finance case that dates back to 1992.

"I can certainly understand the court being cautious in making sure we implement our measures in good faith," Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, said in a statement.

—David J. Hoff

Special Ed. Gaps and Gains Identified in New York State

New York state students in racial and ethnic minorities are substantially more likely than their white peers to be placed in special education classes, according to a report released last week by the state board of regents.

The report concludes that New York state needs to place more students with disabilities in regular classrooms. About 7 percent of students with disabilities are placed in separate classes—a proportion lower than the national average, the report says.

Black and Hispanic students with disabilities in the state consistently are more likely than their white peers to be segregated into special education classes, rather than regular classrooms. The report, which includes test-score data mostly from 2003, shows that students with disabilities in wealthier communities scored far better on the state Regents exams than did those in poorer areas.

The report, an update on the state’s efforts to educate students with disabilities, contains some good news: Test scores were up, especially in elementary school math, and more students with disabilities were passing the Regents exams for graduation.

—Alan Richard

Another Democrat to Lead California State School Board

The California state board of education has a new slate of officers.

Ruth E. Green, a former Santa Barbara school board member, was elected earlier this month by the 11-member state board as its new president, replacing a fellow Democrat, Reed Hastings. Mr. Hastings will continue as a board member through the end of his term in January 2006.

Ms. Green was one of seven board members appointed to the panel in February by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. ("Schwarzenegger Board Choices Applauded for Political Diversity," Feb. 11, 2004.)

Glee Johnson, a Republican and a former chief deputy chancellor of the California community college system, was elected vice president.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell applauded the outcome. "I feel confident that today’s election will help us stay the course with high standards, school accountability, and support for all students under the leadership of this board," he said.

—Robert C. Johnston

Indiana Governor Names Early-Learning Commission

Gov. Joseph E. Kernan of Indiana has signed an executive order to create a commission on early- childhood learning.

Gov. Kernan, a Democrat, named 31 people, including the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Suellen Reed, to the Indiana Commission for Early Learning and School Readiness earlier this month.

The commission is expected to advise the governor and Ms. Reed, a Republican, on the most effective policies and methods for improving early education and school-readiness services. The governor has asked the group to complete a report by December.

Mr. Kernan submitted a proposal to the legislature in January for an optional full-day-kindergarten program that would enroll up to 20,000 Indiana children this coming fall. The legislature rejected the proposal.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 18

Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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