News in Brief: A State Capitols Roundup

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Kentucky Teachers Eyeing a Strike

Kentucky teachers are planning massive protests—and maybe even a statewide strike—over increasing health-insurance costs.

The threats followed Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s announcement last week that teachers will have to pay up to $684 a month for family coverage under the state’s most comprehensive health- insurance plan. Because the legislature and the governor failed to adopt a budget for the current year, the Republican governor used his executive authority to set the insurance premiums.

The increases, along with new deductibles of up to $800 a year, will cost teachers more than they will receive in the 3 percent pay raise in the governor’s spending plan, according to Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

The Kentucky Education Association is considering a variety of actions to protest the costs, including rallies and possibly a statewide strike, said Frances Steenbergen, the president of the 30,000-member National Education Association affiliate.

—David J. Hoff

Minnesota Governor to Link Driver’s Licenses, Truancy

Minnesota would begin denying driver’s licenses to truant teenagers under a proposal announced by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week.

Mr. Pawlenty announced that he has directed state officials to create new administrative rules to require driver’s license applicants under the age of 18 to provide documentation proving they have good school attendance. Under Minnesota law, the department of public safety has broad rulemaking authority over who may receive a driver’s license.

"Linking the privilege to drive with school attendance is a common sense way to get kids to school," said the Republican governor.

Once the new rules take effect, Minnesota will join 18 other states that make regular school attendance a requirement for obtaining or retaining driving privileges as early as next spring.

—Debra Viadero

W. Va. Home Schoolers Can Play on School Teams

Home-schooled students in West Virginia cannot be barred from public school sports team—at least until the state supreme court rules on the matter.

That was the word from the state education department after the parents of a home-schooled girl in Flat Top, W.Va., filed suit last month to force the state to allow her to play soccer for a local public middle school.

In a similar West Virginia suit, a state judge ruled a year ago in favor of a home-schooled boy who wanted to join a middle school wrestling team.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, the state school board, and the Marion County school board have all appealed that decision, which the state supreme court decided in June to hear.

The court is not expected to rule for several months, however. In the interim, home-schooled children must be allowed to participate, the department said.

—Bess Keller

Wash. Governor Offers Aid for School Water Tests

Gov. Gary Locke of Washington announced last week that he is allocating $750,000 in state funds to help test for lead in the drinking fountains of elementary schools across the state.

Pointing out that there are no known cases of lead poisoning caused by drinking water in schools, he went on to say during a Sept. 8 press briefing, "I strongly encourage districts to test their water."

To qualify for the state money, school districts would have to contribute a 25 percent match. The Democratic governor also directed the state board of education to consider drinking-water issues as it reviews minimum environmental standards for schools later this year.

The quality of school drinking water and possible lead contamination have been contentious issues in several school districts across the country, including Seattle. ("Schools on Alert Over Water Quality," March 17, 2004.)

—Robert C. Johnston

Maryland Releases Aid to Baltimore District

The Maryland Department of Education will release $18 million in disputed federal funds to the Baltimore public schools.

The move came after state and city officials began negotiations over a June audit that found Baltimore had misspent $18 million from the federal Title I program. It also helped that federal officials met with representatives from both sides last month to assist in resolving their differences.

"It is clear that both the state and the Baltimore city public schools are very willing to work together toward a resolution of our differences on this issue," Nancy S. Grasmick, the state’s superintendent of schools, said in an Aug. 31 statement. "It is for this reason that I now feel comfortable in releasing those funds to the city."

If the auditors find that the city needs to repay inappropriately spend funds, the state will withhold money from future payments scheduled to go to the city.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 24, Issue 3, Page 26

Published in Print: September 15, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitols Roundup
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