School Climate & Safety News in Brief

Legislative Briefs

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 23, 2013 4 min read
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W.Va. Governor’s Plan Prevails

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed a K-12 overhaul bill that will significantly affect both district governance and early-childhood education in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 359, which was introduced at the request of the Democratic governor, will allow school districts more flexibility in setting their school-day calendars and meeting the state requirement of offering 180 days of instruction. The measure also provides optional full-day preschool programs for 4-year-olds in every county, and changes the way the state holds schools accountable by including the share of students successfully completing Advanced Placement classes and graduation rates, among other statistics.

Mr. Tomblin also said the law that he signed this month will help students by “empowering our teachers to participate in the hiring process.”

Teachers’ unions in the state protested parts of the bill relating to teachers. But AFT-West Virginia, which has about 16,000 members, said that thanks to teachers’ lobbying efforts, the final bill is better than the original, particularly concerning teachers’ influence over hiring and provisions “ensuring collaboration and planning time” for educators.

Fla. Acts to Alter Diploma Rules

In what Florida lawmakers called an effort to better connect the state’s high school graduates with the job market, the legislature has approved revisions to the state’s diploma requirements similar to controversial changes under discussion in Texas.

The Florida House and Senate both approved Senate Bill 1076, which requires the state school board to create new “pathways” for earning a diploma that include allowing industry certification in various trades to be used for academic credit. One provision allows such certifications to replace requirements that students take certain subject courses and tests, including Algebra 2, which is part of the math sequence in the Common Core State Standards that Florida has adopted.

Supporters say that allowing for such flexibility would give more students access to better jobs out of high school and thus would boost the state’s economy. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, had not signed the bill as of last week.

Meanwhile, Texas business leaders concerned about a similar plan in the Lone Star State say such changes would weaken the value of schools’ academic standards as well as some diplomas.

Ohio Eyes Limit on Sex Ed.

As part of a bill dealing with budget matters, a committee in the Ohio House of Representatives has approved provisions that would restrict what teachers can discuss in sex education classes.

The legislation says that instructors cannot promote “gateway sexual activities” in their classes, defined as activities intended to cause sexual arousal. It also says that while teachers can discuss contraception, they must state that students can still contract sexually transmitted diseases if they use condoms and other contraception.

In a statement last week, the National Abstinence Education Association applauded the action by the finance committee, saying it would prevent such classes in the state from promoting “teen sexual experimentation.” But other groups, such as Advocates for Youth, say such efforts are misleading and would undermine confidence in the efficacy of condoms in preventing disease transmission.

School Security Bills Signed

Kansas last week became the second state since the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., to explicitly permit local school boards to decide whether some school employees can carry firearms.

House Bill 2052, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, gives school boards the authority to allow employees licensed to carry concealed handguns to do so on school grounds. The provision applies only to districts that don’t have their own policies prohibiting employees from carrying concealed firearms.

Kansas follows South Dakota, where in March, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, also a Republican, signed a bill giving school boards the same authority.

Other varieties of school security bills also are getting governors’ approval. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin has signed Senate Bill 257 creating the Oklahoma School Security Institute, under the state’s office of homeland security. The new institute will oversee a phone tipline for reporting activity potentially harmful to school safety and would serve as a security resource for public and private schools.

Gov. Fallin, a Republican, signed three other school safety bills last week that deal with required reporting of firearms on school grounds and safety drills, among other issues.

Charters, Tax Credits Fail in Mont.

Despite a significant push by Montana Republicans to institute both charter schools and tax credits for private education, both efforts ultimately fell short this year in the legislature.

Montana is one of eight states that do not permit charter schools. Senate Republicans introduced a bill to allow them, but the House did not approve it. Two separate bills, one to provide a tax credit for parents sending their children to private schools, and another that would have provided tax credits to individuals and corporations donating to organizations granting private-school scholarships, also failed to gain the approval of both chambers.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, had previously made statements signaling his opposition to both policies.

Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, also a Democrat, indicated that she thought pro-charter and pro-tax-credit legislation would return in 2015. (Montana lawmakers meet every two years.)

She added that the state already is overseeing K-12 innovation, with growing online enrollment and flexible school calendars: “Setting up a parallel education system just will not work in our state,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2013 edition of Education Week as Legislative Briefs

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