Education policy has long been the province of the states in our federal system. But with No Child Left Behind up for reauthorization and a bevy of national concerns on the agenda, the focus has shifted toward how the states and Washington can work together more effectively. PT provides a round-up of states active on the education front.
The Supreme Court’s new term opened with Board of Education of City of New York v. Tom F, a case challenging a New York court’s decision not to provide tuition reimbursement to a parent of a special needs student attending a private school. The plaintiff in the case, Viacom CEO Tom Freston, had not first tried to put his teenage son in a public school to see if they could help him; the City of New York claimed that a city-funded school could have taken care of the child’s special needs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of special needs students placed in private schools at public expense remains low at 1.1 percent of the country's 6.1 million special education students, but those numbers have risen steadily over the past few years.
The state’s house of representatives has passed a bill to include “cyberbullying” under its definition of school bullying. The term is described as: “…the use of computers, websites, the Internet, cell phones, text messaging, chat rooms, and instant messaging to ridicule, harass, intimidate, humiliate, or otherwise bully another student.” The measure also provides that school board of directors in every public school district implement policies to prevent bullying. Other states to have passed cyberbulling-related legislation within the last few years include Idaho, Iowa, South Carolina, Utah and New Jersey.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist has successfully established the first statewide mandate on daily, 30-minute physical education classes for elementary school students. Florida was previously one of 14 states without a law requiring mandatory physical education. Many of the state’s schools have cut P.E. classes in order to spend more time teaching core subjects such as reading and math in preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the required assessment tool of student and teacher performance under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Georgia lawmakers have decided to give state-funded scholarships to disabled students to attend private schools. Under the new voucher program, the parents of students with physical and mental disabilities would be able to choose the school that was best-suited for their children. The decision was reached after months of pro-voucher rallies at the Capitol and the release of several polls in support of a private school choice program. Georgia joins 12 other states that have similar school voucher programs.
Governor Kathleen Blanco is set to approve a spending bill which would give at least $600 million to the state’s schools and colleges, everything from K-12 to Ph.D. programs. Calling it a “bookend” approach, Blanco is seeking to rectify trends of under-funding in the past as well as boost Louisiana’s quality of life in the long run. $250 million will be provided for the addition of new colleges, and an additional $10 million will be set aside for hurricane-affected schools. State House Budget Chairman John Alario said, “Out of all the bad things people say about Louisiana, this is the first step in pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.”
With a state surplus of more than $1 billion accumulated through increased oil production and a steady job market, Montana legislators were able to approve a budget that will largely award tax rebates and allocate more funding for education. The new funding plan will provide $230 million for elementary and high school education, and will call for a freeze on college tuition fees. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer also allowed $25 million to be spent on the creation of all-day kindergarten.
State senators are uniting to dismantle 2006 legislation which divided the Omaha school district into three smaller, racially-specific districts. The plan, which civil rights scholars blasted as a “resegregation” attempt, was also championed by members of the African American community. Most notable was Ernie Chambers, the only African American state senator in Nebraska, who claimed the legislation would allow black Nebraskans to control a district where their community comprised the majority. But now, 22 freshman senators elected in 2006 may overturn the legislation, creating a new bill which would unite the three Omaha school districts with 10 others in the surrounding areas into one single “learning community”. The new set of districts will be joined together under one governing board and will share funding.
Governor Ted Strickland and the GOP-led General Assembly successfully passed legislation that will boost spending on higher education and call for a freeze on tuition at public universities. Plans also include adding public schools that emphasize math and science, and expanding health coverage for 30,000 more low-income children. However, Strickland vetoed budget provisions that could have provided vouchers for special needs children to attend private schools. The Governor also blocked a request for state and federal funding for abstinence-only sex education.
Lawmakers recently passed into law a state mandate on random steroid testing for high school athletes. The $3 million program aims at testing students in all school sporting activities at random; therefore no prior warning is given to those tested. Those who test positive the first time face a 30-day suspension from all games; the second positive testing can result in a one-year band, while third time a students can be suspended indefinitely. While there is huge support among state lawmakers for steroid testing, steroid use among high school students, in past reports, did not find performance-enhancing drugs particularly threatening. Last year, 12,000 steroid tests were conducted throughout 134 Texas schools; only one student was reported to have tested positive.
Under a new state ballot initiative, lawmakers have approved a tax-funded voucher program so that residents can send their children to private schools. Utah’s $9.2 million package would allocate $500 to $3,000 a year per student, to attend private schools. This differs from most other state voucher programs in that low-income and disabled students living in specific areas are granted the same amount of money as all other students. However, opponents to the voucher program have collected enough signatures to subject the legislation to a statewide referendum, and the state school board has decided to wait until after the election to begin carrying out the measure.
State lawmakers are paving the way for a new set of benefits for war veterans and their families. Under a new education benefits program, soldiers who have received a Purple Heart or Medal of Honor will receive free undergraduate college tuition. Air and Army National Guard members will also be given the funds to help earn masters degrees. The families of soldiers who die on duty could receive college financial aid of up to $2,000 per year.