September Trends

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Trends and Transitions: September 2009


Age Requirements for School

When to require school attendance is an ongoing debate as states address school reform. Each state sets the minimum and maximum age of students who must be attending school or some equivalent education program.

Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia allow the minimum age to be older by at least one year if  parents obtain waivers from their assigned schools.

Children in Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming who have completed 10th grade no longer are required to go to school. And nearly half the states allow children age 14 to 18 to be exempt from attendance requirements if they meet one or more of the following stipulations: they are employed; have a physical or mental condition that makes attendance infeasible; have passed the eighth grade; have permission from their parents, the district court or the local school board; meet the requirements for an exit interview; or are attending some kind of alternative education such as vocational or technical school.

Parent Power in the Placement of Twins

The number of twins and triplets (and more) in the United States has more than doubled in the last two decades. In 2005, one in every 35 kindergarteners was a multiple birth sibling. With this increase comes the question of whether they should be placed in the same classrooms.

Parents, educators and school administrators must consider academic, behavioral, emotional and social aspects in deciding where to place siblings, but they don’t always agree. Traditionally, school principals have decided where to place siblings. Survey and anecdotal information show that they often believe separating siblings is best.
Some parents, on the other hand, want to keep their kids in the same classroom. Thus far, there is no conclusive research that supports either side of the debate. Groups such as the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Club and the National Association of School Psychologists call for flexibility and collaboration among parents and schools in the decision-making process.

Twelve states have passed laws that directly speak to classroom placement of multiple birth children. Minnesota was the first; lawmakers there passed a law in 2005 requiring schools to carry out parents’ wishes. Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia followed suit in passing similar legislation, giving parents the choice. Florida passed legislation allowing parental input in the decision, but schools are not required to carry out the request. And North Carolina passed a bill that gives priority to multiple birth siblings in charter school admissions.
Arizona, Idaho, Michigan and New York have legislation pending. The prevailing sentiment in these bills is to allow parents to make the decision. Maryland also introduced legislation this session to require a school to follow a parent’s request, but it failed.

 What's Up With Yucca Mountain?

With scientific concerns about the site and believing that “states should not be unfairly burdened with waste from other states,” President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that the proposed long-term nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain was no longer an option. 

Steven Chu, the new Energy secretary, has announced plans to convene a blue ribbon commission to study what to do with spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste and make recommendations.

This is difficult news for states that have nuclear waste piling up. The transport of the waste is on hold while the administration tries to identify other permanent storage options. And ratepayers in these states are without the billions of dollars they already have paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund that was designed to help pay for the development of Yucca Mountain and transportation costs to the site.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has proposed a federal bill that would return the nearly $23 billion to consumers and power companies, which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on April 22.

During the 2009 legislative sessions, several states proposed measures seeking a return of the funds. Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada and South Carolina passed legislation or resolutions asking Congress and the administration to allow Yucca Mountain to open. Minnesota legislators considered a bill that would have moved ratepayers’ fees into an escrow account rather than the Nuclear Waste Fund. The bill did not pass, however.

States Assert Sovereignty

Believing the federal government too often oversteps its bounds specifically outlined in the Constitution, several states are looking at “sovereignty” resolutions.

“Congress is supposed to serve the states. Instead, they’re telling the states how to conduct their internal business,” says Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon, lead sponsor of his state’s sovereignty bill. “We’re going to reclaim our rights as a state, and we’re going to start governing accordingly.”

Brogdon says numerous federal laws, including the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and federal homeland security requirements, are examples of how the federal government has overstepped its powers. He said the federal stimulus program is a particularly alarming example.

Several states considered memorials or resolutions this year that assert state sovereignty under the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have passed sovereignty resolutions, and at least 27 other states have considered resolutions. Resolutions have failed to get enough votes in Arkansas, Montana and New Hampshire.

The resolutions are messages to Congress and the president urging them to recognize state sovereignty and telling the federal government to stay out of state business and end certain mandates. The measures assert that the “states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government and many federal mandates are directly in violation of the 10th Amendment.”

The first Oklahoma resolution was vetoed by Governor Brad Henry who was concerned about losing federal tax dollars for transportation, education, health care, law enforcement, veterans’ programs and many other vital services. “Without question, the state of Oklahoma and its leaders support the U.S. Constitution and the rights it guarantees to the states and their citizens, and there is no need to spend valuable legislative time on a resolution expressing support for any particular amendment or constitutional right. … HJR 1003 could be detrimental to Oklahoma and does not serve the state or its citizens in any positive manner.”

The Legislature refiled the measure as House Concurrent Resolution 1028. It passed and does not require the governor’s signature.

Although there was a flurry of activity on this sovereignty issue this year, only a handful of the measures passed.