- - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

REGION

Prekindergarten growth slowed by shrinking budgets

The expansion in public prekindergarten programs has slowed and even been reversed in some states as school districts cope with shrinking budgets. As a result, many 3- and 4-year-olds aren’t going to preschool.

Children from low-income families who start kindergarten without first attending a quality education program enter school an estimated 18 months behind their peers. Many never catch up, and research shows they are more likely to need special education services and to drop out.

Children in families with higher incomes also can benefit from early education, research shows. Yet roughly a quarter of the nation’s 4-year-olds and more than half of 3-year-olds attend no preschool, either public or private. Families that earn about $40,000 to $50,000 annually face the greatest difficulties because they make too much to quality for many publicly funded programs but can’t afford private ones, said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

As more students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch, often a qualifier to get into a state-funded prekindergarten program, many families are finding slots simply aren’t available, he said.

MASSACHUSETTS

Judge’s abortion order voided in mental illness case

BOSTON — A Massachusetts court on Tuesday overturned a ruling by a judge who ordered a mentally ill woman to undergo an abortion against her wishes and be sterilized.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court said the woman, who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, described herself as “very Catholic” and made it clear she did not want an abortion.

The ruling reverses a decision by Family and Probate Court Judge Christina Harms, who found that the 32-year-old woman was not competent to decide whether to get an abortion.

Judge Harms found the woman would choose to end her pregnancy if she were competent and agreed to appoint her parents as guardians “for the purpose of consenting to the extraordinary procedures of abortion and sterilization,” the appeals court said.

FLORIDA

U.S. bans snakes plaguing Everglades

MIAMI — Federal officials say it’s now illegal to import four types of snakes that have been plaguing the Everglades.

Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar announced the ban Tuesday on Myanmar pythons, yellow anacondas and northern and southern African pythons. The snakes are also now banned from being transported across state lines.

Pythons have become a growing problem in Florida’s revered swampland. Many are believed to have been pets that were dumped once they grew too big; others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been reproducing ever since.

ALASKA

Fuel transfer proceeds smoothly in iced-in city

ANCHORAGE — A Russian tanker that went on an ocean odyssey of 5,000 miles to deliver fuel to the iced-in city of Nome was offloading the gasoline and diesel fuel in what officials said was a smooth operation.

Two parallel hoses, 700 yards long each, are stretched between the tanker Renda and a pipeline that can deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to storage tanks near the harbor of the iced-in city. The offloading began with gasoline, and then both gasoline and diesel were being transferred separately.

ILLINOIS

Chicago drops crackdown on summit protesters

CHICAGO — It looks like Chicago won’t be as tough on protesters as Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it would be when the city hosts two major international summits this spring.

A City Council committee passed an ordinance Tuesday without a hefty increase that Mr. Emanuel had proposed in anticipation of May’s NATO and G-8 summits. The mayor’s office had backed off his proposal to increase the fine for resisting arrest from between $25 and $200 to between $200 and $1,000. That backdown all but assures that the ordinance will pass when the full council votes on it Wednesday.

DELAWARE

Governor spares killer from death penalty

DOVER — Gov. Jack Markell, in an apparent first for Delaware, has spared the life of a man whose execution had been scheduled later this week for the shooting death of his former girlfriend.

Inmate Robert Gattis, 49, had been scheduled to die by injection Friday for the killing of Shirley Slay, 27.

The Democratic governor said commuting Gattis’ 1992 death sentence to life in prison without parole was one of the most difficult decisions he has made as a public official.

GEORGIA

Guilty plea in rape, killing of 7-year-old girl

CANTON — A 20-year-old maintenance man faces life in prison for beating, raping and killing a 7-year-old north Georgia girl who disappeared from a playground at her apartment complex and was found in a trash bin.

Ryan Brunn pleaded guilty Tuesday to several charges, including murder in the Dec. 2 killing of Jorelys Rivera. He responded “Yes, sir,” when a judge asked if he was pleading guilty to the charges. The judge accepted his plea and sentenced him to life without parole.

“I’d like to apologize for everything that’s done. Lo Siento,” Brunn said, apologizing in Spanish as he took the stand briefly a second time.

Brunn said he chose the girl because he happened to find her roller skate and used it to lure her to a vacant apartment, where he killed her.

From wire dispatches and staff reports