03/1999 State Education Roundup

Published March 1, 1999

Colorado * Illinois * Massachusetts * Michigan * Missouri
New York * Pennsylvania * Vermont


New GOP Governor Speeds School Reform

Republican lawmakers in Colorado are making up for lost time now that Democratic Governor Roy Romer isn’t around to veto their school reform bills. With newly installed Republican Governor Bill Owens indicating he is ready to sign, House lawmakers in January wasted no time in sending three education bills to the Senate, where quick approval also is expected. The bills provide for annual school funding, an increase in charter school funding from local school districts, and delegation of authority to local school boards for the implementation of state education laws.

Under Representative Nancy Spence’s House Bill 1044, local school boards would have the power to waive all but a few state regulations and laws governing education in Colorado, without having to seek approval from local accountability boards, parents, teachers, or administrators. Democrats opposed the bill, as did the Colorado Education Association and Colorado PTA. The Colorado Association of School Boards and Colorado Association of School Executives both supported the waiver bill.
Denver Post
January 30, 1999


Teachers Publish Test Questions

Calling a new $1 million Chicago schools systemwide test “sophomoric” and “mindless,” a teachers’ newspaper has reprinted most of the questions from the test, which was given to high school freshmen and sophomores in early January as part of a pilot for the Chicago Academic Standards Exam, or CASE.

In late January, the Substance newspaper published almost all of the questions from the test–U.S. history, world studies, algebra, English I, and English II–leaving out only the science questions. School officials are considering filing a lawsuit to seek damages.

Ironically, Substance is written by teachers . . . and so was the CASE test: The questions were written by about 20 Chicago public school teachers.
Chicago Sun-Times
January 26, 1999


Busing May End in Boston

After 25 years of court-ordered busing to integrate Boston’s schools, Mayor Thomas Menino is proposing to build five new schools in the city and allow students to attend their neighborhood schools again, rather than be bused across the city.

The mayor’s proposal is prompted by dramatic demographic changes that have seen the percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in the city’s student body rise from about 48 percent when busing began to 85 percent now. With most white students gone, many minority children now are pointlessly bused from one predominantly minority neighborhood to another.

Still being drafted, the mayor’s proposal will ultimately need the approval of the school board.

When the NAACP sued the city in 1972 to get busing, African-American leaders wanted their children to get an education equal to that being delivered to students in predominantly white schools. Now, integration is taking a back seat to fixing a city school system rife with poor test scores and other problems.
Chicago Tribune
January 24, 1999


Full Scholarships Left Over

Businesses in Detroit want to give good high school students a shot at college, but the Detroit public school system doesn’t produce enough seniors who qualify. Some 200 full-tuition college scholarships go unclaimed every year.

In a program backed by $6 million from local businesses, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce seeks to award 600 full-tuition college scholarships to graduating seniors with 95 percent attendance, a B average, and average national test scores. That there are leftover scholarships every year highlights the shortcomings of the city’s public schools, say business leaders.

“We do believe the young people of Detroit deserve a competitive education, and we don’t believe they’re getting it today,” said Dick Blouse, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

A job placement program has less stringent standards, but there aren’t enough qualified applicants for that program, either.
Detroit Free Press
January 26, 1999


$2 Billion Suit Ends for Missouri

Noting that the state of Missouri had made its final payment on a $314 million settlement to the Kansas City School District, U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple on January 28 freed the state from a 1977 desegregation lawsuit and scheduled a January 2000 hearing that could finally wrap up the 21-year-old case.

If Whipple determines next year that the district has done all it can to desegregate its schools, he would declare the district fully desegregated, thus ending what an appeals court judge has called “the most ambitious and expensive remedial program in the history of school desegregation.”

Since 1977, when the school district originally filed suit for a desegregation plan, the state has paid nearly $2 billion to the Kansas City School District. Despite that massive influx of funds, the district still needs to close the gap in test scores between African-American and white students. District officials are optimistic that improved test scores will result from new student tests, new teacher training, and new performance standards for teachers, schools, and principals.
Kansas City Star
January 28, 1999


Look to Chicago, Says Giuliani

After Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul G. Vallas told a Center for Educational Innovation audience on December 9 about what the Windy City had done to improve its schools, New Yorkers have been talking about transforming their city’s public schools “as they’ve done in Chicago.”

In his State of the City address on January 14, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said “we should look to Chicago,” which has a CEO “appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council.”

“If the schools go bad, there’s a political price to pay,” Vallas stated at the December luncheon meeting. “The responsibility begins and ends with the mayor.”

Giuliani also proposed eliminating the Central Board of Education and the local boards, echoing the message of New York City Council Speaker Peter Vallone from a day earlier. “Our schools need a new start,” said Vallone. “Therefore, I propose we abolish the Board of Education.”
Center for Educational Innovation
Notes, January 1999


Hornbeck Performance Questioned . . .

A recent Philadelphia Sunday Sun poll of Philadelphia public school teachers raised questions about Superintendent David Hornbeck’s performance:

  • 84.5 percent of teachers surveyed said they received little or no respect from the superintendent.
  • 73.5 percent felt that the school system’s testing program was not in line with what was being taught.
  • 70.8 percent said they did not have the materials needed to meet standards.

Another poll, this one of registered voters in Philadelphia conducted by Mayor Edward Rendell’s pollster, Neil Oxman, also raised questions about Hornbeck’s performance:

  • 57 percent of voters surveyed felt the city’s schools were on the wrong track.
  • 56 percent said Hornbeck was doing a poor job.
  • 56 percent believe the school budget is “mismanaged and not effectively used.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
January 21, 1999

. . . But Hornbeck Stays On

On February 1, a divided Philadelphia school board voted 6-3 to extend the five-year contract of Superintendent David Hornbeck for two more years to August 2001, taking him to the end of the current year with Mayor Edward Rendell and then almost two years into the term of a new mayor.

Making a rare appearance at the school board meeting to urge extension of the contract, Rendell reminded the board of Hornbeck’s accomplishments: adding full-day kindergarten, raising test scores, securing additional funds for books and instructional materials, and reducing administrative costs.

Rendell’s potential successors were divided also, with two mayoral candidates opposing the two-year extension and two in favor. However, noted State Representative Dwight Evans, “We have to move on and do what’s best for the children.”
School District of Philadelphia
News Release, February 1, 1999
Philadelphia Inquirer
February 2, 1999


Vermont Sues “Gold Towns”

A month after the Vermont Supreme Court rejected a suit to overturn the state’s Act 60, which redistributes revenues from a statewide school property tax from affluent towns to poor towns, Attorney General William Sorrell sued three towns that have refused to turn over their Act 60 property tax revenues to the state. The 1997 law seeks to equalize funding between schools in towns with strong property taxes bases–the so-called “gold towns”–and those with weak property tax bases.

The three “gold towns”–Dover, Searsburg, and Whitingham–refused to turn over a total of $648,000 to the state on December 1 after seeing their Act 60 school property taxes soar and then receiving less state aid for their local schools.
Education Week
January 20, 1999