06/2000 School Choice Roundup

Published June 1, 2000

Arizona * California * Kentucky * Maine * Massachusetts * Michigan
Nebraska * New York * Pennsylvania * Utah * Virginia * Washington


All Teachers Fingerprinted

Arizona Governor Jane Hull signed a bill on April 10 that requires all teachers and administrators in Arizona to be fingerprinted and to pass national criminal background checks before they can renew their teacher certification every six years.

New applicants have been subject to fingerprinting and background checks since 1990, but existing teachers and administrators were exempt. Now, all applicants will be required to have a current fingerprint clearance card.

Fingerprint clearance cards would be denied to applicants whose background check revealed offenses such as incest, child abuse, aggravated assault, driving under the influence, domestic violence, shoplifting, and forgery. In some cases, an appeal to the state is permitted.
The Arizona Republic
April 13, 2000


Legislator/teacher understands choice

“The Association believes that its members should support public education by sending their children to public educational institutions.”
Resolution A-1 of National Education Association

“As a parent, no matter how passionate you are about public schools, in the final analysis you’re going to do what’s best for your children.” — California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), explaining why he and his public school teacher wife are considering placing two of their children in private school (March 27 Los Angeles Times). Villaraigosa was one of the speakers who addressed the NEA Representative Assembly in Orlando last year.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 27, 2000


Union Staff Pickets Union

Earlier this year, a week-long strike by Kentucky Education Association staff took place at the same time the KEA played host to the National Education Association’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. A picket line formed outside the hotel where the conference was held, and members and elected officials of the Jefferson County Teachers Association joined the staffers’ picket line. The strike eventually was settled.

However, neither the February nor March 2000 issues of KEA News, the KEA’s monthly organ, had any mention of the strike or its settlement terms. The front-page headline in the February issue read: “NEA Comes to Louisville: KEA Hosts Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference.” The newsletter contained an account of how members of “several Frankfort-area KEA locals” helped stuff “goodie bags” for the conference attendees, which the article numbered as 450. There are pictures of KEA members in the hotel lobby and at the registration table, along with a picture of NEA President Bob Chase receiving a certificate naming him an honorary “Kentucky Colonel.”

The newsletter thanks all the people who volunteered to help with the conference . . . but makes no mention of a strike.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
April 3, 2000


Governor Keeps Teacher Fingerprint Law

After teachers protested a new state law requiring them to be fingerprinted, state legislators drafted a new law that would have required the fingerprinting only of new hires. The proposal also would have the state, rather than the teacher, pay for an FBI background check.

The proposal appeared to have majority support until April 13, when the Maine House reversed an earlier vote in favor of the new measure and again approved the application of the fingerprinting policy to all teachers. A key factor in the reversal was the opposition of the FBI to discretionary language in the “new hires only” bill.

The protested fingerprinting law was designed to ensure that school personnel had not been convicted of sexually abusing or molesting children. However, the final measure that was sent to Governor Angus S. King would have applied only to new hires and exempted more than 47,000 current employees from checks. King vetoed the bill on April 26, pointing out that, if he signed the measure, it would take three decades to provide assurances to parents that all school employees had clean records.
Bangor Daily News
April 14, 2000
Kennebec Journal
April 27, 2000


Students Boycott State Tests

It was a student protest all right, by several hundred Massachusetts students. But not against the Vietnam War, or the International Monetary Fund, or the World Trade Organization. It was a protest against a state test that asked, for example, why a supporting character in a favorite novel was essential to the plot.

Tenth-grade protesters were joined by some eighth-graders and a few fourth-graders in boycotting a new statewide standardized test designed to evaluate students and schools. Massachusetts, like many other states, is moving towards a system that will require students to pass at least one standardized test in order to graduate from high school.

Students–and many educators–argue that a standardized test cannot hope to measure the breadth of each student’s abilities. But state board of education member Abigail Thernstrom disagrees, arguing that the length of the tests gives students plenty of time to display their abilities. Besides, she said, explaining how to solve a geometric problem or interpreting a literary passage is not too much to ask of every tenth-grader.

“What we are asking for is knowledge that any student who wants a high school diploma worth the paper it’s written on should have,” she told The New York Times. “All other measures are subjective.”
The New York Times
April 13, 2000


110 Charter Applicants Stymied

In April, the Michigan House rejected Gov. John Engler’s proposal to expand the number of charter schools allowed in the state. Although 49 Republicans supported a call to debate the measure, six others joined all 52 Democrats, and the measure fell short of the 56 votes needed to pass.

Engler’s proposal would raise the cap on university-authorized charter schools from 150 to 200 next year. A total of 110 applicants are in line to become charter schools.
Lansing State Journal
April 7, 2000

Ritalin Blamed for Boy’s Death

An Oakland County couple has hired a prominent attorney to investigate their son’s death, which county medical examiner L.J. Dragovic blamed on heart damage from years of taking Ritalin.

Lawrence and Kelly Smith told the Detroit Free Press on April 17 that they were pressured by officials from Pattengill Elementary School eight years ago to give Ritalin to their son Matthew, who died last month at the age of 14 after falling from his skateboard.

“They told us if we didn’t put him on it, we could possibly be charged with neglect,” Kelly Smith told the Free Press, adding that school officials “assured us that the medication was safe and would benefit Matthew.” School officials declined to address Matthew’s situation.

Now, based on Dragovic’s report, the Smiths believe Ritalin contributed to their son’s death. They have pledged to initiate a nationwide campaign to warn parents about the “dangers” of the drug, which is widely prescribed for hyperactive children or those with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“There was a chronic change of the heart muscle and the small blood vessels of the heart,” Dragovic told The Oakland Press. “This comes from long-term exposure.”
Detroit News
April 15, 2000
Detroit Free Press
April 18, 2000


Union Dues Hike Is “Budget Change”

Mike Antonucci’s weekly Education Intelligence Communiqué reported on February 22 that the National Education Association might raise its national dues an additional $5-$10 above the normal increase in order to have more discretionary funds to fight political battles in targeted states. However, NEA directors from Nebraska preferred to use the term “budget change” rather than “dues increase” when presenting this news to union members in their state:

“There has been a proliferation of ballot initiatives across the country. State associations are assessing members at record rates to raise funds to fight these potentially harmful measures,” said the directors’ message to members. “Critics of public education are becoming more sophisticated in their drafting of these measures. More and more, foes of public education are being elected to Congress, and NEA is considering budget changes that would provide extra funds to fight such candidates. The goal in many states is that you can beat NEA with money.”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 20, 2000


Seven Years in High School?

Last year, only half of New York City’s public high school students graduated within four years. While 17.5 percent dropped out, another 7 percent were students who should have graduated back in 1996 but were still enrolled in classes.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani thinks that’s too long and, in his executive budget message delivered on April 18, he called for limiting high school to six years for students who fail to graduate this year, and then to only five years next year.

Giuliani said these “young adults” should earn their diplomas in one of the adult education centers maintained by the city where older students currently work to complete their education. His budget proposal contained an additional $4 million to expand this alternative program, an approach endorsed by Ray Damonico of the Metro-Area Industrial Foundation.

“These kids are 19 and 20 years old,” Damonico told the New York Post. “It’s appropriate to put them in alternative settings.”

Bill Thompson, president of the city’s Board of Education, disagreed, saying “students are staying in school to get their degree” while calling a five-year requirement “too rigid.”
New York Post
April 19, 2000


Teacher Union Cool to Takeover Plan

Teacher union officials reacted coolly to an educational improvement plan proposed by Governor Tom Ridge that could involve the state taking over the daily operations of as many as 11 school districts where at least half the students are failing in reading or math. Currently, a takeover is permitted only if the district is financially distressed.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, the state would immediately take over Chester Upland district in Delaware County while giving Philadelphia and nine other districts two years–and more money and more authority–to raise test scores or be taken over.

Officials in ailing districts would be given the power to privatize educational and other services, hire uncertified teachers, and lay off or dismiss staff without regard to seniority. They also could close or reorganize schools, create charter schools, and run existing schools as if they were charter schools–i.e., free from state mandates. In fact, the legislation would allow all 501 school districts in Pennsylvania to petition the state for relief from state mandates.

“We’re giving them more options and more money,” said the governor’s spokesperson Tim Reeves. “So what’s not to like?”

But Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesperson Wythe Keever said the governor’s plan was “simply the wrong remedy” and worried that it could sour conditions for teachers. Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the plan “just deals with structure, governance, and privatization.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 18, 2000


Lawsuit Asks State to Follow Federal Law

A Salt Lake City family is suing the state of Utah on behalf of its son, in an effort to block a new state law that provides for the automatic suspension of any high school student who brings a weapon to school.

The family contends the Utah law violates the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, which requires that public schools give their school superintendents discretion regarding the discipline they mete out to students who bring a weapon onto school property.

The family’s lawyer argues that not following the federal law could cause Utah to lose $38 million in federal funds, which in turn could irreparably harm the plaintiff’s right to a public education.
The Daily Herald (Salt Lake City)
April 14, 2000


Homeschool Parents Arrested for Truancy

Although Virginia residents Gerald and Angela Balderson filed written notice with the Richmond County school superintendent’s office on February 25 that they were going to homeschool their eight-year-old son Brett, the principal at their son’s former school notified authorities that Brett had not been attending classes and police arrested the parents on March 17 for violating the state’s compulsory school attendance law.

While criminal charges against the couple have since been dropped, the couple now has sued the school district for gross negligence, false arrest, and violation of their Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process of law.

Mrs. Balderson remains frightened and didn’t leave her son’s side for the next week, according to David Gordon, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, who is representing the family.

“She was afraid that the social services department or some other official might try to take custody of the child,” said Gordon.

The Association is investigating several cases where homeschooling parents have been prosecuted for truancy. For example, there are two other cases in Virginia and another in Michigan where parents who removed their children from school were jailed for 12 hours in January and still have criminal charges pending against them. Gordon told The Washington Times that some public officials are responding to the loss of students from their systems by putting pressure on new home educators, sometimes with criminal prosecution.
The Washington Times
April 18, 2000


Union Files COLA Initiative

The Seattle Times and the Associated Press reported on March 30 that the Washington Education Association “quietly filed proposed Initiative 732 earlier this month.” The initiative would guarantee automatic cost-of-living pay increases for public school employees. Mike Antonucci’s Education Intelligence Agency had reported 10 days earlier that “WEA is planning to place a cost of living initiative on the November ballot, which would presumably provide state money to grant teachers automatic cost of living increases.”

Last year, WEA decided not to pursue a similar initiative, mainly because other labor groups opposed it. That situation has not changed. “We just hate to see any one group take away money from everyone else,” said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees. The internal vote this time was hardly unanimous, as the WEA Board of Directors approved the initiative by a 29-19 margin. The decision was expected to be ratified by the union’s representative assembly during its meeting April 13-15.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
April 3, 2000