07/2000 State Education Roundup

Published July 1, 2000

California * Connecticut * Hawaii * Illinois * Massachusetts
Mississippi * Missouri * New Jersey * North Dakota * Ohio * South Carolina


Tax Break Could Hurt Private Schools

Democrat Governor Gray Davis’ proposal to exempt public school teachers from state income tax found little support among private school officials, teacher unions, or legislators, who called the idea “discriminatory and potentially divisive.”

California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson remarked sarcastically that he was “real impressed” with the Governor’s show of “real leadership.” The greatest concern was expressed by the private education sector, where it was feared the tax exemption would make it significantly harder for private schools to compete for the best teachers.

According to a report in the May 16 Contra Costa Times, “The current teacher shortage has hit many private schools even harder than public schools, largely because droves of experienced private teachers fled to higher-paying public jobs that opened because of the state’s class-size reduction program.” If the government were to implement a greater pay discrepancy through the proposed tax exemption, still more private school teachers could flee for higher pay.
Education Policy Institute Update
May 19, 2000


Anger Over 6th-Grade Sex Survey

Many parents in New Milford, Connecticut, were outraged when they discovered that an intrusive health survey had been administered not only to 1,200 high school students but also to 400 eighth-graders and 400 sixth-graders, some as young as 11.

The survey, intended to measure the effectiveness of the district’s health classes, included questions about nutrition and mental health but also delved into whether students were gay or bisexual, had used drugs, had AIDS, contemplated suicide, or engaged in group or oral sex–for which descriptions were provided.

School officials apologized at a meeting with parents and promised to write a letter of apology. Assistant Superintendent Thomas Mulvihill told The New York Times that the district’s “very conservative” curriculum essentially “teaches abstinence from everything.” However, many parents were concerned that the survey provided too much information about the kinds of behavior their children should be abstaining from.

“They have listed every drug known to man,” complained parent Tiffany Libardi. She said it was almost like the survey was “planting seeds” by asking about things like sniffing paint.

Several parents in Ridgewood, New Jersey, complained to the U.S. Department of Education when another intrusive survey, asking similar questions about drug use and sex, was administered to 2,100 junior high and high schools students last fall. In both cases, school officials say they notified parents about the survey and informed them it was voluntary.
New York Times
May 26, 2000


Governor Demands Accountability

Although Hawaii has had some fiscal problems, budget officials estimate the state will collect about $90 million more than expected in revenues this year. The Hawaii State Teachers Association wants to get that money negotiated into a contract, but Democrat Governor Ben Cayetano strongly opposes the teacher union proposal.

Cayetano told The Honolulu Advertiser, “giving pay raises for the sake of giving pay raises is not productive.” He wants the additional money tied to accountability measures.

“There’s no sense in us giving money if it’s not going to improve the education process,” he said.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 22, 2000


Chicago Will Grade Parents

Next year, teachers in the Chicago Public Schools will grade not only their students, but their students’ parents on a “parent report card.” While the report card will not grade parents with As, Bs, or Fs, it will identify weak parenting skills and whether parents are doing things at home to help their children in school, such as reading to them and putting them to bed at a reasonable hour.

According to Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, the report card will be in the form of a checklist sent home to parents every five weeks with such questions as, “Is your child bringing his eyeglasses to school?” “Do kids have their inhalers?” “Have kids been vaccinated?” “Are kids bringing books to school?” “Are kids dressed appropriately?”

Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, criticized the program as “subsidizing bad parenting,” saying it would increase the demand for government teachers and administrators.
Chicago Tribune
May 17, 2000


No Taxation for Kids’ Edification

Last fall, a class of fifth-graders discovered taxes and didn’t like the way taxes raised prices. Now they’re fighting to get rid of taxes–or, at least, the 5 percent state sales tax on children’s books.

The sales tax grabbed the attention of students at Boston’s Mary Walsh Elementary School last year when many of them couldn’t buy the books they wanted at a school sale because they hadn’t brought enough money to cover the tax. Fired up, they met with state officials, testified at a hearing, and launched a petition drive to remove the 5 percent tax from sales of children’s books.

But despite an impressive list of backers, including Oprah Winfrey and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the state senate in May rejected the fifth-graders’ budget amendment. The youngsters now say they will pass on the project to next year’s fifth-grade class.
Boston Herald
May 26, 2000

Former Allies Oppose Teacher Union

In Boston, more than two dozen parent and community groups have formed a coalition to limit the use of seniority in teacher assignments.

The formation of the coalition, called Voices for Children, signals an unusual public involvement in contract talks between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union. Perhaps more surprising, the coalition’s members include the NAACP of Boston, the Hispanic Office of Planning and Evaluation, the Black Ministerial Alliance, the Citywide Parents Council, and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts–groups the union usually relies on for support.

“We had to speak because we are voices for children, and they’re not at the bargaining table,” Susan Bannon, co-chair of the Citywide Parents Council, told the Boston Globe.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 8, 2000


Teachers Will Get Background Checks

Governor Ronnie Musgrave has signed a bill that will require teachers and other school workers in Mississippi hired after July 1 to undergo criminal background checks to screen for convictions of murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape, child abuse, grand larceny, burglary, or felony drug possession. Few school districts currently perform background checks, said Doug Herring, executive director of the Gulf Coast Education Initiative.

“We need to be very careful about the personnel who work with our children,” cautioned Herring, according to The Sun Herald. However, the new law does not require background checks for people who already have school jobs.
The Sun Herald
May 23, 2000


Kansas City Charter Boom

At an April 25 event in Kansas City, the Learning Center hosted a celebration of the advent of charter school choice in Missouri, bringing together charter school founders and staff, charter school students, university sponsors, community members, and public school officials.

The 17 new charter schools in the city represent the largest number of start-ups in the first year of any community in U.S. charter school history, according to national charter school authority Dr. Bruno Manno, who was present to commemorate the event.
The Illinois Charter School Facs
May 17, 2000

After $2 Billion, KC Schools Still Flunk

On May 1, a Missouri state education review board stripped the Kansas City School District of accreditation after determining the city’s schools had failed to meet even one of 11 performance standards.

The accreditation loss puts the district on a two-year timetable to be taken over by the state unless it can raise test scores, lift graduation rates, and make other educational improvements during that time. Superintendent Benjamin Demps Jr. vowed to win back accreditation.

The loss of accreditation comes despite the district’s spending in excess of $2 billion over the last two decades to improve education. The spending also was designed to attract white students to the district, but 75 percent of its enrolled students are members of racial minorities.

Parent Clinton Adams, a black lawyer whose daughter is graduating from a Kansas City high school this year, said the district would have achieved greater racial integration if it had aimed at making the schools better instead of focusing so much on racial makeup in the schools.

Gwen Grant, an executive vice president with the Urban League in Kansas City, agreed that not enough emphasis had been placed on basic learning in the classroom. Instead, she told The New York Tomes, the district had poured money into new facilities and magnet programs in a failed attempt to attract suburban students into the city’s schools.
The New York Times
May 3, 2000


Regional Charters OK, but Local Funding Nixed

Regional charter schools that draw children beyond one district are perfectly legitimate in New Jersey, according to a recent ruling of the state-based Council on Local Mandates.

However, responding to a complaint by school boards that charter schools are a state-mandated program, the Council also ruled that charters should not be funded with local tax dollars. Charter schools could be denied a total of $6 million next year, and for many schools the ruling could mean losses of as much as 25 percent of per-pupil funding.

The Center for Education Reform notes the funding decision gives no consideration to the fact that charter schools are public schools, and that charter school students have a right to an equitable share of public school monies.
Bergen Record
May 24, 2000
Center for Education Reform Newswire
May 16, 2000


Teen Gun Movie Spooks Police

Despite their good intentions in making a movie against gun violence for a school Bible class project, four high school seniors in Bismarck overlooked one very important point before rolling the tape for a simulated robbery-shooting: Telling the local police what they were doing.

After a passerby witnessed what she thought was a shooting and called 911, dispatchers responded with several Bismarck patrol cars. Police handcuffed all four teens and confiscated two shotguns being used in the movie.

According to a Bismarck Tribune report, the teens were making three skits about guns, with the first two showing why guns could be good. One skit showed a father and son out hunting, and a second showed a husband using a gun to protect his wife during a home invasion. The third skit–which resulted in the 911 call–was to show why guns could be bad, and depicted a shooting during a robbery, The teens, all of whom plan to go to college in the fall, likely will be charged with disorderly conduct.
Bismarck Tribune
May 23, 2000


Dyslexics Learn to Read with Phonics

A multisensory tutoring program in phonics at Cincinnati’s 32nd Degree Masonic Learning Center for Children appears to be successful in teaching dyslexic children to read fluently.

According to The Cincinnati Inquirer, 10-year-old Jefferson Shaw, who read reluctantly and with difficulty, was reading “fluidly” after only three months at the Center. Shaw’s special education teacher at his regular school was so impressed with this turnaround that she had herself trained in the Center’s phonics approach and now applies it to her students.

Current research indicates that the brains of dyslexics respond differently from normal youngsters when called on to process language. According to the Center’s director Jeanne Anderson, dyslexics see the word “cat,” for example, but have great difficulty in recalling the word from their memories so they can recognize the word and use it. The Center teaches the children to see, say, recall, and write the letters of the alphabet, the 44 or 45 sounds of American English, and their 90 spellings. Once the children have learned the phonics technique, they can decipher words without having to rely on memory.

“They need another tool to decipher that word, and that tool is phonics,” Anderson told The Cincinnati Inquirer.
The Cincinnati Inquirer
May 23, 2000

Teachers to Vote on Merit Pay

The Cincinnati Board of Education unanimously approved a merit pay plan, jointly developed with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, that would discard the seniority scale in favor of a five-tier merit system. The plan will be phased in over five years, provided it receives the expected approval of the CFT rank-and-file.

Each teacher will be evaluated by his or her peers–an administrator and a lead teacher–at least once every five years. Teachers will be ranked as apprentice, novice, career, advanced, or accomplished. Teachers will not be judged according to the performance of their students but will be rated on 16 criteria, including professionalism and classroom environment. Additional bonuses may be earned for helping schools reach proficiency test targets.

Teachers can be moved down the scale as well as up, and they can move up the scale by teaching in a shortage area, such as math or science.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 22, 2000


Charter Law Ruled Unconstitutional

In May, the South Carolina Supreme Court found the state’s entire charter school law unconstitutional, forcing the legislature to act immediately to approve legislation so the state’s eight charter schools can continue to operate and new charter schools can be established.

The Court had been asked to rule on the racial balance provision of the state’s 1996 charter school law, which requires that the composition of the charter school’s student body should mirror the racial balance of the district, within 10 percent. This constraint has made it difficult for many charter schools to start up because of the impossibility of guaranteeing a certain racial balance of enrollments while allowing parents in different ethnic groups to make their own choice of schools.
Center for Education Reform Newswire
May 16, 2000