09/1998 School Choice Roundup

Published September 1, 1998

School choice news from the states.

California * Maryland * Michigan * Minnesota * New Jersey
New York * Ohio * Texas * Vermont * National


Charter School for Home Schoolers OKd

Following the State Board of Education’s unanimous approval of a charter application on June 12, Orange County’s Home Education Program will combine the six existing resource centers for the county’s 1,500 home schoolers into the Orange County Charter School. While the home schoolers remain under the guidance of county public schools, the charter school designation loosens curriculum requirements and frees parents and teachers from state-mandated paperwork. Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties have already established similar charter schools to serve the needs of home schoolers.

“It allows more time with the child and the family,” Laguna Niguel home school mom Sharon Kohout-Lawrence told Los Angeles Times reporter Liz Seymour.

Although home schoolers are not required to participate in any school program, the resource centers provide them with computer labs, libraries, and teachers to help them meet statewide standards. Charter school status allows home schoolers to have their music taught by a professional musician, instead of an accredited music teacher.

Even bigger changes may lie ahead, according to Laurie Gardner, codirector of Charter Schools Development at Cal State Sacramento. “We’re redefining schooling to see if maybe we don’t even need schools.”
Los Angeles Times
June 13, 1998


Teacher Pay Whips Inflation in Baltimore

“Unions in Baltimore have negotiated contracts over the past few years that have cost residents dearly,” writes Kantayhanee Whitt in “Padded Payroll,” a new Calvert Institute study of Baltimore.

While inflation eroded the value of money by about 20 percent during the period 1989-1996, the pay of public school teachers in Baltimore more than kept up, notes Whitt. Easily outpacing inflation and pay increases of 25 percent negotiated by the city’s fire fighters and police officers, the Baltimore Teacher’s Union saw its members’ compensation increase by 33.4 percent over that period.
Padded Payroll
Calvert Institute
May 1998


Raise Level of Scientific Literacy, Urges Scientist

At a ground-breaking ceremony for the $46.9 million Seaborg Science Complex at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, prominent scientist Glenn Seaborg spoke candidly about the need to raise the level of scientific literacy in the U.S.

“An educated citizenry and technologically trained workforce are now more important than ever before,” said Seaborg. “There is irrefutable evidence that not only are the skills of our youth not progressing with the increasing demands, but they are actually deteriorating at an alarming rate.”

Seaborg, who served as head of the Atomic Energy Commission, won the 1951 Nobel Prize in chemistry as a co-discoverer of plutonium and nine other elements, one of which was later named Seaborgium.

Noting that the new science complex is a tribute to one of most prolific scientists of our time, NMU President Judi Bailey said that it “also represents a quantum leap in Northern’s capacity to ensure that students leave here with a higher level of scientific sophistication and knowledge.”
Northern Michigan University
June 24, 1998


Prep School for At-Risk Children

At the urging of Governor Arne Carlson, Minnesota state legislators in April approved $12 million to initiate a new program for children from poor or troubled families and neighborhoods: Send them to government-supported “residential academies,” a combination of orphanage and prep school.

The program will establish at least three free residential schools for trouble-prone children in grades four through twelve. The children must want to go to the school and must have parents who cannot or will not care for them.

While the program is expensive, costing up to $20,000 per year per child, the required funds will come from money already allocated for the child’s public schooling, foster care, or other social services. The residential program also is less expensive than placing the child in foster care, juvenile detention, or an adult correctional facility.

The boarding schools are not for juvenile offenders, but for those children who have a good chance of academic success in a good environment, emphasizes Janet Entzel, Minnesota’s assistant commissioner of corrections, although she expects juvenile crime to decrease as a result of the program. She is convinced that there will be a huge demand for the initial boarding school places.

“The boarding school has worked very well for the richest people in America–they’re called prep schools,” commented Carlson, whose life was changed when, as a poor 14-year-old from the Bronx, he won a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school. “We wanted to create a concept like that for kids at risk.”
Dallas Morning News
June 14, 1998


Taxpayers Blast Teachers

Taxpayer frustration with New Jersey’s escalating property taxes boiled over at a May 19 meeting of Governor Christie Whitman’s Property Tax Commission in Bergen County, where the more than 200 attendees. placed much of the blame on teachers and other public employees.

School Board member Jeffrey Hering from Montvale recommended replacing teacher tenure with merit pay and George Kusmich of Maywood, railing against teachers’ automatic pay raises, called for a wage freeze.

“There’s no way in the world these house taxes are going to go lower or become stable until you freeze wages,” he argued. Kusmich also pointed out the lack of local control over schools when “we vote down the budgets, and then they send it to Trenton and they override it.”

Whitman formed the commission after her reelection victory last fall to address the state’s property taxes, the highest in the nation. She has also pointed out that New Jersey has the highest per-pupil education spending in the nation.
Bergen Record
May 20, 1998


Tax Hikes Loom As Nuclear Plant Closes

When Long Island Lighting’s nuclear plant at Shoreham was operational, it created unhappiness among local residents because of the high electricity bills it brought in its wake. But the plant paid tens of millions of dollars in property taxes, producing a tax bonanza for the local school district and low taxes for residents. Now that the facility is being closed, it is creating even more unhappiness, as residential property taxes may double to replace the school funds once provided by the plant.

The Shoreham-Wading River School District currently has a tax rate of $55.12 for every $100 of assessed valuation. A proposed increase, to $81.75, would be the first of four major tax hikes intended to replace the tax revenue from the nuclear plant, which in 2002 ceases paying an annual subsidy of $3.2 million to the school district.
New York Times
May 19, 1998


Sick Days Creating Headache in Cincinnati

When Cincinnati schools chief J. Michael Brandt retired in July, he received almost $100,000 by cashing out 351 unused sick days at a rate equal to 50 percent of his current pay, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The cash-out policy, put into effect after a 1977 teachers’ strike, is far more generous than other Ohio school districts, allowing teachers and administrators to accumulate an unlimited number of their 15 annual sick days and get a lump sum payment for them upon retirement.

What seemed like a smart idea in 1977 is now giving school board members a headache as long-time employees like Brandt are retiring with huge payouts that wreak havoc on the education budget. To limit future exposure, there is talk of limiting sick-day accumulations to 120 days and paying excess days into a retirement account.

But the city teachers’ top negotiator points out that employees worked for years without salary increases after the 1977 strike, and that the generous sick pay benefits were provided as a means of deferring costs. Teachers and administrators now regard the sick pay as part of their salary.
June 1998


1 in 10 Texas Students Chooses Choice

Texas students in increasing numbers are choosing not to attend their assigned school, but instead are getting their educations at another school within or outside their home district. In the 1997-98 school year, as many as 1 in 10 Texas students–337,000 statewide–attended a school away from their neighborhood, according to information reported to a House committee by the Texas Education Agency on June 15.

Of the 337,000 students, more than half –176,000 students–attended magnet schools or schools that offered specialized curricula. The next largest group–113,000 students–lived in open enrollment districts, such as the Garland school district, where they were not required to attend their neighborhood school. An additional 48,000 students attended school outside of their home districts, with some paying tuition and others attending schools where a parent was employed as a teacher or administrator.

The smallest group–400 students–transferred out of assigned schools that were rated as “low performing” or which had more than half their students fail the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Although this number is small, it is an eight-fold increase over the 50 students that transferred last year.

“These figures are significant because there is a growing movement in the state to give parents and their children greater school choice,” wrote Dallas Morning News reporter Terrence Stutz, noting that Texas Governor George Bush is seeking a limited voucher program to enable students to attend private schools using tax dollars to pay tuition.

“We are happy they have some choice within the public school system, but we want to give parents all the choices they need to get the best education for their children,” said voucher proponent Greg Talley of Putting Children First.
The Dallas Morning News
June 16, 1998


Tax Protesters Plan Private School

Outraged at the prospect of having their locally raised tax dollars taken out of their hands by state bureaucrats and redistributed elsewhere to equalize spending across the state, several small Vermont towns have decided to rebel, refusing to send their taxes to Montpelier. Six towns are withholding their tax dollars or considering a revolt, and a seventh has voted to close down its only public grammar school.

In June, parents in Winhall voted 4-1 to shutter their local public school rather than operate under the state’s spending equalization scheme. Citizens there plan to create a private school for the town’s children, financed by education block grants from the state and donations from private sources. However, the block grants would return only about 15 percent of the school property taxes that Winhall parents would still be forced to send to the state.

While the town of Searsberg is still collecting the local tax money, it’s not sending the dollars to the state. Plymouth is also withholding payments to the state until the legality of the equalization law has been resolved. Whitingham doesn’t have any dollars to send, because it decided not to collect the taxes in the first place.

Novelist John Irving has said he may vote with his feet and take his family to another state.
Wall Street Journal
July 7, 1998
June 2, 1998


Nobel Opens Four New Schools

In a move that will increase the firm’s capacity by approximately 1,232 children, Nobel Education Dynamics in June announced the opening of four new elementary schools in Sterling, Virginia; West Chester, Pennsylvania; Pembroke Pines, Florida; and Davis, California. So far in 1998, Nobel has added eight elementary schools, as newly built schools or acquisitions, to its Nobel Learning Communities.

Currently operating 134 schools in 13 states with a combined capacity of approximately 23,000 students, Nobel this year acquired the Western Elementary School in North Lauderdale, Florida; the Brighton Elementary School and Lake Shore School in the Seattle, Washington, area; and the Touchstone School in Oregon. The firm offers curriculum-based programs from preschool through eighth grade.
Nobel Education Dynamics, Inc.
June 22, 1998