09/1999 State Education Roundup

Published September 1, 1999

Florida * Kentucky * Maryland * Michigan
Montana * New Jersey * New York * Pennsylvania * Wyoming


Parents Sue Over School Fees

A group of Palm Beach County parents have filed a lawsuit alleging that the class fees charged by Spanish River High School violate Florida’s constitutional guarantee of a free education.

Some students were informed that they could not graduate this year unless outstanding course fees were paid. Lori Ronan-Khessali, one of the parents, said some families cannot afford the fees.

“To be denied graduation from high school because of a family’s financial abilities, that is discrimination,” she told Sun-Sentinel reporter Kellie Patrick.

The issue is not so much the charges for extracurricular activities such as band and football, but fees for academic courses required for graduation. If those fees are not paid, students are penalized by not getting their report cards, not being allowed to graduate, and not being allowed to attend summer school.

School board member Paulette Burdick blamed the fees on the failure of state legislators to adequately fund education. But the board’s own policy states that “no fee or charge may be required of any student as a condition of attendance in any class.” The policy also says that “No penalty my be imposed upon any student who fails to purchase a requested item.”
June 21, 1999


More Freshmen Need Remedial Classes

An increasing number of Kentucky high school graduates are finding that a high school education does not necessarily prepare them for college-level classes. According to a recent report from the Council on Postsecondary Education, the percentage of freshmen at the state’s public universities who needed remedial classes in English increased from 16 percent in 1996 to 18 percent in 1997. While 36 percent of freshmen needed remedial math classes in 1996, that increased sharply to 42 percent in 1997.

Similar increases were reported for private colleges in Kentucky, although the overall percentages of students requiring remedial classes were lower. Nine percent of freshmen enrolled in private colleges required remedial English classes, up from 5 percent in 1996; 25 percent took remedial math, up from 17 percent a year earlier.

“We’re very discouraged about the increase in remedial students,” Patrick Kelly, assistant director for policy studies at the council, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. However, according to state Education Department spokesperson Jim Parks, it was high remediation rates that prompted the state school board to raise graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2002.
Lexington Herald-Leader
June 30, 1999


278 Teachers Fired in Baltimore

Applying a new policy that makes it easier for them to document poor teaching performance, principals in Baltimore’s public schools have fired 278 teachers, including 28 who had tenure. School officials said the number of tenured teachers fired in previous years was much lower than the 28 let go this year.

“I think people have to get the message that we are not fooling around here. We really expect the best,” said the city schools’ chief academic officer, Betty Morgan, though she admitted that holding people to the best standards “may raise some hackles in the beginning.”

According to principals, it was virtually impossible to get rid of bad teachers under the previous evaluation policy. This led to a problem called “the dance of the lemons,” where–rather than investing the lengthy time required to fire bad teachers–principals simply transferred the bad teachers to other schools.

Although the number of uncertified teachers laid off this year, 219, was only slightly higher than last year’s 205, the school system wants to minimize the number of uncertified teachers it hires. So far this year, 400 of the teachers hired to fill 550 job openings have been certified.
Baltimore Sun
June 24, 1999


Private Schools Have Extra Capacity

One common objection to school choice programs is that private schools do not have the capacity to absorb more than a handful of choice students, leading critics to charge that vouchers and tax credits are “a cruel hoax.” However, a new survey of privately funded schools in Michigan, conducted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, shows that these schools could have accommodated more than 55,000 additional students over their 1998-99 enrollments. As well as being able to take in additional students, responding schools also reported a willingness to expand in the future if demand justified it.
Unused Capacity in Privately Funded Michigan Schools
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, March 15, 1999
517/631-0900 or


Sales Tax Proposed for Education

Under a proposal developed by Republican State Senator Tom Keating, residential property taxes would be cut by 23 percent and a new 4 percent sales tax would be dedicated solely for the funding of K-12 education. The elimination of all taxes on business equipment, vehicles, and livestock is also part of the plan, which Keating presented to Yellowstone County commissioners and legislators in July. He said his plan would result in a $480 tax reduction on a $100,000 home currently paying $2,000 in property taxes.

“A homeowner would have to spend $1,000 a month on taxable goods each month to pay $480 in sales tax,” noted Keating. However, his sales tax plan includes no exemptions for the sale of food or prescriptions.

Using data from the state Department of Revenue and the state Department of Labor and Industry, Keating argued that previous reductions in the business equipment tax had not only increased the amount of manufacturing equipment in the state but also increased the number of high-paying jobs.

“We cannot expect growth until we eliminate the taxes on the means of production,” he said.
Billings Gazette
July 27, 1999


School Board Sued over Education Contract

The president of the Lincoln Park Taxpayers Association, Carol Nielsen, has sued the town’s school board for not providing an opportunity for public comment when the board approved a new seven-year contract to send Lincoln Park children to Boonton High School, starting next year, at a cost of $8,775 per pupil. Nielsen claims that the document was signed at a special meeting in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

“The meeting was held in an unusual place, at an unusual time, and a copy of the contract was not made available for intelligent comment,” Nielsen told Bergen Record reporter Leonor Ayala. In addition, the vote was taken just six days before the April 20 local election, when two Boonton School advocates were defeated, including board president Steven Siwek.

In February 1997, dissatisfaction with the academic performance of Boonton High School led a differently constituted school board to approve giving vouchers to all Lincoln Park students for use at any public, private, or religiously affiliated school. The voucher amount would have ranged from a minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $4,600, or generally less than half the per-pupil cost of the Boonton contract.
Bergen Record
July 8, 1999


Teacher Assaulted Over Report Card Error

Although Jamina Clay had always wanted to be a teacher, she said she was not sure she wanted to teach in New York City next year after being assaulted by a sixth-grade student and her mother over an erroneous report card. The student had received satisfactory grades, but a technical error caused unsatisfactory grades to be printed on her report card. Clay tried to explain this to the student but she ran off to fetch her mother.

According to Clay, when the 13-year-old student, Nicole Smith, and her mother Brenda returned, they took turns holding the unfortunate teacher while cursing, punching, and scratching her, including tearing off an earring. School security guards subsequently arrested Smith and her daughter.
New York Post
June 29, 1999


Taxpayers Pay for Teacher Lobbying . . .

Pennsylvania’s largest taxpayer group, Citizens Against Higher Taxes, has sent invoices totaling $258,000 to the state’s two teacher unions demanding reimbursement of $344 for each teacher that the unions pulled out of classrooms to lobby against school vouchers in the state Capitol in early June.

CAHT Chairman James H. Broussard said that an estimated 750 teachers answered a statewide call from the Pennsylvania State Education Association to come to the Capitol, where the PSEA had promised to pay for their meals and lodging.

“The teacher unions and other school choice opponents claim to be concerned about taxpayers, parents, and children,” said Broussard. “Yet they are eager to put taxpayers on the hook for a quarter of a million dollars or more to have teachers abandon their classrooms and their students to lobby against the rights of hard-working parents and their children.”

Taxpayers had to pay $80 a day for substitutes for the absent teachers, said Broussard, and the missing teachers were still paid an average of $264 a day even though they did not work.
News Release
June 8, 1999

. . . and for Teacher Strike Immunity

When public schoolteachers go on strike, they know that whatever paydays are lost through strike action will be made up at the end of the year because states mandate a certain number of days of instruction. For teachers in nine Pennsylvania school districts who went on strike earlier this year, even lost retirement benefits are made up.

Older teachers in the Pennsylvania group knew that by refusing to work they would lose the right to retire early by June 30 because their strike would extend the school year beyond that date. But Pennsylvania lawmakers relieved them of the consequences of strike action by extending the early retirement deadline to July 15, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $2.5 to $2.8 million.

“Believe it or not, we are now rewarding teachers who go on strike,” said Pennsylvania State Representative John A. Lawless, who tried to defeat the Senate-initiated measure when it came before the House. “In the real world, you lie in the bed you make,” he added, but in this case the General Assembly has given immunity to striking public schoolteachers “who held our children and families hostage.”
News Release
Rep. John A. Lawless
June 25, 1999


High Schools to Get Distance Learning

All 76 high schools in Wyoming will be linked together as part of a comprehensive state network that incorporates interactive distance learning technology provided by Tandberg, one of the world’s largest providers of video conferencing solutions. The network also includes links to the Wyoming Girls School, the Wyoming Boys School, the Department of Education, and the Department of Administration and Information.

“Our vision for connecting Wyoming school children with each other and the world beyond is taking shape, on time, and within budget,” Governor Jim Geringer said, noting that the system had cost the state a modest $13 million, when other states had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on similar applications.

“We are assuring that every child in Wyoming, whether they live in Shoshoni, Powell, or Rock Springs, has access to the world beyond,” said Judy Catchpole, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We provide equity for all, as well as access to information that is not available in the State.”

Tandberg designs, develops, and manufactures video conferencing systems and offers sales, support, and value_added services in over 50 countries worldwide.
Tandberg News Release
July 20, 1999