School Choice Roundup

Published December 1, 2001


Teacher Unions Challenge Paycheck Protection

The Colorado Federation of Public Employees and the Colorado Federation of Teachers–both affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers–have filed for an injunction in district court to block implementation of the new state payroll protection policy. The policy eliminated all employee-requested automatic payroll deductions except for charitable donations to the Colorado Combined Campaign. GOP Gov. Bill Owens established the policy through an executive order.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
October 1, 2001


Public Schools Won’t Take Everyone

Reporter Mydria Alexis Clark of the Hartford Courant discovered that some Connecticut school districts are having problems with out-of-town students attending schools without paying their tuition.

“Most people don’t associate public education with tuition,” Clark wrote, “but school districts have offered the option for years. Many of those who take advantage of the choice fear their children are not getting a good education in urban school districts. Those who pay, however, are greatly outnumbered by parents who illegally send their children to other districts. These parents also want better learning environments for their children, but they can’t afford or won’t pay tuition.”

A 1999 New York Times story about public schools and out-of-town students reported public schools turning some students away, charging others tuition, and cherry-picking–or “creaming”–the best.

“Generally, tuition-paying students are admitted only in classes where there are vacancies,” reporter Joseph Berger wrote. “Most districts screen out students with academic or behavioral problems.”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
August 27, 2001


Superintendent Resigns as Contract Probe Continues

The Hawaii Board of Education accepted the resignation of state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu on October 18 in the midst of a state probe into the relationship between LeMahieu and a woman who owns a company to which he granted a special education contract.

LeMahieu took the job just over three years ago and initially won plaudits for his work. But last year, board members became critical of his efforts.

A House-Senate committee is investigating why LeMahieu last year granted a contract involving the award of $612,000 to Na Laukoa, a company owned by Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale, despite concerns raised by Department of Education staff about the company’s ability to do the job. Na Laukoa was retained to provide “technical assistance coordinators” to 15 school districts attempting to comply with a federal consent decree regarding special education services.

The contract was not subject to the usual oversight, since LeMahieu granted it using extraordinary powers given to him by the federal court. However, a witness told the committee on October 17 that the company’s owner, Kinimaka-Stocksdale, had admitted to having a close relationship with LeMahieu. The committee’s special counsel suggested that was the reason she got the contract.
Honolulu Advertiser
October 18-19, 2001


Certification Credit for Class on Union Activism

When the Chicago Tribune ran a story describing workshops on Tai Chi, massage, and gambling being given to teachers for recertification credit, Illinois Education Association (IEA) President Anne Davis responded angrily that there were more than 40 other sessions at the conference, including “Helping Troubled and Alienated Students” and “Coping With Change.”

But the Tribune missed an even bigger scandal among those other sessions: teacher professional development credit for union activism. Some examples:

  • Having a Say in Public Policy (“Learn how to mold those policy decisions by effective lobbying and political action.”)
  • Dealing with the Media (“Learn to stay on message and not let reporters lead you astray.”)
  • K-12 Teachers and the Law (“In addition, it will describe the legal protections offered by IEA membership and the responsibility employers have to their certificated employees.”)
  • IEA’s Strategic Vision (“Find out what the Association’s future is and how it might impact members, your local, and the future of education in our state.”)

Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
August 20, 2001


New Catholic School Donations Pass Halfway Mark

In September, fundraising efforts by the Lafayette Diocese in Noblesville, Indiana passed the halfway mark in support of the Blessed Theodore Guerin High School, the first Catholic high school to be built in the state in more than 30 years.

Designed to accommodate 800 students, the facility has a total estimated cost of $26.5 million, with about $21 million needed to begin construction. Fundraising chairman Chris Braun said donations had topped the $14 million mark, made up mostly of small individual gifts and an anonymous donation of $5 million.

“We’re doing this the old-fashioned way, a pay-as-you-go philosophy,” Braun told Star reporter Lisa Renze-Rhodes. That way, he said, the Diocese will avoid long-term debt.

The school’s planned opening date is August 2003, when it will take in freshmen and sophomores. It will add a new class each year for the next two years to reach full capacity.
The Indianapolis Star
September 27, 2001


When Teachers Leave, Where Do They Go?

As part of a study on teacher quality issues, the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission surveyed all 173 school districts after the 1999-2000 school year to learn how many teachers left their jobs and where they went.

The results: 3,873 left their jobs–a number that represents 9.7 percent of the total number of teachers in the state. Of those who left:

  • 31 percent retired;
  • 25 percent took teaching jobs in other Kentucky school districts;
  • 8.9 percent were dismissed (of these, only 0.3 percent were tenured);
  • 4.4 percent took teaching jobs in other states;
  • 4.2 percent quit for family reasons;
  • 2.8 percent took disability retirement;
  • 1.3 percent took jobs in the private sector;
  • 0.3 percent took public sector non-teaching jobs.

The rest were either unknown or gave more than one reason for leaving.

The state plans to expand the research to include location and experience as they relate to teacher mobility.

Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
September 10, 2001


Board Shelves Higher Standards

Michigan’s Board of Education has backtracked on a plan that would have stripped schools of accreditation if fewer than 25 percent of their students passed state-prescribed achievement tests. Speaking at an annual Governor’s Education Summit, Governor John Engler blasted the board for showing “cowardice” in not standing behind education reform.

In response, board president Kathleen Straus said the governor should “stop bashing public education” and work to improve education.
The Friedman Report
September 2001


State Reins-In School District Spending

It took a week of mixed messages and confusion from the Minnesota state government before it was finally agreed that school districts could not spend or bargain away anticipated revenues from levy votes that hadn’t yet occurred. This was after the state had passed a law saying districts could not spend money they did not have.

The Minnesota Education League was the first to discover that some districts were negotiating into teachers’ contracts millions of dollars in revenues that had not been approved by the voters.

“If we think it’s a bad idea for families to spend money they don’t have by running up excessive credit card debt, why should it be OK for school districts to do the same thing with taxpayer dollars?” asked Minnesota Education League Executive Director Morgan Brown.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
October 8, 2001


New Free Schools Up and Running

The new St. Louis Academies opened in September with an enrollment of about 700 students. The non-religious schools, which offer free private schooling using a combination of federal grants, is becoming the model for numerous groups, including the national Church of God in Christ.

Local COGIC ministers were instrumental in the formation of the St. Louis schools. The national organization plans to establish this option for parents in urban centers around the country.

It was only in August that an alliance of ministers, financiers, and educators announced their plan to open tuition-free private schools to as many as 3,000 children this school year. This meant finding teachers and buildings and getting them ready for the start of school in just three weeks.

ABS School Services, an Arizona company, is backing the project and has loaned the Academies $4 million for start-up costs with an offer of another $16 million if necessary. Teachers will be employees of ABS and be offered health benefits. Although the pay is relatively low, with a longer school year, more than 30 teachers–both rookies and pros–enthusiastically signed on.

“You get into this business because you feel passionate about helping kids. You don’t get into this to make money,” social studies teacher Sean Droney told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
St. Louis Post Dispatch — Sept. 6, 2001
The Illinois Charter School Facs — October 5, 2001


Bill Would Open Up Teaching Profession

Representative John R.M. Alger has introduced a bill that, if enacted, would make K-12 teaching less of a centrally controlled monopoly, thus opening the door to greater choice for prospective teachers and for schools.

HB1190 would allow a principal or local school board to hire full- or part-time teachers who do not possess state certificates, provided those candidates have a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience and education. In addition to alleviating the teacher shortage and expanding local control, the measure would lessen reliance on pedagogical schooling and expand the range of teaching talents from which students can benefit.

Alger said he anticipates a hearing on the bill in January.
The Friedman Report
October 2001


New Educational Options for Silver State Students

While tennis great Andre Agassi was winning his second-round match in the U.S. Open on August 30, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy was opening its doors in his hometown of West Las Vegas.

The school enrolls 150 at-risk children in grades 3-5, with an additional class to be added each year through a high school senior class in 2008. Agassi says his goal is to lower the dropout rate by giving disadvantaged children an opportunity to enter the workforce fully prepared with a college education.

“Education is the groundwork for success and living up to your potential may often just be a matter of what opportunities are available to us,” Agassi told USA Today. “We’re going to take the approach that we can make anything happen.”

In addition to the Agassi charter school, the Clark County school district, the nation’s sixth largest, has turned seven poorly performing schools over to Edison Schools, a for-profit school management company. Even with these measures, the district is having difficulty absorbing explosive growth.

“We plan, on the average, to open a school a month just to keep up,” said Clark County school superintendent Carlos Garcia. “And as soon as we open them, they’re already overenrolled.”
The Friedman Report
September 2001


More Ohio College Freshmen Need Remedial Ed

During the 1998-99 school year, 26 percent of Ohio’s recent high school graduates enrolled in remedial math courses at the state’s public universities, up 3 percentage points from the 1978-79 school year.

An even sharper increase was seen in enrollment of the same group of freshmen in remedial English courses–up 6 percentage points to 22 percent over the same time period.

In one analysis of the remedial education issue, researchers found that while only 43 percent of high school students nationwide were enrolled fully in college prep courses while in high school, 63 percent of high school students went on to college. The Buckeye Institute suggests Ohio’s high schools could shoulder some of the responsibility for better preparing students for college by encouraging them to take a more rigorous college prep curriculum.

In Ohio, the majority of remedial courses are conducted at community colleges and branch campuses rather than at the main campuses of the state public universities. In fact, as the result of policy decisions, the number of recent high school graduates taking remedial math on main campuses has fallen by over 20 percent over the past 20 years.
The Buckeye Institute
August 2001


Students Don’t Drop Out, They Just “Evaporate”

If the average statewide high school dropout rate for Texas has declined from 1.6 to 1.3 percent, as Texas Education Commissioner Jim Nelson recently proclaimed, why do only 200,000 of the 360,000 students who start ninth grade make it to tenth?

It’s because most of the missing students are not classified as dropouts by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to Houston resident George Scott.

There are 24 different ways that a missing student may not be classed as a dropout, including transferring to another school, homeschooling, going to jail, and returning to his or her home country.

“They’re not in school. But the TEA says they’re not a dropout. So I call it the evaporation rate,” said Scott.

He estimates that among students graduating in 1997, there was an overall attrition rate of 38 percent–meaning that 38 of 100 ninth-graders never got a high school diploma. Comparable rates for Hispanics, blacks, and whites are 49, 46, and 28 percent respectively.

The problem, Scott says, is that these huge numbers of missing students become a low priority when education officials claim the dropout rate is less than 2 percent.

“In the short run, we’re saving money,” said Dr. Joe Bernal, a member of the State Board of Education from San Antonio. “In the long run, we’re spending a lot more as our policies result in people who end up in juvenile detention, jail, and maybe our welfare system.”
Houston Press
October 18, 2001


Record Fine Doesn’t Seem to Affect Union

Over the past three years, the Washington Education Association’s agency fee and campaign finance bookkeeping methods have resulted in over $830,000 in fines and penalties ordered by the state.

Nonetheless, the WEA Board of Directors voted in September to spend $25,000 to oppose Initiative 747, which would limit property tax increases to 1 percent annually; another $5,000 to support Initiative 773, which would raise taxes on tobacco products to fund health care coverage; and $1,000 to support Initiative 775, which would establish an oversight authority for home health care services.

New WEA President Charles Hasse also told the board the union will take an assertive stance against the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the conservative policy organization whose campaign against the union is mostly responsible for the fines it has paid. Hasse intimated WEA would create a new internal PR program designed specifically to counter the attacks of EFF and other organizations.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
October 15, 2001