State Roundup

Published April 1, 2002

District of Columbia
New Jersey
North Carolina
Rhode Island


Bill Would Permit Teacher Unions to Bargain Everything

California Speaker of the Assembly Herb Wesson will sponsor a bill to expand the scope of collective bargaining to include all aspects of public education. Wesson, who has supported the agenda of the California Teachers Association since his election to the Assembly in 1998, has little opposition in the Assembly, where he was elected Speaker in a unanimous voice vote.

“This as-yet-unseen bill has 10 times the potential impact on public education than the overanalyzed details of President Bush’s education legislation, but will probably receive one-tenth the attention,” acommented Mike Antonucci, president of the Education Intelligence Agency, who called the measure an “unprecedented power grab.”

CTA President Wayne Johnson asked the union bureaucracy to craft the legislation last summer. His proposal would allow the union to bargain curriculum, textbooks, lesson plans, discipline policy, classroom assignments, grade-level teaching assignments, and “anything else that affects our classroom and our ability to teach.”

The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
February 4, 2002


Assaults Up Despite Increased Security

A Freedom of Information Act filing by The Washington Times revealed that assaults with deadly weapons in the DC government schools have doubled in the past four years, even though the school system has spent $8 million on cameras, metal detectors, and security guards to try to protect students.

The number of students caught bringing concealed weapons to school increased from 328 in 1997-98 to 423 in 2000-01.

DC school spokesmen said more complete reporting, as well as social problems in the community beyond the schools’ control, were largely responsible for the increases. Students at Anacostia High School in Southeast Washington said weapons were being brought in back doors to elude security systems. “Guns, knives, baseball bats, you name it, they are all there,” said one student, who asked not to be identified.

The Friedman Report
February 2002


Miami-Dade Principals Blast System in “Explosive” Survey

Upon taking over as superintendent of Miami-Dade County public schools last October, Merrett Stierheim commissioned a survey of his school principals. Among the results: 84 percent of principals were convinced the system fails to “weed out bad or marginal employees”; 87 percent believed promotions “have been influenced by cronyism/nepotism”; and 69 percent are unconvinced that “decisions concerning the selection of administrative positions are based on the qualifications and competencies of the individual.”

Stierheim called the results “explosive” and said the survey would be a helpful tool for reforming the $4.1 billion system. He says he wants to empower the principal as the management foundation of the whole system–“the lead teacher who appoints, counsels, and evaluates teachers.”

The Friedman Report
February 2002

Schools Face Tougher Grading Standards

In December, Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet announced a significant toughening of the grading standards for the state’s A-Plus school accountability system, which provides publicly funded vouchers to students in government schools that flunk twice in a four-year period.

Last year, 78 Florida schools faced the prospect of a second “F,” but all passed on the strength of big gains on the writing test.

Under the new scoring system, almost two-thirds of a school’s grade will depend on students’ reading achievement. Experts point out that while it’s possible to teach students a formula to pass a standardized test of writing, that’s not the case with reading.

In addition to raising the marks required to pass, Florida has adopted a value-added component so schools will receive points based on improvements pupils make from one year to the next. Schools also can win bonus points for improving the reading scores of the weakest students.

At meetings held to explain the new standards, The Florida Times-Union reported “principals gasped as they saw how schools that earned a C last year would have received an F this year” under the new rules.

The Friedman Report
January 2002

Court Challenge to Vouchers Inches Forward

On February 13, Institute for Justice lawyers defending Florida’s A+ Opportunity Scholarship Program had their first hearing before Judge Kevin Davey, assigned to the case after an appellate court ordered the previous judge to disqualify himself.

At the hearing, Davey rejected an attempt by the plaintiffs to split off one of their state constitutional claims and have the court strike down the program on that basis alone. The plaintiffs were similarly unsuccessful when they attempted to do the same thing two years ago.

Davey agreed with Institute for Justice lawyers that it would not be prudent for him to make any ruling on the merits of the case without the benefit of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the constitutionality of Cleveland’s school choice program. Both sides are expected to present cross-motions for summary judgment shortly after that decision is handed down.

Institute for Justice
Litigation Update
February 19, 2002

Expansive Voucher Bill Headed for House

A bill that could greatly expand Florida’s statewide voucher program was approved by a 9-7 vote of the House Council for Lifelong Learning on February 14, readying the measure for consideration by the full House.

Under the bill, called the “No Strings Attached Act,” school boards that provided parents with school vouchers would be exempt from most state budgetary restrictions and accountability requirements of the A-Plus Accountability program. The vouchers could be used at private schools or at a different public school.

The measure, HB 1587, is opposed by Governor Jeb Bush, who wants to give school districts more flexibility but said the proposal is “not the right one” at this time.

St. Petersburg Times
February 15, 2002

Superintendents Would Pay If Fourth-Graders Couldn’t Read

Unhappy that an estimated 47 percent of the state’s fourth-graders can’t read at grade level, Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked lawmakers during his January State of the State address to toughen the promotion requirements for moving to fourth grade and to punish failing school districts.

Responding to these concerns, Rep. Ralph Arza (R-Hialeah) and Sen. Anna Cowin (R-Leesburg) developed parallel House and Senate bills–CS HB 1259 and SB 2314–that close loopholes in the 1999 social promotion law.

The House Education Innovation Committee added teeth to the House bill in a February 19 meeting. The revised measure would prohibit school districts form passing third-graders who have trouble reading, and allow the state Board of education to “withhold a portion of the district school superintendent’s salary” until the Board is satisfied the district is meeting the law.

St. Petersburg Times
February 20, 2002


Public School Lifts Ban on Satanic Symbols

The Kaimuki High School dress code banned pentagram jewelry and other Satanic symbols … until Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church found out. The school lifted the restrictions when the organization claimed the dress code violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“Of course, Satanism cannot be singled out like that, whether you agree with it or not,” organization President Mitchell Kale told the Honolulu Advertiser. “It is a recognized religion in this country.”

The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
February 11, 2002


Progress Pleases Parents in Scholarship Program

Approximately 1,300 children in St. Louis receive private scholarships of up to $1,500 a year to help them attend private schools of the families’ choice. At year’s end, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed some of the parents and found high levels of satisfaction.

For instance, Aura Dillard said her four children were prospering academically and socially since enrolling at a Catholic school, Holy Family School, three years ago. One of her children had repeated second grade in her government school, yet still had not been taught to read. After just one year at Holy Family, he was reading. Dillard said she could not have afforded Catholic schools for her children without the scholarships.

Holy Family Principal Mary Ann Kaufmann told reporter Matthew Franc that 47 of her 258 pupils were on scholarship. While she did not claim huge test score gains, she said, “I’m thoroughly convinced it has helped each of them”–not only with test gains but in terms of improved behavior, increased interest in learning, and greater involvement by their parents in their schooling.

The Friedman Report
January 2002


“I Went to Jail and All I Got Was … Nothing”

Last year, 228 teachers from Middletown, New Jersey went to jail for refusing to obey a back-to-work order, saying, one after another, “I won’t go back until we have a fair, equitable, signed contract.”

Ultimately, they did go back to work, but without a contract and without a provision for binding arbitration, their fall-back goal. When mediator Ronald J. Riccio delivered his ruling in early February, it was approved unanimously by the school board.

The only real union victory was the mediator’s approval of a union demand for a four-year contract, while the board had offered only three years. The union demanded a pay increase averaging 4.625 percent per year over four years, while the board offered an average of 4 percent per year. Riccio’s ruling provided 4.325 percent per year.

But the mediator’s proposal also requires the union to drop a lawsuit that would prevent the board from docking the teachers’ pay for the time they were on strike–between $800 and $2,000 out of the average teacher’s wallet.

The union also took a beating on its call for no increase in teacher health insurance costs. While the board wanted to increase the teachers’ obligation by almost $690,000 over three years, Riccio’s ruling raised the obligation by $645,000 over four years.

The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
February 4, 2002


Desegregation Gives Way to School Choice

In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which held that Charlotte must use a combination of busing and magnet schools to end racial segregation. Thirty years later, the era of desegregation is giving way to the era of school choice in Charlotte.

Under a Family Choice Plan developed after a federal appellate court ended busing (upon finding the school district was racially “unitary”), families were being asked to rank in order of preference three government schools within their local zones that they would like their children to attend. A computerized lottery will determine final placements.

The initial response indicated a big appetite for education choice. By the middle of the week following the district’s sign-up notices, 96.5 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 106,000 students had completed applications. And those were only the applications that came in over the Internet or by phone. Those taken in person at the schools had not yet been counted.

A system spokesman said the response showed parents want stability and the “right to decide their children’s education future.” But the school board chairman, Arthur Griffin, worried some schools may not be as ready as other schools to provide “meaningful choices” yet.

The original plaintiffs in the desegregation case still hope the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse the lower court’s decision and reinstate busing.

The Friedman Report
February 2002


High Level of Interest in Tax Credit Program

As Philadelphia prepares to implement an historic venture in private management of its troubled schools this fall, it appears a new statewide program to help needy families pay tuition for their children to attend private or parochial schools will also be off to an auspicious start.

Last May, the legislature approved giving $20 million in tax credits to corporations that donate money for scholarships. As of late January, 900 companies and 87 scholarship organizations had applied. The expectation is that as many as 10,000 Pennsylvania students will benefit from the first round of scholarships in September.

The Friedman Report
February 2002

30+ Organizations Seek to Help Philly Schools

The School Reform Commission, jointly appointed by Governor Schweiker and Mayor Street to reform the Philadelphia school system, has received applications from more than 30 organizations seeking to serve as consultants to the school administration. The consultants would assist in improving virtually every aspect of how the schools are run, from recruiting teachers to balancing budgets.

Although Schweiker believes Edison Schools, the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools, could do the job on its own, he “welcomes this fair and open process to allow other vendors to participate,” said a spokesman for the governor.

The Friedman Report
February 2002


Intimidation by Intolerant Teachers Swings Contract Vote

Providence Journal Bulletin reporters Gina Macris and Marion Davis recently described how members of the Providence Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, displayed hatred and intolerance toward other members who approved of a contract that union officials had negotiated with the city school district. The intimidation was effective, and members voted to reject the contract by a 3 to 2 margin.

“The catcalls started when union president Phil DeCecco asked the 1,500 teachers in front of him to vote by separating themselves into two groups,” wrote Macris and Davis. “Charles Gormley, an elementary school teacher, said some people who had to get up and move to vote `yes’ found their paths blocked by the opposition.”

According to Gormley, people stood on chairs and screamed at teachers by name in the `yes’ bloc, telling them to change sides. This so intimidated some teachers that they left the meeting without voting, but enough remained to defeat the contract by a vote of about 900 to 600.

“I hate to say it, but it was a mob mentality,” literacy coach Donna E. Nicholson told the reporters. “A lot of people were very, very upset by the behavior. I was embarrassed.”

Providence Journal Bulletin
January 27, 2002


High Court Slaps Voucher Opponents for Attacking Choice Decision

On February 19, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court sharply rejected a motion from voucher opponents calling on the court to reconsider its 1998 4-2 ruling upholding the Milwaukee voucher program.

The motion alleges one of the justices who voted to uphold the program had received improper support from school choice supporters during his election campaign the year before the case was argued.

The Wisconsin high court said the timing of the motion indicated it was “filed in bad faith, for improper purpose, to undermine the public’s confidence in the legitimacy of this court’s decision” on the eve of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also required the plaintiffs to pay defendants’ attorneys’ fees, on the grounds the suit was “frivolous” and constituted “an attack on the integrity of the court’s decision.”

The Wall Street Journal
February 22, 2002

Institute for Justice
Litigation Update
February 19, 2002