States News Roundup
An omnibus bill that would provide California schools with about $600 million more than Gov. George Deukmejian has proposed and would launch new programs in student writing and teacher training has received its first hearing in the legislature.
The Assembly Education Committee deferred for one week a vote on the 69-page bill by Senator Gary K. Hart, a Democrat from Santa Barbara who offered a school-finance reform measure that is more sweeping than that enacted last year.
Senator Hart said that his new legislation would restore about $300 million that the Governor did not include in second-year funding that had been projected in the 1983 law. Governor Deukmejian, in his 1984-85 budget, proposed an additional $900 million for schools--with funds for such reforms as a longer school year--but pared a projected 5.9 percent cost-of-living increase to 3 percent.
The current measure by Senator Hart would boost schools' cost-of-living increase to 5.9 percent and would appropriate nearly $300 million in additional funds for new programs and expenditures. They include financial incentives to school districts to strengthen writing classes in grades 5, 6, 9, and 10, as well as funds to replace "outdated, dilapi-dated" science equipment in high schools and to establish training institutes for outstanding, specially recruited teacher candidates and principals at University of California campuses.
Marian Bergeson, a Republican member of the Assembly, suggested that there is time for "further negotiations" on such features of Senator Hart's bill as his proposed 5.9 percent cost-of-living increase. Ms. Bergeson said funding decisions delayed until passage of the state budget this summer will hamper local school administrators' planning
Gov. Mark White of Texas announced earlier this month that the money awarded to the state in a lawsuit against the federal government over offshore oil and gas leases would be used to support local schools.
U.S. District Judge Robert Parker ruled recently that the state was entitled to half of the increased value of the federal government's offshore gas and oil leases.
With accrued interest, that state can expect to receive at least $300 million, according to Janis Monger, a spokesman in the Governor's office.
By law, $215 million of the total amount would go automatically to the state Permanent School Fund, an endowment that produces interest income used to defray pubic-school costs.
Ms. Monger said the money is being held in escrow and has earned $85 million in interest which could go directly to the schools with legislative approval.
The money is being held by the Interior Department, according to Ms. Monger, until federal officials decide whether they will appeal the court's decision.
She said the state legislature will decide ultimately how the schools are to use the money.
After hearing the recommendations of numerous national and state commissions on education, Minnesota citizens got a chance this month to present their views in a weeklong "Minnesota dialogue on education" sponsored by the state education department.
Of the state's 435 school districts, 308 agreed to hold town meetings, according to Laura Zahn, executive aide to Ruth E. Randall, state commissioner of education. The idea for the meetings grew out of Ms. Randall's conviction that "the people closest to the decision should be involved in the process" of making decisions, Ms. Zahn said.
The districts that agreed to hold the meetings were asked to have participants hold small-group sessions and also to have an "open microphone" period. Their recorded comments were sent to the state education department.
The commissioner also asked principals and teachers to spend 30 minutes talking with students about the needs of schools and education.
A preliminary report of the results of the meetings is expected by April.
A final version that will be available to the public will follow.
Texas education officials are seeking approval from the Internal Revenue Service to back all public-school bond issues with the state's $4-billion Permanent School Fund.
"The fund would be used as collateral to help raise the rating on local bonds so that they can be issued at lower interest rates," said Jim M. Hooks, the fund's investment officer.
Education officials have garnered wide support for using the education fund as collateral for bonds. Last November, state voters approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the education fund to be used to back the bonds.
The program provides a "tax savings for people in the state," Mr. Hooks said. "It allows districts to issue bonds at much more favorable rates."
He added that there is "no risk to the fund" if a district defaults. Texas districts have an excellent payment record, he said; moreover, the money would have to be paid back immediately with interest or it could be withheld by the state.
The state's 1,070 districts seek an average of about $400 million to $500 million per year in bonds, but the program would allow districts to borrow up to twice the amount that is in the fund--$8 billion, according to Mr. Hooks.
A federal district judge last week ordered the Bridgeport, Conn., board of education to comply with a bilingual-education plan for the Elias Howe Elementary School. The plan calls for Spanish-speaking students to be taught in both languages and non-Spanish-speaking children to be taught Spanish.
In a consent decree, U.S. District Judge Ellen B. Burns directed the board of education to implement a two-way bilingual "cluster" pilot program in which limited-English-proficient students and English-speaking students in grades K-4 will be taught every subject in both English and Spanish, according to Rosaria Esperon, the plaintiff's lawyer, who is with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The suit, Puerto Rican Coalition of Connecticut Inc. v. Bridgeport Board of Education, was filed two years ago on behalf of six students at the Elias Howe Elementary School. The plaintiffs charged that the school was graduating functionally illiterate students. Also named in the suit were the principal of the elementary school, the state board of education, and the commissioner of education.
Judge Burns cleared the way to the settlement last month by making the litigation a class-action. She certified the six original plaintiffs as representative of the class of children of Puerto Rican origin who attend the elementary school and who come from homes in which Spanish is the primary language, according to Carrie Kaas, Judge Burns's assistant.
The bilingual-education plan is to be instituted during the 1984-85 and the 1985-86 academic years, after which the board of education will be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of the plan and determining whether it should be continued, Ms. Kaas said. In addition, Judge Burns indicated that if the plaintiffs can prove at the termination of the two-year trial plan that the defendants have not complied with it, they may request a new hearing.
Illinois students can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about grammar but have trouble applying that knowledge when they write, a report on the state's first assessment of writing has concluded.
The writing assessment was part of the state board's second annual comprehensive analysis of student achievement.
This year, actual writing samples were added to its study of standardized tests.
A sampling of 7,200 students from 4th, 8th, and 11th grades found that 73 percent of the high-school juniors could write a "minimally developed" essay, but only one-fifth of them reached the level of a "well developed" paper.
About half of the 8th graders wrote minimally developed essays, compared with about one-third of the fourth graders. Only 12 percent of 8th-grade students and 3 percent of fourth graders attained the top writing level.
For the writing test, students were given 25 minutes to write a persuasive essay on the proposition: "If we could unplug all the tv sets in America, our children would grow up to be healthier, better educated, and more independent human beings."
One conclusion drawn from the study was that "8th- and 11th-grade students who reportedly watched television less that one hour per day perform better than students who watch tv more frequently."
According to Carmen Chapman, coordinator for the project, some surprises greeted those scoring the essays.
"We asked the students to illustrate their position and one kid took us literally and drew a picture," Ms. Chapman said. "Another paper was written in Korean."
Other essays, she said, contained language not usually associated with standard English.
The essays were scored by 60 English teachers from across the state, who underwent training before grading the papers.
A six-point scale was used to rate the essays in four categories: focus, how well the student took a position and stuck with it; support, how well the student backed up that position with examples and arguments; organization; and mechanics.