States News Roundup
On Merit-Pay Plans
The panel appointed to make recommendations on Florida's merit-pay law missed its legislatively imposed deadline last week when hostilities erupted among members and between them and the director.
The disagreements among panel members raised doubts as to when or whether teachers and business leaders will be able to resolve their differences on how merit pay should be distributed.
Business leaders want students' scores on standardized tests to be used in teacher evaluation. Teachers argued that the best instruction in the world would not be absorbed by a student who refused to learn.
"God wouldn't have gotten merit pay" under those terms, said a high-school teacher, Cynthia Schumacher, "because his first two students failed, and I'm sure he did everything right in setting up the garden of Eden."
The dispute centers on the contents of a report the panel will forward to the legislature describing the panel's final analysis of the merit-pay law passed last year.
The first draft of that report, written by the panel's director, Michael Kane, drew criticism from many panel members and from Education Commissioner Ralph Turlington and some legislators.
They argued that the report used misleading statistics, contained material the council had never discussed, portrayed Florida public schools in too negative a light, and was too lengthy.
The panel hopes to meet twice in March to try to reach a compromise on the wording of that report.
Illinois Board Cuts
Funding Requests for
The Illinois State Board of Education has approved the $3-billion budget sought by State Superintendent Donald G. Gill, but only after scaling back considerably the funding for teacher-pay initiatives.
The budget, which calls for $472 million in new spending for fiscal 1985, now goes to the General Assembly where, observers say, major reductions are a virtual certainty.
The state board raised funding for general state aid by taking nearly $20 million from recommendations Mr. Gill made for a three-year initiative to increase the average pay for beginning teachers to $22,500 and to sharply increase support for a master-teacher program.
Mr. Gill said the salary program for beginning teachers would have cost districts an additional $60million to match salary hikes supported by a state appropriation of $4.6 million.
"The board wanted to be cautious, given that we have not had an increase in state aid in recent years," the superintendent said.
Gov. James Thompson already has said publicly that the budget is unaffordable. But the state board suggested, in a sharply worded statement, that it is ready to fight.
The resolution noted that the state's share of total education spending has dropped more than 20 percent during the eight years of the Thompson administration, thus increasing the funding burden on local districts. It concluded with a challenge to lawmakers and the Governor "to demonstrate that education is truly the state's top priority by supporting the appropriation level" endorsed by the state board.
Reject Merit Pay;
Ask for More Study
In a reversal of an earlier action, the Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal to establish a merit-pay plan for teachers. Lawmakers opposing the bill said they supported the idea of merit pay but were concerned that the bill was not well developed and too expensive.
A day after it tentatively approved the bill by an 18-to-16 vote, the Senate defeated the measure by a 25-to-14 vote.
The bill, defeated late last month, would have allowed school districts to establish a merit-pay plan that had the backing of a majority of teachers in the system. The state would have paid the cost of the plan, and would have built the system's extra expenses into the formula for state aid to local districts.
A spokesman for the Senate Budget Committee said the bill would have cost the state at least $5 million annually.
New Jersey Board
Upholds Fines for
Short School Year
The New Jersey State Board of Education has affirmed State Commissioner Saul Cooperman's decision to fine a school system that last year failed to comply with the state's regulation requiring 180 days of school.
The board upheld a penalty of $2,545 levied against the Belvidere school system, one of 14 that Mr. Cooperman fined. The commissioner sent letters to each system in the state last June, advising them of his intention to levy the fines against systems that held graduation before meeting the 180-day rule.
In addition to Belvidere, three other districts appealed Mr. Cooperman's action. The state board dismissed a second appeal on technical grounds and is scheduled to hear the other two this month.
"Although many of these districts required students to return to pick up their diplomas," Mr. Cooperman said, "we do not believe districts observed either the spirit or the letter of the 180-day rule."
Each school system was fined $2,545--the average daily state aid to New Jersey school systems--for each day they were short of the required number. The Paterson school system, which Mr. Cooperman said held only 174 days of classes, received the largest fine--$15,270.
A spokesman for the commissioner said, "as far as anyone can remember, this was the first time fines have been given out for this reason.''
Approves Plan for
Basic Local Funding
The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would require school districts to impose a minimum property tax before they are eligible to receive state education aid.
Advocates of school-finance reform say such minimum property taxes are necessary to ensure that wealthy districts contribute as much to education as poor districts. Because their property is more highly valued, wealthy districts often pay lower tax rates and receive more revenue than poor districts.
The bill, sponsored by State Senator Michael Maloney, will be considered this month by the state's House of Representatives. The bill was approved by the senate late last month.
The bill would require districts to impose a tax of at least 15 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Districts with lower property taxes would be barred from receiving education aid from the state.
Supporters of the measure said it would force some 25 school districts to raise their property taxes. Those districts include some of the wealthier communities in the state.