State News Roundup
Florida school districts trapped between tight budgets and burgeoning enrollments may find some relief in a state supreme-court decision that allows schools to collect impact fees from developers.
The court last month approved a levy launched three years ago in St. Johns County, where impact fees had previously benefited road, sewerage, and water budgets. The fees have provided $1.2 million, which has been held in escrow pending judicial approval.
School officials said last week the money will fund two new elementary schools and other construction projects in the district.
The court's ruling will require municipalities to join counties in levying the school impact fees in most Florida counties. While St. Johns officials have to reach such an agreement with the city of St. Augustine, a top administrator said that the ruling offers Florida schools a chance to keep pace with growth that has surpassed existing local and state funding ability.
"There are a lot of districts lined up and ready to go now," said David Toner, assistant superintendent for operations in St. Johns. He said that while the district awaits word on whether it can spend the impact-fee receipts it holds in reserve, "As much as we would hate to lose it, we really are much more interested in the millions it will collect for us in the years to come."
Virtually every adult in Oregon can read and pick information out of a newspaper sports story, but fewer than one-fifth can comprehend a bus schedule, a state survey of adult literacy has shown.
Results of the poll, in which interviewers questioned 2,000 people ages 16 to 65, were released late last month by Oregon officials. They described it as "the first statewide comprehensive adult literacy test in the nation."
The survey, developed by the Educational Testing Service, found that:
97 percent of adults in the state can consistently find specific information in a news article.
75 percent can identify information in a graph.
37 percent can calculate correct change when paying for a meal.
35 percent can figure out the right dosage of medicine for a child, given weight-and-age information.
18 percent can use bus arrival and departure timetables to pick the right bus to ride.
Results from a similar survey conducted by the state of Mississippi are slated for release later this month. A Mississippi official said his state surveyed residents ages 16 to 75 and found that fewer than 5 percent are unable to read and write.
A similar test is to be conducted nationwide next year, according to the National Governors' Association.
The state of Oklahoma has withheld $2.8 million in aid to school districts that failed to meet a legislative mandate to reduce class sizes.
A spokesman for the state Education Department said last month that 98 districts, or 16 percent of the state's 588 school systems, were penalized because they failed to meet the enrollment caps.
The fines ranged from the $78 penalty levied against the Lukfata public schools to a $785,190 fine imposed on the Oklahoma City school system.
The state's Education Reform and Funding Act of 1990 limits enrollment in each kindergarten classroom to 24 students, permits a maximum of 21 students per classroom in grades 1 to 3, and allows 23 students per class in grades 4 to 6.
"We really think that this will be the worst [year] for penalties," said Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for the department.
He noted that districts were being penalized for the pupil-to-teacher ratios that existed in the 1989-90 school year and that many are using new state funds to bolster their teaching forces in order to conform to the mandates.
Some spokesmen for local districts argued, however, that they will be hard-pressed to meet the mandates with existing resources.
Mr. Dahlander also noted that the department took advantage of accountability provisions in the funding bill to make public the names of the offending districts.
"This is not the first time that ... school districts have been penalized," he said. "But this is the first time that we have publicized it."
The New York State Board of Regents has approved a requirement that all schools devise five-year plans to improve education.
Under a board resolution passed late last month, schools have been given a 1993 deadline for developing five-year plans that must include new student standards and funding priorities.
The new requirements are designed to encourage schools to raise expectations for students above the minimum standards. They will not represent an unnecessary administrative burden and many good schools already develop such plans routinely, Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol said.
The regents last month also gave local boards of education a 1993 deadline for writing districtwide plans to involve teachers and parents in school decisionmaking.