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News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ill. Funding Comes Up Short

Stung by news of lower-than-expected K-12 state aid, Illinois school officials are lobbying for a special supplemental appropriation of at least $40 million.

Unanticipated enrollment increases, combined with a surprising drop in property values across the state, mean state aid to schools will have to stretch further than anticipated. The state foundation funding will drop from $3,132 per pupil to $3,108, and grants to low-income school districts will be just 87 percent of the amount for which the districts qualified.

The state's K-12 appropriation of $4 billion for fiscal 1998 was calculated based on projections for local property-tax revenues and enrollments.

"The money is not going to go as far as everyone expected," said Gerald R. Glaub, the deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. "This caught everyone by surprise."

Kim E. Knauer, the spokeswoman for the state education department, said that the estimates are usually much closer. "The system itself is goofy," she said. "Our budgets are based on estimates."

Legislators, who are on recess until October, can make a special appropriation when they reconvene.

N.C. Kindergarten Standard Set

This year, for the first time, academically gifted 4-year-olds will be allowed to enter kindergarten in North Carolina under new eligibility standards the state school board set last month.

After approving a policy to allow children who turned 4 as late as April 16 to enter kindergarten this fall, education officials scrambled to set rigid guidelines for screening those children.

Without the standards, which require the children to score in the 99th percentile on aptitude tests, as many as 5,000 4-year-olds could have been eligible to start kindergarten this school year. Under the new standards, state officials say only about 500 children will qualify to start kindergarten a year earlier than the previous law allowed.

In addition to their performance on the aptitude tests, prospective pupils will be judged on samples of their work and interviews with the children and their parents. Parents must pay for the testing. Principals who approve the children for early entry can rescind the decision within 90 days if they discover the youngsters are not academically ready or mature enough for school.

Audit Faults Mass. Reforms

A recent audit of Massachusetts' 4-year-old education reform program concludes that the state education department is not adequately monitoring how school districts spend $1.5 billion in new state aid.

State Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci--whose office motto is "The cruelest tax of all is waste"--released the two-part report last month.

Although the reform law generally has been successful in evening out spending disparities among the state's 275 districts, Mr. DeNucci said, "taxpayers and parents have no way of knowing whether they're getting their money's worth in the classroom."

He recommended that the education department step up its oversight of districts' spending.

Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci said in a written statement that he and John R. Silber, the chairman of the state school board, have asked the legislature to pay for an audit staff within the department for that purpose.

Ohio Spikes Sales-Tax Proposal

The Ohio legislature has rejected a plan to hike sales taxes to generate more money for education, delaying its response to a court ruling that the state's school finance system is unconstitutional.

The lawmakers, however, passed two bills in early August dealing with fiscal and academic accountability. Gov. George V. Voinovich signed the measures on Aug 22.

This summer, the Republican governor proposed raising the sales tax 1 cent to generate an estimated $1.1 billion a year. But the legislature failed to approve the governor's plan by Aug. 6, the deadline for placing a tax-increase question on the November ballot.

The lawmakers, who will resume school funding talks this month, must overhaul the finance system by March to comply with the Ohio Supreme Court decision.

The fiscal-accountability bill requires districts to set aside 4 percent of their revenues for textbooks and 4 percent for construction. It also requires each district to create a "rainy-day fund" equal to 5 percent of its budget.

The academic-accountability bill replaces the 9th grade test required for high school graduation with a 10th grade test, alters the school ranking system, and requires the eight largest districts to open schools for disruptive students.

Wilson Taps Phonics Advocate

A longtime proponent of restoring phonics instruction to California schools has been appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to the California board of education.

Marion Joseph was a major player in the design and enactment of a 1996 statewide reading initiative stressing the importance of phonics in textbooks and reading instruction.

Ms. Joseph previously had served on the state reading task force in 1994, which was established by Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

The panel issued a report stressing a balance between offering ample literature in the classroom--a hallmark of the "whole language" approach to teaching reading--as well as sound phonics instruction.

Ms. Joseph's education career also includes a lengthy stint as executive assistant to state Superintendent Wilson Riles from 1970 to 1982.

A Democrat, the new state board member parts ways with the Republican governor over the issue of vouchers, which Mr. Wilson supports.

Wis. Poll: Education a Priority

A new survey suggests that an increasing number of Wisconsin residents want state government to focus on improving public education.

As part of an annual project commissioned by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in Mequon, Wis., the survey polled 1,000 residents on improving public education, reforming the tax system, combating crime and violence, reforming the welfare system, and improving the environment. The institute is a conservative think tank.

When asked what issue needed the most attention from state government, 26 percent of those surveyed chose improving education, a 4-percentage-point increase from the previous year. Reforming the tax system came in second with 24 percent.

Specific groups such as Milwaukee residents, younger and middle-aged people, and African-Americans showed an even higher degree of interest in seeing more state government action on improving education.

Student-Newspaper Bill Vetoed

Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar has vetoed a bill that would have given high school journalists broad powers in deciding the content of student newspapers.

The measure, which passed 109-4 in the House and 57-0 in the Senate, would have limited school administrators' oversight of student newspapers, allowing them to edit out only material considered libelous, obscene, harmful to minors, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, or likely to lead students to commit unlawful acts.

The legislation, vetoed Aug. 10, would have permitted students to sue local school boards if they believed administrators' changes in newspaper content did not fall into those categories.

If enacted, the legislation would have created "a situation in which the entity ultimately held responsible for the newspaper--the school board--cannot exercise the full control over the paper's content," Gov. Edgar said in his veto message.

Colo. Picks Education Chief

William Moloney, a veteran educator who has spent most of his life on the East Coast or in England, is the new commissioner of education in Colorado.

Mr. Moloney, 56, has been the superintendent of the Calvert County, Md., school district since 1993. Before that, he worked in Easton, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; and as a teacher and principal in England.

The Colorado state school board chose him to replace William Randall, who retired last December.

The two other finalists for job were Rich Laughlin, the acting commissioner, and Christine Johnson, the chairwoman of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

Mr. Moloney is a native of Massachusetts and holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University. He has served with Mr. Randall on the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Ark. Names New K-12 Director

The Arkansas board of education has hired Raymond Simon, the superintendent of the Conway, Ark., schools, to serve as the director of the state education department.

Mr. Simon has been superintendent in the central Arkansas city since 1991. For seven years before that, he was the assistant superintendent of finance for the 7,500-student district. He previously worked in a variety of positions for the North Little Rock schools.

Mr. Conway, a native of Conway, will begin his new job on Oct. 1. He replaces Gene Wilhoit, who left Aug. 15 for the number-two job in the Kentucky education department.

New Agency Director in Conn.

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families is now headed by one of the agency's loudest former critics.

Before taking the agency's top job in late August, Kristine D. Ragaglia ran the state's office of the child advocate, the gubernatorial-created watchdog for state programs for children.

While there, Ms. Ragaglia often complained that the DCF did not adequately handle allegations of child-abuse. In recent years, at least one child has died while under state care.

DCF Commissioner Linda D'Amario Rossi announced plans to resign last month.

While praising Ms. Rossi's work, Republican Gov. John G. Rowland quickly named Ms. Ragaglia as her replacement.

Although Ms. Ragaglia is already running the agency, her appointment will need to be confirmed by the legislature this winter for her to retain the post, which commands a staff of about 3,000 and an annual budget of about $350 million.

N.H. Revisits Teacher Ethics

The New Hampshire board of education is going back to the drawing board over a first-time code of ethics for teachers that it adopted--but never implemented--a year ago.

The 1996 plan outlined a host of responsibilities that teachers had to students, parents, and the public. Teachers' unions blasted the plan as being too broad, anti-teacher, and an infringement on local control.

But a panel that reviews state regulations told the board that it lacked the authority to set a statewide teacher code. Earlier this year, the legislature killed a bill to give the board such power.

Now, the board plans to resubmit the code to the regulatory review panel this fall with additional language specifying that the board has the authority to establish teacher ethics.

The new draft would also let school districts write their own guidelines, provided they did not conflict with state rules.

"We needed to clean it up a bit," state Commissioner of Education Elizabeth M. Twomey said of the first plan.

More like a lot, said Dennis Murphy, the spokesman for the state affiliate of the National Education Association. "It had all these nebulous words that opened it up to incredible after-the-fact interpretations," he maintained.

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