News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Calif. Lawmakers Pass Bilingual Education Bill
After years of wrangling over how--and whether--the state should dictate the way language-minority students are taught, the California legislature last week sent a bilingual-education-reform bill to the governor.
It was unclear whether Gov. Pete Wilson would sign SB 6, which would grant local districts flexibility to use bilingual education or more English-intensive approaches to teach limited-English-proficient students in exchange for increased accountability for the students' scores on annual tests.
Many observers see the legislature's move as a last-ditch effort to undercut what polls have shown to be solid support for a ballot measure that could virtually eliminate bilingual education in the state's public schools. A state law requiring that students be taught in their native languages when necessary expired in 1987, but the state education department has continued to enforce the law's "general purposes."
California voters go to the polls June 2 to decide the fate of Proposition 227, which includes a call for most young LEP students to be taught in special English classes for a year before moving into the mainstream. In recent weeks, Mr. Wilson, a Republican, has said he is "strongly leaning" toward supporting the measure.
N.J. Adopts Continuing Education Mandate
Starting in 2000, New Jersey will require teachers to spend 100 hours every five years brushing up their skills, under regulations approved last week by the state school board.
The long-debated continuing education mandate is a first for the state. According to state education officials, New Jersey was the only state without an explicit requirement that teachers pursue training after obtaining their licenses.
After derailing an initial proposal by Commissioner of Education Leo F. Klagholz to tie the training requirement to teacher relicensing, the state's politically powerful affiliate of the National Education Association now strongly backs the mandate. But representatives of local school boards fear it could drive up salaries and saddle districts with burdensome monitoring and reporting duties.
The state education department will approve programs that satisfy the requirement, based on quality standards set by a state professional-teaching-standards board created under the new policy.
N.H. School Finance Agreement Reached
New Hampshire's Democratic governor, Jeanne Shaheen, and a key Republican legislator have found a middle ground in the state's school finance debate.
Last week, Gov. Shaheen and Speaker of the House Donna P. Sytek announced their support for a proposal to delay implementing a new finance system until the 2000-01 school year. In the meantime, the state would channel $161.5 million--$95 million more than originally budgeted--to K-12 education in 1999-2000.
The agreement broke a legislative logjam over amendments to the Advancing Better Classrooms--or ABC--funding plan proposed by the governor earlier this year. The ABC formula, which would set a uniform local property-tax rate across the state, would go into effect as proposed in two years unless lawmakers revised it next year. ("N.H. Weighs Education Adequacy; Shaheen Unveils Funding Proposal," Feb. 11, 1998.)
The House finance committee voted 19-6 last week to endorse the compromise measure before advancing the bill for a vote on the House floor.
Calif. Says It Will Release Federal Funds
The California Department of Education is complying with a federal directive to release about $1.9 million in federal technology aid the state had withheld from the San Francisco schools.
The state school board had said it would deny Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grant money to any otherwise-qualified district that did not agree to give all of its students the state's new mandatory test of basic skills.
San Francisco has refused to give the test to some students with limited English proficiency and has filed a federal lawsuit against the state over the issue. Officials in the 62,000-student district contend some LEP schoolchildren would have their civil rights violated if they were forced to take a test, given in English, they did not understand. The case is pending.
In an April 9 letter, Gerald N. Tirozzi, the federal assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, warned California officials that they could not hold the technology money hostage and told them to release it within 30 days.
Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 19