News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Statewide Task Force in Ga. Outlines School Safety Plan
Georgia should produce a "school safety report card," place more emphasis on character education in the classroom, and increase funding to cover security-related programs. Those are a few of the recent recommendations of a statewide task force on safety and violence.
The state school board is already implementing some of the panel's suggestions. A toll-free hot line, which students and others can use to anonymously report drug activity and potential violence, began receiving calls Aug. 15. And a state official is already being trained as a statewide safety coordinator.
But school leaders have also said that doing much more than that will require a boost in the state's school funding formula. State Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko, a Republican who is running for re-election this fall, intends to recommend in her fiscal 2000 budget that at least $20 per student--or $26 million a year--be added to the formula for safety and security initiatives.
Mass. Test Aftershocks Continue
Massachusetts officials have proposed raising admission standards to state colleges and shutting down failing teacher education programs after some 47 percent of the 2,500 Massachusetts teacher candidates taking the second round of the state's certification test in July failed.
The new scores were released by the education department last month just as the uproar over the 59 percent failure rate for the certification test administered in April was dying down. And although the latest results were an improvement from the spring test, interim Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said in a statement that the test-takers "clearly again were not equal to the task."
At a meeting of college administrators and state leaders last month, Stanley Z. Koplik, the state chancellor of higher education, proposed that minimum SAT scores be set at 1,100 for entrance to teacher education programs and that college programs in which fewer than 80 percent of students pass the teacher test for two consecutive years by 2000 be closed.
All teacher candidates can take the test again. The next test is Oct. 3.
Tenn. Enacts Bus-Crowding Plan
The Tennessee Department of Education has put in place a new plan to ease overcrowding on school buses this fall, but students will still be allowed to stand in the aisles.
The state will continue to issue waivers to districts that allow buses to be overloaded by up to 20 percent above their seating capacity, but the new practice requires those that apply for waivers to also submit a plan to reduce overcrowding. Schools would then have 30 days to comply with such a plan. Systems that failed to comply would be referred to the commissioner of education, who could chose to punish such districts.
State education and transportation administrators began working on a way to remedy overcrowding in May. ("Tenn. Weighs Response To School Bus Overcrowding," May 13, 1998.)
Whether districts comply by rerouting their buses or buying new ones, the state's plan may prove costly. It is estimated that additional drivers and buses could carry a $1.6 million price tag.
--Adrienne D. Coles
Mich. Launches New Reading Plan
With Hollywood director Rob Reiner at his side, Gov. John Engler of Michigan has launched a statewide initiative aimed at helping parents prepare their children to read.
Following the program's Aug. 26 unveiling, 15,000 reading-readiness kits--a different one for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers--were distributed to parents in several pilot locations. More than 1 million kits will be handed out over five years. The kits contain developmental information, reading strategies, and related activities.
The state is paying for the program with the aid of corporate donors. Scholastic Inc., a children's publishing company in New York City, donated 15,000 books for the initial kits.
The kits also contain the "I Am Your Child" videotape, which is narrated by Mr. Reiner, a national advocate on early-childhood issues.
"Parents are a child's first and most important teachers," Mr. Engler, a Republican, said during the kick-off ceremony. "That's why the reading plan for Michigan is parent-centered."
--Robert C. Johnston
N.J. Spec. Ed. Rules Under Fire
Several disability-rights groups are challenging New Jersey's new guidelines under the nation's main special education law.
The state education department revised its special education rules this summer to reflect changes in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which Congress amended last year.
The Newark, N.J.-based Education Law Center and other groups charge that 54 of the dozens of regulations that went into effect in July will restrict parents' rights and the evaluations of disabled children. The group filed a court appeal Aug. 20.
For instance, the groups say the state's elimination of a requirement that a student's individualized education plan be provided in the parents' native language violates the parents' civil rights and shuts the door on their participation in the IEP process.
Peter Peretzman, a spokesman for the state education department, said his agency was reviewing the lawsuit last week.
"We believe the new administrative code acts in the best interest of the children," he added.
--Joetta L. Sack
Ariz. Adds Evolution to Standards
The Arizona state school board has revised its science standards to add specific references to evolution, the big-bang theory, and other scientific theories rejected by creationists.
The board voted 6-3 last month to insert several statements throughoutits standards instructing teachers to explain theories that contradict the literal reading of the biblical account of creation.
For example, the revised standards say teachers should "use scientific evidence to demonstrate that descent from common ancestors produced today's diversity of organisms over more than 3.5 billion years of evolution."
The state's science standards, adopted in 1996, did not mention evolution.
--David J. Hoff
Ala. Aid for Private Groups Upheld
An Alabama circuit court judge has opted against blocking the legislature from spending more than $211 million in state education money on education-related programs other than public schools.
The ruling answered the Alabama Association of School Boards' recent request that Montgomery Circuit Judge Sally Greenhaw bar the legislature from making more than 150 education appropriations to groups such as the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the Epilepsy Foundation of North and Central Alabama.
In arguing that all state education dollars should go to schools, the school boards' association, which represents 128 districts, cited a 1993 state court ruling that Alabama's school finance system was inadequate under state constitutional guidelines. ("Ala. School Boards Challenge Nonschool Appropriations," June 17, 1998.)
The group will not appeal the circuit court decision, but its lawyers are looking into other ways to pursue the matter, said Sandra Sims-deGraffenreid. "The judge did not say we were without merit. Just that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
--Jessica L. Sandham
Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 30