News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
N.J. Districts Embrace 'Whole School' Reform
Six dozen New Jersey schools in 14 urban districts are tackling reform from the ground up this fall, kicking off an ambitious, court-ordered effort to revamp inner-city schools, state officials have announced.
The "whole school" reform program flows from a ruling last May by the state supreme court in a 1981 class action that yielded dramatically increased funding for 28 poor urban school systems. As part of a broader strategy to improve student performance, the court embraced a state plan to require all elementary schools in the affected districts to implement whole-school reforms by 2000-01. ("High Court in N.J. Ends Funding Suit," May 27, 1998.)
Of the 72 schools undertaking such steps this fall, 27 are following Success for All, a widely known reform designed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as well as the companion Roots and Wings program. About half of those 27 schools had already been using the program before this fall.
Michigan Lawmakers Beef Up Education Funding
Michigan schools will gain from the state's healthy economy after all, thanks to the legislature's last-minute decision to route some of the state's excess revenue back to schools through a one-time, $91.4 million payment.
Without the payment, which will be applied toward the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, schools would have seen no real increase over last year's budget, said Rep. James G. Agee, the Democrat who sponsored the school funding legislation. Mr. Agee is also the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
Legislators also pledged to increase school aid by $371 million, or 3.5 percent, in the 1999-2000 school year. The money will finance increases in per-pupil payments to districts, as well as programs for special education and gifted students and after-school programs for at-risk students.
--JESSICA L. SANDHAM
N.H. School Finance Amendment Fails in House
An attempt to amend the New Hampshire Constitution's provisions on education recently failed in the state House.
Legislators voted 192-153 in favor of the amendment language late last month, but the tally fell 44 votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to place the constitutional question on the November ballot. Had it passed in the legislature, the amendment would have become effective only if state voters had approved it.
The amendment, which had bipartisan support and the backing of Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, would have limited the state supreme court's power over school finance and said the state must provide the "opportunity" for an adequate education--a change from the current guarantee of such an education. It also would have set a cap for how much communities could be taxed before state aid for education would kick in.
Last December, the high court overturned the state's current school finance system, saying it relied too heavily on local property taxes which led to inequities in school funding. It gave the legislature until April 1999 to revamp the system.
--MARY ANN ZEHR
Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 17