News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
N.H. Court Won't Extend School Funding Deadline
New Hampshire's highest court has denied the governor and the legislature a two-year extension to fix the state's school funding system.
Nearly a year ago, the state supreme court declared in Claremont School District v. Governor that New Hampshire's method of using local property taxes to pay for education violated the state constitution because it allowed for finance inequities between districts. The court ordered lawmakers to fix the system by April 1, 1999.
Last month, however, the legislature asked the court to extend its deadline. At the same time, the plaintiffs in the case requested that the court make plans to appoint a receiver to transfer money from the state treasury to schools if the legislature misses the April 1 target.
"Absent extraordinary circumstances, delay in achieving a constitutional system is inexcusable," the court's order, issued Nov. 25, said. In the same order, the court also denied the plaintiffs' request.
--Mary Ann Zehr
Fla. Toughens Testing Standards
Just weeks after Florida education officials unveiled the state's shortest list of low-performing schools to date, the state board of education has voted to raise expectations for schools. The board recently passed tougher requirements for school and student achievement on the state's new assessment.
Beginning with a phase-in period next spring, students will take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, instead of norm-referenced tests. The test is better aligned with state standards, state officials say, and is more difficult than the norm-based tests, which grade students performance against that of a national group of test-takers.
Late last month, the board members unanimously adopted a rule that will, in effect, make it harder for schools to steer clear of the state's "critically performing schools" list in years to come. "We're ratcheting up the entire accountability system," said Matthew Ubben, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education.
Only four schools landed on this year's list of low-performing schools, down from 30 last year. Florida started releasing the lists in 1995 and identified 158 low-performing schools that first year.
--Jessica L. Sandham
Report Questions KIRIS Results
Students' mathematics scores on the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System assessments may have been inflated between 1994 and 1995, according to a report by RAND researchers.
Eighth graders posted larger gains on the state assessments than would be expected based on their performance on comparable tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress or the ACT college-entrance tests, the study concludes. One reason may have been that KIRIS test items were reused from year to year, it says.
For example, some of the gains that 4th graders made in reading were "implausible," but the research pointed to no clear answers for the rise, the study by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank found.
Earlier this year, the state opted to replace KIRIS with the new Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS. ("Ky. Bids KIRIS Farewell, Ushers In New Test," April 22, 1998.)
The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Ford Foundation paid for the RAND study.
States Settle Tobacco Litigation
Anti-smoking organizations are urging states to use a percentage of the money they will receive from their recent legal settlement with tobacco companies to reduce smoking by teenagers.
"We're advocating states to earmark a percent of these funds for tobacco control," said Joel Spivak, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The tobacco industry announced a $206 billion settlement plan last month with 46 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories in connection with litigation over costs associated with smoking. Four states--Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas--settled individually with the companies for more than $40 billion.
The industry has agreed to eliminate billboard advertisements for its products, halt the use of cartoon characters in advertising, and limit company sponsorships of sporting events to auto racing and rodeos. It will also contribute $1.5 billion over the next five years to a national public-education fund and pay $250 million for a foundation dedicated to reducing teenage smoking. The accord calls for the states to be paid over the next 25 years.
--Adrienne D. Coles
N.C. OKs More Aid for Schools
Already in the second year of a biennial budget it adopted last year, the North Carolina legislature recently approved more than $140 million in supplementary aid for schools.
Now, more than $4.6 billion of the state's $12.5 billion budget for fiscal 1999 will go toward education. Originally, the budget set aside $4.49 billion for education. The supplemental budget includes an additional $98 million to pay for bonuses for teachers and other staff members at schools that exceed expectations for performance on state tests, and more than $2.2 million to help more teachers gain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The budget also includes $10 million to help equalize funding for low-wealth districts.
The budget passed unanimously in the Senate and 99-1 in the House, and Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat, signed it into law Oct. 29.
--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 18, Issue 15, Page 22