News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Utah Teachers Plan 1-Day Strike
In Bid for More School Funding
Schools across Utah have braced themselves for a one-day statewide teachers' strike called by union leaders as a way to demand more state aid for schools.
Announcement of the job action late last week, which was planned for Dec. 5, followed a report from a special task force appointed earlier this year to suggest ways of increasing state education spending.
The recommendations that the panel presented to lawmakers on the state's Education Interim Committee— which meets when the legislature is out of session—included adding $10 million to a $28.4 million state program that helps pay for school construction; adjusting the aid that schools receive from statewide property taxes to account for inflation;lessening inequities caused by differences in districts' ability to raise revenue through local taxes; and making a one-time, $30.6 million expenditure on textbooks. lessening inequities caused by differences in districts' ability to raise revenue through local taxes; and making a one-time, $30.6 million expenditure on textbooks.
Officials of the 20,000-member Utah Education Association said that although the recommendations were a step in the right direction, they didn't go far enough. They said they hoped the one-day strike would raise public awareness of the need for greater spending on schools and would prompt the legislature to appropriate more money for education in its upcoming session than the task force recommended.
"With few exceptions, this year every legislative candidate in the state made public education their number-one priority," said Phyllis Sorensen, the president of the UEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "Now is the time for them to make their Election Day promises a reality."
But some top state education officials voiced concern that a strike could turn public opinion against educators at the very time that lawmakers are looking toward raising aid to schools.
Said Steven O. Laing, the state superintendent of public instruction: "I'm fearful that there will be those who are alienated by this type of action."
Pennsylvania's attorney general has asked a state court to lift a preliminary injunction blocking the takeover of the Harrisburg school district under a new school accountability law.
Attorney General Mike Fisher, a Republican, asked for the action Nov. 27—the same day that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the Commonwealth Court's June ruling in the case.
The state believes the high court's ruling is moot because Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, signed a bill five days earlier that amended the state's recent Education Empowerment Act in ways that addressed some of the court's concerns by broadening the legal criteria for taking over districts.
The law requires districts with low mathematics and reading scores on state exams in 1998 and 1999 to prepare school improvement plans. So far, 11 districts, including Philadelphia, are working on those plans.
The Harrisburg school board challenged the law, saying it unfairly targeted the 8,800-student district in the state capital, which is the only school system that will be run by a mayorally appointed board.
Dan Langan, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania education department, said state officials were hopeful the courts would rule in the state's favor.
He said the department planned to release a revised list this week of districts targeted for intervention under the state law. The list is to be based on results from state tests taken by students last spring.
—Karla Scoon Reid
More Money for Textbooks Urged
Despite several increases in state funding for textbooks, many school districts in Utah say their supplies are still inadequate. As much as $36 million is needed to replace old texts, according to a recent legislative audit.
"This money is needed to replace an estimated 313,600 books in poor or outdated condition and to add an estimated 495,700 books to meet students needs," the report released last month says.
In a random survey of 650 teachers, the auditor general found that textbook and supply expenditures have not been treated as high priorities by districts.
While spending on textbooks has increased more than 27 percent since 1986, growth in state spending for that purpose outpaced the rise in local contributions by a ratio of 3-to-1. In some cases, the study found, additional state appropriations had supplanted local funding.
The auditor general recommended that the state provide more money for textbooks to the districts that need it most.
The state should also keep better track of how districts spend supplemental textbook money, the report recommends.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
ECS Refashions Web Site Around Issues
The Education Commission of the States, a national education policy clearinghouse, has revamped its Web site in an effort to provide more information—and in a more accessible fashion.
Starting last month, the Web site at www.ecs.org began grouping information by issues, ranging from accountability to vouchers, instead of by departments within the Denver-based organization.
Each individual issue site offers an overview; a look at what states are doing in that area; a listing of selected research and readings; Internet links to relevant information; pros and cons; and a description of ECS projects focusing on that subject, said Sherry Walker, a spokeswoman for the Denver-based organization.
"We had a primary goal of making the ECS Web site the place to go for information," Ms. Walker said. "Now it's much quicker and easier for folks to find information on issues."
About three dozen issue sites are offered, and new issues and information are being added steadily, ECS officials say. The revamped Web site also offers a section with detailed information about the education systems of each state and territory, as well as election updates.
The nonpartisan commission plans to add an on-line discussion area in the future.
Scores on Maryland Test Bounce Back
Scores on Maryland's mandatory tests have rebounded after a slight dip last year.
With the latest results, Maryland students bounced ahead of where they were two years ago to resume but has been a slow, but mostly steady, climb upward.
In last spring's round of testing, 45.3 percent of students scored at the "satisfactory" level on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, known as the MSPAP. The previous year, 43.8 percent of the 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders made that grade, down from 44.1 percent in 1998.
Despite the renewed progress, Maryland students in all 24 school districts and overall were still far from the 70 percent "satisfactory" goal that had been set for them to reach in 2000.
In 1993, when the testing began, fewer than a third of Maryland students hit that mark.
Vol. 20, Issue 14, Page 18