News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Springfield Seeking Waiver From Mass. Graduation Test
The City Council and the school board in Springfield, Mass., have endorsed a measure proposed by the city's mayor to temporarily exempt the city from Massachusetts' new high school exit exam.
Mayor Michael Albano is seeking passage of the measure, called a home-rule petition, which would grant Springfield a three-year waiver of the requirement that students pass state tests in English and mathematics in order to graduate. Students in the class of 2003 will be the first to be affected by the requirement.
The home-rule petition must win the approval of the legislature and the governor.
Amid vocal opposition to the graduation tests from activists around the state, Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican, has supported an appeals process for special education students and a streamlined retest for students who don't initially pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams. But he has been an ardent defender of the MCAS as a tool for holding students accountable.
In Springfield, the City Council voted 5-4 on March 12 to approve the resolution, just after the school board of the 27,000-student district passed the measure 6- 1. The resolution will now join more than 40 pending bills in the state legislature that aim to alter the graduation requirement. Springfield's measure is the first in the state to seek an exemption from the test.
"High-stakes testing must not be the sole factor in determining who receives a high school diploma," said Mayor Albano, a Democrat.
Teresa E. Regina, the acting superintendent in Springfield, supports the mayor's plan as a reasonable compromise, even though she has signed a petition with other urban superintendents urging the legislature to keep supporting the MCAS.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Mayors Association, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO support Springfield's proposed legislation.
Alaska Governor Targets Facilities
Alaska's governor wants the state to be more involved in paying for school construction year to year, starting with $127 million in the coming fiscal year to fix some of the most dilapidated schools.
Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, has tried for years to persuade Republican lawmakers to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve school buildings, especially in remote parts of the state where Native Alaskans dominate the population.
A state judge ruled two years ago that Alaska discriminates against its indigenous people by failing to provide adequate school buildings.
Last year, the legislature cut Mr. Knowles' three-year, $510 million plan to $93 million. The lawmakers also spread some of the money to urban districts, such as Anchorage, rather than following the state's list of high-priority and mostly rural schools, as the governor had suggested.
This year, Gov. Knowles' more modest construction proposal also calls for the establishment of a board to devise regular ways for Alaska to pay for school construction and maintenance.
Republicans, who hold majorities in both legislative chambers, likely will respond to the governor's plan with spending proposals of their own as the budget process unfolds in the coming weeks.
Ark. Spanish-Class Mandate Dies
A committee of the Arkansas legislature has effectively killed a bill that would have required all public high schools in the state to offer Spanish courses.
The Arkansas Senate had passed the bill in February, but the House of Representatives' education committee this month decided against moving the legislation forward. ("Ark. Bill Would Require Spanish Courses," Feb. 28, 2001.)
The bill would have mandated that all high schools offer the subject of Spanish, although it would not have required students to study it.
Arkansas currently requires that high schools provide at least two years of one foreign language. It doesn't specify a particular language.
The bill died in the House because it was opposed by teachers of foreign languages other than Spanish and by school administrators who believed it represented "legislators' dictating curriculum," said Sen. Jodie Mahoney, a Democrat who had sponsored the bill in the Senate.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Hawaii Teachers Authorize Strike
Hawaii teachers voted overwhelmingly last week to authorize a one-day strike. Out of the roughly 11,000 members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association who cast ballots, only about 100 voted against a walkout.
Teachers in the statewide school system, who have working under terms of their old contract since 1999, will likely stay out of the classroom on April 5 if an agreement is not reached before then. ("Hawaii Teachers Plan Strike Vote Over Pay Demands," March 14, 2001.)
The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, is demanding a 22 percent raise over four years.
Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano is offering salary increases that range from 10 percent to 20 percent over that period. The Democratic governor argues that meeting the union's demands would force budget cuts in other areas and prevent the state from meeting the requirements of a federal consent decree on special education services.
Vol. 20, Issue 27, Page 26