News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Arkansas Passes Teacher-Pay Bill
The Arkansas legislature has passed a bill that would raise public school teachers' salaries by $3,000 over the next two years.
A legislative priority of Gov. Mike Huckabee, the bill cleared the House unanimously on March 13 and passed the Senate March 27 with all senators voting for it except for two who abstained. The governor is expected to sign the bill.
Average salaries for teachers in Arkansas are about $3,000 less than the Southern regional average, and some $8,000 less than the national average. Under the legislation, raises would be phased in, with $1,000 increases provided in the coming fiscal year and $2,000 more the following year.
"We are seeing other states hire our best teachers away," said Jim Harris, a spokesman for the Republican governor. Mr. Harris said a former teacher of the year in Arkansas left for Texas because of higher pay there.
Rep. Calvin Johnson, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill and the dean of the school of education at the University of Arkansas, said the raises were long overdue.
"This is a step in the right direction," he said. "It's a morale issue. For too long, teachers have been put aside."
New York Sued Over Troubled Schools
The New York Civil Liberties Union charges in a class action filed last week that New York state has failed to meet its responsibility for improving the condition of schools in nine districts.
The lawsuit was filed in the state supreme court in Albany, a trial-level court, on behalf of some 75,000 students attending about 150 schools in the Albany, Buffalo, Hempstead, Mount Vernon, Roosevelt, Syracuse, Westbury, Wyandanch, and Yonkers districts.
"This suit ... makes clear that educational inadequacy must be remedied by state officials," Donna Lieberman, the NYCLU's interim executive director said.
Named in the suit are the state of New York and various state officials, including Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, and Richard P. Mills, the state education commissioner.
According to the suit, the schools in the nine districts should be regarded as "failing schools" because of a lack of resources and services and the low academic achievement of large numbers of students in them.
The lawsuit requests that state education officials meet with local education officials and with representatives from the communities in order to assess why the specified schools are failing.
The lawsuit also requests that state officials devise a plan to correct problems in each school and provide resources to address the failures.
Students at those schools are denied an opportunity to receive a "sound basic education," as promised by the state constitution, the suit contends.
Officials at the state department of education could not be reached for comment.
Vol. 20, Issue 29, Page 24