News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
States Get Graded on Laws Authorizing Charter Schools
Arizona has retained its top spot as the state most friendly to the
charter school movement in the view of the Center for Education Reform,
a Washington research group that promotes charters and other school
The center ranked 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, that authorize the independent public schools on such factors as the number of charters allowed, the allowance for multiple chartering authorities, and the proportion of per- pupil funding guaranteed, among others characteristics.
Arizona, which is known for its freewheeling charter school atmosphere and large number of such schools, was among seven states and the District of Columbia to receive a grade of A. Thirteen charter school states received B's, 10 states received C's, and six got D's. Mississippi earned an F after scoring low on every ratings criterion.
The grades released last week represented the fifth time the center has issued such rankings, and were a preview of a fuller report, "Charter School Laws Across the States: Ranking Score Card and Legislative Profiles," scheduled for release later this month. The center says proposed amendments to charter laws pending in several states could yet affect the rankings.
Indiana, the newest charter school state with the recent passage of its law, earned an A and was ranked seventh. A key factor for Indiana and other high-scoring states, the CEF says, is the establishment of multiple chartering authorities. In 2000-01, 57 percent of charter schools in operation were approved by an authority other than the local school board, the center says.
Indiana Permits Charter Schools
Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon of Indiana signed into law last week a bill allowing charter schools in the state.
Indiana becomes the 37th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow the publicly funded but largely autonomous schools. The law will take effect July 1.
Sen. Teresa Lubbers, a Republican, and Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat, sponsored the bill.
Thad J. Nation, the governor's press secretary, said Mr. O'Bannon had been trying to get charter school legislation passed for seven years and "hopes it will allow for greater flexibility for schools to pursue innovative approaches to education."
The law permits school boards, colleges, universities, and the office of the mayor of Indianapolis to sponsor charter schools.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Wash. State Teachers Walk Out
More than 5,000 teachers in Seattle and four other Puget Sound-area school districts spent a day away from their classrooms last week to show their anger at how the Washington state legislature is carrying out two voter initiatives that passed overwhelmingly last November.
The local chapters of the Washington Education Association, which represents 70,000 public school and college employees statewide, maintain that lawmakers are dishonoring the intent of Initiative 728, which guarantees teachers annual cost-of-living increases, and I-732, which provides new money to reduce class sizes and make other changes.
Many legislators, who are now working on the state budget in a special session, interpret the salary initiative as applying only to state-funded teachers, not to employees who are paid from federal or grant funding. They also say budget constraints will force them to use some I-728 money to pay for existing school programs, freeing general revenue for other state priorities.
The strikes kept home about 75,000 students. At press time, the teachers in the Edmond district were also planning to walk out on May 7.
N.J. Eases Preschool Regulations
With its decision last week to relax the qualifications required of preschool teachers in some of the state's neediest districts, the New Jersey board of education could end up back in court over a 20-year-old school funding lawsuit.
A 1998 decision in the Abbott v. Burke funding case required that the state provide high-quality preschool programs in the 30 plaintiff districts.
In its actions last week, however, the board altered a policy that required new preschool instructors in the Abbott districts to hold preschool certification by this coming September.
Instead, a certified elementary school teacher with two years of preschool teaching experience can hold a preschool job in the Abbott districts beginning in the fall.
In addition, preschool teachers employed before Sept. 1 of last year by child-care centers in the Abbott systems now have until September 2004 to earn a college degree and earn the preschool endorsement. Commissioner of Education Vito A. Gagliardi Sr. said the move would help the districts make up for a shortage of qualified teachers.
David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, which represented the plaintiffs in the funding case, said that relaxing the standards is a violation of the court's mandates. The state also failed to show evidence of a teacher shortage, he said. Unless the state backs off from the recent amendments, he added, a legal challenge is likely.
—Robert C. Johnston
Vol. 20, Issue 34, Page 22