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Published in Print: June 6, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Daily Exercise Required In Texas Primary Schools

Daily exercise for elementary school students would be required under a bill approved by the Texas legislature just before it adjourned last month.

Pointing to record levels of obesity among American children, legislative proponents said the measure would help students lead healthier lives.

The bill, which Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, is expected to sign, would restore and broaden a requirement for physical activity in elementary school that was dropped in 1995 when the state overhauled its curriculum requirements to allow for more emphasis on academics. The new measure would require daily exercise for students in kindergarten through 6th grade; the previous requirement had halted the daily requirement at 4th grade.

Under the bill, the state board of education would have the authority to draw up rules for the mandate, which would be limited to 30 minutes per day and could be fulfilled in the physical education curriculum or at recess. The bill's author, Sen. Jane Nelson, a Republican, said that limiting the bill to elementary school would eliminate the need to hire new teachers, because certification of elementary school teachers in Texas includes training in physical education.

All but three states currently mandate some physical education in public schools, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, based in Reston, Va., but a spokeswoman could not say how many require exercise in elementary school. Texas has a long-standing graduation requirement for three semesters of physical education in high school.

—Bess Keller

Hiring Bonuses Shot Down in Neb.

Nebraska school districts must secure approval from their local teachers' unions before granting hiring bonuses to teachers in shortage subject areas, according to a ruling by the state's Commission of Industrial Relations.

The commission, a five-judge panel, found last month that the Crete school district had violated state law by offering an industrial-technology teacher a bonus to work for the district last fall without seeking union approval. The teacher is being paid $24,000 annually. That figure includes a $2,350 bonus in addition to school system's beginning teacher salary of $21,650.

The school board appealed the commission's ruling to the Nebraska Court of Appeals May 31. Kelley Baker, a lawyer representing the school board, said the district had wanted to raise beginning teachers' salaries to $24,000, but the Crete Education Association, which represents 111 teachers, refused.

Mr. Baker said the union was made aware of the bonus for Matthew Hintz, who had 10 years of professional experience, during negotiations. The ruling precludes the board from offering Mr. Hintz a bonus this coming fall.

Thomas L. Tonack, the program director for collective bargaining and research for the Nebraska State Education Association, said the commission's ruling was having a "ripple effect" across the state.

Mr. Tonack said smaller districts, such as the 1,400-student Crete school system, were being forced to withdraw hiring-bonus offers they made in an effort to compete with larger school systems for teachers.

"You can't make private contracts with an individual," he said.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Judge To Probe N.C. Financing

A North Carolina judge has decided to conduct his own investigation into how the state spends its education money, and he vacated part of his March 26 order in the state's 7-year-old school finance case.

Judge Harold E. Manning Jr. surprised officials last week when he said he was taking the responsibility away from state officials for examining how school funds are allocated and coming up with a plan for focusing more resources on disadvantaged students. Conducting his own investigation, the judge wrote in his May 29 order, would help him decide more quickly whether academic failure among students considered at risk is based on insufficient funding or a lack of effective academic programs.

The judge ruled in April in Hoke County v. N.C. State Board of Education that the state must formulate a "strategic" and "comprehensive" plan for providing the sound basic education that is guaranteed under the state constitution. ("N.C. Ordered To Meet At-Risk Students' Needs," April 4, 2001.)

The judge will conduct hearings over the next few weeks. Gov. Michael F. Easley, a Democrat, appointed a blue-ribbon task force last month to study a variety of issues, including the state's use of education dollars.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Fla. Schools Get Better Grades

All but a handful of public schools in Florida have received their annual report cards from the state, and so far none has gotten a failing grade, state school officials announced last week.

Marks on the annual School Accountability Report were based mostly on results by 4th, 5th, 8th, and 10th graders on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. They are part of the 1999 "A-Plus" plan that Republican Gov. Jeb Bush spearheaded as a way to help raise student achievement.

One of that measure's key planks was the nation's first statewide use of government-financed vouchers for private schools, conditioned on a school's earning two F's within four years.

JoAnn Cragin, a spokeswoman for Commissioner of Education Charlie Crist, said last week that the results showed that the availability of vouchers meant "there was a consequence and a reward" for schools to perform well. She noted that before 1999, the state had a ranking system without vouchers, and many schools repeatedly earned the worst rank possible.

But David Clark, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, which opposes the voucher system, attributed the improved marks to greater state spending on poor schools and to teachers who had geared instruction to the FCAT.

"I don't think vouchers had anything to do with it all," he said.

The number of schools graded A or B grew from 517 two years ago to 997 this year. The number of D or F schools, by contrast, dropped from 693 two years ago 1999 to 293 this year. As of last week, 29 out of 2,431 public schools in Florida had yet to be graded, said a spokeswoman for the state education department.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 20, Issue 39, Page 18

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