New in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Race-Neutral Policy OK'd For Fla. Gifted Programs
Florida has removed race as a criterion for choosing students for classes for the gifted and talented, eliminating an 11-year-old program designed to attract more minority students that had been the target of litigation.
The new admissions formula was approved May 21 by the Florida Cabinet, a powerful, six- member panel of state elected officials. The revised plan will rely more on factors such as family income and limited English proficiency to attract minority students who have traditionally been underrepresented in the classes.
"All we did was delete the race section," said Adam Shores, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education. "We're working with the interested parties and experts to find what refining might need to take place in the future."
The decision meets the deadline of a lawsuit settled last month, which was brought by the parents of a white student who said their child was held to a higher standard than minority students were. In 2000, the state paid $95,000 to several other parents who filed similar lawsuits on behalf of their children.
Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, praised the action of the Cabinet. Critics of the new plan expressed concern that the number of minority students in the classes would drop.
—Joetta L. Sack
Gov. Ventura Vetoes Pledge Bill
Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota last week vetoed a bill that would have required K-12 students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school.
Mr. Ventura, an Independent, explained his veto in a May 22 letter to Senate President Don Samuelson, a Democrat.
"I am vetoing this bill because I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary," wrote Mr. Ventura, who has not announced yet if he will seek re- election this fall.
The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon sparked a flurry of bills in state legislatures calling for stepped-up expressions of patriotism in schools, including proposals to mandate the pledge and to require schools to post the motto, "In God We Trust." ("States Weigh Bills to Stoke Students' Patriotism," March 27, 2002.).
In his letter, Mr. Ventura pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 ruled in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge.
—Robert C. Johnston
Rendell Wins Pennsylvania Primary
Former Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell will face state Attorney General Mike Fisher in November in the race to become Pennsylvania's next governor.
After a hotly contested Democratic primary in which the two contestants battled over school funding plans, Mr. Rendell soundly defeated Robert P. Casey Jr., the state's auditor general and the son of its last Democratic governor.
Mr. Rendell took 56 percent of the votes in the May 21 primary, with the bulk of his support coming from the Philadelphia area. Mr. Casey garnered 44 percent. Mr. Fisher ran unopposed in the GOP primary. Mr. Rendell has received much credit for pulling Philadelphia out of a fiscal crisis as the city's mayor in the mid-1990s.
Much of Mr. Casey's campaign, however, focused on criticizing Mr. Rendell for not doing enough to improve Philadelphia schools. Mr. Rendell denied the charge. The school system was taken over by the state last December.
Both men campaigned on the need to overhaul the state's system of education finance. Mr. Rendell pledged to restore the state's share of school support to 50 percent or more while reducing local property taxes.
Texas Students Soar on Final TAAS
Scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills were higher this year than they have ever been before in the statewide standardized test's 12-year history. This is also the last time the assessment will be administered.
Beginning next year, students in Texas will be taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. The new exams will be more closely tied to the state's curriculum and standards and are expected to be more challenging.
The passing rate for the 1.9 million students in grades 3-8 who took the TAAS earlier this spring was up 10 percentage points over last year. Students in the 5th and 10th grades showed the most improvement on the test. With 91 percent of those two classes passing the test, both grades gained 35 percentage points from 1994, the first year the test was administered in the spring, instead of the fall.
Eighty-one percent of 3rd graders, who will be required to pass the TAKS next year in order to move on to 4th grade, passed the TAAS this year, up from 77 percent last year.
Minnesota Delays Test Scores
Budget cuts are taking a toll in Minnesota, where the agency responsible for K-12 education has announced that test scores due out this summer from some 120,000 state exams will not be available until October.
"We don't have the money to pay the contractors," explained Doug Gray, the spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning.
By waiting until the start of the new fiscal year in July, the agency can put off the $2.9 million bill that it will cost to have the tests graded. In February, the legislature cut $2 billion from the state budget, including $15 million for K-12 programs.
The 3rd and 5th grade reading and mathematics tests and the 5th grade writing tests were given in early March. The scores, which normally come out in July, are used by districts to help review and set local school curricula and programs.
—Robert C. Johnston
Vol. 21, Issue 38, Page 18