News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
10 Florida Schools Get F's; Students Qualify for Vouchers
Students at 10 Florida public schools are eligible to receive
vouchers to attend school elsewhere in the state this coming fall,
after their schools received failing grades from the state for the
second time in the past four years.
In total, 68 schools across Florida were labeled with a grade of F this year. For most, it was their first F grade, which meant that the schools do not qualify for the vouchers to attend other public or private schools, including religious schools. The state used new criteria for its grading system, which now tracks test scores by groups of students from year to year.
Last year, no schools received a failing grade.
Only two schools have previously qualified for vouchers under the state's "A-Plus" grading system. Both of those schools were in Pensacola, and one has now closed.
"For too long we have accepted the status quo in our schools and didn't demand accountability and results as a measure of success," Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement when the grades were released June 12.
Five of the 10 voucher schools this year are in the 370,000-student Miami-Dade County school district, according to the state education department. Three are in Palm Beach County, with one each in Orange and Escambia counties.
Gov. Bush, who is up for re-election in November, pointed out that more than half the state's schools received a grade of B or better. He announced a new program called "Assistance Plus" that will send state assistance teams and additional money to the low-rated schools, and will establish a mandatory summit for principals, leaders of school advisory councils, superintendents, and school board chairmen representing schools that received an F.
Ariz. Chief Wants Checks in Charters
Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, Jaime A. Molera, wants charter schools to conduct background checks that include fingerprinting of teachers—a policy that is enforced for certified teachers in regular public schools.
At his request, the state charter school board is considering ways to pressure charter schools to submit fingerprints for background checks on noncertified teachers hired by charter schools.
Currently, Arizona charter schools are not required to hire teachers who have been certified by the state, a process that requires candidates to be fingerprinted and pass background checks. Most other states, though, require charter school teachers to undergo some sort of background check and fingerprinting.
The move comes after a high-profile incident this month in which a male charter school teacher was arrested for the alleged sexual abuse of two female students. That teacher had not been able to complete the certification process because of previous crimes, said Tom Collins, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education.
A measure to require the procedures stalled in the legislature earlier this year. But Mr. Molera's proposal, if approved by the state board, would have a limited impact: The state could not force all charter schools to comply because it would not be state law.
—Joetta L. Sack
La. Panel to Study Large Districts
With an eye on the New Orleans public schools, the Louisiana legislature has created a task force to examine whether large school systems should be divided into smaller administrative units.
The resolution, approved this month, notes that "in a very large school system, the distance between each teacher and the school board for whom the teacher works is likely to be a gulf filled with many layers of bureaucracy."
But Democratic Rep. Edwin Murray, the measure's chief House sponsor, said the 30-member task force would "look at the whole governance" of the New Orleans school system, rather than limit its focus "to one improvement or recommendation."
The resolution says Louisiana currently has 66 districts, ranging in size from one that serves about 1,000 students in five schools to the largest, New Orleans, which serves more than 75,000 students in 130 schools.
The panel will deliver findings and recommendations by Dec. 15 to the legislature and the state board of elementary and secondary education.
—Erik W. Robelen
Embattled Del. Charter Calls it Quits
Board members of the financially troubled Georgetown Charter School in Georgetown, Del., voted earlier this month to give up the school's charter, state education officials said.
Six of the school's trustees voted in favor of surrendering the charter and one board member abstained. Members said they made the decision because they saw no way to save the school, which had served more than 600 students.
Georgetown Charter opened last September but closed its doors in March after school officials revealed a $1.4 million budget shortfall. Students and parents rallied around the K-6 school, holding fund- raisers and a sit-in in an effort to come up with the needed cash and to call attention to the school's plight.
However, parents were ultimately forced to find other schools, or home school their children. ("Shut Charters Leave Families Revising Plans," May 29, 2002.)
Delaware education department officials had been meeting to determine whether to revoke the Georgetown school's charter. Those deliberations are now no longer necessary, education officials said.
—Michelle R. Davis
Idaho Gets Grant to Go Online
Idaho high school students will be able to take classes online next fall, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Boise-based J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.
The state's department of education will use the money to launch a preliminary version of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, which was authorized last year by the state legislature, and keep the site running for a year. After that, the legislature will have to come up with $500,000 a year to keep the site going.
According to a release from the Idaho education department, the new Web site will provide students who are enrolled in brick- and-mortar schools with access to rigorous, college-preparatory courses that may be unavailable to them otherwise. In the next few months, education officials will work to create dual-credit programs and accountability policies for students and teachers.
Vol. 21, Issue 41, Page 23