News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Utah Senate Approves Omnibus Schools Plan
An ambitious measure narrowly adopted by the Utah Senate would establish a so- called competency-based education system in the state to replace student advancement based on "seat time." It also would include a controversial plan for tuition tax credits and an income-tax hike.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Hatch, a Republican,would authorize $30 million for a block grant program for competency-based education and establish a five- member council to oversee it.
The measure also would increase graduation requirements for high school students in mathematics, science, and language arts. Several provisions of the bill track recommendations of the Employers' Education Coalition, a blue-ribbon panel that studied education last year at the behest of Republican Gov. Michael O. Leavitt. Mr. Leavitt, though, has not endorsed the tax credits.
Some education activists have expressed concern about the scope of the measure, as well as alarm over a provision that was added to it in committee that would provide state income-tax credits for private school tuition.
The measure, which passed the Senate on a 15-14 vote, advances to the House.
West Virginia Reinstates Anti-Bullying Program
The state board of education in West Virginia has decided to allow schools to use an anti-bullying program that was accused of promoting homosexuality.
The Civil Rights Team Project, which began in 1999 and was active in 21 of the state's nearly 800 schools, was suspended by the board last fall after the program, created by the state attorney general's office, drew complaints from some parents and Christian groups. ("Bullying Policies Slow to Reach Schools," Dec. 11, 2002.)
In late December, Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. decided to end support of the program in part because of the controversy that erupted last fall.
Meanwhile, a state board task force investigated the program and the resource materials provided to schools by the attorney general's office.
The task force reported to the board recently that the program was not promoting a particular lifestyle, and that students had adapted the program to meet the needs of their schools.
The state board accepted the task force's recommendations, which included requiring parental approval for student involvement in the program, as well as district- level approval for the use of resource materials that had been provided by the attorney general's office.
Washington State Eyes Lower Tax-Vote Hurdle
With scant prospects for increases in state aid to schools, some Washington state legislators, parents, and school organizations are calling for eliminating the constitutional requirement that localities approve tax increases by at least a 60 percent majority of voters.
Two bills introduced by Democrats in the House would submit to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow raising property taxes for schools by a simple majority of voters in an election.
House Joint Resolution 4203 would allow a simple majority for both operating levies and bonds, and relax requirements on how many voters must participate.
House Joint Resolution 4204, which has a companion Senate bill, would change the 60 percent supermajority rule only for school operating levies.
The House education committee has approved both bills and submitted them to other House committees.
N.H. Governor's Plan Offers School Aid 'Fix'
In his first budget address to the legislature, delivered last month, New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson offered his own "fix" to the state's perennial school funding problems.
New Hampshire has been embroiled in debates over how to pay for schools since the early 1990s, when a coalition of property-poor towns filed a successful lawsuit charging that the school finance system was unfair.
The Republican governor's plan calls for capping any increases in state aid to schools at 2.5 percent a year and gradually paring down the controversial property tax the state put in place two years ago to pay for precollegiate education. Mr. Benson would also target $20 million in state aid over the next two fiscal years to cities and towns struggling to meet their educational obligations.
Mr. Benson, a former business executive elected in November, has come to office as the Granite State is seeking to close a budget deficit that is projected to hit $223 million by 2005. While his overall $2.6 billion, two-year budget plan would cut spending by $150 million, it also calls for redirecting some state money to new educational initiatives. Those proposals include: $4 million for a matching-grant programs to create distance- learning programs for schools; $4 million to support development of charter schools; and $2 million in aid home-schooling families.
La. Study Finds Gaps In Teacher Preparation
Louisiana's lowest-performing schools are staffed with the teachers who scored the lowest on professional tests, a report says.
Written by the Louisiana Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the report was presented to the state board of education late last month.
The study looked at how 31,246 teachers performed on the nationally used Praxis exam.
Teachers who had gone to college out of state scored the highest. The teachers who scored above the state average taught at the highest-performing schools. The teachers with the lowest scores taught at schools that most needed to be turned around, the report says.
One member of the state board said the board could use the data to help improve teacher quality.
"We hope the universities will work with teacher colleges, and find out where there are gaps. They can raise their standards accordingly," said Glenny Lee Buquet, the board member. "There wasn't anything particularly startling with what we found. But you can make reform work with hard data."
—Lisa Fine Goldstein
Vol. 22, Issue 25, Page 22