News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Calif. Trims School Aid In Emergency Action
Gov. Gray Davis has signed a measure that reduces California's current $75 billion general fund budget in the current fiscal year by $3.3 billion.
The move will delay $1.1 billion in constitutionally guaranteed minimum per-pupil funding payments to local schools for the 2002-03 school year. Under the plan, schools will get their final state allotments for the current school year on July 3, instead of June 25, which will push the spending into a new fiscal year.
"I am signing this bill with reservations," Gov. Davis, a Democrat who began his second term in January, said last week. "By lowering the current-year Proposition 98 appropriations primarily through deferrals rather than reductions, this bill avoids short-term pain but makes the budget year outlook more difficult."
Proposition 98 is a voter-approved constitutional amendment, passed in 1988, that guarantees a minimum level of state aid for public schools.
The legislation also rescinds $1 billion from the roughly $40 billion education budget and cuts $661 million in unspent appropriations. Programs hit include libraries, textbooks, after-school tutoring, and teacher mentoring.
The legislature has not passed a fiscal 2004 budget. California is expecting a state revenue shortfall of $35 billion over the next fiscal year.
—Joetta L. Sack
State Charter School Bill Clears Washington Senate
For the first time, a charter school bill has cleared the Washington state Senate, passing 26-23 on March 13, and is headed for consideration by the House.
Compared with four versions that the House has passed since 1994 before being stymied in a Senate education committee, which until last year's elections was controlled by anti-charter Democrats, Senate Bill 5012 would start small. It would authorize 70 charter public schools over six years, starting with five next fall.
But charter school advocates praised what they see as the bill's "strong" features, such as allowing public universities and school boards to sponsor charter schools; permitting charter school employees to unionize; and giving the largely independent schools full state funding of about $5,400 per pupil for each full-time student.
The legislation would also permit conversion of existing public schools to charter status, if authorized by the local school district.
House leaders and Gov. Gary Locke, all Democrats, have supported charter school bills in the past and are not expected to oppose this one.
Minn. Poll Finds Support For Public School Choice
Fully 75 percent of Minnesotans believe families should have the right to choose what public schools their children attend, according to a recent poll.
The survey, released this month by the Center for School Change, based at the University of Minnesota, found that 80 percent of state residents surveyed "strongly support" or "support" the state's "postsecondary options" program, which allows juniors and seniors to enroll in college while in high school. About 60 percent said they support Minnesota's Second Chance choice program, for high school dropouts; 56 percent support open enrollment in public schools; and just over 50 percent back the state law that allows charter schools.
When asked about giving schools more control over hiring and firing employees, 65 percent of respondents agreed that under such a policy, schools would be "better able to hire good teachers and fire bad ones," while 20 percent agreed that schools would be "more likely to mistreat their teachers and fire them unfairly."
The telephone survey was conducted Feb. 19 and 20 by the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. of Washington. Pollsters interviewed 625 randomly selected Minnesotans. The results have a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Georgia Graduation Tests Are Postponed for Now
Georgia high schoolers have at least another year before they need to prepare for new end-of-course tests required for graduation.
The Georgia state board of education voted March 13 to delay the tests, which were approved as part of former Gov. Roy E. Barnes' education reform agenda and were intended to replace the current High School Graduation Test.
Legislation states that the end-of-course tests are to be given in eight core subjects. Those subjects are: algebra, geometry, physical science, biology, economics, U.S. history, 9th grade literature and composition, and American literature and composition.
Students were expected to begin taking the tests this spring.
But in an interview late last year, newly elected state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said that the tests might not be necessary to meet the requirements of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, and that the current graduation test might be able to fulfill that purpose. In addition, she has said that the proposed tests might not be consistent with the state's curriculum.
Calif. Measure Targets Charter School Authority
Charter school proponents in California are backing a bill that would allow more groups to authorize the public but largely independent schools.
Current state law gives school districts the main responsibility for approving new charters, although rejected proposals may be appealed to the state board of education. A new bill backed by the California Network of Educational Charters would allow big-city mayors, colleges and universities, and some nonprofit groups to authorize charter school proposals.
"This is priority legislation for the charter school community," said Gary Larson, a spokesman for the Sacramento- based group, which unveiled the bill March 18.
Supporters argue it would address concerns about lax oversight for some California charter schools. District officials, they say, often lack the time and resources to adequately monitor and assist the schools they authorize.
Assemblywoman Patricia Bates, a Republican, introduced the bill, which is set to be discussed in hearings in May.
Vol. 22, Issue 28, Page 17