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Published in Print: December 10, 2003, as News in Brief

News in Brief

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Desperate for State Aid, Pa. Districts May Close

Five Pennsylvania school districts, caught in a funding standoff between the governor and the legislature, plan to close by February if they do not begin receiving regular state-subsidy payments.

The five districts are in rural communities in central and western Pennsylvania and range in size from 1,200 to 5,800 students.

The New Brighton Area and Moshannon Valley school districts plan to close Dec. 31, officials there said. The Connellsville Area School District will close on Jan. 16, the Brownsville Area district sometime in January, and the Upper Dauphin district on Feb. 1— unless the basic-education-subsidy checks start coming, school officials said.

Some of Pennsylvania's 501 districts, including Philadelphia, have been forced to borrow money to stay afloat because the state missed August and October basic-education-subsidy payments. Another payment is due in late December ("Pennsylvania Schools Wait, Worry as Budget War Continues," Oct. 8, 2003.) The state can't pay the districts because the legislature has not approved a school spending plan for fiscal 2004. Gov. Edward Rendell, a Democrat, wants to spend more on education than the Republican-controlled legislature, which remains in session, is willing to allow.

—Catherine Gewertz

Despite Fiscal Clouds, La. Teachers Seek Raise

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers has called for annual pay raises totaling $6,000 per teacher over the next three years even as the state anticipates a huge budget shortfall.

If current projections hold up, state spending will exceed revenues by between $300 million and $600 million in fiscal 2005, analysts say, and the proposed raises would cost a total of about $420 million for the three years.

The hopes of union members are high because the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and the Louisiana Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association, both backed the winner in last month's gubernatorial election. Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco beat Bobby Jindal, a Republican. A one-time high school teacher, the governor-elect has said she wants to see teacher pay rise, but has refused to give specifics.

Teacher salaries have gone up faster in Louisiana than in any Southern state except North Carolina since 1997, but they still remain the second-lowest in the region, according to the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board. Earlier this year, lawmakers put $25 million of a $2.6 billion education budget into a teacher-pay hike. Most teachers will see raises of $300 to $500 this school year.

—Bess Keller

New Hampshire Communities Protest School Aid Changes

A growing number of New Hampshire communities are mobilizing to protest changes in the state's school funding law.

Under the law, nearly half of the communities across the state will see decreases in the amount of state aid they get for schools beginning this year, according to the New Hampshire School Boards Association. The new formula also ties any future increases in state funds to the Consumer Price Index—a measure that local districts say will fall short of their actual costs.

"The difference is going to be passed on to local taxpayers," said Michael B. Asselin, a selectman from the town of Danville. He is helping to organize resistance to the school-funding changes. "Schools are going to find it much more difficult to pass budgets."

Danville was among 22 communities that signed on to a letter to state legislators expressing their concerns about the changes. Mr. Asselin expects more to sign on.

The Granite State has been tinkering with its school-funding system since the 1990s, when the state Supreme Court ordered state officials to make it more equitable. The latest changes, approved by lawmakers in June, also direct $20 million in state aid to property-poor districts and gradually lower the statewide property tax.

—Debra Viadero

Tennessee Sees Rise In Charter School Interest

The number of charter school proposals in Tennessee has more than doubled this year.

In the second application period since the state enacted its charter school law, 29 groups submitted proposals to open the independent public schools. Last year, 12 applicants submitted proposals by the Nov. 15 deadline. The numbers were low last year, one charter school advocate said, because the charter school law passed in July and the state didn't release the application form until September.

"We were on a really tight schedule last year," said Dedrick W. Briggs, the executive director of the Charter School Resource Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based nonprofit group.

The applications will be reviewed by local school boards, which must decide whether to sponsor the schools by mid-January. Applicants who are rejected can appeal to the state board of education.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 15, Page 21

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