News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
California's Cap on Charter Schools Outdated, Study Says
California's cap on the number of charter schools in the state has outlived its usefulness and should be removed, a report from the state legislative analyst's office concludes.
When the legislature passed a charter school law in 1992, it included a cap on the number of the largely independent public schools because the concept was new and untested, according to the report, which was released last week. The analyst's office advises the legislature on budget and policy.
The 1992 law allowed for 100 charter schools across the state. Starting in the 1998-99 school year, the cap was raised to 250, and it has been increased by 100 schools each year since and now stands at 750. California currently has 471 charter schools.
Over the past 12 years, two statewide evaluations have found that charter schools are "viable education reforms," the analyst's office writes in its report, which also recommends streamlining state aid for charters.
"Neither evaluation uncovered any alarming finding to warrant slower growth or continuation of the growth cap," the report says.
—David J. Hoff
Minn. Desegregation Plan Gets High Marks; Will Go On
A new state-commissioned report gives good grades to a school choice program that allows 1,100 needy students from Minneapolis to attend school in eight suburban districts outside the city.
Prepared by Minneapolis-based Aspen Associates, the report looks at the first two years of "The Choice Is Yours." The program was adopted as part of a 2000 settlement of a lawsuit filed against the state of Minnesota by the Minneapolis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Among its findings, the report notes that nearly all the parents interviewed for the study said they would recommend the program to others, while 83 percent said they would choose the same schools again for their children. It is too early to tell, however, if the students are making the academic gains that have been hoped for, said Bill T. Walsh, a spokesman for the state education department.
Also, the report found that more students of color in Minneapolis now enroll in suburban districts than did so under the state's general open-enrollment law, which does not provide the free transportation that is available under "The Choice Is Yours."
After the Jan. 7 release of the report, state education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke said that the program would continue past its original ending date of 2005.
—Robert C. Johnston
Research Group Gives States Higher Education Policy Tips,
With a fresh season of lawmaking getting under way in many state capitals, a national policy-research center has issued recommendations to governors and legislators on steps they can take to help ensure that college remains affordable in the face of budget uncertainty.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a research and advocacy institution in San Jose, Calif., offers a list of short-term "emergency measures" to promote college access for students and families in 2004.
If states are seeking to cut spending to colleges and universities, policymakers should consider several steps, according to the report. Those steps include: not making reductions to schools serving predominantly low- and middle-income families; at least maintaining state financial aid to the neediest students, even if it means shifting other pools of money devoted to colleges; and raising tuition moderately at certain public research universities, as long as there is a commensurate increase in need-based aid to low-income families.
Among other measures, the report says, states with the resources to increase higher education funding should consider devoting money to enrollment growth, as opposed to simply channeling it to inflation adjustments, and holding tuition increases to the rate of family growth in income.
Lottery Goes Live in Tenn.; Proceeds to Benefit Graduates
Tennessee lottery officials reported brisk sales in the first days of the state's new lottery, which began on Jan. 20.
The lottery needs to raise at least $88 million by July 1 to subsidize college scholarships for an estimated 65,000 students next fall. The program is modeled after neighboring Georgia's HOPE Scholarships. It will give scholarships of up to $3,000 to Tennessee high school graduates who earn grade point averages of at least 3.0 and composite scores of 19 or more on the ACT college-admissions exam. They can use the aid to attend public or private colleges and universities in Tennessee.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and legislative supporters purchased tickets on the lottery's opening day. The governor praised the state lottery commission's quick work in setting up the system, which allowed tickets to be sold three weeks earlier than originally planned.
"Short term, this early startup will generate millions of extra dollars for college scholarships," Gov. Bredesen said. "Long term, the lottery should be a stable source of scholarship funding for years to come."
—Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 23, Issue 20, Page 19