News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
'Evolution' Put Back in Ga. Curriculum Plan
"Evolution" is back in Georgia's proposed science curriculum. That was the official word from the state board of education last month.
Earlier in February, state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox had advocated that the word be replaced with the phrase "biological changes over time" in the state's new proposed biology curriculum. ("Ga. Chief Backs Down on 'Evolution' Stance," Feb. 11, 2004.) After an immediate uproar broke out over the proposed changes, including harsh criticism from former President Jimmy Carter, a Georgia resident, Ms. Cox changed her stance on the use of the word and recommended that it be put back into the curriculum.
The 13-member board, which is appointed by the governor, voted Feb. 19 to approve those recommendations, and the curriculum is now open for public comment, according to a spokesman for the state department of education. In June, the board will take a final vote to determine whether or not the new curriculum will be used.
Oklahoma State Board Waives Class-Size Fines
Forty-seven school districts in Oklahoma that faced financial penalties for exceeding a state law on class-size limits are breathing easier after $13 million in fines were waved by the state board of education.
With some exceptions, a 1990 education reform law in Oklahoma limits elementary classrooms to 20 pupils and mandates that teachers instruct no more than 140 students a day.
But in the wake of a state budget crunch last year, legislators passed a law that in cases of economic hardship allows districts that have accumulated significant debt to receive waivers from the class-size restrictions. Fewer than half the state's 541 districts are exempt because of debt.
State board members voted unanimously to drop the fines on Feb. 19. Among other districts that would have been forced to pay penalties, the 42,000-student Tulsa school system, the state's largest, faced $10 million in penalties.
The state board will decide this month if penalties for nine more districts will be dropped, according to a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma education department.
Hawaii House Defeats Governor's Break-Up Plan
The Hawaii House of Representatives has defeated Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to break up the single, statewide school district into seven local districts with elected boards. The bill—which would have amended the state constitution, subject to voter approval in the fall—also would have eliminated the state department of education and the state education board.
All of the 30 representatives who voted against the bill on Feb. 20 were Democrats. Six Democrats, however, voted with 14 House Republicans in favor of the bill.
In a statement, Gov. Lingle, a Republican, said that the House had "missed an important opportunity for genuine restructuring of our school system." She said the lawmakers who opposed the measure had also shown a "lack of faith in the voters" by not putting the measure on the November ballot.
She added that she would now turn to the Senate to push her proposal, which was part of her campaign platform when she was elected governor in 2002.
Hawaii Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the bill "would have totally transformed— not in a positive way—the condition of education in Hawaii."
Southern Education Board Unveils Higher Ed. Web Site
A new Web site provides a gateway for students and educators in 16 Southeastern states to access online courses and other higher education opportunities, and to determine which academic credits can be transferred from high school to college, or between colleges.
Called the "WaysInMentor," the site is sponsored by the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board and was launched Feb. 25.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the current chairman of the SREB, unveiled the Web site at an event in Little Rock. SREB leaders said the site would ease the process of gathering information about college attendance for younger and adult students in the region.
Visitors to the site, which was created with the Culver City, Calif.-based contractor Xap Corp., can take campus tours, apply to many colleges at once, and learn about financial aid, among other features. Teachers, school administrators, other adults, and younger students can find thousands of online courses, too, through the site's affiliation with the SREB Electronic Campus.
The site can be accessed on the Web at www.waysinmentor.org
Massachusetts Lawmakers Seek Charter Moratorium
Backed by opponents of charter schools, two Massachusetts lawmakers are seeking a three-year moratorium on the independent public schools.
If the measure is approved, a panel would be appointed to study the effects of charter schools and the method of funding them, said Rep. Thomas O'Brien, a Democrat, who is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, also a Democrat.
Mr. O'Brien said in an interview last week that the measure was not a bid to end charter schools.
He contended, though, that the state's current funding formula for charters does not work well for charter schools or for traditional public schools. "Until that is addressed," he said, "this issue will continue to promote divisiveness."
Currently, 49 charter schools serve about 19,000 students in the Bay State. Four new charters were approved last week. Massachusetts has a statutory cap of 125 on the number of charter schools that can open in the state.
A bill last year also calling for moratorium passed the Massachusetts Senate but was narrowly defeated in the House.
—Robert C. Johnston
Maryland State Board Acts on Graduation Tests
The Maryland state board of education hopes to end years of controversy over high-stakes testing with a plan that it tentatively approved last week.
Passed by a vote of 8-1, the plan would require high school students to reach a minimum score on each of four exams, and earn a combined score on all four tests that was in the passing range, to get a high school diploma.
In a nod to concerns that too many students might not pass all four exams, the proposed policy would allow a student to fail one of the tests and still get a diploma, as long as his or her combined score met the minimum mark to be set by the board.
The plan is now open for public comment. A final vote is expected in late June. The testing requirement, which includes exams in algebra, biology, English, and government, would begin with the graduating class of 2009.
Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, had previously suggested that students who failed the tests could receive alternative diplomas. That idea appears to be scrapped, at least for now.
"We have been meeting with stakeholder groups from throughout Maryland and will continue to do so as we work to finalize a plan that will benefit all students," Ms. Grasmick said in a statement last week. "Our process is far from complete."
—Robert C. Johnston
Vol. 23, Issue 25, Page 16