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Published in Print: May 19, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Study: Improvement Costs

The cost to states for designing and administering high school exit exams is modest compared with the "rapidly escalating" costs school districts face as they try to raise student performance on the exams, concludes a report released last week.

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The report, published by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, an independent advocate for public education, examines state testing budgets in Indiana, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. Augenblick Palaich and Associates Inc., a Denver-based consulting firm, conducted the study.

According to the budgets from those states, the direct costs of developing and administering the exams accounted for anywhere from 7 percent to 19 percent of total spending on the tests. But districts were spending far more on programs to help students pass them, assist those who failed, and train teachers, the report notes.

"Pay Now or Pay Later: The Hidden Costs of High School Exit Exams" estimates that more than 96 percent of the current costs of exit tests in each state are borne at the local level.

The cost of maintaining current passing rates in each of the three states runs from $171 per pupil annually in Minnesota to $557 per student each year in Indiana, the report calculates. Moreover, that price tag escalates sharply when states move to increase passing rates, raise the cut score for what’s deemed adequate performance, or change to a more challenging test.

—Lynn Olson

Wis. Attorney General Questions Federal Law

In a legal analysis dated May 12, Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy A. Lautenschlager may have opened the door for a state-level court challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The 11-page letter outlines possible legal arguments that the state of Wisconsin or a school district might use to challenge the law. In an interview last week, she said that the most important question raised by her review is whether the federal government can force states to follow its rules for public education when funding may not be provided for some of the requirements.

"The effect of [the law] and the educational and fiscal obligations it imposes on Wisconsin and its schools should not be overestimated," she wrote.

The letter was written in response to a request by state Sen. Fred A. Risser, a Democrat, for a "constitutional analysis" of the federal law.

A teachers’ union official praised the letter, which he sees as a strategy for a possible legal challenge.

"It serves as a template, because my sense is that a number of school districts and states are contemplating bringing a case against the [U.S.] Department of Education, but that no one wants to be the first one," said Bruce Meredith, the general counsel for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which is an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said that under President Bush, federal education funding has "increased to historic levels," and that he has proposed an additional $294 million for Wisconsin for the No Child Left Behind law.

"The federal taxpayers have invested billions in education for decades, and before No Child Left Behind, we had nothing to show for it except staggering achievement gaps," she said.

— Alan Richard

Ohio Enrollment Spike Creates Budget Deficit

An unanticipated 9,000-student spike in K-12 enrollment has left the Ohio Department of Education facing a $107 million shortfall in its fiscal 2004 budget.

The department has asked lawmakers to make up the costs in the state’s $8 billion K-12 budget by tapping $80 million in general-revenue dollars. The remaining $27 million would be appropriated by the state’s control board, which grants special budget requests.

The legislature is expected to act on the department’s request before the fiscal year ends June 30.

J.C. Benton, an education department spokesman, said the state had projected that 1,803,000 students would enroll in K-12 schools last fall. An analysis of the enrollment boost shows that more students are leaving private schools to attend public schools. The school population increase was across all grade levels and regions of Ohio.

Mr. Benton added that the struggling economy may have played a role in students’ return to public schools.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Catholic School Withdraws Indiana Governor’s Invitation

Indiana Gov. Joseph E. Kernan’s high school alma mater has rescinded his invitation to speak at the school’s June 1 graduation.

Gov. Joseph E. Kernan

Mr. Kernan, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic, was invited last winter to give the commencement speech at Saint Joseph’s High School, a Catholic school in South Bend, Ind.

But the school’s principal has withdrawn the invitation because of Mr. Kernan’s views on abortion rights, said Tina Noel, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend requested the invitation be withdrawn after members of Saint Joseph’s theology department expressed concern to him that Mr. Kernan’s views contradicted "the truths which they teach every day in class, and which they expect their students to embrace."

Ms. Noel said the governor is "personally opposed" to abortion "but supports the woman’s right to choose in consultation with her family, physicians, and spiritual advisers."

—Mary Ann Zehr

Decision by Arizona Court Brings Windfall for Schools

A state judge in Arizona has ruled that the legislature erred in 2002 when it passed a law capping the amount of property taxes local districts could raise to pay for utility bills.

In his decision earlier this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul Katz ruled that the law was contrary to Proposition 301, which voters approved in 2000. In addition to creating new sources of revenue for schools, the measure gave school districts the authority to raise property taxes to pay for utility bills through 2009.

The ruling is expected to add about $80 million to local school district budgets over the next five years. Attorney General Terry Goddard is still reviewing the decision and has not decided whether to appeal, said Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for Ms. Goddard’s office.

—Robert C. Johnson

Wash. Commission Lowers Assessment-Score Bar

The scores needed to pass Washington state’s standardized tests in 4th and 7th grades will drop this year, and new scores for 10 graders may lie ahead.

A committee of more than 180 educators, test experts, business officials, and students suggested the changes in March. They were adopted May 10 by the nine-member Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission.

Under the new policy, minimum-proficiency scores will drop in reading and mathematics for 4th and 7th graders who recently took the tests.

A proposal to lower math cut off scores on the 10th grade test must be reviewed by the legislature.

If the scores had been in place last spring, the percentage of students testing proficient in math and reading would have been up by 7 and 8 percentage points, respectively, in 7th grade, and 3 and 4 percentage points, respectively, in 4th grade.

—Robert C. Johnston

W. Va. Nominees for Governor Oppose School Mergers

West Virginia voters chose their major-party nominees for governor last week, and both candidates support changes in the state’s policies on school consolidation.

Secretary of State Joe Manchin III easily won the Democratic Party nomination for governor on May 11, defeating former state Sen. Lloyd Jackson, who as the Senate education committee chairman backed school consolidation.

Mr. Manchin had said the state should change course on its policies that encourage rural schools to close.

Republican Monty Warner, a retired Army colonel turned businessman, narrowly won his party’s nomination and has said he believes the school mergers should be a local issue.

—Alan Richard

Shortages Hamper Teachers, Hurt Minorities, Survey Finds

Nearly one- third of California teachers who responded to a recent survey said they do not have enough textbooks and curriculum materials.

The survey of 1,056 teachers was commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to mark last week’s 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision.

Half of the science and social studies teachers reported that they lacked enough equipment and supplies to properly teach their classes.

The concerns, which also included rundown facilities, overcrowded classes, and shortages of qualified teachers, were most prevalent in schools with high populations of African-American and Hispanic students, according to the survey.

The authors of the study said the results showed that schools are not providing the fair and equal educational opportunities called for in the Brown decision, particularly for African-American and Latino students.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 23, Issue 37, Pages 24-25

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