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| NEWS | Politics K-12

Voters in Delaware City Spurn Bid To Boost Aid at Race to Top's End

Voters in Seaford, Del., have roundly defeated a proposal that would have replenished money the school district is losing when federal Race to the Top funding dries up after this school year.

The proposal failed by a 4-to-1 ratio on Feb. 27, leaving the school system with a $1.2 million gap in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to the district.

This is going to be an emerging issue for many districts in the dozen states that won the original $4 billion education-redesign competition in 2010. The 2013-14 school year, for the most part, is the last year for funding. And it's important to remember that while states have gotten the bulk of attention when it comes to implementation of Race to the Top, half the money—or a whopping $2 billion—went directly to participating districts to bring the programs to fruition. Now, that money is set to run out.

In Seaford, the $3.4 million from Race to the Top paid for initiatives like the International Baccalaureate program, common-core implementation, and the hiring of four new staff members. The tax increase would have provided funding to continue those programs. And now that the funding has been rejected, school district leaders say they will have to figure out what to cut—whether the Race to the Top-related programs or others.

"We prioritized our needs, and we were sensitive to our difficult economic times. This is a maintenance-of-effort request. We are not seeking to expand programs at this time," then-Superintendent Shawn Joseph said last month before the vote. "All of our schools are improving faster than was the case prior to the infusion of Race to the Top funds."

For Race to the Top states and participating districts, the fiscal cliff is rapidly approaching. Districts that anticipated, and planned for, the end of Race to the Top will be in fine shape. But those that want to continue costly programs will have to find another way to pay for them. Voters often don't have a lot of appetite for tax increases. And cuts to other programs might not be popular either. So will Race to the Top prove to be just a temporary shot in the arm?

–Michele McNeil

| NEWS | Rural Education

Ariz. Gov. Would Charge Districts To Pay for Broadband Upgrade

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed upgrading the state's broadband infrastructure and charging school districts and charter schools $15 per child for the next six years to help pay for it.

Her proposal is receiving attention and raising concerns among some in the state, who say it would benefit companies and homeowners, so schools shouldn't bear the cost burden. Others say schools that don't have access to broadband likely can't afford the infrastructure or equipment needed to connect to it, and still others say it's unfair to charge districts that already have fast Internet service.

Rural schools, in particular, lack broadband, and those who support the proposal say it would address that digital divide. Three of the state's schools still use dial-up Internet.

"We're 20 years behind some of our sister states," state Budget Director John Arnold said in a story published in The Arizona Republic. "It is detrimental to economic development and education in rural Arizona as our schools become more heavily dependent on the Internet."

Gov. Brewer included the proposal in her 2015 executive budget. The $350 million proposal would make broadband available to all schools, but schools would have to pay for the infrastructure needed to connect. Schools also would have to pay for Internet access.

–Diette Courrégé Casey

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Bill to Revamp Teacher Dismissals Up in Calif. for Third Straight Year

Third time's a charm? That seems to be what California administrators are thinking, in putting their weight behind a new bill to revamp teacher dismissal in the Golden State.

This is the third year running that lawmakers have taken steps to address dismissal for misconduct in California. The state's teachers' unions helped scratch a 2012 proposal, contending it vested too much power in school boards. And last year, a broader union-backed measure that administrators argued made the lengthy dismissal process even more cumbersome was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new bill, SB 843, attempts to thread the needle between those two prior efforts. This bill is focused only on misconduct cases, not those of poor performance.

Among other things, the bill would eliminate the four-year limit on evidence that can be presented at dismissal hearings. It would also put the decision in the hands of an administrative-law judge, rather than a three-person panel. (A three-person panel would still hear cases of dismissal for performance.) And it would allow charges to be filed and amended more flexibly.

There's added pressure these days to address dismissal because of a pending California ballot initiative that tackles some of the same issues.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | District Dossier

Prominent Md. Superintendent Tells Parents Upcoming State Tests Useless

Joshua Starr, the superintendent of the Montgomery County, Md., school system, is already well-established as a high-profile critic of current assessment policy.

And now, the schools chief has sent that message directly to tens of thousands of parents in the 151,000-student district in a letter that basically tells them that the Maryland State Assessment students in grades 3-8 must take in the coming weeks will be a colossal waste of time. That's because schools are now following the Common Core State Standards, and the MSA is not aligned to them.

Of course, Starr puts it more delicately than that in his letter, but the message is crystal clear: "I do not believe it is in the interest of our students or schools for the state of Maryland to administer the MSA this year, and many parents, educators, and local and state leaders feel the same way," he wrote in the letter posted recently on the district's website.

Starr explains to parents that even though Maryland has moved to the common core, students must take—for the final time before next year's debut of the PARCC common-core assessment—the old state reading and math exams that are not aligned with the new standards. He writes that there are no accountability requirements and no consequences connected to the test results for this year.

A growing number of states and districts are dealing with major pushback from parents who want their kids to skip the annual ritual of spring standardized testing this year, including in places where the common-core field tests from PARCC and Smarter Balanced will be the only assessment that students must take.

–Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Website Tracking For-Profit Charters Is Stirring Up Controversy

For-profit education is being put under the microscope in the new Cashing in on Kids website, a collaboration between the American Federation of Teachers and In the Public Interest that takes on the five largest for-profit charter school organizations in the country.

The site curates news and information about five charter school operators: K12 Inc., Imagine Schools, White Hat Management, Academica, and Charter Schools USA.

"It's a way of calling the question: Is the rapid expansion of charter schools about helping kids learn or about enabling for-profit operators to rake in millions in tax dollars?" said aft President Randi Weingarten in the announcement.

Kara Kerwin, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington group that advocates charters and choice, issued a strong response to the launch. "This latest campaign against education reform irresponsibly suggests that profit and student success are mutually exclusive, ignoring the fact that K-12 education in the U.S. is a $607 billion enterprise annually."

Donald Cohen, the executive director of Washington-based In the Public Interest watchdog group, said, "For-profit charter schools that operate in the dark without basic public transparency and without strong public control too often put their bottom line ahead of the public interest and high-quality public education."

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | Schooled in Sports

Alliance Launches Positivity Pledge For Youth-Sports Parents

Tired of hearing about out-of-control youth-sports parents and coaches? So is the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

The alliance launched an initiative late last month that aims to restore some positivity in youth sports.

After parents sign the pledge, they'll receive a free six-part weekly email series with resources and tips about making a positive impact on youth sports.

One of the weekly emails, for instance, instructs parents to "separate [themselves] from [their] child's failure so that [they] can use it as an opportunity to teach them about the value of perseverance." Parents should remind their children that everyone makes mistakes, and help them learn from them, the email suggests. They can also have their children reflect on the positive aspects of their performance, even if the final result ended poorly.

"Right now the negative incidents in youth sports seem to outnumber the positive ones—at least the ones we hear about," said John Engh, the alliance's chief operating officer, in a statement. "The pledge will help bring together parents who are committed to making sports a fun and safe experience for kids and give them tools to help make a difference in their community."

–Bryan Toporek

Vol. 33, Issue 24, Pages 13,23

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