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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas has waived all administrative fees and issued a single plan covering all K-12 students at a cost of $10 each. The project's organizers-- school district officials, the local PTA, and other community activists--will raise the $267,000 needed for the premiums through private donations. The city's treatment providers have pledged to work at or below cost to hold down expenses.

Students will be referred through school nurses or clinicians. Parents must consent to treatment, which can include counseling, supervised treatment, periodic drug screening, and in-patient drug detoxification. The cost of the latter could reach as high as $30,000.

Privately Funded Choice Stirs Ire

It's a common practice: Companies in many cities across the country offer scholarships for underprivileged children to attend local private schools. But when an Indianapolis insurance company put up more than $1.2 million to help poor parents send their children to a private or parochial school, it sparked an acrimonious citywide debate.

At first, the Golden Rule Insurance Company said it would cover as much as half the tuition tab--or up to $800 per student--for 500 underprivileged 1st through 8th graders at a local private school. But because of the overwhelming response, the number was increased to 686 students, half from the public schools; the other half were selected from among those already attending private schools.

What makes the Golden Rule plan unique and so controversial is the fact that the sponsor has couched the program in the rhetoric of parental choice. The first hint is lodged in the project's name: the CHOICE Charitable Trust.

Critics of the program have reacted quickly and vocally. Instead of spending money to create a program that will have the effect of undermining public education, they argue, Golden Rule should donate the $1.2 million to the city schools. They suggest that the money could be used to rehire teachers who were laid off by the 47,500student district this year.

"We need to support our public schools,'' says A.D. Pinckney, president of the Indianapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "That is the bottom line, and to do anything else will be disastrous.''

J. Patrick Rooney, Golden Rule's chairman, insists that the program is not intended to undermine the public schools. In fact, he believes the trust will improve the quality of the schools by providing the competition needed to prod them into reform.

Casting A Wider Net

Responding to concerns from educators and philanthropists, the New American Schools Development Corp., launched this summer to raise $200 million from the private sector to spur the radical transformation of the country's schools, has shifted course.

Rather than offering three to seven research grants of up to $30 million, the corporation, an outgrowth of the Bush administration's America 2000 education package, has decided to cast a wider net to snare more ideas on how to revamp the nation's schools.

The brainchild of U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, the newschool corporation envisioned up to seven gigantic research conglomerates working on an educational "Manhattan Project'' with multimillion-dollar grants. The consortia were to develop model schools that would radically reconfigure American education. But the plan was greeted skeptically by educators who said model schools would not translate into systemic change and by fund-raisers who were worried that the $200 million President Bush wanted the business community to raise would either eat into existing reform projects or fail to materialize.

The corporation now plans to award contracts of $500,000 to $3 million to between 20 and 30 design teams, which will use the first year to fine-tune their reform projects and locate school sites for implementation; emphasis has shifted from model schools to design proposals that have systemic applications. After this stage, half of the original teams will be granted two-year contracts of $2 million to $15 million to implement their ideas.

Then, in 1995, 7 to 10 final contracts of $2 mil- lion to $6 million will be awarded to facilitate the widespread replication of the best projects.

Prospective contractors--which are expected to include educators, university think tanks, and corporations--must submit their bids by Jan. 31.

Child-Abuse Registry

Three Florida teachers who sued the state to have their names removed from a registry of child abusers have agreed to an $85,000 settlement. The teachers charged in their lawsuit that the registry, which contained complaints recorded from a state tollfree hot line, denied them their constitutional right to due process.

At the time the suit was filed, child-abuse complaints were categorized as "confirmed,'' "indicated,'' or "unfounded.''

But last year, the legislature required due process for people cited in the registry and this year dropped the "indicated'' category altogether. All names in that category, including those of the three teachers, were removed.

Standing Behind Desegregation

Despite mounting debate about the effectiveness of school desegregation in improving the education of black children, the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has decided to continue supporting the strategy.

Although noting that white flight, suburbanization, and the exodus of the black middle class from cities has made the goal of an integrated education for urban black children "more remote than ever,'' NAACP leaders argue in a draft report that desegregation has "too many positive outcomes in the form of a more open and accepting society for the strategy to be abandoned.''

The decision comes at a time when many AfricanAmerican leaders around the country say they have lost faith in desegregation and are calling for alternatives such as parentalchoice programs or allblack schools.

But the NAACP report states that desegregation should continue to be a goal because "America should not be let off the hook.'' New policy guidelines call for the association to stand behind desegregation lawsuits and to reopen dormant suits, until districts are no longer segregated.

Censors Come To Schools

Censorship, it seems, is on the rise. People For the American Way found 229 incidents in which groups tried to remove or restrict learning materials in the public schools last year, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. Those who compiled the report, Attacks on the Freedom to Learn, say they uncovered more attempts at censorship during the 1990-91 school year than ever before.

Attempts were documented in 45 states, with the Western region slightly leading the Midwest and Southern United States in numbers of incidents. Most often targeted was the whole language reading series "Impressions,'' but other materials attracting censors' attentions included Little Red Riding Hood, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and even Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary, for defining allegedly obscene words.

According to the report, one-third of the requests to remove materials were successful to some degree.

SAT Scores Decline

Average verbal scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test dropped this year to an all-time low--422 out of a possible 800--and average mathematics scores declined for the first time since 1980, to 474 out of 800, according to a report by the College Board. Various observers attribute the decline to a range of factors--demographic changes, students watching too much television, and a "statistical blip.''

The report held more bad news: The gap between high- and low-performing students appears to be widening. Although average scores dropped by two points on both the math and verbal tests, the scores of students who also took Achievement Tests--required for admission at many selective colleges and universities--remained 100 points higher on each part than those of all SAT takers.

"If the dichotomy continues,'' says Donald Stewart, the board's president, "we could end up with a small class of educational elite and an underclass of far less prepared students.''

There were a few encouraging signs, however. Last year's 6 percent decline in the number of test takers appears to be reversing. This year, 1,032,685 students--or an estimated 42 percent of the class of 1991--took the test, a slight increase over 1990. In addition, the proportion of test takers who were members of minority groups--28 percent-- reached a record high, and the wide gap between whites' and blacks' scores continued to narrow.

As in past years, students who say they are planning to major in education scored below the national average. Such students' average verbal score remained stable at 406, but their math score dropped a point to 441.

Back-To-School Predictions

The U.S. Education Department, in its annual back- to-school forecasts, pre- dicts that total spending in the United States on elementary and secondary schools--public and private--will reach $249 billion dollars during the 1991-92 school year, up 5 percent from the $237 billion spent last year.

Per-pupil spending in public elementary and secondary schools (including current expenditures, capital outlays, and interest payments on school debt) is expected to reach a high of $5,961, up $213 from last year.

In constant 1990-91 dollars, however, the figure is $5,702, a decrease from last year's expenditure and the first decrease in recent memory.

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