News in Brief: A National Roundup

September 24, 1997 7 min read

Proposal Delayed for School With Ties to Scientology

A Los Angeles teacher who proposed a charter school that would use educational materials based on the theories of L. Ron Hubbard, the late founder of the Church of Scientology, has postponed her application until next spring.

A lawyer for Linda Smith said in a letter to the school district earlier this month that a family illness would prevent the veteran special education teacher from presenting a revised application to the school board in October as scheduled.

Some school board members had expressed concern that it would be a violation of the federal constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion to approve a charter school using books based on Hubbard’s “Study Technology” method.

While some educators have said they found nothing overtly religious in the books, a number of legal experts have questioned whether the texts subtly advance the religion of Scientology. (“Texts Highlight Scientology’s Role in Education,” Sept. 17, 1997.)

Steven Hayes, a lawyer representing Ms. Smith, said he plans to submit a legal analysis to the school board to argue that the books do not advance Scientology.

“There is a legitimate question raised” about the propriety of using the materials in public schools, Mr. Hayes said. “Let’s get it resolved.”

Ala. Shrinks Class Sizes

The Alabama board of education voted last week to lower the size of all K-12 classes in the state. The board approved new teacher-student ratios, which will be phased in this January for grades K-6 and next fall for grades 7-12.

Opponents of the move charged that class sizes will not change in many schools because most systems just do not have the money for additional teachers or the space for more classrooms.

“The change will cost the Jefferson County school system almost $9.5 million in salaries and benefits,” Superintendent Bruce Wright said in a statement.

The new ratios mean that kindergarten through 3rd grade classes will contain no more than 18 students, and classes in grades 4-6 will have no more than 26 students. The new standards also call for no more than 29 students for every teacher in grades 7-12.

Catholic Teachers End Strike

Teachers at Roman Catholic schools in Camden, N.J., who have been striking since Sept. 9, reached a tentative agreement allowing students to return to school last week.

The South Jersey Catholic Teachers Organization and the Diocese of Camden ended the strike after spending three days in bargaining sessions, clearing the way for 4,500 students at eight South Jersey schools to return to their classrooms.

The 225-member organization was to vote on the agreement late last week. The teachers had asked for a 6.75 percent salary raise and improved benefits. All teachers and students were expected to report to their schools on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, public school teachers in East St. Louis, Ill., have yet to reach an agreement with the school district that would send its 13,000 students back to school. Teachers there have been on strike since Sept. 5. (“Tepid Season of Teachers’ Strikes Exhibits Evidence of Heating Up,” Sept. 17, 1997.)

Bilingual Services Lacking

Texas state education officials hope to explain later this fall why nearly 40,000 students with limited English ability are not getting bilingual services.

State school board members asked the education department to come up with an explanation after finding out earlier this month that the number was so high.

According to state data, 514,263 of the state’s 3.7 million students qualified for bilingual education during the 1996-97 school year. But 38,402 of those students did not get bilingual services because their districts were given waivers.

“What usually happens is that schools can’t find enough bilingual teachers,” said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the education department. “But [students] are getting services, typically in English as a second language.”

After School Is Crime Time

Nearly half of all juvenile crime takes place during the hours after school, according to a report released last week.

According to the report, peak hours for violent juvenile crime are between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. In contrast, only about one-seventh of all juvenile crime takes place between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

A smaller proportion of juvenile crimes, around 3 percent, occurs during school hours.

“After-School Crime or After-School Programs: Tuning in to the Prime Time for Violent Juvenile Crime and Implications for National Policy,” released by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a Washington-based youth advocacy group, also looks at the impact that after-school programs could have on youth activity during the prime time juvenile-crime hours.

The report says high-quality after-school and summer programs can reduce juvenile crime by providing responsible supervision and constructive activities.

Public Schools Back Vouchers

As it raises money this fall, a scholarship program that helps low-income students in Milwaukee attend private schools is touting an endorsement from the local public schools.

All nine members of the Milwaukee school board signed a letter earlier this month in support of the Partners Advancing Values in Education program, which offers scholarships covering half of what it costs for parents to send their children to private school.

One of the country’s largest so-called private voucher programs, PAVE raises about $4.5 million each year to pay for scholarships for some 4,200 students.

“We all realize the public schools do not address the needs of every child, so there have to be options,” said board member Christine Sinicki. “But as far as public funds for private schools, that’s where the debate comes in.”

Milwaukee is the site of a controversial state-funded program that gives vouchers to low-income students for private school.

MEA Halts Contributions

The Minnesota Education Association has stopped attending political fund-raisers this fall in order to evaluate its political-action strategy, union officials said.

The reappraisal comes in the wake of a disappointing legislative session for the MEA, which with 47,000 members is the state’s largest teachers’ union. After Republican Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed a K-12 funding bill last spring, lawmakers reached a compromise that expanded tax deductions for private schools and created new credits that families can use for an array of educational services, short of private school tuition.

Teachers’ associations argued that the tax policies were a way of subsidizing private schools. But Scott Day, a political-action specialist with the MEA, said the review of lobbying, contributions, and public relations strategies was not a direct result of its defeat on the tax issues.

“We’re concerned with the attacks on public schools and everybody talking about a quick fix,” he said, “and nobody talking about what’s going on in the classroom.”

Murder Charge in Death at Prom

Monmouth County, N.J., prosecutor John Kaye briefs reporters last week in Freehold, N.J., on a grand jury’s decision to hand up a murder indictment against Melissa Drexler, the 19-year-old woman charged with killing her newborn son in June after giving birth to him at the Lacey Township High School’s prom. Ms. Drexler is scheduled for arraignment next week.

Labor Union Contributions

The nation’s two largest teacher unions—the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—ranked among the top 10 labor unions in terms of political action committee contributions during the 1996 election cycle. Democrats received an overwhelming proportion of the donations.

Organization Total Contribution To Democrats To Republicans
1. International Brotherhood of Teamsters $2,647,165 $2,535,855 $106,310
2. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees $2,512,821 $2,461,896 $40,925
3. United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America $2,475,819 $2,454,844 $10,975
4. National Education Association $2,356,006 $2,327,456 $18,550
5. Laborers’ International Union of North America $2,172,450 $1,980,950 $183,500
6. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $2,171,262 $2,120,125 $44,637
7. United Food & Commercial Workers International Union $2,030,795 $1,998,745 $23,050
8. International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers $2,021,175 $2,003,425 $7,750
9. National Association of Letter Carriers $1,723,228 $1,507,978 $205,750
10. American Federation of Teachers $1,619,635 $1,593,768 $21,250
SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics.