News in Brief: A State Capital Roundup

April 03, 2002 8 min read
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Utah Allows In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has signed a bill making illegal immigrants who graduate from the state’s high schools eligible for less expensive, in-state rates on college tuition. The legislation will help give undocumented immigrants access to an affordable education, so they could be competitive in the workforce, the Republican governor said at a March 15 press conference.

Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has signed a bill making illegal immigrants who graduate from the state’s high schools eligible for less expensive, in-state rates on college tuition. The legislation will help give undocumented immigrants access to an affordable education, so they could be competitive in the workforce, the Republican governor said at a March 15 press conference.

“Given the fact that a very high percentage of our workforce in the long term will be from ethnic- minority families, we need to assure that we’re providing those kinds of opportunities,” he said.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. David Ure, a Republican, was criticized by some lawmakers as unfairly giving tuition breaks to illegal immigrants while U.S. citizens struggle to pay out-of-state tuition charges at Utah colleges.

U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and U.S. Rep. Christopher B. Cannon, both Utah Republicans, are among a handful of lawmakers pushing federal legislation that would allow states to determine standards for who pays resident tuition. Talented students around the country have struggled to pursue college educations because they are charged out-of-state tuition and are ineligible for federal student loans. (“Talented, But Not Legal,” May 31, 2000.)

Legislators in Texas and California also have decided over the past year to allow undocumented immigrants to pay lower, in-state tuition for college. But the City University of New York in New York City announced in November that it would change its policy of charging undocumented immigrants in-state tuition and make those students pay the out-of-state rate.

—John Gehring

Calif. Districts Seen Ceding Power

Nearly three- quarters of a large sample of California school districts have yielded too much power over such areas as curriculum, teacher employment and transfer, and teacher self-governance to teachers’ unions, a report from the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy says.

“Of the 460 districts examined, 337—almost 75 percent—had negotiated contracts that eroded the authority of the school board and district management to make important decisions,” argues the report from the San Francisco-based group, which advocates parental choice and free- market principles in education. The contracts have also diminished teachers’ ability to teach, it contends, and played a major role in the state’s bottom- dwelling test scores.

The report comes as a bill backed by the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, seeks to expand local bargaining beyond the traditional issues of wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions to give teachers a bigger say on academic matters. (“Calif. Bill Would Allow Unions More Say on Academics,” March 6, 2002.) But the report argues that in many districts, such an expansion has already occurred in practice, and it urges legislators to restrict what can be bargained.

The study’s research sample represented almost half of all California districts, and a cross section of districts by size, location, student population, and teacher representation.

CTA President Wayne Johnson blasted the report, calling the institute “an ultra-conservative, neo-right-wing” organization. “They’re a hit team on anything related to unions,” he said. He also termed the institute’s research “anecdotal.”

—Bess Keller

Mass. Mulls Graduation Alternative

A report from a committee formed by acting Gov. Jane M. Swift of Massachusetts recommends opening various alternative pathways for students who have not passed state exit exams by the 12th grade.

Beginning with the class of 2003, students must pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, tests in English/language arts and mathematics to graduate.

The March 21 report says that targeted programs should be developed by high schools, community colleges, businesses, and community organizations for students who have not passed the exams after the five chances they will be given to do so.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for creating an “All But MCAS,” or ABM certificate, for students who have completed all local requirements and are eligible for diplomas once they pass the exams; expanding community college programs to include MCAS preparation; and adapting adult-basic-education programs to help build academic skills needed to pass the exams.

The Joint Committee on Educational Policy, which issued the report, is composed of the chairmen and vice chairmen of both the state board of education and the board of higher education, along with the commissioner of education and the chancellor of higher education.

—John Gehring

N.Y. Regents Pick New Chancellor

Robert M. Bennett, the president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County in New York state, is scheduled to take over this week as the new chancellor of the state board of regents.

The board voted 12-4 on March 18 in favor of Mr. Bennett, who has served on the board for seven years. He has been a strong ally of Carl T. Hayden, the board’s chancellor since 1995, and state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills as they have toughened state academic standards and graduation requirements.

Mr. Hayden announced in February that he was leaving the powerful board, which sets statewide policy for both pre-K-12 and higher education. The other candidate for the post, Vice Chancellor Adelaide L. Sanford, a former public school teacher and principal in New York City, would have been the regents’ first black chancellor if elected.

—John Gehring

S.C. Tweaks Report Cards

South Carolina’s school-by- school report cards will undergo some changes before they’re released again in the fall.

The report cards, four-page leaflets that had their debut in January and are much like the ones required under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, will be tweaked this year to address complaints voiced by educators and others. (“Report Card Days,” Jan. 9, 2002.)

One key change is aimed at making the ratings that each school receives less confusing. Instead of an overall label, such as “excellent” or “average,” each school will receive an absolute rating, determined by test scores and a few other factors, and an improvement rating based on test scores compared with previous years. Under the original system, each school received all three labels. The state panel charged with overseeing a school accountability program adopted in 1998 decided the series of grades was confusing.

Other changes include adding comparisons with schools that have similar poverty levels, noting whether minority students in the schools have made significant test-score gains, and providing information about the duties and qualifications of local school board members.

—Alan Richard

Anti-Bullying Bill Signed in Wash. State

School districts in Washington state are required by August of next year to adopt policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying on school grounds and at school activities, under a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gary Locke last week.

The law directs the state superintendent of schools to prepare a model policy and training materials for districts to use in writing their own policies.

The House side of the Democratic-controlled legislature had approved an earlier version of the bill on Feb. 6.

In the Senate, the bill’s language was broadened slightly to reassure critics that it applied to all children, not just students who are gay or members of racial- or ethnic- minority groups. After the Senate passed the new version resoundingly, 40-7, the House endorsed it with a 86-8 vote on March 9.

The law marks a triumph for Rep. Ed Murray, a Democrat, who had pushed similar bills for the past five years.

—Andrew Trotter

N.J. Taps Teachers as Advisers

Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey has formed a panel of teachers to advise him on a variety of education issues.

The 19-member advisory committee, created by executive order March 5, was designed to ensure teachers a voice in improving education, a cornerstone of the Democratic governor’s campaign before his election in November.

“Teachers will always have a seat at the table of this administration,” Mr. McGreevey said in signing the order. “This committee will guarantee it.”

As soon as the order was signed, the group had its first meeting with the governor, a one-hour session transmitted to schools statewide via the Internet. In addition to its quarterly meetings, the committee will hold town meetings and teacher “summits” around New Jersey. The panel will provide the governor advice on such issues as how to recognize and share good teaching practices and how to recruit promising students into the field.

—Catherine Gewertz

Md. School Technology Use Eyed

Although Maryland has spent more than $500 million on computers and Internet access in schools in the past six years, many students are not learning how to use the technology effectively, a report concludes.

In particular, students in urban and low- income areas are not receiving much-needed skills to analyze data and other information, says the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, a coalition of employers interested in school improvement.Only 14 percent of Maryland’s 1,345 schools reported that students used technology on a regular basis to manipulate or analyze data. The group reached similar conclusions in its report last year.

“There’s still too much drill and practice and not enough higher thinking,” said June Streckfus, the roundtable’s executive director. Her group did, however, praise the state for setting up a large infrastructure for technology in schools.

Ron Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education, said the report “reminds us that there’s still work to be done.”

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capital Roundup


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