News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

April 30, 2003 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 5 min read
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Corrected: A brief in this issue misstates the political party of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois. He is a Democrat.

Snow-Day Confusion Leads to Mass. Retest

Snow day may seem like a familiar topic to most students in the North, but some school districts in Massachusetts have not had snow days in several years, and children from warmer regions don’t have a lot to say about the white, fluffy stuff.

Why does that matter? Well, a question on the writing portion of a Massachusetts state exam asking students to describe what they did during a day off from school because of snow left many 4th graders confused and uncertain about how to respond.

After receiving a handful of complaints from district officials about the question, the Massachusetts Department of Education decided to give pupils a chance to take the test again on May 8, according to Heidi Perlman, a spokeswoman for the state education commissioner. That retest would usually be reserved for students absent during the regular test.

Ms. Perlman said that all Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System questions go through a rigorous review process, and that “no red flags” were raised about the snow- day question.

—John Gehring

Illinois Governor Signs Bill For New Chicago Charters

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois has signed legislation that doubles the number of charter schools permitted in Chicago. The district, which has the current maximum of 15 charter schools, will now be allowed to raise that total to 30.

The measure, signed by the Republican governor April 16, also returns to Chicago teachers some of the bargaining powers they had lost when the legislature approved an education law in 1995 intended to improve Chicago schools by giving more power over district governance to the city’s mayor.

The new law, passed unanimously by the House and the Senate, says district teachers can now weigh in on such issues as layoffs, class size, and privatization.

Tom Schafer, a spokesman for the governor, said that teachers’ rights to negotiate on certain issues had been taken away in 1995 to give the Chicago school board more flexibility in restructuring the 437,000- student school system. “At the time, the school system was in trouble,” he said.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Substance Abuse Declines In Hawaii, State Finds

Eleven percent of Hawaii students in grades 6-12 need treatment for substance abuse, according to a newly released study of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use conducted by the state department of health.

The Hawaii Department of Health posts the “2002 Hawaii Student Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use Study.” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

That rate, however, has declined from 16 percent in 1998, and 13 percent in 2000, according to the report, which is based on a survey of roughly 28,000 students in those grades at 181 public schools and 34 private schools in the state. The anonymous survey began in 1987.

In general, the study found that the percentages of students who use illicit drugs have stabilized or fallen in recent years. The survey, which was administered last year, also found declines in tobacco and alcohol use, but showed an increase in the percentages of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders who said they had tried the drug Ecstasy.

—Linda Jacobson

Nebraska Unveils Pilot For Future Health Workers

Nebraska’s Grand Island Senior High School opened a medical-training program last week that serves as a state pilot project for future career-preparation programs.

The three-year program, which includes a new training center, will prepare students to become medical-support personnel, as well as jump-start their college studies in medicine, said Stephen Joel, the superintendent of the 7,500-student Grand Island district, which includes Grand Island High and is about 90 miles west of Lincoln.

Students will take classes in the Virtual Medical Center, which contains an X-ray viewing center, medical equipment, hospital beds, and a dentist’s office.

“There’s a crying need for health- care workers, and this program meets that need,” said state Commissioner of Education Douglas D. Christensen. “We’ve been advocating this career-cluster idea to reinvigorate and restructure vocational education. Grand Island took this idea and ran with it.”

About 200 students have preregistered for the fall semester of the 2003-04 school year, school officials said.

—Rhea R. Borja

Spending Gap Widens, Missouri State Audit Finds

Spending on students in rich and poor school districts in Missouri has grown less equitable than before the state funding formula was rewritten 10 years ago, a state audit report says.

The audit, released April 16, found the gap between the highest and lowest district’s per-pupil spending has risen to $9,188 last year from $6,531 in 1993. The study compares spending in all of the state’s districts. In 1993, the highest district’s per-pupil spending was $8,749 and the lowest was $2,218. Then last year, the highest district spent $13,748 and the lowest spent $4,560.

The report also says legislative proposals to remove gambling proceeds from the state funding formula would only worsen the gap. This year, Missouri spent more than $1.6 billion through the complex funding formula that covers the cost for the state’s 890,200 students in 524 public school districts. The audit recommends that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education report annually to the legislature on six nationally recognized measures of school finance equity.

—Lisa Goldstein

Ohio Charter Schools Win Partial Dismissal of Suit

Charter schools in Ohio won a legal victory last week when a judge dismissed part of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of education groups two years ago.

The plaintiffs argue that charter schools, or “community schools” in Ohio, violate the state constitution because they are not held to the same standards as regular public schools, usurp citizens’ right to govern public schools through a local school board, and are financed by local property taxes. The suit was brought by 10 groups, including the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio School Boards Association.

In his April 21 ruling, Judge Patrick McGrath of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court wrote that the state has the right to “create and modify school districts,” and that charter schools are funded only with state dollars.

The plaintiffs’ other contentions, which do not question the constitutionality of such schools, are still pending. A representative for the plaintiffs said that they would most likely appeal the decision.

—Michelle Galley


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