News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

July 10, 2002 7 min read
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Mass Drops Cash Bonuses For Master Teachers’ Program

A popular teacher-bonus program in Massachusetts has become a casualty of the state’s poor economy.

The state department of education has ended the master-teacher-bonus program that paid the state’s most veteran teachers $5,000 annual bonuses for up to 10 years to mentor new teachers.

Teachers qualified for the bonuses by completing the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ certification process. The state had also provided teachers with financial support to pay for the certification process, but canceled that program as well.

David P. Driscoll

Since 1998, the master-teacher program had been funded by annual interest from a $70 million Teacher, Principal, and Superintendent Quality Enhancement endowment. But declining interest rates this year meant low returns for the endowment and forced the indefinite suspension of the program, state officials said. Currently, there are 230 master teachers in Massachusetts.

State Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll said he would work with legislators to find other ways to support the program, which was officially dropped June 13. “We were on our way to meeting our goal of having 1,000 master teachers by 2003,” he said. “But this will unfortunately interrupt that process.”

—John Gehring

Federal Judge Reverses Ariz. Ruling

In a victory for Arizona state officials, a federal judge has reversed a recent ruling on state funding for English-language learners in the public schools.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez said that the state’s new per-pupil funding for English-language learners was based on reason, but required additional study by the state before the matter could be settled.

Two years before, in January 2000, Judge Marquez ruled in Flores v. Arizona that the $150 in additional per-pupil funding that the state then allotted to schools to educate each English-language learner was inadequate.

Since then, state legislators have struggled to agree on a new spending level. Under pressure from the court, the legislature in December increased the funding for each English-language learner from $170 this school year to $340 in the 2002-03 school year and proposed studying whether that funding was sufficient.

On April 8, Judge Marquez ruled that the state hadn’t provided adequate rationale for its new figure.

In addition, he gave the legislature until January 2003 to complete its proposed study and until the following June to come up with a new plan.

On June 12, however, Judge Marquez reversed his earlier ruling, writing that the state’s new dollar figure did “bear a rational relationship to the estimated cost of implementing the language-acquisition program in the Nogales Unified School District,” the home district of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit. He gave the state until August 2004 to complete its cost study.

The recent decision is not the final word on the lawsuit, which will remain unsettled until the court is satisfied that the state has come up with a long-term funding formula sufficient to meet the needs of English-language learners.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Pa. Court Approves Cyber Charters

A Pennsylvania court has rejected a challenge to the state’s “cyber charter” schools, saying that there is nothing in state law to prevent them.

On June 17, a seven-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Other legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s seven online schools, which enroll 5,000 students, are pending in other courts.

The suit was sparked by the refusal of some districts to pay charter school fees and state Secretary of Education Charles B. Zogby’s decision during the 2001-02 school year to withhold $840,000 in state subsidies from the districts to pay the charter tuition..

The judges ruled that Mr. Zogby had no authority to withhold subsidies. The districts may challenge charter school tuition deductions through the state department of education, the judges said.

The panel also held that the PSBA and the four districts that joined in the lawsuit were not legally entitled to challenge the legality of charter schools. Only the entities involved in the chartering process—the chartering district and the state charter school appeal board—are entitled to make such a challenge, the judges said.

—Catherine Gewertz

Ga. Again Faces Scoring Woes

For the second year in a row, the testing company that handles scoring of the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition in Georgia is having problems meeting the terms of its contract with the state.

This year, the scores of roughly 340,000 Georgia 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders have been thrown out because of errors in comparing the scores with last year’s results. The scores caught the attention of officials at the state education department who noticed that they were either unusually high or low.

Last year, Harcourt Educational Measurement, based in San Antonio, returned the test results so late that schools could not use them to meet key deadlines in reporting student performance.

Harcourt’s contract with the state was renewed last year only after the company agreed to pay fines if there were errors in the results, or if they were returned late again.

Department spokesman Sarah Abbott said it was likely the state board would discuss the contract when it meets this week.

Rick Blake, a spokesman for the company, said that the raw scores are correct, but that the equating problem lies in the fact that Georgia used a “customized test form” that was different from the version it used last year.

—Linda Jacobson

Study: Mich. Charters Better With Age

Charter schools authorized by Central Michigan University do better the longer they are open, though the overall performance of the charters lags behind that of all public schools in Michigan, a report finds.

The report by Standard & Poor’s, a New York City-based financial and educational analyst, covered the 57 charter schools authorized by CMU. Michigan has 186 charters statewide.

Based on data for the school years ending in 1999, 2000, and 2001, the report found that, on average, CMU charters that had been open one or two years had lower passing rates on state standardized exams than their counterparts that were open longer.

The report, which was commissioned by CMU’s charter schools office, found that average passing rates for CMU charters also fell below state averages for all schools, but added that the CMU charters enroll higher percentages of needy students.

Many of the schools studied spent at least 20 percent of their operating budgets on debt, typically for facilities. “This indicates that some schools may lack the financial flexibility to manage enrollment and revenue decreases and other unforeseen matters,” the report added.

—Robert C. Johnston

Miss. Names New Schools Chief

Henry L. Johnson, an associate state superintendent in North Carolina, has been named Mississippi’s state schools superintendent. He officially begins his new job in August.

Mr. Johnson, who is 56, will be the first African-American state superintendent in Mississippi since Reconstruction.

He replaces Richard Thompson, who announced June 20 that he would leave the Magnolia State after four years as the appointed state superintendent there. He is scheduled to start work in August as the vice president of general administration for the University of North Carolina system.

Mr. Thompson said that he wished to return to North Carolina to be closer to relatives.

In announcing its decision on a new state chief June 27, the Mississippi board of education took little time replacing Mr. Thompson. With the hiring of Mr. Johnson, the board chose a man whom Mr. Thompson had previously worked with on school accountability in North Carolina. The men worked to draw up and implement North Carolina’s standards-based reforms, which Mr. Thompson then took with him to Mississippi.

“That is the explicit reason I was selected,” said Mr. Johnson, who has worked at the state level since 1992 and has been an administrator in several school districts, including the 101,000-student Wake County schools in Raleigh, N.C.

—Alan Richard

Ariz. Auditor Finds Flaws in Project

Arizona’s auditor general has found deficiencies in the management of a $100 million project to provide Internet-related equipment and wiring to all of the state’s public schools, but stopped short of calling for drastic changes to the project run by the Arizona School Facilities Board.

The auditor issued its June 13 findings from preliminary research ordered by a joint committee of the state legislature.

For months, questions have centered on the board’s relationship with Qwest Communications Inc., the beleaguered telecommunications company that is conducting the project and has slowed work until the state authorizes additional payments of up to $85 million. (“Arizona’s One-Stop Internet Education Zone Hits a Snag,” June 19, 2002.)

The auditor said the board had given Qwest too much leeway in defining the scope of its work and may not have been prudent in negotiating prices and travel billings. But it also found no statutory violations, conflicts of interest, or accounting irregularities in the project and said improvements had been made.

The auditor recommended that legislators require bimonthly reviews of the board’s management of the Qwest contract for the next 18 months.

—Andrew Trotter

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup


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