News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

January 22, 2003 4 min read
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Lancaster, Pa., Chief Tapped for Secretary

Edward G. Rendell, Pennsylvania’s incoming governor, has nominated the superintendent of a struggling small-city district as his secretary of education.

Vicki L. Phillips, 44, who has led the Lancaster school district since 1998, said her first priorities would be finding ways to devote more money to schools and evaluating how the state can comply with the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

Mr. Rendell, a Democrat, tapped Ms. Phillips on Jan. 7 to oversee the state’s 501 districts, with 1.8 million students. He said he chose her because of her success in the 11,500-student district in southeastern Pennsylvania, where most children come from low-income families.

Before her job in Lancaster, Ms. Phillips headed the Children Achieving Challenge, managing private donations earmarked for major effort mainly to improve the Philadelphia school district. In the early 1990s, she helped lead Kentucky’s schools overhaul as chief executive assistant to the commissioner of education. Ms. Phillips’ nomination must be approved by the state Senate. Mr. Rendell was scheduled to take office Jan. 21.

—Catherine Gewertz

Arizona Newspaper Poll Finds School Spending Support

Arizona political leaders take heed: The state’s residents don’t want K-12 education sacrificed on the altar of fiscal conservatism.

At least that’s what The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, found when it polled 610 adult Arizonans in December about their priorities for state policy. Education ranked at the top, according to results published Jan. 12.

Asked about Arizona’s spending on education, 68 percent of respondents said the state doesn’t spend enough on education—even though spending on all levels of education consume more than half the budget.

Twenty-one percent said Arizona spends the right amount on education, and 4 percent said it spends too much, according to the newspaper.

The newspaper took the survey at the same time that the state’s budget deficit was making headlines. Lawmakers must close a $300 million gap in fiscal 2003 budget of $6.2 billion, and a projected $1 billion shortage in fiscal 2004.

Asked what areas of the state budget could be cut without causing “significant damage,” 28 percent of respondents chose “the state does not need to cut any spending;" 27 percent picked cuts to highways and transportation; 19 percent chose cuts to public safety and prisons; and 11 percent picked reductions in aid to poor people. Only 7 percent agreed that the state should cut education.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

National Organization Rates State Charter School Laws

States are evenly split between those with “strong” and “weak” charter school laws, according to an analysis released last week by a Washington-based group that strongly supports such schools.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia earned A’s or B’s from the Center for Education Reform in its sixth ranking of state charter school laws. The center defines strong laws—those earning A’s or B’s—as statutes that “foster the development of numerous, genuinely independent charter schools.”

Read a summary of the report, “Charter School Laws Across the States 2003,” from the Center for Education Reform. The complete publication can be ordered for $39.95 by calling (800) 521-2118.

The rest of the laws were tagged as weak, with 13 getting C’s, five earning D’s, and two failing altogether.

Arizona was again found to have the nation’s strongest law, and Mississippi, which received an F, was again judged to have the weakest. Iowa, which passed its first law authorizing charter schools last year, got the only other F. Another state with a new charter statute, Tennessee, was given a low C and ranked 32nd of the 39 states and the District of Columbia with laws allowing the independent public schools.

Reporting that eight states’ charter laws were “significantly amended” in 2002, center officials said the nation’s charter movement has been hit with a bout of “regulatory fever.” States with new charter regulations that saw their rankings drop include California, Delaware, and Georgia.

—Caroline Hendrie

Nevada Mulling a Delay In Science Assessment

A science-proficiency test in Nevada, currently slated to become a graduation requirement for the class of 2005, could be put on hold.

The state has been administering standards-based high school exit tests in mathematics and English/language arts since 2000, but last year delayed the science exam until the 2003-04 school year.

But, with the push for districts to comply with the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, lawmakers are voicing concerns about district workload. Nevada plans to add three new proficiency tests over the next few years to the 16 it now gives at various grades.

“The districts have a lot going on in terms of assessment,” said Pepper Sturm, the chief principal research analyst for the legislature, who noted that the state also wants to ensure that a test is “valid and reliable” before making it a requirement for graduation.

The bicameral Legislative Committee on Education plans to recommend that lawmakers delay the exam until the 2007-08 school year.

—Marianne D. Hurst


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