News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

October 15, 2003 5 min read
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Minn. Governor Suggests $100,000 Teacher Salary

Minnesota’s governor is proposing a pilot program that would pay educators as much as $100,000 a year to teach the state’s most academically disadvantaged students.

That’s right, $100,000.

Part of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s “Excellence and Accountability” education agenda, the plan calls for recruiting “super teachers” from inside and outside the teaching field to instruct students at five schools that serve high numbers of disadvantaged students.

The principals of those schools would be given wide discretion for hiring, assigning, and dismissing those teachers, said Mr. Pawlenty, a first-term Republican. State grants would help pay for the higher salaries.

The governor’s plan would also establish “pay-for-performance pilot sites” in addition to the “super teacher” sites that would compensate teachers for improvements in student performance. The pilot sites would be financed by a $7.8 million grant to the state from the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the Milken Family Foundation, a philanthropy based in Santa Monica, Calif.

Mr. Pawlenty, who now must submit the plan to the legislature, said the overall goal of his education agenda is “to raise the bar for all Minnesota students, but also to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.”

—Darcia Harris Bowman

N.J. Judge Orders State To Pay $80 Million More

New Jersey will have to pay 17 of its poorest school districts $80 million more than it had decided to pay for this school year, several judges have ruled.

In July, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed the state to consider the 2003-04 school year a “maintenance year” for the purpose of calculating the funding that 30 low-income districts receive beyond their basic state aid.

That “supplemental” funding covers services such as tutoring and after-school programs.

The state was supposed to provide enough to allow the districts to maintain in 2003-04 all programs, services, and positions approved in the previous year’s budget, said lawyer David G. Sciarra, who represents the districts in ongoing litigation stemming from the Abbott v. Burke school funding case.

But some of the 30 Abbott districts found the state’s figures for supplemental aid insufficient to allow maintenance of last year’s programs, Mr. Sciarra said. Nineteen of them appealed to administrative-law judges; 17 won those appeals.

If those decisions are overruled by the state secretary of education, districts can appeal to the state courts.

—Catherine Gewertz

Louisiana Voters Approve State-Takeover Amendment

Voters in Louisiana have approved Gov. Mike Foster’s plan to give the state authority to take over failing schools.

Amendment 4 was adopted Oct. 4 with support from 60 percent of those voting.

Schools that are identified by the state as “academically unacceptable” for at least four years and that have failed to improve under the state’s school accountability program could be subject to takeover.

The Republican governor’s proposal, which required a constitutional amendment, won strong, bipartisan backing in the legislature this past summer when lawmakers approved it for the ballot.

But the plan had divided the state’s education community. For instance, the Louisiana Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association, supported the measure, while the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, was opposed. If a school is slated for takeover, the state board of education will temporarily operate the site, or will work with another organization, such as a university or nonprofit group, to run the school through a charter.

Currently, 17 schools in Louisiana, all but one of them in the 77,000-student New Orleans system, are candidates for a state takeover if they don’t show improvement this school year.

—Erik W. Robelen

Georgia Schools to Compete For Gains on SAT Scores

Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia has announced an awards program designed to encourage students to score higher on the SAT.

The goal of the new “Governor’s Cup” challenge is to move the state up from last place on the national rankings on the college-entrance exam. The initiative comes as Gov. Perdue is also suggesting that the state add an SAT cutoff score to the criteria for its HOPE Scholarship program. (“Georgia Eyes HOPE Scholarship Changes,” this issue.)

Under the Governor’s Cup program, high schools in the state will be organized into five groups, based on their regions for athletic competition. The 40 schools in each region that achieve the largest gains in average scores on the college-entrance test over the current school year will each receive a trophy and a $1,000 grant. The top school in each region will receive a trophy and a $2,000 grant.

The five regional winners also will be recognized on a television show next year, and Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting, which is sponsoring and paying for the competition, will give tickets to an Atlanta Braves baseball game to the students in those top schools who took the test.

“We are using friendly competition to spur a renewed attentiveness to SAT success,” the Republican governor said recently as he announced the program.

In addition to the competition, Georgia is taking other steps to improve scores on the test, said state schools superintendent Kathy Cox. She said that the state is hiring an SAT coordinator and is increasing the number of students taking the Preliminary SAT.

—Linda Jacobson

Utah Board Seeks Aid Hike Despite Tight Budget Outlook

The Utah board of education wants a $263.5 million increase in K-12 education spending in the coming year—even though the state faces the same kind of budget squeeze as many other states.

The state board decided tentatively on Oct. 3 that it would ask the legislature for the 13 percent increase above this fiscal year’s roughly $1.7 billion for schools. Board members want to make up for previous budget cuts, account for inflation, and pay for enrollment growth of about 7,300 new students in the 480,000-student system.

Although Utah does not expect a state budget shortfall in the next budget year, the state doesn’t expect any new revenue, either. Chances that lawmakers will approve the budget increase look slim.

“It’s a proposal that we feel is necessary to express the needs of public education in Utah,” explained Patrick Ogden, the associate state schools superintendent for finance.

The board is scheduled to meet next month for a final vote on the plan.

—Alan Richard


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