News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

February 11, 2004 6 min read
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Gov. Perry Would Link Aid to Performance

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has released a plan to raise student achievement by offering schools extra state money for students who meet certain criteria.

The governor’s seven-part “educational excellence” incentive program would cost the state approximately $500 million a year. Details about how the program would be funded should be discussed during a special legislative session the governor is planning to call this spring, according to a spokesman for Mr. Perry.

The plan includes a dropout-prevention incentive that would give high schools an additional $100 per student for each grade that a pupil completed. An incentive designed to boost scores on the state’s achievement test would give schools an additional $100 for each student who scored at the highest level on that test.

Mr. Perry also proposed giving schools an extra $100 for every English-language learner who passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Under his plan, moreover, a high school would receive an additional $1,000 for every student who graduated having completed a rigorous course of study, including foreign languages and Advanced Placement courses. Schools would receive twice that amount for every student deemed at risk for academic failure who had completed such a program.

Mr. Perry also announced a financial incentive that would award individual teachers extra money if their students met specific performance standards.

—Michelle Galley

Indiana Kindergarten Plan Struggles With First Hurdle

After dramatically failing twice in the Indiana House last week to get his full-day-kindergarten plan passed, Gov. Joe Kernan was still hoping at press time for one more chance to see that central piece of his legislative agenda passed.

The governor, a Democrat, needed 51 votes to pass the measure, which requires a constitutional amendment. It would expand full-day kindergarten to 20,000 children in the state. A vote Feb. 2 failed 49-46. The second vote, which failed 50-47, included a failed effort to allow a Democratic member of the House to vote from home, where he was recovering from heart surgery.

Under the governor’s plan, $31.5 million would be directed from the Common School Fund, which usually covers school construction, to begin the program in the coming fall. Opponents argue that would not be a sound long-term funding strategy.

“When we talk about the opportunity for 20,000 more children to attend full-day kindergarten this fall, what that means is that there will be 20,000 better-educated Hoosiers that will be better prepared to take the jobs of the future,” Mr. Kernan said in a statement after the first failed vote.

—Linda Jacobson

Gap in Mathematics Courses Cited in Minnesota Report

Black, Hispanic, and Native American public school students in Minnesota are more likely to avoid high-level high school math courses than their white and Asian peers, according to an annual report used by policymakers to gauge the state’s progress on its education goals.

A quarter or more of those students reported having completed no work in algebra, geometry, and calculus, compared with only about 10 percent of Asian-American and white students.

Half of Asian students and 45 percent of white students have completed work at the level of Algebra 2 or above, compared with only 19 percent of African- Americans, 28 percent of Hispanics, and 21 percent of American Indians.

The authors of the report, “2003 Minnesota Education Yearbook,” published by the University of Minnesota’s office of educational accountability, posit that many minority students may avoid tougher courses in mathematics for a range of reasons, including feeling less prepared for such classes, feeling less likely to attend a four-year college, or being assigned by school officials to lower- level classes.

“Whatever the reason,” the authors write, “closing the ethnic gaps in achievement will probably require closing the gap between minority and majority students in the amount, but more importantly, the level of math coursework completed.”

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Community College Courses Can Raise N.C. Student GPAs

High school students in North Carolina will get more opportunities to increase their grade point averages by taking community college courses.

Officials with the state community college and university systems agreed late last month on a plan to award more points for college-level courses in core subjects than are now given.

Students can enroll in those courses beginning in 10th grade. The new policy will take effect in the 2004-05 school year.

Officials with the state department of public instruction had proposed last fall reducing the number of high school honors courses for which students could earn additional points toward their final grades. The officials cited a lack of consistent standards throughout the state’s 117 school districts and unequal access to honors classes as reasons for the changes.

State education officials are expected to develop a statewide grading policy for honors courses by the fall.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Some New York Seniors Get Break From State Exam

While students in New York City may have cheered the weather-related closing of schools on Jan. 28, state and local school officials were left wondering what to do about the thousands of students who were unable to take the state Regents examinations slated for that day.

Rescheduling the tests, which covered several subjects, was seen by state officials as too costly, as well as impractical because schools in other parts of the state had already taken the exams, thus introducing the possibility of cheating.

Early last week, the state education department announced it would allow an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 seniors affected to use course grades of at least 65 percent, or the equivalent, to meet the requirement for a local diploma.

In a written statement, Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills called the decision “the fairest course of action.”

Seniors who want to earn the more rigorous Regents diploma, or who missed the second session of the two-day English Regents test, however, must pass the exams when they are given later this year.

—Robert C. Johnston

Neb. School-Merger Hearing Draws an Overflow Crowd

An overflow crowd of more than 200 people turned out Feb. 3 for a hearing on school consolidation before the Nebraska legislature’s education committee.

Three rooms had to be used to accommodate the unusually large crowd, which came to hear testimony over a proposal to merge 241 primary-grade-only school districts across the state with K-12 districts.

Proponents of the bill, which Sen. Ron Raikes is sponsoring in the unicameral legislature, say it would encourage greater fiscal efficiency in how schools are organized.

Those supporters, including Commissioner of Education Douglas D. Christensen, also testified that it currently is difficult to hold small districts academically accountable because they sometimes have so few students that confidentiality concerns stand in the way of making test results public.

Opponents of the measure argued that the bill would have the effect of forcing small schools to be closed and result in negligible savings.

“I think we are giving up more than we are getting,” said Marilyn Meerkatz, who is the executive director of Class I’s United, a group that supports the elementary-only districts, which are called Class I districts. “These districts are providing education tailored to their individual communities.”

The committee was expected to discuss the bill again this week.

—Robert C. Johnston


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