State News Roundup

October 13, 1982 7 min read
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Alabama may halt statewide student testing in the 1st and 11th grades this year because the legislature did not appropriate enough money to pay for a full program.

In addition, Gov. Forrest H. (Fob) James has ordered across-the-board cuts in state government, including the state’s education trust fund. Beginning on Oct. 1, allocations for school boards and other education functions were 10 percent less than the legislature had appropriated.

Since 1978, the state has given California Achievement Tests to students in grades 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11, and has given 3rd, 6th and 9th graders a state-developed minimum-competency test. The state department has also begun developing a high-school exit exam to be used in 1985. Students will be required to pass the exam in order to receive a diploma.

However, the legislature appropriated only $500,000 of the $775,000 needed to develop the exit tests and purchase them for 11th graders.

Although Governor James had promised to release additional funds, he will be unable to do so because of the budget-cutting order.

Governor James said the $1.4-billion trust fund will be short $78 million to $100 million during the 1983 fiscal year.

The state’s education budget has been “prorated,” or trimmed, as part of an across-the-board cut, three times in the past four years. District superintendents say the fourth-year proration will once again reduce maintenance and construction budgets. Some school systems may also have to lay off support personnel.

Students in North Carolina’s public schools are punished for misbehavior in ways that do not conform to state law and that conflict with comprehensive, consistent school-board policies, according to the Governor’s Council on Advocacy and Youth.

In a report distributed recently, the council said that 42 school systems, out of the 83 that responded to a 1981 questionnaire, lacked disciplinary policies ensuring students’ right to due process.

Nineteen of the state’s 143 school systems did not have codes conforming to state law, the report said, and 55 lacked complete written policies on the use of corporal punishment.

Fifty systems allowed principals to suspend students who violated rules imposed by the principal, not by the local school board, as is required by law.

“One thing that could reduce discipline problems, we feel, is having what the rules are clearly understood by students, parents, teachers, and administrators,” said Herb Stout, chairman of the council. “Students cannot obey rules that are not known, and parents cannot support rules that are vague, illegal, or nonexistent.”

The council conducted the survey in response to many complaints about unfair disciplinary measures, Mr. Stout said. No other group has ever examined local policies to see whether they conform to law, he said.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the council mailed questionnaires to all local school superintendents in the state. The questionnaire asked for information on student codes of conduct and on policies pertaining to suspensions, expulsions, and corporal punishment.

Arizona Gov. Bruce E. Babbitt has asked the state’s board of education and the board of regents (which controls public higher education) to cooperate to impose stricter requirements for high-school graduation.

“Far too many of our graduates are leaving the public-school system without the solid training in math and basic sciences needed to compete in the rapidly evolving job market,” he told the state board of education recently.

The Governor suggested that college-bound students be required to take a minimum of three years of mathematics and two years of science. He said mathematics and science requirements should also be increased for students who do not plan to attend college.

He also said that “computer literacy” should be a certification requirement for teachers in the future. A spokesman for the governor said officials have not yet decided how to define “computer literacy.”

More than half of the Georgia science teachers surveyed recently disagree with the tenets of “scientific creationism,” but only a minority would actively oppose its inclusion in science classes. The survey asked the teachers what they thought the role of creationism should be in the public-school curriculum.

One hundred twenty-eight public-school science teachers--most of whom held master’s or other advanced degrees--responded to a survey by Paula G. Eglin, a physics and chemistry teacher at Wills High School in Smyrna.

Fifty-nine percent of the teachers said that creationism should not be included in any classes that deal with the origin of humans, the earth, and the universe, while 30 percent thought it should be. Eleven percent were undecided.

Sixty-two percent said that there was no scientific basis for creationist theory.

Eight percent said they would refuse to teach creationism in science classes if it were required in the public schools. The rest would either ignore it, teach it as a religious concept, or teach it as science.

At the time of the survey, 39 percent of the teachers taught evolution in their classes; 27 percent taught both creationism and evolution; and 31 percent taught neither (presumably, Ms. Eglin noted, the last group includes the 16 percent of respondents who teach only physical science).

Ms. Eglin conducted the survey three months after a federal district judge in Arkansas ruled that a state law requiring “balanced” classroom treatment for evolution and creation-science was unconstitutional.

Similar measures have been considered in the Georgia legislature in recent years, but have never passed.

As part of an ongoing effort to improve public education in Mississippi, the Mississippi Association of Educators has voted to ask Gov. William Winter to call a special legislative session following the November election to consider a number of key changes in the state’s education laws.

But whether the Governor calls the session depends in part on whether voters pass a constitutional amendment that would create a lay board of education.

According to the rules that govern special sessions of the legislature, the body would consider only those proposals specifically identified by the Governor. The Governor has said that if he calls the session, he will ask the legislators to consider only education issues.

The 13,000-member organization has identified several changes that it considers high priorities, according to Jerry Caruthers, assistant executive secretary for the mae

Improving teachers’ salaries is the association’s top legislative goal, Mr. Caruthers said. Many of the state’s most able teachers are moving to other states because salaries in Mississippi are too low. Currently, Mississippi teachers are the lowest paid in the country--the average salary is $14,140.

The state’s salary schedule starts at $10,475 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree and peaks at $16,875 for a specialist with an advanced degree. Local districts may supplement the salaries, and some do, Mr. Caruthers said.

The teachers’ organization is proposing that the state give teachers an across-the-board, $2,700 salary increase. And it would like the state to pay all of the health insurance costs for teachers.

The teachers’ group will also push for a collective-bargaining law that includes fact-finding and binding arbitration, but prohibits strikes. And it is encouraging the legislature to revise the state’s employee procedures act to require school boards to provide due-process hearings to teachers whose contracts are not being renewed.

Stronger compulsory-attendance laws and the establishment of public kindergartens, both of which were defeated by the legislature last year, will also be part of the organization’s proposal to the Governor.

“Mississippi teachers are finally waking up to the fact that they’re going to have to become very political to make some changes,” Mr. Caruthers said.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court said late last month that a school prayer bill, a revised version of bills introduced in the state legislature in previous years, was uncon-stitutional despite its new language.

The bill, which was drafted by a local minister, would have required no more than one minute of prayer or meditation during the first class of the school day, according to Paul C. Menton, associate counsel for the state house of representatives.

The decision marks the third time--and the second in two years--that the court has ruled on the constitutionality of a school-prayer bill, according to Mr. Menton.

But in an advisory opinion requested by the legislature, the court noted that the bill resembled previous school prayer amendments. “The court said it has answered the question already and that new wording doesn’t change anything. It’s still unconstitutional,” Mr. Menton said.

Although the Massachusetts court’s opinion has settled the matter for now in that state, the same issue could eventually confront Hawaii’s high court. Last month, the Hawaii board of education’s committee on student affairs recommended that the board adopt a new policy permitting voluntary prayer in the schools.

The school board has not scheduled a hearing on the recommendation “because of the legal ramifications of such a policy,” a spokesman for the board said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 1982 edition of Education Week as State News Roundup


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