State News Roundup

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Saul Cooperman, commissioner of education in New Jersey, this month provided the state board of education with details of a new program that would provide grants of up to $15,000 to teachers who develop effective teaching methods.

The New Jersey Governor's Teacher Grant Program, currently under consideration in the legislature, would cost about $500,000, according to state officials.

It would offer grants to individual teachers or groups of teachers in both public and private schools who develop and implement classroom practices "demonstrated as effective in enhancing student learning." The state would then assist in promoting the effective methods in schools throughout the state, Mr. Cooperman told the board.

The commissioner also said special consideration would be given to projects in reading, writing, science, student discipline, and the use of3technology in the classroom.

"These awards are an acknowledgement of professional competence and an opportunity for teachers to see that their individual efforts benefit students all over New Jersey," Mr. Cooperman said.

Five Washington school districts are suing the state, claiming that a legislatively imposed cap on state spending for learning-disabled students violates the state's constitutional obligation to fund basic education.

The districts are basing their case on a ruling two years ago in the case of Seattle et al. v. Washington, in which a superior-court judge reaffirmed the constitutionally protected status of education in Washington and defined the state's "basic" obligations as including the costs of bilingual education, special education, remedial education, and transportation.

Despite the court's ruling, the legislature last year capped the per-pupil funding of programs for learning-disabled students at 4 percent of a district's total enrollment, according to Robert Alford, superintendent of the North Kitsap schools, one of the parties to the suit.

As a result, North Kitsap, which has identified 8.8 percent of its students as learning-disabled, receives about $170,000 less in state aid than it would get if fully funded, Mr. Alford said. "The legislature just doesn't fully fund these programs, despite the constitution and despite the law," he said.

According to Mr. Alford, 180 of the state's 299 districts exceed the 4 percent limit. Other parties to the suit include districts in Tahoma, Issaquah, Quillayute Valley, and Port Townsend.

A majority of Connecticut residents favor pay raises for teachers, both across the board and on the basis of merit, a recently released poll indicates.

But the 500 residents surveyed also want teachers to prove they de-serve better pay by taking competency tests before entering the profession and periodic exams to show that they are keeping up-to-date.

"The key there is that people feel teachers as a group are underpaid, and the existing system does not adequately reward quality," said G. Donald Ferree Jr., associate director of the University of Connecticut Institute for Social Inquiry, which conducted the poll.

The poll, commissioned by Gov. William A. O'Neill's commission on equity and excellence in education, also found that a plurality of Connecticut residents would vote to raise local taxes to improve education. Also, 47 percent said their communities were spending too little on education, while only six percent felt they were spending too much.

"It's really quite a positive thing--remarkably positive--and demonstrates a strong willingness, at least in the state of Connecticut, to do something" about improving education, Mr. Ferree said.

The Governor's commission, appointed last summer, is considering ways to improve the quality of education in the state.

Kentucky's Prichard Committee, the citizen's panel that is leading a grassroots school-reform effort, has released a new series of reports that call for school-finance reform, changes in the state's vocational-education system, and the development of public early-childhood-education programs.

The committee urged the legislature to raise minimum property-tax rates from 15 to 25 cents per $100 for the state's equalization program, which provides additional funds for property-poor districts.

The panel also suggested that the state provide a matching rate of 25 cents instead of the current 6.3 cents for the property-tax assessments.

Kentucky could raise more than $811 million in one year for school improvement if lawmakers vote to raise underused taxes to the national average, the group said.

The private study group also argued that state vocational schools should be funded under a program similar to the minimum foundation program used to fund other public schools. Vocational-technical schools should have a curriculum that is "clearly postsecondary in content," and should operate under a plan more closely aligned with manpower needs, the group said.

The panel's recommendations also called for comprehensive public preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Vol. 04, Issue 30

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