State Journal: No choice; Reporting errors

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The issue of school-finance equity has been an especially explosive one in Virginia in recent weeks.

First, a state commission proposed shifting some $85 million in aid from affluent districts, mostly in the Washington suburbs, to poorer systems in the southern part of the state.

Subsequently, state officials announced a total of $101 million in state-aid cuts that were geared to fall more heavily on affluent areas.

But a recent poll by The Richmond News Leader suggests that state legislators do not have much sympathy with that approach.

Forty-two of the legislators responding to the poll said they opposed the state commission's plan, while 23 favored it.

Lawmakers gave some frank assessments of the politics of finance equity.

"Another rape of Northern Virginia is in the works," said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a Fairfax County Republican.

Instead, Mr. Callahan suggested, "Less 'affluent' localities should make a greater effort."

Despite qualms, Delegate Jay W. DeBoer, a Democrat who represents a poor area, said he was bound to support the commission's proposal.

"I acknowledge how grotesquely unfair this concept is to successful districts and that the measure will not pass," he said. "But considering the three localities I represent, what other answer can I give?"

The "report cards" on schools sent to Louisiana parents last month merited less than a perfect grade, state officials recently discovered.

The reports were part of a new program under which the state provides information to parents on such topics as schools' class size and attendance.

But education department officials eventually realized that the reports showed some schools with disturbingly, even unbelievably, high suspension rates.

One middle school was said to have an 88 percent suspension rate.

Inquiries revealed that the schools had determined their rates by dividing the number of suspensions, rather than the number of suspended students, by their total number of students.

State officials sought to put the best face on the affair.

"It's not at all surprising," said Janella Rachal, director of the department's bureau of evaluation and analytical services. "All the other states I know that have done this have had the same kind of thing happen."

"One of the purposes of profiles is accountability. So in ensuring we get the right kind of information, it's accomplishing its task," Ms. Rachal added.--hd

Vol. 10, Issue 17

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