News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Considers Class-Size Plan

California lacks the money, facilities, and teachers to carry out Gov. Pete Wilsons plan to add 4th graders to the states class-size-reduction program, the states legislative analyst says in a report.

The report comes as state officials are trying to find ways to help schools implement the popular but expensive initiative to shrink class sizes from an average of 28 students to 20 students in grades K-3.

California's top school official said she is not ready to back down on the expansion.

"Expanding class-size reduction is doable, realistic, and important enough to be encouraged in the strongest possible terms and to proceed apace," Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said.

But in her report, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill says that the average cost of each student in the program has turned out to be about $770--far more than the state's funding of about $630 per student.

As a result, some schools can't pay for needed staff members, materials, and facilities, such as the purchase of portable classrooms.

And the roughly 18,400 new teachers hired to reduce class sizes are generally less qualified than previously hired teachers, Ms. Hill says.

Ms. Hill's office, which acts as the legislature's accountant, recommended that lawmakers:

  • Delay expanding the program to the 4th grade;
  • Raise spending for overall local school needs;
  • Allow districts to set average pupil-teacher ratios in K-3 classes at 20-to-1, while raising the maximum size to 22 students; and
  • Use some of the state's $52 million in federal Goals 2000 money to hire and train teachers for the class-size-reduction program.

Ms. Eastin said that she supports increased funding and staff development to help prepare more teachers for the program.

And while state officials explore how to deal with the second year of the class-size-reduction program, a new law may bring help from some of the state's most experienced teachers.

Earlier this month, Mr. Wilson, a Republican, signed into law a measure that encourages retired teachers to work in schools that participate in the class-size-reduction program.

Under the measure, retired teachers can earn full salaries for teaching, without losing pension benefits. Under normal circumstances, retired teachers start to see pension payments decline if they earn more than $18,000 a year.

To qualify, teachers need at least a bachelor's degree, must pass state teacher certification tests, and take 120 hours of training.

Lois Tinson, the president of the California Teachers' Association, said that the law "will help ensure that districts will have a larger contingent of fully qualified teachers to help them effectively reduce class size and provide quality instruction."

Hunt Sets His Agenda for N.C.

Tougher classroom standards, higher teacher salaries, and expansion of an early-childhood-education initiative are among the top priorities listed by Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina.

In a State of the State Address devoted almost entirely to education, Mr. Hunt called for tightening teacher licensure and tenure requirements and offering rewards for the state's best teachers. He proposed raising salaries for first-year teachers to $25,000 a year, nearly a $4,000 increase, by 2000.

The most experienced and successful teachers would earn up to $53,000, a $10,000 hike over the current top salary.

"It's the least we can do for the most important and hard-working people in North Carolina," the Democratic governor told lawmakers. His plans would address high teacher turnover attributed to low pay in the state's 1,960 schools.

North Carolina ranks 42nd in the nation in teacher pay; and one-third of teachers there leave the profession within three years.

Mr. Hunt also proposed a 12 percent raise for teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Mr. Hunt chairs the group. He is also seeking a 10 percent increase for those who earn a master's degree by 2000. Under his plan, teachers who took on extra duties, such as mentoring new teachers, and those in schools that exceeded expectations would receive bonuses. Ineffective teachers would be fired, he said.

The state's Smart Start early-childhood initiative, now running in 43 of the state's 100 counties, would be instituted statewide under the governor's proposal.

"Now, we can't guarantee every child a good family. And we can't set up a new public school system for children under five," Mr. Hunt said. "What we can do is put more public and private resources into those critical early years. And that's what Smart Start does."

Ky. Bonuses Calculated

Kentucky teachers will split $27.2 million in bonuses this spring, a reward for school improvement on state testing and other criteria over the past two years.

State officials recently calculated that awards will range from $1,155 to $2,310 per teacher.

The money will be sent as a lump sum to schools based on the number of teachers employed. State officials said that 533 of Kentucky's 1,371 schools qualified for the rewards--a sign that they are surpassing the state's goals for them.

Once the bonus money arrives, teachers can vote on how to divide it within each school. In the first round of awards two years ago, high-achieving teachers split more than $26 million.

State officials said that more than 14,000 certified school employees got bonuses in 1994. This year, the rewards will be split among more than 16,000 workers.

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