News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Report Urges More Accountability For California Public Schools

California needs to reward schools for academic improvement and intervene when schools fail to get better, according to a draft report by an education task force.

"This report ... embraces a new vision for California's schools, one which focuses school accountability squarely on results," the draft filed recently by the Rewards and Interventions Advisory Committee says. The 40-member panel began work last spring after being picked by state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin.

The panel recommends a system to "index" student performance and require schools to set goals based on that system. Schools that made progress toward the goals would get cash rewards. Schools that fell short could be targeted for technical aid or state takeover.

The report, which will be presented to the legislature next month, also calls for middle and high school entrance exams, compulsory summer programs for students performing below grade level, and a merit diploma for top high school graduates.

The plan would cost about $771 million if implemented in the 1998-99 school year.

Chiles Signs School Construction Bill

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles has put the state's school construction issue to rest for now, signing into law a bill that will pump up to $2.7 billion in state money into constructing new schools and repairing existing ones over the next five years.

"While we haven't solved all our problems, we think the state is moving a long way to do its part," Mr. Chiles said late last month. "I hope, in a few short months, we'll see new elementary schools being built in our state and old portables being hauled away."

The legislature passed the bill during a special session on school construction last month. The new funds will be distributed to the state's 67 school districts based on need. ("Lawmakers Act To Ease Crowding," Nov. 12, 1997.)

The state will borrow most of the $2.7 billion and repay the debt and accrued interest over 30 years, with $180 million each year in lottery money. The lottery had been used to help pay for school operations, and will be replaced with money from the state's general-revenue fund.

N.H. Schools To Get Technology Boost

Thanks to the first visible initiative to result from Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's statewide education summit earlier this fall, New Hampshire schools will soon have better access to the Internet.

A $5 million public-private partnership announced by Bell Atlantic Corp. and Cabletron Systems Inc. will provide free high-speed Internet access and networking to all public schools and libraries in the state that want it.

Bell Atlantic of Manchester, N.H., will spend roughly $3 million to offer each school and library an additional telephone line at no charge for two years. Cabletron, a Rochester, N.H.-based computer-networking company, will provide up to $2 million worth of network access. The company will also help schools draft technology plans.

Also, the Widearea Integrated Network for the Granite State, a statewide technology project, will provide Internet training to teachers.

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