News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Scholarship Program Expands To Cover Students Nationwide

The Children's Scholarship Fund, a privately financed voucher-style program launched last spring by businessmen Theodore J. Forstmann and John Walton, announced last week that it was expanding nationwide.

Previously, the scholarships, which pay for low-income children to attend private schools, had been available in 43 cities and throughout Arkansas, Michigan, and New Hampshire. Now, program directors have committed an additional $30 million so that families with children in grades K-8 nationwide can qualify for the scholarships. ("Millionaires To Back National Voucher Project," June 10, 1998.)

The fund will randomly select families for 40,000 four-year partial scholarships, which are expected to be worth $600 to $1,600, depending on a family's size, income, and the cost of the school selected.

The expansion of the program means the New York City-based fund will award $170 million in scholarships this spring.

--Ann Bradley

SOURCE: American Legislative Exchange Council

Judge Blocks Internet Law

A federal judge in Philadelphia handed down a preliminary injunction last week blocking a law that tries to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet.

The Child Online Protection Act, passed by Congress last October, does not adequately protect free speech, Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. wrote in his ruling in American Civil Liberties Union v. Janet Reno.

The judge noted in the decision, however, his regret that the injunction would delay the protection of children from material in cyberspace.

Under the law, all commercial World Wide Web sites with material that is considered to be harmful to minors are required to use devices, such as age-verification technology, to keep children away; if convicted, company officials could face fines or prison.

The federal government has 60 days to decide whether to go ahead with a full trial or appeal the injunction.

--Mary Ann Zehr

Slow Progress in Compton Schools

A team of outside reviewers has given the Compton, Calif., district a D for progress. While there has been improvement, the school system has a long way to go before it will be ready to resume operation on its own, the team's report, issued last week, concludes. The 29,000-student district in Los Angeles County was taken over by the state in 1993 in the wake of a severe budget shortfall.

The review found that the district had made or was close to making about one-fifth of 372 "essential changes." Auditors cited student performance and financial stability as two areas of progress.

State Assemblyman Carl Washington, who represents the district in the state legislature, was critical of the report, which he said unfairly blames the community for intractable problems and neglects the damaging impact of five different state administrators in six years.

--Bess Keller

Clark To Step Down in Md.

In the face of serious criticism about the Prince George's County, Md., schools, the district's superintendent announced last week that he will retire as of July 1.

Jerome Clark, a 28-year veteran of the county schools who started as a teacher, said that rather than risk standing in the way of progress, he would step aside.

Critics of the 129,000-student district's leadership point out that students continue to score next to last in the state on assessments, and that many schools are in jeopardy of a state takeover. Mr. Clark ordered an overhaul of six schools in 1997 to avoid such intervention. ("Six Suburban Schools in Md. To Be 'Reconstituted,'" June 11, 1997.)

Alvin Thornton, the chairman of the county school board, said the schools would not be turned around by simply replacing Mr. Clark or the current school board members. He suggested that the district needs smaller class sizes, summer-enrichment programs, increased pay for teachers, and better distribution of state resources.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Teachers To Get Retirement Funds

A Texas judge has approved a nearly $11 million settlement in a class action involving thousands of teachers nationwide who said they were misled into buying a retirement plan that paid little or no interest for several years.

The settlement was reached in October between the Austin-based National Western Life Insurance Co. and the plaintiffs. District Court Judge Margaret A. Cooper, in Austin, approved the settlement last month. ("Insurance Company Agrees To Settle Teachers' Claims," Nov. 4, 1998.)

In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed they were surprised to find out their two-tier annuity plan paid no interest for at least seven years after they retired.

The agreement calls for National Western to pay claims ranging from $1,400 to $138,300 to as many as 87,000 policyholders nationwide.

--Robert C. Johnston

District Drops Choice Policy

Fearing a possible loss of federal aid, the Lima, Ohio, school district has dropped a 15-year-old policy that barred white students from participating in an intra- and inter-district school choice plan.

The policy allowed students to transfer from schools where they were in the racial majority to schools in their district or in neighboring ones where they were in the racial minority. Of the district's 5,800 students, about half are white and half are black.

The school board adopted the policy in 1984 as part of a federally ordered desegregation plan. That mandate ended in 1987, but school officials continued the voluntary-transfer program until last month, when they reviewed the policy with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

Superintendent Michael E. Kinneer said that he and other district leaders believed the race-based policy could jeopardize some $4 million in federal funding the district receives each year. He said the district would pursue other ways of promoting racial diversity.

--Kerry A. White

Board Limits Home Schoolers

The Fairfax County, Va., school board has voted to allow home-schooled students to take certain courses only after school hours. The board said it would be too disruptive to full-time students to let home schoolers enroll in selected classes during the regular school day.

In an 8-4 vote last month, the board approved a plan to let home-schooled students interested in high-level academic courses enroll in the adult and community education program after school if a minimum of eight students requested the class.

Supporters hoped to take advantage of a new Virginia law that reimburses schools for part-time students.

Kitty Porterfield, a spokeswoman for the 152,000-student district, said the board was concerned that allowing part-time students into classes during the regular day would pose logistical and staffing conflicts that would play havoc with schedules. The district will still be eligible for state reimbursement, she said.

--Jessica Portner

Catholic Teachers To Get Raises

Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis announced last week an agreement with Roman Catholic elementary teachers in the diocesan school system that would bring their salaries more in line with those of their counterparts in Catholic high schools.

The archbishop organized a committee last May in response to teachers' push for union representation. The committee, made up of 10 elementary teachers and 10 parish representatives, crafted the new salary structure. ("Catholic Teachers Start Union in St. Louis," Oct. 9, 1996.)

Under the plan, the 2,200 teachers will receive an 18.3 percent increase in starting salaries, and an 11.8 percent raise for the most experienced teachers over a three-year period. Those increases will bring their salaries within 2 percent of those received by the archdiocese's secondary teachers.

Archbishop Rigali has established an $800,000 fund to help the local parishes that run the 150 elementary schools pay the salary increases for next school year.

--Candice Furlan

Teen Killed After Basketball Game

Violence following a basketball game in New York City has resulted in the stabbing death of a local high school student.

Michael Bennett, a 14-year-old freshman at the 2,800-student Lafayette High School, was heading home with a teammate from a privately sponsored basketball game at Jackie Robinson Junior High School in Brooklyn Jan. 27 when a group of boys attacked them.

According to a police report, the fight broke out because of a scoring dispute. The other youth was hit in the head with a baseball bat but was able to run away.

Five suspects, ages 15 to 17, have been arrested and face charges ranging from second-degree murder to attempted assault.

--Michelle Galley

Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 4

Published in Print: February 10, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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