News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Teacher Crisis Getting Worse, New Statewide Review Suggests

Despite significant spending on efforts to improve schools, California continues to face a teacher-quality crisis that, in many respects, has gotten worse, a new study suggests.

The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit group in Santa Cruz, Calif., reports that the number of California classrooms headed by someone with less than a full state teaching credential grew from 34,000 in the 1997-98 school year to 42,000 in 2000- 01.While the overall percentage of teachers who lack such credentials has held steady at about 14 percent, recent years have seen greater concentrations of them in schools with large numbers of needy and minority children, the report adds.

While California's ambitious, 1996 class-size-reduction initiative has played a part, the report's authors also blame a mix of demographic and economic factors, and argue that state efforts to improve teacher recruitment and preparation have not kept up with districts' hiring needs. Among the center's recommendations: raise state aid to programs that produce large numbers of graduates for hard-to-staff schools; boost financial incentives to draw fully qualified teachers to low-performing schools; and require districts to publicly report the percentage of underqualified teachers in their schools.

—Jeff Archer

N.H. Court Rejects Funding Suit

Two property-rich towns in New Hampshire have been rebuffed in their legal bid challenging the state's 3-year- old system of school finance.

New London and Newbury argued that they were "double taxed" because they belong to one of the state's 32 cooperative school districts. As the wealthiest of the seven towns in the Kearsarge district, New London and Newbury already subsidize public schools for member towns with less property wealth.

In a Dec. 6 ruling, Superior Court Judge Kathleen A. McGuire rejected that argument, saying that the state and district taxing systems were separate.

No decision has been made on whether to appeal, the lawyer for both towns said.

The lawsuit was the latest in a string of legal challenges by well-to-do communities that believe they pay more than their fair share of state property taxes under the school funding system.

"We believe we now have ended all the cases that will challenge the statewide property tax on the basis of double taxation," said Anne M. Edwards, the senior assistant state attorney general who argued the case for New Hampshire.

—Debra Viadero

California Denies Secession Vote

Residents of the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles won't get a chance to vote on seceding from the nation's second-largest school district any time soon.

The California state board of education decided unanimously last month against an election on the issue, upholding an earlier recommendation by the state education department.

Department officials had concluded that a petition to break away from the 723,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District did not meet two of the nine criteria required by law.

The secession proponents hoped to break off into a north valley district and a south valley district, each with about 100,000 students.

Stephanie Carter, one of the organizers of the secession movement, said she was "very disappointed," but didn't know whether residents would try again in the future.

In November, voters in Carson, Calif., defeated a measure to secede from the Los Angeles district. If the measure had passed, the new Carson district would have had about 22,000 students. ("Schooled in Politics, Calif. Parents Regroup," Dec. 12, 2001.)

—Linda Jacobson

Hawaii Gets State Superintendent

Patricia Hamamoto

The Hawaii board of education has named Patricia Hamamoto as the new state superintendent. The board awarded her a four-year contract last month.

A former deputy chief in the state education department, Ms. Hamamoto had been serving as the superintendent of the statewide school system on an interim basis following the resignation of Paul G. LeMahieu in October.

Since coming to the department in early 2000, Ms. Hamamoto, a former high school principal, worked with schools statewide to help them comply with a consent decree to improve mental-health and special education services for students.

The state board increased the superintendent's salary from $90,000 to $150,000, the full amount authorized by the legislature.

—Linda Jacobson

Virginia Has New Education Secretary

Belle S. Wheelan

Like her predecessor, Virginia's new education secretary comes with a background in higher education.

Belle S. Wheelan, the president of Northern Virginia Community College since 1998, was appointed to the Cabinet-level job last month by Gov.-elect Mark R. Warner, a Democrat who was elected in November. Mr. Warner takes office Jan. 12.

Ms. Wheelan previously was the president of Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg, and has held other administrative posts at community colleges in Virginia and Texas.

As the secretary of education, she will oversee Virginia's precollegiate and higher education systems, though the previous secretaries have steered clear of day-to-day decisions on K-12 schooling.

The state also has a superintendent of public instruction who manages its K-12 education agency.

Ms. Wheelan replaces Wilbert Bryant, a Republican, who recently accepted a post at the U.S. Department of Education.

—Alan Richard

Wisconsin Regents Defer Test

The University of Wisconsin board of regents has voted to defer a plan requiring all Wisconsin public high school students take a graduation test prior to admission to the university system.

Last month's 16-1 decision was made in light of news that the state had yet to finance or publish the controversial high school graduation test, said Kevin Boatright, a spokesman for the board.

In addition, he said, the regents want more time to study whether the rule is fair, given that graduates of private schools and those who enroll from outside the state do not have to take the test.

The policy, which was to go into effect in 2003, will be delayed until further notice, Mr. Boatright added.

More than 30 percent of all Wisconsin seniors attend one of the University of Wisconsin's 13 campuses.

—Julie Blair

Vol. 21, Issue 16, Page 18

Published in Print: January 9, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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