News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Calif. Education Officials Will Study Textbook Prices

State education officials and lawmakers in California say they will look into ways to to get better deals on textbooks, after a newspaper reported on the rising costs for the texts over the past decade.

The state board of education, which approves texts in core subjects, does not weigh the price of textbooks in the adoption process, according to last month's two-part series by the San Jose Mercury News. By law, the board is allowed to consider content only.

Unless the state's adoption process is changed to allow the board to purchase books itself, the state has little bargaining power, said board President Reed Hastings. Currently, local officials use their state textbook allocations to buy approved texts. Districts can negotiate for lower prices, but lack the leverage that the state would have if it bought in bulk.

California spends up to $400 million on instructional materials annually, and is the largest textbook-adoption state. Some states, such as Texas, set limits on how much districts can pay for a single textbook.

According to the newspaper reports on Dec. 15 and 16, California paid $20 for an English text 10 years ago. The price for some English texts has reached $57. State officials say the higher prices reflect the cost of producing texts that cover the state's curricular requirements.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Missouri Program for Dropouts Becomes Victim of Budget Cuts

A Missouri program that supporters say has helped more than 800 high school dropouts reform their lives has been killed because of state budget cuts.

The Show-Me Challenge, a residential, quasi-military treatment program for troubled teenagers, will close despite fund-raising efforts by parents and alumni. The Missouri National Guard ran the program.

"It was either close us down or shut down National Guard armories," said Sandra Fontaine, the deputy director of the program. "I know there are people out there who are trying to help, but it's out of our hands now. It's a final decision."

The free, five- month program accepted only teenagers who signed up for it voluntarily. It cost the financially strapped Missouri National Guard $1.1 million a year. The rest of the program's $2.8 million budget was covered by federal grants. Missouri is projecting a $500 million revenue shortfall in fiscal 2004.

"We had a high attrition rate, but we stayed very successful," Ms. Fontaine said.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Mandatory School Holidays Challenged by Illinois Board

The Illinois state board of education is recommending that the legislature eliminate five state holidays that school districts are required to honor with a day off.

Illinois public schools currently observe 12 legal holidays, according to an annual report on waivers that was recently presented to the board. Every year, the report says, schools seek waivers from five holidays more than any others. Those days are: Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Abraham Lincoln's birthday; a day honoring Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born American Revolutionary War hero; Columbus Day; and Veterans Day.

The state board routinely grants waivers allowing districts to skip those holidays. Since 1995, more than 83 percent of the state's districts have received relief from at least one mandated holiday.

Under the board-approved recommendation, school districts would not have to take those five days off, but would instead have to honor the individuals celebrated through some kind of instructional activities. Schools could also arrange staff training, parent-teacher conferences, and similar activities on those days. It is now up to legislators to decide if they wanted to sponsor a bill to change state law on school holidays.

—Sean Cavanagh

School Building Costs May Climb As Conn. Tries to Curb Spending

To help Connecticut close an ever-widening budget deficit, Gov. John G. Rowland has proposed changing the way the state shares the cost of paying for local school building projects.

Currently, Connecticut pays for between 20 percent and 80 percent of such projects—depending on a locality's wealth—by issuing state bonds. Mr. Rowland's plan would hike a district's share of those costs by 10 percent above what it has been.

In addition, the Republican governor has suggested deferring $400 million in funding for school projects that requested state aid in late 2001, and doing the same for requests made last year. The cost-sharing process usually takes at least a year between the time a plan is submitted and when the state begins disbursing money.

State officials say it's unclear how many building projects could be affected, particularly since many of the projects are not ready to begin. Connecticut faces a $500 million deficit in the state's current $13 billion budget.

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 22, Issue 18, Page 16

Published in Print: January 15, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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