News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Test Supporters Hail Lower Dropout Rate

Massachusetts education officials are pointing to the lowest dropout rate for juniors in five years as evidence that the state's high-stakes graduation exam isn't pushing students out of school.

Massachusetts education officials are pointing to the lowest dropout rate for juniors in five years as evidence that the state's high-stakes graduation exam isn't pushing students out of school.

According to a state education department report released Feb. 13, only 3 percent of high school juniors dropped out of school last year. That was down from 4 percent the previous year, and lower than the five-year high of 4.3 percent in 1998-99.

Critics of the exam have contended that it will cause students who repeatedly fail the exam to drop out of school.

Beginning this year, students must pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System in math and English to graduate.

"These statistics clearly show that those who suggested the sky was going to fall because of MCAS were wrong," said Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll.

But critics maintain that the department did not capture a true snapshot of the dropout problem. They say more students are leaving school in their freshman and sophomore years.

—John Gehring

Money Needs Cited To Continue Ky. Reforms

Kentucky needs to add more than $400 million in new K-12 spending over the next two years if it's going to continue the momentum of its 13-year-old school improvement efforts, according to a report issued by Gov. Paul E. Patton this month.

In the report, the Democrat said the state needs to pay for a variety of projects to keep the commitments of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act.

Among the additions the report says are needed during the coming two-year budget cycle are:

  • $300 million to the state's funding formula to ensure an equitable distribution of school spending among wealthy and poor communities;
  • $100 million for teacher-salary increases to keep the state on track for bringing its average teacher salary up to the national average by 2009; and
  • $20 million to pay for all-day kindergarten statewide.

Paying for the projects will be difficult because Kentucky, like many other states, is facing its worst fiscal crisis since World War II, Mr. Patton said in a separate budget report to the legislature Feb. 5. Kentucky is operating on a budget Mr. Patton enacted through executive order because the legislature failed to pass one last year. Lawmakers are now in session and working on a budget for the rest of the two-year cycle that ends July 1, 2004.

Mr. Patton, who is prohibited from seeking re-election to a third term this year, has proposed raising corporate income taxes to pay for the education increases and other services that are deemed vital.

—David J. Hoff

Perdue Aims to Restore Teachers' Appeal Rights

Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia unveiled education legislation last week that would restore teachers' due-process rights that were removed under former Gov. Roy E. Barnes.

Under Gov. Perdue's plan, once teachers signed their contracts for a fourth year, they would be given the right to appeal to the state's Professional Standards Commission if their districts tried to fire them.

"We want good principals to be able to get rid of ineffective teachers, not bad principals to be able to get rid of good teachers," said Mr. Perdue, who was accompanied at his announcement by state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox, a fellow Republican who also was elected last November.

The proposed law would apply to teachers hired after July 1, 2000. Those hired before that date are still covered by the previous Fair Dismissal Act.

Restoring due-process rights has been a top legislative priority of the Georgia Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

—Linda Jacobson

Texas Court Will Hear School Funding Case

The Texas Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought by property-wealthy districts claiming the state's school finance system creates a statewide property tax, which is barred by the state constitution.

Under the state's "Robin Hood" finance system, which was established by court order in 1994, property-wealthy districts must share the money they raise in property taxes with property-poor districts.

The system also caps the amount that districts can levy in property taxes, at $1.50 per $100 of assessed value.

That cap creates a statewide property tax, according to the Texas School Coalition, which is made up of 118 property-wealthy districts that filed the suit in April 2001.

John Connolly, the executive director of the coalition, said he thinks the system is unconstitutional. But, he added, most of the 400 districts that have reached the cap are property-poor.

"This is litigation that is in the best interest of every district in the state," he argued.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 22, Issue 24, Page 16

Published in Print: February 26, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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