News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Extent of School Options Varies Across Mass.

Students across Massachusetts have a variety of options to choose from in K-12 education, though white students from middle- to upper-income families have more options than their poor and minority peers, according to a report.

For More Info
Both the full report, "Mapping School Choice in Massachusetts: Data and Findings 2003," and a shorter policy brief, are available from the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth. (Free registration is required for access to both reports.) The report was sponsored by the Boston Foundation.

The study was sponsored by the Boston Foundation, a coalition of charitable funds, and carried out by the Center for Education Research & Policy at the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth. The report finds that one- fourth of Massachusetts students exercise some form of choice over the schools they attend. But, it adds, there is no system to ensure that the options are evenly distributed.

As a result, minority and needy students, often limited by geography and family income, are most often underrepresented in school choice participation, adds the report. And while many options, such as charter schools, have been identified by critics as needing greater oversight, the report finds that the demand for schools of choice—including charter, magnet, and vocational schools—far exceeds the current capacity.

—Robert C. Johnston

Opting Out of Federal Law Would Be Costly to Utah

In a recent report to a legislative committee, school officials in Utah told lawmakers that the state stood to lose $107 million in federal aid for fiscal 2004 if it decided not to follow mandates on teacher quality and annual testing in the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2001.

According to Patrick Ogden, the associate state superintendent for business and data services, a legislative task force had requested the information in the May 22 report to measure the cost of implementing the No Child Left Behind Act against the negative fiscal impact the state education department would face if Utah failed to participate.

Utah, which has a K-12 population of 425,000 students, spends less per pupil ($4,475, according to 2001 federal data) than any other state. But the state is better off than many others, according to school officials, because it had already implemented many of the new assessments required by the federal law prior to its passage.

"[Still] the biggest piece of the No Child Left Behind pie is for disadvantaged students," Mr. Ogden said. "We could not afford not to participate."

—Marianne D. Hurst

California Court Rejects District Reimbursements

The state of California does not have to reimburse school districts for publicizing meetings of school councils and other advisory boards, the California Supreme Court has ruled.

Districts and the state routinely bill California for state- mandated services and programs. But for nearly 10 years, the state has refused to reimburse districts for the costs of publicizing meetings connected to several state programs. The running tab had reached about $45 million.

In a unanimous decision on May 22 that reversed a lower-court ruling, the seven- member supreme court ruled that the reimbursement policy did not apply to the programs in question because they are voluntary. The programs cover matters such as dropout prevention, parental involvement, and American Indian education.

"We felt all along that we'd win," said Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the state finance department.

—Robert C. Johnston

Wash. Governor Voids Curbs On School Retirees' Work

Gov. Gary Locke of Washington state has vetoed parts of a bill that would have made it harder for teachers and administrators to retire and then return to work at schools and collect both paychecks and pensions.

Gov. Gary Locke

In 2001, a law to address teacher shortages increased the amount that educators could earn from their pensions even if they returned to the classroom.

But in April, the legislature passed House Bill No. 1829, in part, to prevent "handshake" deals in which members of the state teacher-retirement system might retire knowing that they would soon return to work in their schools or districts.

Mr. Locke, a Democrat, vetoed a section of the law that would have made it a felony for educators to enter into agreements to resume public employment after retirement—a tougher penalty than the "gross misdemeanor" provided for in the law for other public employees. He also blocked a section that placed what he called an "artificial 'lifetime limit'" on the number of hours that a retired member of the system could work after being rehired. That limit, which would have been retroactive, would have burdened districts attempting to recruit teachers and principals, the governor said.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 19

Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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