News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Mass. Report Cites Impact of Funding Cuts

An estimated 1,400 teaching jobs have been eliminated and class sizes are on the rise in Massachusetts because of state budget reductions, according to a statewide report released last week by some of the state's major education groups.

In addition, the study found that just over half the 153 districts that responded to a question on class sizes reported that those sizes are larger this school year than in the previous year. The report attributes the increases to overall reductions in state aid and the elimination of an $18 million program to help low-income districts reduce the number of students in classes.

When districts were asked how the $527 million in state cuts last year affected them, the responses varied by district. Some reported eliminating high school electives, while others reduced elementary art and high school tutoring. Some began charging for full-day kindergarten, participation in athletics, and bus service.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents helped produce the report, called "Progress in Jeopardy."

—Robert C. Johnston

Indiana Senate Delays Kindergarten Proposal

The Senate education committee in Indiana has rejected a pilot full-day- kindergarten program that had been a top priority for Gov. Joseph E. Kernan.

Gov. Joseph E. Kernan

Instead, the committee voted 6-4 recently to amend the bill to call for a commission to study the idea of full-day kindergarten.

After a series of narrow votes, the House had already approved the pilot program, which would have provided 20,000 Indiana children with voluntary full-day kindergarten starting next fall.

Tina Noel, the press secretary for the Democratic governor, said that because the Senate committee didn't totally reject the legislation for the kindergarten program, Mr. Kernan hadn't yet given up hope that it might be approved during the current session of the legislature. The session is expected to end March 5.

"As long as the legislation is alive, there's an opportunity to replace the language," Ms. Noel said. "We always end up in a conference-committee situation where these things can be hashed out."

—Mary Ann Zehr

Arizona Lawmakers Propose Opting Out of 'No Child' Law

A bipartisan group of Arizona lawmakers is backing a proposal that would force the state to opt out of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Karen Johnson, a Republican, would prohibit the state's education agency from entering "into contracts or other agreements" related to the measure signed into law by President Bush in January 2002.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona education department said the state would lose at least $327 million a year if it bucked the No Child Left Behind requirements.

Arizona's legislature joins more than a dozen others across the country that have introduced resolutions or bills challenging the federal law, which requires all students to meet state-set benchmarks in reading and mathematics, and penalizes schools that fail to improve the academic performance of their students.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Tennessee Students Eye Lottery-Funded Scholarships

Tennessee students seem to be in a hurry to take advantage of several first- year scholarship programs that are to be subsidized by the state's new lottery.

According to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., more than 12,000 students had turned in paperwork for federal financial aid by this time last year. This year, the number of applications turned in is up by 77 percent, to 21,717 applications. The same paperwork is required for the state's new scholarships.

"We have been touring the state and talking to students to tell them to apply early," said Michael Roberts, the executive director of the state assistance agency. "We're happy with the response."

Operating for less than a month, the lottery has generated $115 million in proceeds—30 percent of which goes to education.

The largest of the grant programs is the Tennessee Hope Scholarships. Worth up to $3,000 each, the grants will go to this year's graduating high school seniors with ACT scores of at least 19 out of a possible 36, or a minimum "unweighted" grade point average of 3.0. This year's college freshmen are also eligible.

—Robert C. Johnston

Missouri Educators Rally For School Aid

About 2,000 Missouri teachers, school administrators, parents, and students rallied last week on the steps of the Capitol in Jefferson City, criticizing cuts to education and calling for more funding.

Gov. Bob Holden

"All of us are here today to send a message to our political leaders and to the people of this state that our kids must come first," Carol Lupardus, the president of the Missouri School Boards Association, said in a written statement issued after the Feb. 16 rally. "We're not here to point fingers. We are here to demand that our schools be adequately funded."

The rally was sponsored by the Education Roundtable, an umbrella group made up of major statewide education groups. Speakers at the event described cuts in their school districts.

Last year, Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, used his constitutional power to withhold $240 million from the state's $3 billion budget, saying the action was needed to balance spending. Some $190 million of that was state aid for elementary and secondary education. The governor later released $83 million of that amount to schools.

—Lisa Goldstein

Vol. 23, Issue 24, Page 22

Published in Print: February 25, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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