News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Utah Lawmakers Shelve Bill on 'No Child' Law

A high-profile proposal by Utah lawmakers to shrug off some of the costs and regulations of the federal No Child Left Behind Act has been shelved, without being voted on by the Senate.

The original bill, proposed in the Utah House by Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican, threatened to turn down $103 million in federal aid in order to avoid requirements laid out by the federal law.

The plan was later amended to bar the state from spending its own money to comply with the No Child Left Behind law, and that version of the measure passed the majority-Republican House in February. It directed the state education department to take federal money, but to stop spending on the law's requirements once the funds ran out. ("Utah House Softens Stand on Federal Education Law," Feb. 18, 2004.)

But on Feb. 27, shortly before the legislative session ended March 3, the measure was sent to the Senate rules committee for further study, said Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the Utah State Office of Education. The bill could be resurrected during a future legislative session or could remain on hold, he added.

—Michelle R. Davis

Romney's Intervention Plan In Mass. Legislature's Hands

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has endorsed the findings of a state task force on low-performing districts that includes controversial recommendations to dismiss poor teachers regardless of tenure and provide superintendents with broad new powers.

Released Feb. 25, the recommendations come from the governor's Task Force on State Intervention in Under-Performing Districts, a group composed of superintendents, a teacher, foundation presidents, and college officials.

The recommendations include establishing "leadership-evaluation teams" appointed by the state education commissioner to help low-performing districts.

Using the report's findings as a template, Gov. Romney, a Republican, filed legislation Feb. 25 to give superintendents new authority to reconstitute their most troubled schools. The bill would allow for the removal of staff members by principals for good cause, exemptions of staff members from all work-rule provisions of existing contracts, and the conversion of schools to charter status.

Catherine A. Boudreau, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said in a statement that the proposal had "absolutely nothing to do with making schools work better" and was "one more strategy by Governor Romney to try to weaken the union."

—John Gehring

Federal Law Ousting Teachers, Nevada Union Leader Warns

A union official in Nevada has warned lawmakers of possible adverse effects that the federal No Child Left Behind Act could have on veteran teachers.

Speaking to a joint legislative committee on education late last month, Lynn Warne, the president of the 2,600-member Washoe Education Association, cautioned that the law's requirements could worsen the state's need for teachers by spurring veterans to retire early and prompting others to leave the profession.

She noted that 83 teachers retired in Washoe County last year alone—adding that the number was significantly more than in past years. Many of them used Nevada's early-retirement option.

Ms. Warne said that the law's requirements that teachers meet training standards to be deemed "highly qualified" by the end of the 2005-06 school year were not the issue. Rather, she contended, it's the law's punitive nature and the unrealistically high bar it sets for schools that have teachers reconsidering their positions.

"Many teachers [close to retirement] have said that with all the additional accountability and stress—they're done," she said.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Universal Pre-K Investment Could Aid N.Y., Study Says

Providing universal prekindergarten throughout New York could result in long-term savings to the state in costs related to students' repeat of grades and need for special education, according to research released last week.

Conducted by Clive R. Belfield, an assistant professor of economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, the study shows that if the state spent $7,000 per child for pre-K, and 80 percent of the 4-year-olds in the state participated, grade repetition would fall by 9.3 percent, to 13 percent. That decrease, it says, would yield savings of between $22 million and $51 million over the course of the children's education.

Savings for special education would range between $241 million and $340 million over the same period, the research concludes.

"Viewed as part of New York state's overall education budget, a commitment to universal prekindergarten represents a modest investment," according to the study, which was released by the Center for Early Care and Education, an advocacy organization based in Albany. "What's more, redistribution of funds no longer needed for remedial education programs because of pre-K effects recoups between two-fifths and three-fifths of the investment."

—Linda Jacobson

Arkansas Hires State Chief From Kentucky District

Arkansas has hired Ken James as its state schools chief. A native Arkansan and currently the superintendent of the 33,000-student Fayette County, Ky., schools, he is scheduled to begin work next month. His $195,000 annual salary will be about $75,000 a year higher than Arkansas law allows for the job. Anonymous donors are supplementing his pay through a state foundation, Mr. James said.

Ken James

A former district superintendent in the Arkansas districts of Little Rock, Van Buren, and his native Batesville, Mr. James said in an interview last week that the state education director's job was one "he could not pass up."

He will arrive as Arkansas faces a court order requiring it to provide better schools for rural, poor, and minority students. Lawmakers recently approved a major education funding increase and a plan to require mergers of the state's smallest school districts.

"This is a pivotal point for Arkansas," Mr. James added.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, was involved in the search and announced Mr. James' hiring on March 1. The state was replacing Raymond J. Simon, now the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Department of Education.

Mississippi's state superintendent, Henry L. Johnson, turned down an offer to be Arkansas' schools chief that included one of the largest pay packages ever for such a job. ("Mississippi Superintendent Turns Down Arkansas Post," News in Brief, Feb. 18, 2004.)

Charles Watson, an official with the Arkansas state school board, said Mr. James' "soothing" leadership style would help the state meet the court order.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 23, Issue 26, Page 21

Published in Print: March 10, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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