News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Iowa's First Charters Approved for Fall

The Iowa state board of education has unanimously approved the state’s first two charter schools.

Both schools will operate within existing traditional public schools and serve the special needs of rural communities, said Kathi Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education. The nine-member board approved the charter school contracts April 15.

The Southeast Webster school district in Burnside will focus its charter school on providing 11th and 12th graders with fast tracks to learning. Students will have more access to community college courses and distance learning in the 527-student district in north-central Iowa.

The 528-student Sioux Central schools in Sioux Rapids will open a charter school for elementary pupils that is geared toward science, mathematics, and the fine arts. Students will be organized into multiage groups.

The Hawkeye State’s 2002 charter school law cleared the way to establish 10 pilot charter schools. More school districts have expressed interest in setting up their own such schools, Ms. Slaughter said.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Md. Legislative Stalemate Ends Retiree-Teaching Option

Maryland’s program that allowed retired teachers and principals to continue teaching in their own districts will temporarily shut down because the state legislature failed to renew it.

In the waning hours of the legislative session this month, the state House and Senate both failed to compromise on separate bills to reauthorize the 5-year-old program. Lawmakers couldn’t agree to changes that would have required districts to hire retirees only for low-performing schools or for subjects with teacher shortages.

That stalemate means that almost 1,000 retirees now teaching or leading schools will be ineligible to do so in their current jobs next school year, state officials said.

Though a separate law will allow them to work outside their home districts, state officials fear longtime employees won’t want to travel to work in new schools.

"The largest number of folks are in the schools where they were before," said Ronald A. Peiffer, the state’s deputy superintendent for academic policy. "This is disappointing." He said lawmakers are promising to revitalize the program when they meet next year.

—David J. Hoff

Gates Foundation Underwrites Rural Southern Schools Project

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a grant of more than $390,000 to three regional organizations to help establish high-performing rural high schools in the South.

Grant money will go to the Southern Governors Association and the Rural School and Community Trust, both based in Washington. The third partner is the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board.

Called "New Traditions: Options for Rural High School Excellence," the project was announced last week and represents one of the Gates Foundation’s most significant forays into rural schools. The Seattle-based foundation has paid for substantial work to found smaller and improved high schools in New York City and elsewhere. ("Small Schools Hard to Start, Report Finds," April 23, 2003.)

The governors’ association announced that it will receive about two-thirds of the grant, and will gather information from research and site visits to identify best practices in rural high schools across the nation.

Governors from many of the organization’s 16 member states and two U.S. territories plan to propose policies for their 2005 legislative sessions, aimed at improving schools and increasing college attendance in the South, according to the association.

—Alan Richard

Va. Governor Vows to Finance Segregation-Era Scholarships

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has proposed a budget amendment for $2 million to underwrite scholarships for African-American residents who were denied an education when public schools in Virginia’s Prince Edward County closed in 1959 rather than integrate.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, pledged last week to come up with the funds, days after he signed a law to set up a scholarship fund for the black men and women who live in Virginia and weren’t able to attend school from 1959 to 1964, the period that some public schools were closed in what was called the "massive resistance" movement.

About 250 to 350 black Virginians stand to receive from $5,500 to $8,000 each if the governor’s funding proposal is approved by the state legislature, said Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner.

The law establishing the scholarship fund permits recipients to use the money to obtain a high school diploma, the General Educational Development diploma, career or technical education or training, or an undergraduate degree from a public college or university in Virginia.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 23, Issue 33, Page 22

Published in Print: April 28, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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