News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Mass. Sees Rise In Expulsions, Suspensions

The number of students in Massachusetts suspended or expelled from schools during the 2002-03 school year reached its highest level in a decade, according to a report from the state department of education.

The number of students in Massachusetts suspended or expelled from schools during the 2002-03 school year reached its highest level in a decade, according to a report from the state department of education.

Last school year, 1,890 students were "excluded," meaning they were punished by being removed from school for 10 or more consecutive school days. According to the June 3 report, that was a 9.9 percent jump from the previous school year, and the highest number of disciplined students since the department began tracking suspensions and expulsions in 1995.

A majority of the punishments were for students possessing an illegal substance or students caught with a weapon on school grounds. African-American students had the highest rate of discipline, with 6.1 exclusions per 1,000 students. Some youth advocates in the state blamed school budget cuts for reducing the number of services for students at risk of failure and for driving up class sizes.

—John Gehring

Colorado Districts Seek Record Help From State

More than 30 Colorado school districts are expected to borrow a record $500 million in interest-free state loans to help ease fiscal strains this coming fall, according to officials with the state treasurer’s office.

The state legislature created the interest-free loan program in 1992 to "provide relief to school districts because of the tax-collection cycles," said Brian Anderson, a spokesman for State Treasurer Mike Coffman. Local property taxes, a fiscal staple for most districts, are collected in the spring. But with teacher salaries and bills due yearround, many schools can’t survive until then.

Last year, 27 school districts received $364 million. "It fluctuates based on the economy and the needs of the districts," Mr. Anderson said. State officials began witnessing a spike in the number of loans in 2002.

—Marianne D. Hurst

California High Schools Come Up Short, Says Report

California’s public high schools are insufficiently preparing students for life after high school, according to a report released earlier this month by the Oakland, Calif.-based Education Trust-West.

The study, which was funded by the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, assessed the state’s public high schools based on three factors: access to the right courses, student mastery of skills necessary for success in today’s workforce, and graduation rates.

Though California reports an 87 percent graduation rate, the study found an overall graduation rate of 70 percent, with large gaps between racial and ethnic groups.

The study notes that only 17 percent of California school districts offer enough classes for all students to take the 15 courses required for admission to California’s four-year public universities and colleges.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Case Against Federal Law Opens in Pennsylvania

A state three-judge panel in Pennsylvania heard opening arguments last week in a case challenging the state’s requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The 17,000-student Reading school district sued the state department of education in December 2003 to prevent sanctions and the possible loss of Title I aid for failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal law.

Richard L. Guida, the district’s lawyer, argued that the state has failed to justify the number of minority, special education, and limited-English-proficient students required to make AYP. In addition, the state hasn’t given the district enough aid to fully comply with the law, and still doesn’t provide assessments in Spanish, he said.

State officials argued that the state provided $175 million statewide to help special groups reach proficiency on state-mandated exams. Students can also use dictionaries or translators, according to Brian Christopher, a spokesman for the department. The state plans to pilot an exam in Spanish in the 2006-07 school year, he said.

Mr. Guida estimates that a ruling in the case could come as early as September.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Paterson, N.J., Chief Steps Down Amid Probe

The state-appointed superintendent of the Paterson, N.J., school district has resigned in the wake of a state investigation into questionable financial practices in the district.

New Jersey Commissioner of Education William L. Librera said in a statement June 4 that Edwin Duroy had "for the most part either indirect or little knowledge" of problems in the state-run district’s business and facility offices. But "a change in leadership is necessary," and Mr. Duroy "understands and shares this conclusion," Mr. Librera said.

Mr. Duroy issued a statement noting his accomplishments during his seven-year tenure in Paterson, including improving test scores, reducing the dropout rate, and building new classrooms.

The state department of education has operated the troubled Paterson schools since 1991. Department officials expect an interim superintendent to be named by late June.

—Catherine Gewertz

Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 33

Published in Print: June 16, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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