News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Rhode Island Students To Get Longer Days

After months of debate, Rhode Island policymakers have approved a plan to lengthen the instructional day for students. The state board of regents for elementary and secondary education voted 8-2 on June 10 to mandate that all students receive a daily average of at least 5½ hours of instruction.

After months of debate, Rhode Island policymakers have approved a plan to lengthen the instructional day for students. The state board of regents for elementary and secondary education voted 8-2 on June 10 to mandate that all students receive a daily average of at least 5½ hours of instruction.

Currently, the state requires 5½ hours of instruction only at the high school level. While extending that mandate to elementary schools, the new policy also says for the first time that such activities as study hall, recess, and lunch do not count toward the minimum number of hours.

The policy, which differs somewhat from a plan offered by Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters this past winter, will take effect statewide in the 2007-08 school year. Low-performing districts identified for state intervention, however, must meet the requirement by 2005-06. ("Rhode Island Chief Seeks Longer School Day," Jan. 28, 2004.)

—Jeff Archer

Ohio Education Association Challenges Charter School Law

The Ohio Education Association has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, contends that the charter schools are illegal because they violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The union maintains that students in regular public schools are treated unequally because they are receiving less state funding and must rely more on local property taxes.

The lawsuit, filed June 9 in the federal district court in Dayton, Ohio, also contends that the state charter school law discriminates against minority students who are left in traditional schools, because they receive "diminished state funding."

This is the third lawsuit the union has filed against the law. The other suits are pending in state courts.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Texas Teachers Taking Alternative Routes

More than half the new teachers hired in Texas last year entered the profession through an alternative-certification program or by taking teacher education courses at the postbaccalaureate level, according to a recent report.

In 2000, 70 percent of new Texas teachers had graduated from traditional preparation programs. By 2003, that proportion had dropped to 45.5 percent, says the report, which was prepared by the State Board for Educator Certification.

Although alternatively certified teachers are more likely to take teaching jobs right away, they are less likely than those who have graduated from traditional programs to stay in the field, the report adds.

—Linda Jacobson

Oklahoma Governor Signs Bill To Raise Teacher Salaries

Oklahoma teachers will get increases in salaries and benefits over the next five years, thanks to two new laws.

A measure signed June 10 by Gov. Brad Henry gives teachers annual raises starting in the 2005-06 school year. Their pay hikes will continue until the state’s teacher salaries are at the average for the six states on its border.

In April, Mr. Henry signed a bill ensuring that the state will pay all of teachers’ health-insurance premiums, starting with the 2004-05 school year. That cost is now shared among the state, teachers, and school districts.

Oklahoma teachers earn an average of $34,900 a year—about $3,600 less than the average teacher salary for Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and Texas.

Mr. Henry, a Democrat, proposed both bills early this year. ("Pay Raises for Teachers Part of Proposed Budget," State of the States, Feb. 11, 2004.)

—David J. Hoff

N.C. Teachers to Get Bonuses As Part of School Funding Case

North Carolina will offer bonuses to teachers who take and stay in jobs in the state’s hardest-to-staff schools, under a plan to address a judge’s order in a 9-year-old school finance case.

In a June 7 letter to Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr., Michael E. Ward, the state superintendent of schools, and Howard Lee, the chairman of the state board of education, said the state would provide an additional $25 million to help low-wealth districts recruit and retain teachers.

Judge Manning ruled this spring that the state must help such districts improve the quality of their teaching forces. ("N.C. Cites Progress in Satisfying Equity Lawsuit," April 14, 2004.)

Teachers who take jobs at the lowest-performing schools will receive bonuses ranging from $1,500, for each of their first three years, to $6,500 after seven years.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Maryland’s Class of 2009 To Face Graduation Exams

Members of Maryland’s class of 2009 will have to pass a battery of tests before they can earn their high school diplomas, under new criteria adopted by the state board of education last week.

The students, who are will be 8th graders this coming fall, must pass state tests in English, mathematics, biology, and government to be awarded diplomas.

For each test, the state will set a passing score. If a student failed to meet the passing score on every test, he or she could earn a diploma by exceeding a composite score on the tests, so long as the scores on every test were higher than a minimum to be set by the state.

Students also will be able to substitute scores from other approved tests, such as Advanced Placement or SAT II subject tests. Under the policy, students with severe disabilities will be eligible to earn certificates of completion if they don’t pass the tests.

—David J. Hoff

Nev. Union Submits Petitions For School Aid Initiative

If election officials verify enough of the 109,000 signatures gathered by the Nevada State Education Association, the union’s initiative to ensure that Nevada’s per-pupil spending meets or exceeds the national average by 2012 will go before voters in the fall.

"We are very excited by the overwhelming support," Terry Hickman, the NSEA’s president, said in a statement.

The proposed ballot initiative needs a minimum of 51,377 valid signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters in 13 of 17 counties to qualify.

If approved, the measure will need to go before voters again in 2006 before it permanently amends the state constitution. Nevada’s per-pupil spending was $5,813 in the 2001-02 school year—more than $1,700 below the national average.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 27

Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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