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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – May 21 - 28, 2004

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STATE  
Local school leaders: Governor needs to adjust focus / Quincy Herald-Whig
Blagojevich given full reign over picking ISBE members / Lee News
New school ethics law creates more questions / Daily Chronicle
Seven area schools are facing their final days / Pantagraph
"No Growth" budget would be devastating to SIL according to Governor / Chester Sun-Times
Chicago Public Schools Hand Out Pink Slips / NBC5-Chicago
Madigan prepares to act on his own budget plan / Peoria Journal Star
State needs special session on education / Decatur Herald & Review
Time running out to reform education funding system / Pantagraph
Wanted: Good teachers / Chicago Tribune
Madigan torches governor's budget / Chicago Tribune
No Child Left Behind helps educators, kids /
Naperville Sun
Last-minute posturing does little for schools / Galesburg Register-Mail
No-growth budget is not same as do-nothing budget / Pantagraph
NATIONAL
In failing schools, how real is transfer option? / Christian Science Monitor
N.C. seeks 'No Child' law tweaks so schools will pass / Raleigh News & Observer
No Child Left Behind may not be enforceable, Lautenschlager says / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Confusion Is Rampant With Change in the SAT's / New York Times
Black Flight to Private Schools Is Growing / New York Times
Education wins big in budget / The Arizona Republic
Vending machines at schools must meet nutritional standard / The Tennessean
New law leaves schools in lurch / Houston Chronicle
Indianapolis Public Schools to end corporal punishment / Indianapolis Star
Education can be long, hard haul for nation's rural kids / Chicago Tribune
Study: 9 out of 10 schools won't meet federal standards in a decade / Boston Globe
Study: Texas kids among fattest in U.S. / Boston Globe
Company pleads guilty to scamming poor schools / CNN.com
Good Teachers + Small Classes = Quality Education / New York Times
Nev. Teacher Claims Rosters Altered to Meet ‘No Child’ Law / Education Week

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STATE

Local school leaders: Governor needs to adjust focus

Doug Wilson, Quincy Herald-Whig 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — School superintendents and teachers from Western Illinois say the political debate over revamping the Illinois State Board of Education isn't addressing the right problem.

Funding reform is what they want.

"All of the ideas that are being proposed really won't help the kids in the classroom. It's the money that needs to be in the classroom," said Diane Robertson, superintendent of the Unity School District in Mendon.

Jody Steinke, president of the Quincy Federation of Teachers, said a blue ribbon commission looked at education reform at the end of Gov. George Ryan's term in office. The commission had several recommendations about how to improve the school system. Topping the list was the call to change the way local property taxes play too large a part in funding schools.

"The Legislature turned up its nose at that," Steinke said.

Unfortunately, Steinke and others believe that if the funding system is left as it is, none of the changes on the table in Springfield will make a difference for students, embattled school districts or local taxpayers.

Rebecca Rausch, a spokesman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said that criticism is unfair. She said Blagojevich increased school funding in the budget by $400 million last year and has proposed another $400 million increase this year.

Blagojevich also launched a campaign to reform what he sees as inefficiencies in the State Board of Education. During a speech in January, Blagojevich likened the agency to a "Soviet-style bureaucracy" that needs to be largely dismantled while a new Department of Education replaces it.

Key lawmakers were cool to that proposal. Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, made his own suggestion about retaining, but revamping the State Board of Education.

Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, then came out with a compromise earlier this week, which would give Blagojevich and future governors the power to appoint or remove board members and the state superintendent.

In a press conference a few days ago, Blagojevich said the compromise was like "the Berlin Wall" coming down — another negative reference to the ISBE's structure and operation.

Robertson said Blagojevich's statement is "off base." She serves on an advisory council and meets with ISBE officials several times each year. She's seen State Superintendent Robert Schiller make lots of changes in the agency's operation.

"Dr. Schiller has made tremendous amounts of progress. Lots of the things the governor says he wants to change have already been changed," Robertson said.

For instance, a new test system for Illinois students already has been commissioned. Paperwork is being streamlined and more online filings will be possible in the near future.

Schiller said the current battle is "about power and politics and control." He said until Blagojevich and lawmakers address school funding, the situation will not change.

"At the end of the day everything has to be about teaching and learning in the classroom and none of that has been addressed this year," Schiller said.

Robertson said Blagojevich has told school leaders that a buying cooperative run by his proposed Department of Education would save them lots of money.

"The purchasing coops will not help us significantly. Many of the costs that they've talked about offering schools, we already get from a buying group we're in, and our group beats his prices," Robertson said.

"I think he's not in touch with today's educational structure. He's reacting to what the State Board used to be like."

Quincy Superintendent Tom Leahy said the biggest problem in Illinois schools right now is funding. In some districts where property and people are plentiful, the schools get all of their money from local property taxes. But in downstate communities with fewer taxpayers and lower property values, the local taxes don't go nearly as far.

"I would like to see them put the funding issue on the front burner," Leahy said.

Steinke wants to see paperwork trimmed more on things such as continuing education forms for teachers. He also believes insurance problems should be addressed, describing it as a nationwide problem. But the core problem is funding.

"If what they do doesn't affect the funding system, it's not going to change anything for the schools," Steinke said.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, is a member of the Senate Education Committee that passed proposed legislation on to the full Senate earlier this week. The reform bill would give the governor lots of new powers to make the ISBE more accountable to him. The committee met for three hours, debating whether the changes were necessary or would be helpful. Sullivan said he's willing to give more power to the governor's office as long as funding issues are addressed as well.

"Funding is an aspect of this that must be and will be addressed," Sullivan said.

Reforms for the education system will take more than one year, he said.

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Blagojevich given full reign over picking ISBE members

By Matt Adrian, Lee News

SPRINGFIELD — A measure allowing Gov. Rod Blagojevich to pick all nine members of the Illinois State Board of education has passed the Senate, and now heads for a sure collision with a competing proposal in the House.

The bill would give the governor more control over an agency he threatened to neuter by creating a new Department of education. However, Blagojevich’s initial plan was criticized as being unconstitutional and a power grab.

Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, a vocal critic of Blagojevich’s first education plan and the architect of the compromise, said the measure gives the governor more control without creating a new bureaucracy.

“It is a means for the governor to gain more control,” del Valle said. “I want him to be in control so I can hold him accountable.”

Del Valle pointed out that lawmakers will be voting on separate proposals to loosen state controls on local schools and improve the teacher certification process.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has raised the specter of unconstitutionality surrounding the Senate proposal. Madigan has offered a proposal that would only allow Blagojevich to appoint a majority of the board members.

The purchasing program in SB 3000 has raised concerns among the state’s business community, said Todd Maisch, vice president for government affairs with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. He said the program would allow school districts to buy products through the state without having to open up the process for competitive bid.

“It looks like an incentive for schools to use the master contract and not put out for bids,” Maisch said. “Vendors should be able to say ’If we didn’t get the bid at least we got a fair shot.’”

Brenda Holmes, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for education, said the purchasing program is optional for school districts.

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New school ethics law creates more questions

Paul L. Mikolajczyk, Daily Chronicle

Wednesday was the deadline for Illinois' school boards to adopt a new state ethics law intended to make what government officials can and can't do crystal clear.

Unfortunately, for some local school officials and administrators, the law has only created more gray areas.

"My role is tremendously in question," said Sycamore Schools Super-intendent Bob Hammon after a May 18 school board meeting in which the new rules were adopted.

Proposed in February 2003 following charges of corruption by state officials, including former Gov. George Ryan, the final changes to the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act were place into effect by the General Assembly on Nov. 19.

Under the legislation, no school district officer or administrator "shall intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time," nor "use any property or resources (of the school district) in connection with any prohibited activity."

Included in that list of prohibited activities is campaigning for a school funding referendum.

For Hammon, this means that should the district ever try to get another referendum passed, he could not express support for it in his role as superintendent.

The new ethics rules also specifically prohibit "campaigning ... for or against any referendum question" and "managing or working on a campaign ... for or against any referendum question."

"I would only be able to present the facts," Hammon said, such as the number of students in the district and the capacity capabilities. "Beyond that would be trouble.

"It raises a lot of questions and leaves people walking a tight rope," he added.

DeKalb School Board member Holly Wallace, who worked on unsuccessful referendums for the school district before being elected to the board, sees the superintendent as "the eighth board member."

Not having the superintendent's voice to support a referendum would be an "enormously big deal."

The new ethics rules prevent current school board members from using school-sponsored events or property to lobby for support of referendums.

DeKalb Superintendent Brian Ali was lead cheerleader for the district's first failed referendum in 2002, participating in forums held at district schools to answer questions about the measure and lobby for its passage.

The rules also forbid school board members from circulating nominating petitions at events such as high school football or basketball games hosted by the district.

People trying to unseat incumbent board members, however, would be able to gather signatures at such venues because the rules would only apply to them if they were elected to the board.

Melinda Selbee, general counsel for the Illinois Asso-ciation of School Boards has written several model ethics policies school boards can use to meet the new standards.

"It's a very poorly written legislation," Selbee said of the new state ethics law.

Ethics laws need to be improved and updated to prevent abuses of power by elected officials, Selbee said. However, lawmakers need to go back and adjust them to account for situations that groups such as school boards or library boards encounter, she said.

Selbee said it was unrealistic for the Legislature to match the same rules and enforcement methods for state officials to the local government level.

"The dissimilarities are dramatic," she said.

If lawmakers in Springfield don't change the laws, the only option for dealing with the rules would be through the courts, Selbee said.

"It does have some constitutionality problems," she said of the law.

State Sen. J. Bradley Bur-zynski, R-Sycamore, said it does appear the ethics laws prevent current school board members from petitioning on school property and that he is frustrated by parts of the new rules.

"We are bending over backwards to keep ethics abuses down, but with things like this it's starting to go overboard," Burzynski said.

Burzynski joined 46 other senators in supporting the changes to the ethics rules following the accusations of corruption. However, when discussion came to the effect the laws would have on local governing bodies, he said legal counsels told lawmakers the courts may have to provide the clarification.

The Sycamore School Board plans to send a letter to Attor-ney General Lisa Madigan asking for clarification on parts of the new ethics laws.

When the Daily Chronicle attempted to contact Madigan's office with questions on the ethics laws, Chronicle staff were referred to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Questions left with a spokes-person for the ISBE were not answered by press time.

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Seven area schools are facing their final days

Karen Hansen, Bloomington Pantagraph

ARROWSMITH -- Eating lunch at the end of a long table in the multi-purpose room, a small group of kindergartners disagreed about whether they want to attend a new school next fall.

"I don't want to go to a new school," said 6-year-old Erin Clark of rural Saybrook. "I'm just a little afraid I might get lost."

Fellow 6-year-old James Cohenour of Cooksville saw things differently.

"More people -- yeah!" he said, finishing his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple. "I'll have more friends and my cousin will be in third grade."

Like it or not, Erin, James and their 100 or so classmates at Arrowsmith Elementary School won't have a choice: After 46 years, the school will hold its final classes this week.

As school districts across the state deal with the consequences of ongoing financial problems, Arrowsmith is among seven Central Illinois schools set to close in the coming days.

Teachers will lose jobs; parents and children must adapt to a new school; classrooms and cafeterias will be recycled. A focal point will be gone.

"Districts are making some hard decisions that are driven by economic and educational forces," said State School Superintendent Robert Schiller. "These decisions are being considered in every corner of our state."

The downsizing will be profiled in a two-day series, "Last Day of School," beginning today.

7 schools in 5 districts

While the Illinois State Board of Education does not track individual school closings in the state's 888 districts, five area districts will shutter six elementary schools and one high school. The districts vary in size from 100 students to nearly 11,000.

In addition to Colfax-based Ridgeview, which is closing Arrowsmith, other districts closing schools include:

Olympia: The sprawling, rural district based in Stanford will close three of its six elementary schools -- Hopedale, Stanford and McLean/Waynesville -- after voters rejected two tax increases in March. The opposition -- the second rejection in as many years -- left the district with a $3.9 million budget shortfall.

Unresolved is whether Hopedale residents will try to pull out of Olympia and merge with the Delavan school district.

• Unit 5: The Normal-based district will close Eugene Field Elementary, a neighborhood school for nearly 70 years. The closure is part of $6.9 million in budget cuts and revenue increases implemented by the area's largest district for 2004-05.

• New Holland-Middletown Elementary: After the district's enrollment dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past five years, the Logan County district will close its elementary school in New Holland. The 44 students, in kindergarten through fourth grade, will attend class at the district's Middletown school, now used for fifth through eighth grades.

The move will save the district about $200,000 a year.

• Chenoa: After voters in the nearly bankrupt district turned down a merger with nearby Prairie Central, the school board voted to dissolve the district. The DeWitt-Livingston-McLean Regional Board of School Trustees supported the district's request to annex to Forrest-based Prairie Central next fall. However, the matter is not resolved and arguments in the 4th District Appellate Court are scheduled for June.

Should annexation proceed, the high school, with 120 students, will be closed.

Building a community

Schiller said many of this year's closings are caused by a combination of three forces: shifting demographics; economic woes; and higher standards and expectations.

For example, in the New Holland-Middletown district, enrollment has dropped from 190 in 1999 to about 100 this year.

"(The community) realized if we wanted to control our future, this is a decision we have to make," said New Holland-Middletown Superintendent Robert Richardson.

Ridgeview, with about 660 students in pre-kindergarten through high school, will issue $1 million in working cash bonds to help patch a projected $919,000 deficit for 2004-05. It is among 80 percent of Illinois districts now operating with a deficit.

Ridgeview's loss of Arrowsmith Elementary, which houses pre-kindergarten through first grade, also will end the town's 129-year tradition of having a community school, beginning with a one-room schoolhouse in 1875. Plans are in the works to convert the building into a community center.

"These little schools, you really can't beat 'em," said Arrowsmith teacher Kelly Borton. "It's like a family inside a family."

But Principal Robert Baughman said students at his school are still fortunate compared with some other districts.

"It's difficult for any small town to lose their local school," said Baughman. "But we're not cutting teachers, we're not increasing class sizes, we're not cutting any services."

Those added consequences are being seen in Unit 5 and Olympia.

'A difficult decision'

Hardest hit is the Olympia district, which will close half of its elementary schools at the end of the year.

In addition, it plans to cut $120,000 in extracurricular offerings, and has increased the user fee from $100 to $250 for students in sports and other activities. Fifty-five full- and part-time teachers have been notified they may not have jobs next fall.

"It's just a shame we're even here," said Hopedale Mayor "Ace" Eilts about the possibility of his community losing its elementary school.

The 46-year-old Eilts, the father of two small children, attended Hopedale as a youngster. He said his community of 1,000 will survive if the school is lost.

But he does worry about the long-term impact on the district.

"It's a tough issue," he said. "The passions run deep."

Meanwhile, Unit 5 had $4.4 million in budget cuts and fee hikes this year; they will be followed by another $6.9 million in 2004-05. Included is the closing of Eugene Field, with 132 students; the elimination of 69 full-time teaching positions; and increased activity fees.

Class sizes in the growing district, which has nearly 11,000 students, are expected to rise.

"I attended a year there. My fifth-grade teacher there is a teacher I still stay in touch with...He was at my daughter's wedding," said Unit 5 board President Rick Percy of Eugene Field's closing. "It was a difficult decision."

Yet, Percy concedes it may not be the last time his district is forced to consider the option.

The district still has two other elementary buildings -- Towanda and Carlock -- which are "singles," meaning they have one class at each grade level.

"Singles are not as cost-efficient and cost-effective as larger buildings. As you look down the road, those smaller schools, there's concern there," he said. "You have to look at the economics of keeping a single open."

Larger questions loom

Those economic issues lead back to larger questions of how Illinois should fund public education -- a subject of continued discussion and debate.

Illinois property owners give schools $9 billion annually, which provides 55.4 percent of the funding for an average Illinois district. But those dollars are dispersed at widely varying rates, depending on area's affluence, resulting in an imbalance among 'have' and 'have not' school systems.

The latest blueprint for fixing the problem is the 2002 Education Funding Advisory Board report. It advocates the much-ballyhooed swap of higher income taxes in exchange for property tax relief.

It also pushes several measures aimed at creating larger schools and school districts: a mandate that all high schools have a minimum of 250 students; consolidation of all districts into unit (kindergarten through high school) districts and financial incentives to promote larger districts.

But immediate solutions seem unlikely. Gov. Rod Blagojevich had made his disbanding of Schiller's State Board of Education his current educational priority, arguing it is a bureaucracy that needs to be replaced. After resistance from lawmakers, he backed off that plan -- and now wants to settle for replacing Schiller and all the members of the state board this summer. But, that has met resistance, too.

While the outcome is uncertain, any push for school funding reform remains absent -- leaving the local taxpayer picking up the tab for the foreseeable future.

"Until the state defines how they're going to fund public education," Percy said, "the over-reliance on property taxes has become a stress point in our community."

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"No Growth" budget would be devastating to SIL according to Governor

Chester Sun-Times

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich outlined the devastation Illinois families and communities would suffer under an alternative budget proposal quietly being pushed in Springfield during the final week of the legislative session.  Under the so-called "no growth" budget, every region of the state would experience significant cuts in health care, education and economic development, including $400 million taken away from local schools, and 150,000 men, women and children losing their health care.

The "no growth" plan would allow for no new state spending in Fiscal Year 2005.  That means the state would be unable to invest more in education, health care and public safety programs, and would also have to make deep cuts to existing programs in order to meet the growing cost of Medicaid and pension obligations.

The Governor was joined by state Senate President Emil Jones and several lawmakers who oppose the alternative budget proposal, as well as more than a dozen representatives from education, childcare, and labor organizations who understand how painful deep cuts would be to Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens. 

According to numbers from the Governor’s office, Randolph County would lose $486,336 in school funding. 1,510 Medicaid enrollees would be kicked off of program that provide them healthcare. Also lost would be a number of projects at the Chester Mental Health Center that totals nearly $2 million.

Other area projects that would be cancelled according to the governor is the proposed World Shooting Complex near Sparta.

In February, Gov. Blagojevich unveiled a balanced budget proposal that closed corporate tax loopholes, consolidated and streamlined state government, and closed outdated prison facilities in order to pay for major investments in education, health care and public safety.

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Chicago Public Schools Hand Out Pink Slips

NBC5

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Public Schools is handing out pink slips. About 130 teaching jobs are expected to be among the cuts announced Monday.

130 Teachers Among The Cuts

Schools CEO Arne Duncan said about 180 administrators also will be let go. Another 1,300 non-teaching employees -- including aides, security workers and clerks -- also are expected not to have jobs next year.

The school district is trying to fill a multi-million-dollar budget deficit.

Chicago Teachers Union president Deborah Lynch said the administrative cuts aren't enough.

Mayor Richard M. Daley on Monday said elimination of the approximately 1,500 Chicago Public Schools jobs due to economic realities in both Chicago and Springfield would not hurt the overall quality of education.

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated event on the South Side, Daley said the cuts announced by Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan were a simple issue of cost and "had nothing to do with" a failure of lawmakers in Springfield to solve the state budget crisis.

"We have layoffs in our city, you have to -- because if you don't have the revenue coming in, your expenses get too high, you have the cost of labor, the cost of health care, all that," Daley said.

When asked whether the lost jobs would be a blow to the system, Daley said: "I don't think you're hurting education, they can't be hurting education. But like anything else, you have to live within the budget."

Daley said the school system has to find its own source of revenue, and "you don't wait" for the state government to solve its own budget problems first.

But Daley also said he was working with Gov. Rod Blagojevich to find ways to address the issue.

"We're working with them (state lawmakers) on this," Daley said. "We know they have issues with revenue down there, and again, the key of any child who is poor in the state of Illinois is education. You give them a good education and you give them all the tools to life."

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Madigan prepares to act on his own budget plan

Committees to begin hearing bills; House could vote this week

Doug Finke, Copley News Service/Peoria Journal Star, 5/25/04

SPRINGFIELD - With state budget negotiations going nowhere fast, House Speaker Michael Madigan is preparing to move ahead with his no-growth spending plan.

Illinois House committees will start hearing those budget bills beginning today, setting the stage for the full House to possibly vote on them later this week. The bills will include money to keep Vandalia Correctional Center open and to give significantly more money to education, although the total spending package is not supposed to exceed the current state budget.

"We are trying to move a spending bill onto the floor based on what (committee) chairmen feel are the minimum needs of the constituents that we represent," said Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, the House Democrats' leading budget negotiator.

Madigan spokesman Steve

Brown said the budget bills assume that no additional tax revenue will be available to balance the budget.

"I think it's a recognition that there's not widespread support for some of the tax increases that are being proposed," Brown said.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has repeatedly blasted the idea of passing a no-growth budget that would keep total state spending to the same level as this year. He said such a budget would be "devastating" to schools and health care, both of which were in line for large spending increases in the budget Blagojevich presented to the General Assembly in February.

Blagojevich's office did not respond to a request for a comment on Madigan's budget plan Tuesday.

Madigan's decision to proceed with a no-growth budget is another sign of escalating tensions between the powerful speaker and the governor. Blagojevich had scheduled a meeting with the four legislative leaders, including Madigan, for Tuesday afternoon. It was canceled when Madigan sent word that he would not attend.

"The speaker said he was unavailable," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch.

Brown, though, said Madigan was unaware that a meeting was scheduled.

"We were not aware of any plans (for a meeting)," Brown said. "We didn't know the governor was in town. It's nice to have him here."

Madigan's budget bills include an increase of $250 per pupil in school aid, which would cost about $355 million. Additional money also would be put into poverty grants and designated programs like transportation assistance, said Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee. Money also may be added for early childhood education, Smith said.

"We're trying to operate within (Blagojevich's) $400 million," said Smith of the governor's recommended increase for education.

Another appropriation bill would restore money to the Vandalia prison, as well as the youth center in St. Charles. Blagojevich recommended closing both to save money. The bill would cut money from the Illinois Department of Transportation, including funds for some downstate mass transit systems and for seat belt enforcement.

Blagojevich said a no-growth budget would take health care away from hundreds of thousands of people. However, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, chairman of the Human Services Appropriations Committee, said the human services budget bill being drafted will not hurt people.

"We tweaked (the governor's budget proposal)," Feigenholtz said. "We added, we subtracted. At the end of the day, hopefully it will be at the same spending level as he introduced it."

Blagojevich asked for a $690 million increase in health care spending.

Blagojevich balanced his budget plan - which increases state spending by more than $900 million - with more than $400 million worth of business fee and tax increases. Madigan, though, has repeatedly said he does not think there is enough support in the House to pass those fee and tax hikes. Without them, Blagojevich's spending plan must be reduced.

Moreover, since introducing his budget, Blagojevich has had to face the loss of $350 million in gaming revenue he was counting on, and a $300 million increase in pension costs that he was not counting on. A budget deficit he originally estimated at about $1.7 billion is now at least $2.3 billion.

Blagojevich has been trying to drum up opposition to Madigan's no-growth budget plan. However, administration officials insisted Tuesday they did not organize a rally at the Capitol for today to protest the no-growth budget.

"There's no formal rally planned or being organized by our office or the campaign office," Rausch said. "There are some organizations that are going to lobby with legislators."

Groups must obtain a permit from Secretary of State Jesse White's office to hold rallies in the Capitol or on the Capitol lawn. White spokesman Randy Nehrt said that the only group with a permit to be in the Capitol today is a junior high school band from Cass County.

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State needs special session on education

Decatur Herald & Review Staff Editorial, 5/26/04

Sometime within the next several days, the General Assembly and Gov. Rod Blagojevich will decide on a spending plan for the state's schools in the fiscal year that begins in July.

Whatever the details of the plan, it will not address the major issue of reforming the method of funding the state's education.

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, wants to change that, and he's one of several legislators circulating petitions asking Blagojevich and the General Assembly to call a special session to focus on school spending.

Mitchell points out that 80 percent of Illinois schools are operating in a deficit spending mode, and a recent report by the state board of education shows a 79 percent increase in the number of school districts on the state's financial watch list.

In Illinois, 36 percent of the funds used by schools come from the state, and 53 percent are generated locally through the property tax. The national average state contribution in support of education is 56 percent.

This inequity creates the problem of some school districts with an abundance of money while others struggle to get by. The result is an inequity in education that shouldn't be tolerated.

The solution is not to throw more money at education - that's not necessary. The solution is to fundamentally change the way the state's schools are funded, shifting the burden off of the property tax. A lot can be accomplished by merely more equitably distributing the money that is being spent on education in Illinois.

Politically, this is a hard issue to tackle. Legislators representing well-to-do districts have little incentive to change the current system. Since many of the well-to-do districts are in Chicago's collar counties, a solution isn't desired by many legislators. Mitchell admits the only way the funding system is going to change is if there is a "political firestorm."

Blagojevich has also side-stepped the issue so far. He's focused instead on reforming the state educational structure. That's a worthy goal, but again, it won't make much difference in the state's classrooms.

The issue will never receive an adequate discussion during a regular session. The budget debates overshadow each general session, making discussion about substantive issues impossible.

Thus the need for a focused special session. The proponents of the petition drive believe that away from the pressures of a general session, legislators may be able to have realistic discussions of the funding issue.

There's little doubt this is an issue that must be addressed. Other states, most notably Michigan, have already reformed education funding with a great deal of success.

Blagojevich has made education reform part of the agenda, but he has failed so far to address the funding issue. A special session to discuss education funding would be a good way to start that discussion.

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Time running out to reform education funding system

Bloomington Pantagraph Editorial, 5/26/04

While the Legislature fiddles with the bureaucratic structure of education in Illinois, the problem of inequitable funding between "rich" and "poor" districts continues to smolder.

Will it take a court ruling to get the Legislature to revise the state's antiquated, property-tax-dependent system? That's what has happened in a number of states.

Public schools in Kansas faced possible closure on July 1 until that state's Supreme Court stepped in to block a trial judge's order.

Shawnee County District Judge Terry Bullock had ruled that Kansas school funding was inadequate and distributed unfairly. When Kansas lawmakers adjourned without fixing the funding system, Bullock ordered that no money be spent in public schools after June 30 unless constitutional flaws were corrected.

But the Supreme Court blocked that order until it has a chance to rule in the case.

More than a dozen other states have revised their school-funding systems following court decisions. Opponents of the Illinois system tried that route in the 1990s without success.

Nearly six years after the initial lawsuit was filed, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that process of reform must be undertaken by the Legislature, not the courts. That was in October 1996.

Illinois' children are still waiting. Those who were in fourth grade when the high court left the matter to the Legislature are graduating from high school now. Will Illinois have a more equitable system before their children start school?

About the only significant change since that ruling has been establishment of a "foundation level" of funding per pupil. But that hasn't changed the wide gap in per pupil spending among districts. Where students live determines, in large measure, the educational resources and opportunities available to them.

As an increasing number of districts are added to the state's financial watch list and voters balk at higher property taxes, eventually the Legislature -- or the courts -- will have to act.

But the students who miss educational opportunities because of where they live -- and because of the state's failure to live up to its constitutional obligation to have "primary responsibility for financing" education -- will never be able to make up those lost years.

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Wanted: Good teachers

Chicago Tribune Editorial, 5/26/04

Two strategies can do more to enhance a child's learning than anything else:

1. Improve teaching.

2. Improve parenting.

As it turns out, No. 2 is monumentally trickier than No. 1. And since there's no such thing yet as Mommy-Daddy Boot Camp, let us focus on No. 1.

The Chicago Public Schools system has been quietly but steadily doing something about improving teacher quality by increasing the number of teachers who are hired into the system through alternative certification programs.

Alternative certification is a fancy way of saying that these teachers come in through a different route. Often they are people in mid-career who simply decide they would rather serve as teachers. Many are bankers, accountants, engineers, saleswomen, lawyers and scientists. They have life experience and they've developed an expertise in their field. Now they want to teach.

Traditionally, the state has made that as difficult as possible for anyone who didn't have a couple of years to stop everything and sit in university classrooms learning theory.

The growing number of alternative certification programs makes it easier, more affordable and faster to make that transition into teaching.

And because alternative certification candidates tend to be older and more mature, and hail from rigorous programs that provide critical support and mentoring even after they've been plunked into a public classroom and given a box of chalk, they tend to stick around longer. Because of layoffs and school deficits, the once ballyhooed teacher shortage hasn't materialized as predicted, but pursuing higher retention rates is one way to keep both teachers, stability and experience in the classroom.

"They're a different caliber of people: smarter, more mature, more committed and more in it for the long haul," said Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan.

There has been a lot of talk this week about layoffs in the Chicago school system. Almost lost is that Duncan expects to hire some 1,500 new teachers this coming year, and that he expects fully one-third of them will come in through alternative certification programs. Half of the new math teachers will likely come in through alternative programs.

Chicago has increased the number of teachers coming in through alternative certification from 140 in 2000 to 486 in 2004. This was done by developing relationships between the Chicago Public Schools system and various groups that fund and develop innovative programs, from the Chicago Public Education Fund to the Academy for Urban School Leadership to the Golden Apple Foundation to Teach for America.

So far, schools outside of Chicago haven't been as aggressive in forging these same kinds of relationships and encouraging teachers through alternative certification. That's too bad for the schools, and, mostly, too bad for the children.

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Madigan torches governor's budget

House speaker proposes his own lean spending plan

Ray Long and Christi Parsons, Chicago Tribune, 5/27/04

SPRINGFIELD -- House Speaker Michael Madigan wielded his legislative might Wednesday as he launched a counterattack on Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget proposal, leaving the governor to watch as key parts of his fiscal plan went down in flames.

Escalating the clash between the two Democratic titans, Madigan began advancing his own leaner budget proposals that still managed to add hundreds of millions of dollars for schools and social services.

And then Madigan, in dramatic fashion, called the governor's plan to raise business taxes and let it die in the Democrat-controlled House with only 23 of the 60 votes needed to pass.

In the Senate, meanwhile, President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) weighed in with his own proposal to shore up the governor's sagging budget plans.

The Senate Executive Committee approved raiding up to $523 million in what Jones views as excess money in funds set aside for specifically designated purposes.

The funds ranged from $29 million in leftover pork-barrel money from the administration of Gov. George Ryan to tens of millions of dollars set aside for purposes ranging from education technology and horseracing to parks and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

As the action unfolded in the two chambers, the governor met behind closed doors with Jones and the House and Senate Republican leaders. Madigan did not attend.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker was working on a compromise over the governance of the State Board of Education, an issue festering since the governor launched a failed bid for a massive restructuring of the state's school system.

But Madigan was absent from negotiations for the second day in a row, following weeks in which the governor has aimed increasingly harsh rhetoric at the speaker.

And while Jones said the governor spoke favorably of some elements of a gambling package pending in the Senate, Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville said very little progress was made overall.

Blagojevich's aides downplayed the crushing defeat of the governor's big-ticket revenue proposal in the House, calling it a false litmus test.

The failed bill proposed closing what the administration calls corporate tax loopholes and thereby would have raised as much as $305 million.

But lawmakers complained the governor's plans would raise the cost of doing business and could drive jobs out of the state.

House leaders say Blagojevich needs to get busy either changing his plans or winning support for the ones he has.

"It certainly sends a message to the administration that there's not much support in the Illinois House at this moment for the revenue package," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), the bill sponsor.

But aides to Blagojevich said the House didn't give the measure the same treatment as the Senate.

"There hasn't been any agreement or discussion or plan," Blagojevich spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson said. House members "aren't going to vote for revenue bills without knowing what their leader has planned for the bill. I wouldn't really say this is a real vote. It lacked the full vetting process that typically goes along with a big, important weighty bill like this."

In any case, the vote did not bode well for the ongoing budget negotiations, prompting one Blagojevich ally to suggest the budget may not be resolved until way past the looming Monday deadline.

"It's really not so bad here in July," said Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville), pointing to the chamber's eastern windows. "If you look out the windows, you can see the fireworks."

Despite the governor's prediction that Madigan's spending plan would be a do-nothing "no-growth" budget, House Democrats suggested spending hikes in the neighborhood of what the governor proposes.

In particular, the House Democrats propose spending more on schools and human services than the state spent last year.

And in one raucous House hearing, black lawmakers took turns berating the governor's top agency officials over the administration's minority hiring practices.

Rank-and-file lawmakers also didn't take kindly to the administration's efforts to prepare a state government shutdown plan if the budget negotiations break down.

"I think it's absolutely irresponsible," said Sen. Denny Jacobs (D-East Moline). "But since when has responsibility been one of his strong suits?"

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No Child Left Behind helps educators, kids  

Letter by Chyrlie Soltau of Naperville, Naperville Sun, 5/26/04

President Bush has promised to make educating every child his top domestic priority and reform a system that has failed the most needy students in our nation's classrooms. He proposed a comprehensive, bipartisan plan to improve overall student performance and close the achievement gap between rich and poor students in America's more than 89,599 public schools. The president's No Child Left Behind Act was passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and is already showing results for America's children. The No Child Left Behind Act helps parents, educators and children by: Supporting early learning: No Child Left Behind targets resources for early-childhood education so that all youngsters get the right start on reading and math.

Measuring student performance: A student's progress in reading and math must be measured in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during high school.

Providing information for parents: States and school districts must give parents detailed report cards on schools and districts, explaining which are succeeding and why.

Giving options over failing schools: Children will no longer be trapped in failing schools. If a school continues to fail, some children will be able to transfer to higher-performing local schools, receive free tutoring or attend after-school programs.

Ensuring more resources for schools: Today, public schools spend an average $7,000 a year per student. Under President Bush's leadership federal funding for education has increased 59.8 percent from 2000 to 2003.

In spite of the criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush has made good on his promise. There has been more federal spending on education than ever before. Higher standards, newly recruited teachers and new education tools, and accountability to parents and others have helped to make this a successful program. The successes that then-Gov. Bush encouraged in the Texas education system has continued to a national level. President Bush has a proven record of education reform success. He should be commended for his work in improving the lives of the nation's children.

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Last-minute posturing does little for schools  

Editorial by Tom Martin, Galesburg Register-Mail Editor, May 26, 2004

This time of year we might expect college students to procrastinate and then cram for finals, but we deserve better from our elected officials.

It's state budget season, which has less than a week left and will be marked by bickering and a flurry of last-minute power plays. When the dust settles about $54 billion of our money will be allocated for spending. It will take lawmakers days and maybe weeks to comprehend the details of what they did.

The stage is set with the state's leading Democrats, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, squaring off with five days left before the May 31 budget deadline. If the budget is not passed by then, a two-thirds majority will be required.

In the House, for instance, that means instead it taking 60 votes to approve a budget it will require 71 votes. And in a budget year when nearly everyone has something to lose, every vote will be difficult to get.

"This year is probably the most difficult budget I've seen in my 12 years (in the House)," State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, said Tuesday.

Compounding the usual budget issues is a projected $2.3 billion deficit.

Blagojevich has submitted his plan for a "balanced" budget, which calls for $900 million more in spending. He plans to raise $400 million more in revenue by raising fees and taxes on Illinois businesses. Blagojevich's budget appears out of balance now with news of loses in gaming revenue and higher pension costs.

Madigan opposes the governor's budget, saying there's not enough support in the House to pass those fee and tax hikes. Madigan appears ready to push ahead with a no-growth spending plan, which would not increase spending over last year.

Blagojevich has blasted Madigan's plan, saying it would devastate schools and health, two areas that would receive more money under the governor's plan submitted to the General Assembly in February.

To complicate matters, Blagojevich and Madigan are not communicating. Blagojevich had planned a meeting for Tuesday with the four legislative leaders, including Madigan. However, Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the meeting was canceled when Madigan said he could not attend.

Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan didn't know of the meeting or even that the governor - often criticized for spending time in Chicago rather than Springfield - was "in town."

Lost in all this posturing is yet another opportunity to address the problem with school funding. The state continues to fail its schools by underfunding them, forcing school districts to lean heavily on local property taxes. In a down economy, which most of downstate Illinois is facing, the increase in property values is no longer covering the state's lack of spending.

Local schools such as Knoxville and Abingdon are trying to survive by going to taxpayers for more money, the only option left to them besides cutting into core programs. Knoxville voters responded in March by approving a tax increase. Abingdon voters defeated its request. It will ask again in November.

It will take courage and time for the General Assembly to address the problems with school funding. Both seem in short supply, especially during budget season.

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No-growth budget is not same as do-nothing budget  

Pantagraph Editorial, 5/28/04

Gov. Rod Blagojevich unintentionally didn't give much credit to existing state government when he referred to a no-growth budget as a "do-nothing budget."

The no-growth budget was first mentioned by a leader in Blagojevich's own Democrat Party, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, as a potential way out of the state's financial morass. By no-growth he was referring to spending about the same amount of money in the fiscal year beginning July 1 as will be spent this year. The budgeted amount was roughly $52 billion.

Blagojevich was quoted at a Sunday press conference as saying a no-growth budget "... doesn't deal with the issues we face; failing schools, inadequate health care, crumbling roads, the refusal to make hard choices by closing the corporate loopholes and prisons we don't need."

Only if nothing is being done in state government now could a no-growth budget be a "do-nothing budget." What the governor really means is that a no-growth budget would not allow him to do all of the things that may be desired or that he has promised unless he takes money away from existing programs.

The governor's office has made a point of informing the news media of what a no-growth budget would mean. The e-mail to The Pantagraph took three printed pages. There were "cuts" in nearly every area of the state's budget, with emphasis on cuts for education and health care.

Most are not cuts at all, but programs that wouldn't be funded as budgeted, or new programs that wouldn't see the light of day this coming year.

Some have written off the list as "scare tactics." But there are some legitimate points. Becky Carroll of the governor's Office of Management and Budget says agencies will be using only 98 percent of their budgeted amounts this year. If inflation of just 2 percent is factored in for a year, that would mean agencies would theoretically operate with 4 percent less money in the next fiscal year when costs are increasing. So, there would be cuts, but they don't have to be the kind of draconian cuts suggested by the governor's office.

There are proposals in the governor's budget that we would like to see, especially one pertaining to education: The $250 per pupil increase in the $4,810 minimum in the general state aid formula for students in kindergarten through high school. The cost would be about $348 million.

As for closing corporate tax loopholes, the governor's sound bites probably sound good to people who are convinced businesses are making too much money and can afford to pay more in taxes. But the governor needs to make sure closing those "loopholes" won't have negative effects on jobs. Maybe there are loopholes that should be closed over coming years to give businesses time to adjust to increased taxes.

Right now, Illinois needs more jobs and businesses that will generate more tax dollars to satisfy the government's spending appetite. We don't need huge tax increases or fees that will chase businesses out of the state.

Make no mistake, we're not happy with a no-growth budget.

However, when your budget runs short at home, you don't go on a spending binge for "new things," which is what Blagojevich has proposed. The governor's new spending plans may be desirable, but the reality is Illinois made it through this year without them and can't afford them in the foreseeable future. The governor has the power to increase or decrease budgets based on his priorities.

If Blagojevich won't recommend a temporary increase in income or sales taxes for political reasons, he should drop plans on spending for added projects and concentrate on using the money he has to set priorities to head this state back to a sound financial footing.

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NATIONAL

In failing schools, how real is transfer option?   

By Amanda Paulson, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, 5/19/04

CHICAGO - Last year, Jesús Uriostegui was eager for his daughter Citlalli to transfer out of Richards Career Academy, her failing high school on Chicago's southwest side. Under federal law, he and other parents with children in failing schools can request transfers to better-performing institutions.

Yet here in Chicago, that right remains largely on paper: There simply aren't enough schools that have remained off the "needs improvement" list to accept all transfer requests. Of the 19,000 Chicago kids who asked for transfers last year under the new federal law, only 1,100 got them. Citlalli was among those who did not.

Chicago's dearth of slots, though particularly severe, is not unique: It exemplifies a major impediment to the advance of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law in America's urban districts and sabotages the aim of giving students - especially those in failing inner-city classrooms - more "choice" in where they go to school.

While supporters of the controversial law say the problems will be worked out, the early experience of Chicago and other cities shows how the ideals of a law passed in Washington can be difficult to implement in the complicated world of urban education.

In the long list of consequences for schools under NCLB, the transfer option is one of the earliest to kick in - students can transfer after their schools land on the "needs improvement" list two years running - and carries some of the largest logistical headaches. Students can't transfer to schools that don't exist, after all, and - unless interdistrict agreements become an option - many cities may see scenarios like Chicago's, in which "choice" is largely meaningless. Next year, only 20 of 600 schools are likely to accept transfers.

"In big cities, it's going to be a problem," says Madlene Hamilton, a researcher with the Center on Education Policy in Washington. "Either they don't have room in the other schools or they just don't have the schools. They need to find other ways to increase capacity, either by opening more schools, or hiring more teachers, or getting space in those schools whatever way they can."

Champions of NCLB say the transfer option not only helps individual students, but encourage creation of better schools. Yet some critics see the provision as a veiled attempt to promote vouchers, and worry that it will drain floundering schools of resources and the brightest students.

Even the staunchest NCLB advocates agree transfers won't work everywhere. Many rural districts only have one school for each grade, and attending nearby districts could mean a 100-mile drive - or, in parts of Alaska and Hawaii, a plane trip.

In such cases, officials say, free tutoring (the next consequence to kick in after transfers) is an acceptable substitute. That's the route Chicago is taking. Last year it provided tutoring to 57,000 students, and expects that number to rise this year. Last month, the district sent all parents a letter telling them how to apply for both transfers and tutoring.

"What Chicago did this year is a perfect example of what every district should be doing," says Nina Rees, deputy undersecretary for innovation and improvement at the US Department of Education. She's pleased that Chicago is informing parents early on of their options, and encouraging schools-within-schools and new charter schools. The district also notes that 45,000 children whose neighborhood schools are considered failing exercise choice under the district's separate magnet-school program.

But some see a fundamental problem with the mandates, saying they deflect resources from reform efforts under way. As the law stands, they note, it's difficult for schools with large minority and low-income populations to get themselves off the failing list, even when they make improvements.

"As you get farther and farther out, you're going to see a higher percentage of schools hit with these sanctions," says Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the National Education Association. "Say you have an African-American subgroup that doesn't meet adequate yearly progress [AYP] goals. You correct that. But the next year the Hispanic subgroup doesn't meet it. [The school is] still seen as not making AYP for two years in a row."

Aspects of the law, particularly its focus on narrowing the achievement gap for minorities, are important, says Mr. Kaufman, "but there are some common-sense changes that need to be made." In terms of transfers, for instance, he'd like to limit the option to students in the groups that aren't meeting the standards.

Chicago's extreme numbers - next year, officials predict there will be 457 spots for roughly 300,000 students - are also due to the fact that its racially balanced magnet schools need not accept transfers. Many parents want to see the two programs melded, so that those in failing schools get first priority at magnet schools. But that's not their chief concern.

"This is distracting from the real issue," says Julie Woestehoff, director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a parent watchdog group here. "Why do we have over 400 schools on the 'needs improvement' list? Why don't we spend our money on that?"

Most parents, she says, prefer to keep their kids in neighborhood schools - they just want those schools to improve.

Still, some say the low interest in transfers that's often reported is misleading. One of the most comprehensive studies of the law, authored by the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights (CCCR) found that parents often had great interest in transfers, especially if they knew of their options.

Overall, nearly six percent of eligible students applied for transfers this year - up from last year and substantial, according to Dianne Piché, CCCR director, given the generally poor information that parents receive. While the study found a few districts making solid efforts to facilitate transfers, many more discouraged transfers or told parents of options too late.

"This should be viewed as extremely comparable to desegregation work," says Piché. "It requires more than sending a note home to parents. Work needs to be done at the receiving schools ... exactly the kind of work that needed to be done with desegregation plans."

And, as with desegregation, she sees districts like Chicago as prime examples of why interdistrict agreements are necessary. Transfers across districts are nominally encouraged already, but without strong incentives - extra funds, perhaps, or temporary exemption from NCLB-required performance gains - most say they're unlikely to occur. Even within districts, parents at receiving schools worry that an influx of transfers will bring down their scores. Neighboring districts - like Orland Park near Chicago - that have contemplated opening their doors have sparked outrage among parents.

"There's a real leadership challenge here of communicating with the public to make all of us concerned with the education of everyone's children," says Ross Wiener, policy director at the Education Trust, which focuses on narrowing the achievement gap. He, like most choice advocates, also emphasizes that it's only a small piece of fixing the failing schools.

"There are far too many children assigned to schools that aren't serving them," Mr. Wiener says. "If we say there aren't enough other places for them to go, we have to be committed to making their schools better."

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N.C. seeks 'No Child' law tweaks so schools will pass  

By TODD SILBERMAN, Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer, 5/12/04

Without a single improved test score, more than 300 additional North Carolina schools could meet hard-to-reach goals this year under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The state wants to make it easier by taking advantage of exceptions, exemptions and other technical allowances the federal government is permitting. The State Board of Education asked for more leeway this month. Among the changes:

* Schools can count passing scores of certain students with learning disabilities whose scores last year were counted as failing because they were below grade level.

* Schools will get a slight break on the number of students who must be tested. Instead of 95 percent tested each year, schools can meet that requirement over an average of two, then three years.

* Some schools can measure their progress two ways and use the one that gives them the edge.

Individually, few of the half- dozen alterations would make much difference. But together, along with other tweaks approved earlier, they could mean as many as 15 percent more schools might pass compared with last year.

Like dozens of states, North Carolina has pressed for changes in what educators across the nation call overly rigid and unfair rules under No Child Left Behind.

"It should not be a signal of our backing away, as much as a signal of our wanting to get it right," said Howard Lee, chairman of the State Board of Education.

The changes are likely to win federal approval, since they've been permitted in other states or have been offered across the board.

'No Child' can hit hard

Last year, about 47 percent of North Carolina schools cleared the new, pass-or-fail federal hurdle, even as 94 percent of schools met the state's accountability standards.

A number of key North Carolina education groups, worried about the impact of the federal law on public schools, will hold a news conference today at the General Assembly.

No Child Left Behind, President Bush's sweeping education initiative, is intended to make schools more accountable for student achievement through yearly testing in reading and math, and through scrutiny of scores on those tests, grouped by race, poverty and educational disadvantage.

The goal is to raise achievement, especially among poor students, minorities and those with learning problems or language limitations.

Schools that fall short -- even within a single demographic group in just one subject -- can be stung by bad publicity or worse.

Schools that get federal Title I money for poor students face penalties when they miss the mark. Schools that fail for two consecutive years must let students transfer to schools that have met the standards. After three failing years in a row, schools must also provide students with private tutoring.

Public expects results

The adjustments the state is making could help several dozen Title I schools now in jeopardy of falling short for a second straight year clear the federal hurdle.

A few hundred schools that don't get Title I money, but whose reputations are at stake anyway, also could meet the standard.

Neil Pedersen, superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools and an adviser to the state board, said he supports the changes.

"I do think they are providing some additional latitude and fairness to what in many ways is an all-or-nothing system," Pedersen said.

Education leaders say the changes are more fair to schools, even if the mechanics by which schools are measured are more complicated.

"The public is looking at whether the school made it or not," said Lou Fabrizio, accountability director for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. "We need to be willing to do all those complex things in order for the results to better reflect how schools are actually performing."

How changes work

Under a previous rule change, North Carolina schools this year will benefit from a margin of error, or statistical cushion, in meeting federal standards.

That change alone might account for upward of a 12 percent increase over last year in the number of schools achieving the standard.

Some other schools are likely to pass because of the way federal officials now say schools can account for the performance of immigrants still learning English.

Last year, all such students were tested and their scores included. This year, schools can exempt students who are in their first year in a U.S. school.

Title I schools that fell short last year may escape sanctions this year if they fall short in a different subject.

For example, a school that missed the passing target for reading last year would not be penalized if it missed only in math this year. The law previously said a school was in trouble if its passing rate fell short in either subject for two consecutive years.

In Wake, six of the 19 Title I schools that might be required to offer transfer options because of the federal law could escape the penalty because of the margin-of-error latitude, said Karen Banks, assistant superintendent for evaluation and research.

Banks said she's uncertain of the impact of other adjustments.

"The changes are going to help some schools," she said, "but they're so complicated that no one knows how they'll play out."

The extra wiggle room is a necessary step, some education experts say, to win wider support for the federal law.

But they fear too much latitude could blunt the law's power.

"The hope is that states can get their accountability systems working so that people can have confidence in the law," said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based organization supportive of No Child Left Behind.

"But you want to be sure that flexibility isn't watering down accountability. When you talk about making it less burdensome for schools, you can also be talking about less learning for students."

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No Child Left Behind may not be enforceable, Lautenschlager says  

By ALAN J. BORSUK, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 13, 2004

Wisconsin might have no legal obligation to implement the controversial federal education law called No Child Left Behind, particularly if costs exceed the amount of money the federal government is providing, state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said in an opinion released Thursday.

Lautenschlager, in effect, invited the state Department of Public Instruction or a school district to sue to get out of requirements of the sweeping two-year-old law.

Her opinion, written in response to a question from state Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), was based largely on a provision of the federal law that says no one in the federal government can "mandate, direct, or control" anyone in a state government or school district regarding curriculum or programs of instruction or "mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act."

Opposition to the law has been growing across the country, primarily, but not entirely, among Democrats and teachers unions, and some politicians have cited the provision that Lautenschlager focused on as grounds for fighting the law.

But several state and national education officials said Thursday that they were not aware of a lawsuit being launched yet to test that aspect of the law.

"This is the first ruling of its kind in the United States," said Stan Johnson, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. "We urge school districts or the state to go to court and correct this injustice."

But John Gibbons, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said, "We disagree with anyone who characterizes No Child Left Behind as an unfunded mandate."

Gibbons said President George W. Bush had proposed education spending increases for next year that would bring Wisconsin $1.7 billion in federal money, a 45% increase from when Bush took office. He said $293 million of that was specifically for programs that are part of No Child Left Behind.

In recent days, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has criticized the law for being underfunded by billions of dollars, while Bush has strongly defended the law and its spending levels.

The impact of Lautenschlager's opinion is not likely to be clear soon.

Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of schools, said it was premature to say whether a lawsuit will result, and Department of Public Instruction officials had not yet studied the opinion. "It raises great questions," he said.

Ken Cole, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said a school district that wanted to sue would have to put together a factual record of how much the law was costing and how much the district was receiving, which may not be easy to determine.

Cole said it was too soon to tell whether anyone would sue, using the argument in Lautenschlager's opinion, "but it isn't going to be too soon for very long."

Lautenschlager called it "a stark reality" that the law requires states to implement programs that will cost more than the federal government is providing.

"The states are entitled to take Congress at its word that it did not intend to require state and local governments to expend their own funds to comply with the detailed and proscriptive federal mandates," she wrote.

She wrote that there were three major areas where federal funds were insufficient to cover costs required by the law: a testing program that includes a requirement to test all third- through eighth-graders each year in reading and math; the costs of implementing sanctions against schools that do not meet the law's requirement that they demonstrate annual progress in raising the performance of weaker students; and the cost of sufficient funding "to permit virtually every student in every school to reach 'proficiency' levels on standardized tests."

Lautenschlager said Wisconsin is receiving $152 million a year in federal aid to pay for programs that are part of the law. "It is likely that the state of Wisconsin and many school districts already are spending more funds than the federal government provides, and this amount could grow dramatically over the next few years," she wrote.

She also wrote that there were other legal grounds for questioning Wisconsin's obligation to follow the federal law.

She said that the outcome of a court challenge to the law was uncertain. "I do not, however, presently perceive insurmountable hurdles" to a court being willing to tackle the main question she raised, she said.

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Confusion Is Rampant With Change in the SAT's  

By TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times, May 23, 2004

A revised College Board exam, incorporating a writing test and more advanced math, will not make its debut until next spring, but confusion about how to deal with the changes is already rampant.

Worry is especially intense among this year's 10th graders, the first class that will confront the new test.

Most colleges seem to be leaning toward allowing that transition group, the graduating class of 2006, to submit scores either from the old SAT or the new SAT, and, if an applicant submits both, to consider the highest one. That flexibility creates a unique problem. Should students prepare to take the old SAT next winter, midway through junior year, or should they concentrate on the new format and wait until the spring, or even the fall of senior year?

Different people have different answers. At Kaplan Test Prep and Admission, the advice is to take both.

"Since so many colleges will take the highest combination of scores from the two tests during this transition year, we recommend that students in the class of 2006 take the current SAT this winter and the new SAT next spring." said Jon Zeitlin, Kaplan's general manager of pre-college programs, in a press release trumpeting the "unique one-time SAT advantage for the class of 2006."

At Hathaway Brown, a girls' school outside of Cleveland, the advice is similar. "I think we're going to say go ahead and take it both times," said Anne Ferguson, a Hathaway Brown college counselor. "I guess I'm thinking it could only be a win-win situation."

But many guidance counselors see it as a waste of time and energy to prepare for two different tests.

"I'd rather have them wait until March, when they've had those extra months of learning and growing, than take the old one in January," said Frank Deady, a guidance counselor at Unionville High School in Pennsylvania.

Then, too, some colleges, like those in the University of California system, will accept only the new test.

In Manhattan, Inspirica, a tutoring and test-prep company, offered seminars this spring on dealing with the new test, attracting crowds of anxious parents of 10th graders.

The parents first learned the basics: the new test will be in three sections, with a perfect score of 2,400, the analogies and quantitative comparisons will be eliminated, and the new writing section will include a short essay and grammar questions.

Then they heard about the ripple effects of the changes.

"One of the ramifications of the new SAT that no one's talking about yet is what's going to happen to the SAT II subject tests," said Lisa Jacobson, the chief executive of Inspirica. "Now that there's going to be a writing test on the SAT I, the SAT II writing test is going to fall by the wayside. A lot of colleges require people to submit three SAT II's, and some will now drop back to two. But we've heard that some are still going to require three."

Many colleges have not yet decided how many to require.

"We are waiting for the herd to see what the herd does,'' said Rob Killion, the director of admissions at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. "Out of fairness to the kids, we are waiting for majority rule. We will decide by early fall."

Bryn Mawr, Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, Swarthmore and the University of California will require only two SAT II's, and Bruce Poch, the dean of admissions at Pomona College, said that seemed the likely outcome there, too. "We don't want to test these kids to death," Mr. Poch said. "It's just too much."

A few of the most selective schools, Harvard and Yale among them, say they will continue to require three SAT II subject tests, at least for applicants graduating from high school in 2006. But even they sound less than certain how long that decision will hold. Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, said that "for the class of 2011, we'll make the decision later."

Some schools, and some parents, are advising students in 10th grade, or even 9th, to take the SAT II writing test before it is eliminated, both as practice and as a backup in case they do not score well on the SAT I writing section.

Parents had many questions: Now that the SAT will have three parts - reading, math and writing - instead of two, should tutoring start earlier? What might be the advantages of taking the ACT instead of the SAT? And perhaps most poignantly: "What about a normal regular kid? Does he stand a chance?''

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Black Flight to Private Schools Is Growing  

By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, New York Times, May 19, 2004

Early on weekday mornings, as Lesley-Anne Jones implores her three sons to button their shirts and knot their ties and tie their dress shoes, they ask why they can't attend her school. If Ms. Jones wanted to be factual about it, she could say that the family lives just outside the boundary for Public School 158 in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where she teaches fifth grade. Instead, she tells them the deeper truth. "I'm your mother, and I know what's good for you," she explains. "And the public school won't be."

Then she drives the children to a nearby private school, the Trey Whitfield School. Every month, she and her husband send the school a check for $900, the equivalent of almost two weeks' take-home pay from her job. They make the sacrifice because Trey Whitfield offers their children a demonstrably safer and better education than what is available at either P.S. 158 or their local school, Public School 149.

There is nothing effete about the private education at the Whitfield School. Its campus consists of three cinder-block barracks tucked behind a Baptist church. The curriculum eschews the fashionable pedagogies of whole language and constructivist math. From pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, every pupil wears a uniform. And not a single child in a student body of 470 is white.

In her decision to enroll her children there, Ms. Jones has plenty of company among the Whitfield School parents. Probation officers, nurse's aides, office managers, subway conductors, these are the overlooked legions of the black working class. A vast majority serve actively in their churches and hold a strain of social conservatism alongside political liberalism. Their departure from urban school systems, not only in New York but also across the nation, represents one of the most significant and little-noticed trends in public education.

When white families pull their children out of big-city public schools, everybody pays attention and debates whether the cause is educational failure, racial bias or some other factor. When African-American parents do the same thing, hardly anyone seems to care or comment, as if blacks are just supposed to accept whatever the neighborhood school dishes up - good, mediocre or abysmal.

To put the myopia in statistical terms, the database LexisNexis finds more than 2,500 newspaper and magazine articles using the phrases "white flight" and "public schools." With the term "black flight" substituted, the number of citations plummets to fewer than 100. Not even an organization devoted to helping African-American parents with school choice, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, based in Washington, D.C., has firm statistics on the black migration out of public schools.

Still, some indications of the scope of that migration exist. Black enrollment in Catholic schools stands at about 200,000 students nationally, and minority enrollment has risen from one-tenth in 1970 to more than one-quarter in 2004, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Some 400 historically black independent schools operate around the country, serving 52,000 pupils, the educator Gail Foster reported in 2000 in the anthology "City Schools" (Johns Hopkins University Press). Voucher programs in Florida, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., affect 33,000 pupils, the overwhelming number of them minorities.

Measured against more than eight million blacks of school age, of course, the size of black flight can seem picayune. But on the evidence of a place like the Trey Whitfield School, leaders in public education would be wise to pay attention to why a stable, devout, upwardly mobile segment of the African-American population is deserting.

"As an educator, I realized my children needed consistency," Ms. Jones said. "And in the public schools there's no consistency. It's who's in charge and what program they like. We've had math programs come and go, and as soon as I master one, they go to another. And if I'm not mastering it, how am I teaching it?"

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Education wins big in budget  

Napolitano initiatives sail through Senate

Robbie Sherwood and Chip Scutari, The Arizona Republic, May 25, 2004 

After a 134-day struggle over the state budget, lawmakers voted Monday to invest heavily in education at every level, from all-day kindergarten to community colleges and universities.

The Legislature sent a $7.4 billion budget to Gov. Janet Napolitano that meets nearly every priority she set in January and increases spending by $1 billion over the current year.

It guarantees all-day kindergarten for more than 150 of the state's poorest schools this fall. It raises university budgets by $24 million and community colleges' by $15 million to handle the state's population growth. It also gives most rank-and-file state employees a $1,000 raise and provides subsidies for child care to thousands of working families now on a waiting list.

And, with a $2.6 million increase to the Office of Tourism budget, it means Arizona will try to take back its most prized asset from Nevada's tourism industry through stepped up advertising and marketing.

"We're going to reclaim the Grand Canyon," Napolitano said. "We're going to start teaching all those all-day kindergartners that the Grand Canyon is in Arizona, not Nevada."

Napolitano said she will likely sign the budget bills. Monday's action could bring this year's legislative session to a close by the end of the week.

The Senate approved the main budget bill 21-8 rather than risk negotiating again with House leaders. The version approved by senators Monday was the same as the House passed Thursday, when moderate Republicans and Democrats overran their Republican leaders.

A steadily improving state economy gave lawmakers the cash they needed to avoid deep spending cuts or a tax increase. But they still had to use long-term debt and other fiscal maneuvers to cover about $284 million. Critics said it is irresponsible to increase last year's budget by $1 billion despite the extra revenues. House Speaker Jake Flake said the state budget will hurt working moms and dads.

"It's a billion-dollar increase, and the revenues don't come in that fast," said Flake, R-Snowflake. "We're locking ourselves into a tax increase like you wouldn't believe, and there's no way out of it."

But working mom Rene Hinz of Phoenix, whose daughter will attend full-day kindergarten in the fall, couldn't be more thrilled that Arizona is on its way to expanding all-day kindergarten statewide by 2010. Hinz said she's tired of seeing Arizona ranked near the bottom of the nation for education funding.

"This is a start to get our education system caught up with the rest of the country," said Hinz, 32. "This will help test scores and, more importantly, it's just good for the kids."

Angelica Rubio, whose three children went through all-day kindergarten in the Alhambra School District, said the experience gave her kids an educational boost.

"At this age kids are like sponges," said Rubio, who lives in Phoenix. "At half-day kindergarten, they don't have time to settle down and learn before they take a nap and go home."

Child-care subsidies

The budget also preserves child-care subsidies for low-income working families and adds money to cut in half a waiting list of about 8,000 children. Julie Palma, who runs a home child-care business, said this is government money well spent because it helps keep parents working and off welfare. Palma said one of her clients was put on the waiting list earlier this year and had to take her child out of day care.

"She was a single mother of two, and her only choice she had was to quit her job or pull one of her kids out day care," said Palma, 32, who runs Bless This Child Learning Center in Phoenix. "That really hurt. She didn't now what she was going to do, and I don't know how she figured it out. This (budget) is a big relief."

Michelle Currier, a single mother and surgical center employee who has to struggle every week to find child care for her four children, has been on the Department of Economic Security's waiting list for child-care subsidies since February. She said she was glad the Legislature decided to give enough money to reduce the waiting list for the program but would like to see the waiting list eliminated and won't be happy until she gets the subsidy herself.

"I'm still not going to think it is good if my name doesn't come up. I have to be a little bitter," Currier said.

She said the program makes sense and thinks it probably will help the state economy and reduce some costs to other programs.

State pay raises

State employees were less enthusiastic about their proposed pay raises, a $44 million piece of the budget. Department of Public Safety officers got $3,500 apiece, far more than the $1,000 for rank-and-file workers, but said it won't be enough to stop officers from leaving for other departments because of the low pay. Andy Swann, president of the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona, said 24 DPS officers are interviewing for the Phoenix Police Department.

"I think it is a step in the right direction," Swann said. "Obviously, we are grateful for anything we can get. It is not going to move us significantly, and our fear is it is not going to change what we are experiencing now. Right now, people are leaving for other agencies, and we are not getting enough applications to fill the vacancies."

Edmund Schulte, a supervisor in DES' benefits and medical eligibility office, said he was hoping for a bigger pay bump.

"I'll take it, but with inflation and gas and everything else, it is not doing any good," Schulte said. "It is gone before you get it. (State employees) are not here to get rich, but they would like to be able to pay their bills."

Higher-education advocates successfully fought for a $24 million increase for universities, which will help Arizona State University deal with student growth and the University of Arizona hold on to its most talented faculty members. Janet Bingham, vice president of advancement at UA, said the investment in higher education will improve the economy.

"It's not just good for the University of Arizona but good for the entire state," Bingham said of the efforts to retain faculty. "They're outstanding faculty who teach our students, who serve our state in many ways, who do research and who absolutely help drive the economy of the state."

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Vending machines at schools must meet nutritional standard   

Rules to be written in time for 2005-06

By DUREN CHEEK, Tennessean Staff Writer, 5/25/04

Children in Tennessee's public schools may have less opportunity to gobble junk food from school vending machines under a bill that Gov. Phil Bredesen signed yesterday.

The legislation was sparked by concern over childhood obesity and requires the State Board of Education and the departments of Health and Education to write rules setting minimum nutritional standards and portion sizes for drinks and snacks sold in vending machines in schools for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The rules are to be written in time to be implemented in the 2005-06 school year.

The bill states that Tennessee has epidemic proportions of childhood obesity, one of the highest rates of pediatric obesity, one of the highest rates of childhood Type II diabetes and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the United States.

Bredesen, flanked by state lawmakers, signed the legislation yesterday during ceremonies at the old Supreme Court Chamber in the state Capitol

''I think within the last couple of months I have done a couple of things focusing on the enormous and increasing amount of obesity we have among the children of our state,'' Bredesen said. ''This is one of those things that can obviously help with that.

''I think setting some nutritional standards for the sale of food items in the schools is a very worthwhile thing.''

Mary Nell Bryan, president of the Children's Hospital Alliance of Tennessee, was the lobbyist for the bill and received hugs from legislators after the signing ceremonies.

''I hope that this leads to not only healthier foods for kids in school but also a greater awareness of the importance of nutrition to the overall health of children,'' Bryan said.

Bryan said Douglas Wood, executive director of the State Board of Education, wants all the interested parties, including health advocates, bottlers and vendors, to meet with the board by middle or late June to begin work on the rules.

''It was a hard-fought effort,'' Bryan said. ''We are delighted to have success on this so soon. Tennessee is at the forefront of legislation addressing nutrition in schools for kids.''

State Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, said the bill took a lot of compromise.

''But in the end we certainly have done what needs to be done not only to our children who are healthy but also our children who have special needs like the diabetic children as well.''

The chief sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Larry Trail, D-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Joe Fowlkes, D-Cornersville, were praised by their colleagues for their work in helping to pass the bill. Neither was present for the ceremonies.

Fowlkes originally wanted lawmakers to write into law the kinds of healthy snacks that could be sold in vending machines in grades K-12, such as bottled water, fruit, granola bars, juices, milk or dairy products, nuts, sports beverages and trail mixes.

But that ran into stiff opposition from bottlers as well as from school officials who count on revenue from the vending machines for such things as band uniforms, field trips, and workshops for teachers.

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New law leaves schools in lurch   

Texas falls short by $67 million for ESL, biology texts

By JANET ELLIOTT, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau, 5/21/04

AUSTIN -- Texas is short $67 million to buy textbooks, putting in jeopardy the purchase of materials for non-English-speaking elementary students and high school biology students, officials acknowledged Thursday.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn blamed lawmakers and Texas Department of Transportation officials for miscalculating how much money a new law would generate. Strayhorn said her office had warned them that the anti-fraud law designed to improve collections of motor vehicle fuel taxes would generate only a fraction of the amount projected.

"The TxDOT estimates were based on a limited understanding of fuel tax administration in Texas and, one is tempted to say, wishful thinking," Strayhorn wrote in a letter to members of the State Board of Education, which oversees textbook purchases. "It is regrettable that the important area of school textbooks was linked to TxDOT's dubious assumptions, but we were very clear on the likely outcome of such a budget strategy."

Lawmakers had expected the change to generate $75 million for textbook purchases for the 2004-05 biennium, but Strayhorn said only $8 million will be raised. The overall textbook budget is $585 million.

It will be up to Gov. Rick Perry and lawmakers to decide if they want to cover the shortfall with other revenues.

The new law moved the point of collection of motor vehicle fuel taxes from truckers to tank farms and underground pipeline outlets. The change reduced the number of tax filers from more than 14,000 to fewer than 1,000, and lawmakers expected that would lessen the opportunity for tax evasion and fraud.

The Legislature dedicated one-fourth of the money raised from the new law to textbooks and the remainder to transportation. Strayhorn said the lower-than-projected collections also mean a "large portion of the transportation budget will be underfunded."

Randall Dillard, a transportation department spokesman, declined to comment on Strayhorn's statements, which were made in a May 17 letter to State Board of Education members.

Dillard said there has only been three months of tax collections under the new law and collections have increased by 5 percent from the previous year.

"Certainly three months does not make a trend. (But) the data certainly looks encouraging," said Dillard.

Lawmakers approved the new law to help restore some of the $200 million in textbook budget cuts made to balance the overall state budget. The cuts forced a one-year delay in TEA's schedule for replacing older texts.

The bulk of the textbook budget comes from investments of royalty money paid by oil and gas companies for drilling on state land.

DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman, said Thursday the shortfall means the state may not be able to buy ESL, or English as a second language, books for elementary school students and the new high school biology books that were approved last year by the State Board of Education.

Culbertson said the agency is required to prioritize its textbook purchases for subjects and grades in which students are required to pass state tests. That made ESL and biology books a lower priority.

Legislative budget writers estimated that the tax collection change, contained in House Bill 2458 passed during the regular session last year, would generate up to $300 million. Three-fourths of that amount was appropriated to the transportation department, and one-fourth, or $75 million, to the TEA for textbooks.

The new law went into effect in January, but the first collections were not made until March. Based on three months of collections, Strayhorn told TEA that only $8 million will be available for textbooks.

Supporters of the bill said it would cut down on fraud to decrease the base of tax collections. Other states had made that change and generated millions more in tax collections.

But the comptroller's office told lawmakers that Texas probably wouldn't see the same impact because it had a long-established and highly effective fuel tax fraud investigation program.

"I don't think they believed we knew what we were talking about," said Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton.

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Indianapolis Public Schools to end corporal punishment

AP, May 26, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Officials have decided to ban corporal punishment in Indiana's largest school district.

The Indianapolis Public Schools board voted 6-1 on Tuesday to eliminate a policy that allowed teachers at the district's 79 schools to use spanking to discipline students.

"It is time for us as a public educational institution to be a role model and say that hitting children is not acceptable," said School Board President Marianna R. Zaphiriou.

Indiana is among 22 states that allow public school officials to spank students. In 1999-2000 _ the most recent period for which figures were available from the Center for Effective Discipline _ more than 2,200 Indiana students felt the sting of paddling under a corporal punishment policy that gives educators the same disciplinary rights as parents.

Supporters defend the practice a key tool to show children there are consequences for disruptive behavior. Critics say there are more effective ways to discipline students and call paddling a negative response to negative behavior.

The debate gained momentum in Indianapolis in March after school officials suspended two teachers who administrators said were involved in paddling six 9-year-old boys, including one who was treated at a hospital for bruises and swelling. Both teachers have since been cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to their jobs.

School Board member Michael D. Brown, a pastor who cast the lone vote against the ban, said many parents still support the use of paddling. Five of eight parents who testified at a hearing on the issue Monday spoke in support of the school policy, he said.

"For those who believe corporal punishment is not a deterrent, they are not being honest," he said. "It is a deterrent. And if they take that away, they are taking an option away from teachers and parents."

That option is being removed from teachers in an increasing number of districts across the country. About 90 of the nation's 100 largest school districts have eliminated the practice, The Indianapolis Star reported.

In Dallas, officials last fall amended their policy to require that parents give written permission before their child is disciplined, and Georgia officials are considering a policy that would require parents to be present when their child is disciplined.

Pennsylvania legislators are expected to vote on a proposed ban this year.

"It's a national trend and we're following it," said Pat Pritchett, superintendent of the Indianapolis district, which has some 40,000 students.

Nadine Block, director of the Center for Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio, an anti-corporal punishment group, said the Indianapolis vote could put pressure on the Indiana General Assembly to ban spanking, which has been allowed by state law for at least 30 years.

Efforts to ban corporal punishment have been introduced but never passed the General Assembly.

A 1995 revision authorized teachers and school staffers to "take any action that is reasonably necessary" to prevent interference with educational missions. Another law gives parents and guardians the right to use "reasonable" physical force to discipline a child.

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Education can be long, hard haul for nation's rural kids  

2 hours going, 2 hours back: Utah children endure one of the nation's longer rides as school closings force kids to spend more time on buses

By Sam Dillon, New York Times News Service, May 28, 2004

BLANDING, Utah -- The sky is still dark over the canyon lands of southeastern Utah at 5:30 a.m., but two dozen Navajo students are already preparing for school. Their bus driver, William Mustache, is circling his yellow rig, checking the running lights before setting out through the backcountry dawn to fetch them.

Lasting nearly two hours, Mustache's route is one of the longest, dustiest, most bone-rattling school bus rides in the nation.

Bouncing its way along the washboard roads of the Navajo reservation and a two-lane blacktop north to Lyman Middle School and San Juan High School in Blanding, a 67-mile trip, Mustache's 24-seater bounces the students mercilessly and kicks up a dust cloud that showers them with a powder of red clay. Yet students and driver form a tight community aboard the bus and speak of the discomforts with stoicism.

"It lasts forever. It's boring," said Chelsie Atene, an 8th grader who climbs aboard at Mustache's second stop. "But I'm with friends, and a lot of times it's fun."

Every morning 440,000 yellow buses carry 24 million U.S. students to school. But because school districts are closing down thousands of small country schools across the nation, experts say the bus rides taken by poor rural students like those on Mustache's route are getting longer and rougher.

The average one-way commuting time for U.S. adults is less than 25 minutes. Craig Howley, a professor at Ohio University, found in a 2001 five-state survey of elementary school principals that it was common for rural children to spend 90 minutes on buses getting to school.

"Apparently being rural and poor is sufficient justification, in practice, to impose long rides on some young children," Howley wrote.

Mustache's long route here in the southeastern Utah desert begins on a windswept knoll outside his house on the Navajo reservation. At 5:45 a.m. the other day, he released the parking brake and set out along a dirt track.

His teenage son, Watson, and daughter, Evangeline, climbed aboard outside their grandmother's house a quarter-mile away, looking sleepy. Chelsie and two other students boarded five minutes later.

Over the next half-hour, Mustache traversed the sandy, one-lane roads of an arid and largely treeless highland. At one stop, two girls wrapped in Navajo blankets seemed embarrassed by the presence of a photographer.

"Don't take any pictures," one said.

After the last pickup in that sector, Mustache accelerated to 40 m.p.h., and the bus became a deafening cacophony of shakes and squeaks.

Amid the din, students remained largely silent. But when Mustache wheeled the bus onto a blacktop reservation road, the ride grew smoother, the sun streamed over the Sleeping Ute mountains, and students began to chat.

Tyron Wells, a 17-year-old junior who boarded the bus with his hair brushed up with gel, sat sullen and quiet. But after 9th-grader Shymaine Miller boarded the bus and took the seat immediately behind him, he became more animated.

Three seats away, Danaman Begay, a 15-year-old sophomore, sat with his knees propped against the seat in front of him. He had boarded the bus outside a cluster of one-story homes where his grandparents and father, a heavy-equipment operator, keep cattle and sheep as well as turkeys and geese.

Outside Blanding, the blacktop broadened to four lanes, and the roadside sage and tumbleweed gave way to asphalt parking lots and chain-link fences. Soon the bus rolled up a slope to the rambling brick buildings of San Juan High School. Mustache parked next to the football field.

Students clambered out, groaning. They shook their legs, brushed dust from their clothes, and headed for classes, which begin at 8 a.m.

At 3:30 p.m., students gathered outside Mustache's bus for the ride home. Weariness prevailed. Even before the bus was out of town, half the students were asleep.

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Study: 9 out of 10 schools won't meet federal standards in a decade  

AP, May 28, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. -- More than 90 percent of Connecticut elementary and middle schools won't meet federal education standards in 10 years, according to a new study commissioned by the state's largest teachers' union.

The Connecticut Education Association study concludes that the number of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act will increase sharply by 2014 as standards are raised and more children are tested, The Hartford Courant reported.

The 2002 federal act, one of President Bush's initiatives, includes penalties against schools that are deemed to not be making adequate progress. Besides the stigma of being labeled inadequate, schools could be forced by the state to not accept federal funding, implement a new curriculum, offer interdistrict school choice, add staff or remove the superintendent.

Edward Moscovitch, a private economist hired by the teachers' union to prepare the report, based his conclusions on current trends in statewide test scores.

"By 2009, virtually all (Title I) schools fail," Moscovitch said in the report. Title I schools are ones that receive federal aid for poor students.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education, criticized the union's report.

"It's absurd," Aspey said Thursday. "First of all, the goal is that all kids will be able to read and do math on grade level. This report is saying that will never happen, so why bother trying."

No Child Left Behind's goals include having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Only 19 percent of Connecticut schools met federal standards on state tests given two years ago. The goal then was to have at least 57 percent of a school's students proficient in reading and 65 percent in math, but that goal will rise steadily over the next decade.

A school can be cited for inadequate progress if even one group of students -- such as members of a minority group, special education students or children from low-income families -- fails to meet standards.

The law requires testing of children in grades 3 through 8, affecting about 800 schools in Connecticut.

Moscovitch predicts that nearly half the state's schools with children in those grades will fall short by 2006 and that 93 percent will fail by 2014.

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said current trends suggest that the teachers union report is accurate.

"We have no reason to disagree with that projection," he said. "It raises the question whether parents will view their school as deficient or the law as deficient," he said.

Other states, too, predict high levels of failure. About 45 percent of California's public schools already fall short, and trends indicate that 99 percent will miss the mark by 2014, said William Padia of the California Department of Education.

"It's not surprising," he said. "That should be true everywhere in the country, given the way (the law) is structured."

Earlier this year, school chiefs from more than a dozen states, including California and Connecticut, asked U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to allow states with strong testing systems more flexibility under the law.

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Study: Texas kids among fattest in U.S.

By Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press Writer, May 28, 2004

HOUSTON -- Texas children are among the fattest in the nation, with black and Hispanic kids exhibiting the highest risk for being overweight, a study shows.

Texas fourth-graders were overweight at a rate 46 percent higher than children of similar age elsewhere in the country, said Deanna Hoelscher, principal investigator of study, conducted by the University of Texas School of Public Health.

"Parents do need to watch this in their kids," she said. "What this means is being overweight is a health risk for kids. Parents need to look at that as something they need to take some measures to prevent."

Researchers collected data from more than 6,000 students in 30 schools districts and 132 schools throughout Texas from 1999 to 2001. Hoelscher said the study is one of the first to gather statewide data based on measured height and weight of elementary and secondary students.

Obesity is defined by a formula involving height and weight, called the body mass index, or BMI. A BMI of 18 to 25 is considered healthy. People with a BMI over 25 are considered overweight and those whose BMI is 30 or more are classified as obese.

The Texas study, which will be published in next month's American Journal of Public Health, found 22 percent of fourth-graders, 19 percent of eighth-graders and nearly 16 percent of 11th-graders were overweight. Data from the study's first year was released Thursday.

Hoelscher said national figures aren't broken up by specific school grades but the most recent ones show 15.3 percent of children ages 6 to 11 were overweight, while 15.5 percent of kids ages 12 to 19 were carrying extra pounds.

The federal government has set as a goal of having only 5 percent of school-aged children classified as overweight by 2010.

"We're not close to that," said Hoelscher, who is also director of the public health school's human nutrition center.

Marilyn Tanner, a clinical pediatric dietitian at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the number of obese children across the country has increased tremendously in the last 15 years and they keep getting younger.

"Now it's at epidemic proportions," said Tanner, who also is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "I've had 2- and 3-year-olds come in."

The percentage of overweight students in Texas was much higher among minorities, Hoelscher said.

For Hispanic boys in all grade levels, Hispanic girls in fourth-grade and black girls in the fourth- and eighth-grades, the percentage of overweight children ranged from 23 percent to nearly 33 percent. That's five to six times higher than national recommendations.

Hoelscher said she has no definitive answers for why Texas children are more overweight.

Cultural differences in food choices, body image and exercise could be possible reasons why minority children have higher rates of being overweight, Tanner said.

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Company pleads guilty to scamming poor schools  

AP , May 28, 2004 

SAN FRANCISCO, California -- A Texas company agreed to pay $20.6 million after pleading guilty to defrauding a federal program aimed at helping poor schools and libraries connect to the Internet.

NEC Business Network Solutions Inc., part of Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp., was charged in U.S. District Court with allocating contracts and rigging bids for the federal E-Rate program, which is funded by telephone users.

Prosecutors said the Irving-based company inflated bids and submitted false and fraudulent documents for reimbursement to the federal government for school projects in California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Besides a $4.7 million fine, the company will provide $15.9 million in cash and goods as part of the agreement.

The San Francisco Unified School District will get $3.3 million of the fine as whistleblower in the case.

"This conduct deprived the E-Rate program of fair and competitive prices, caused the program to pay for unnecessary and ineligible items, and as a result, prevented the funding of projects at other needy schools," said R. Hewitt Pate, assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division.

The E-Rate program gives money to schools and libraries so they can install Internet access.

"We made mistakes with E-Rate," said Gerald P. Kenney, general counsel of NEC America, the unit's parent company in Dallas. "We've acknowledged and accepted responsibility for those mistakes ... and taken action to ensure that these problems can't happen again."

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Good Teachers + Small Classes = Quality Education  

By MICHAEL WINERIP, New York Times, May 26, 2004

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period. After that, everything seems to pale, including the testing accountability programs, technology, building conditions. Even curriculum seems secondary, as our best public colleges demonstrate. We have West Point and we have Berkeley, and the question isn't which has the correct curriculum; the question is which curriculum is the best fit for the student and teacher.

Parents get this. Joe Gipson, a black parent from Sacramento who feels that black students are too often shortchanged, told me the best thing that happened to his children's school was the California law capping class size at 20 through third grade. You can still have incompetent teachers, he said, but with small classes you can spot them faster and weed them out.

Good teachers and small classes. Those were the two main factors New York's highest court cited last year when it ruled that the state had financially shortchanged New York City schools.

The state must provide more money, the court ruled, so the city can afford to attract more good teachers and improve classroom conditions, particularly reducing class size.

Michael Rebell, the lead lawyer for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which brought the suit on behalf of the city's poor children, says that research has shown it's hard to attract the best teachers until you have good working conditions. And the crucial element for good working conditions? "Small class size," he says.

In the original 2001 trial court opinion, Judge Leland DeGrasse put it succinctly: "The advantages of small classes are clear. A teacher in a small class has more time to spend with each student. Fewer students mean fewer administrative tasks for each teacher. Student discipline and student engagement in the learning process improve in smaller classes."

There were 72 witnesses and 4,300 exhibits for the trial, but as Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate, says, the most important piece of evidence may have been a single table showing how much larger classes are in New York City than the rest of the state. In middle school - when so many children are lost - city classes averaged 28 versus 21 statewide.

Academic studies show small class size carries many benefits, even mitigating racial problems that interfere with learning. A recent study by Tom Dee, a Swarthmore professor, in "The Review of Economics and Statistics" concluded that both white and black children achieved more when they were taught by teachers of their own race. This is bad news for black children since the vast majority of teachers, even in big cities, are white and the vast majority of urban children - 85 percent in New York City - are minority.

But there is a hopeful exception. If classes are small, Dr. Dee found, black children do equally well with a white or black teacher. "It may be because there's more personal interaction, less chance for stereotyping," Dr. Dee said.

Market forces tell us that small class size is worth a lot. Well-to-do parents pay for private schools with good teachers and small classes. At Horace Mann in the Bronx, a leading private school, tuition is $25,000 and class size averages 15 in the middle grades, or half of what it is in nearby public middle schools.

So what's the obstacle to small class size? Money, of course. New York's top court did not specify how much was needed and the politicians have spent the last year creating committees that have concluded that city schools need $2 billion to $6 billion more a year in operating funds. Similar cases in other states have dragged on for years. The New York case took 10 years to get through the courts, with Gov. George E. Pataki fighting it every step of the way.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is losing patience, as well he should. Having made his own billions in the private sector, he understands that quality costs. He estimates city schools need $5.3 billion from the state in extra yearly operating funds and $6.5 billion more in construction aid. Smaller class size requires more classrooms, and many city schools are overcrowded.

Which raises the question: Are we as a people willing to pay the price - are we willing to sign the social contract - to give city children more good teachers and small classes?

The answer is supposed to be the federal No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2002. It mandates that every American child be proficient in reading and math by 2014, that the achievement gap between white and black be eliminated once and for all.

To do this, President Bush's budget calls for spending $13 billion for all Title I poverty schools in America. In other words, what Mayor Bloomberg says he needs extra for the New York City schools is what the president has offered for all the nation's poor schools.

At heart, leaving no child behind is about eliminating poverty's effects. To President Lyndon B. Johnson, that meant war - a war on poverty - since war is the best model we have for the kind of mobilization it would take. We understand that military wars cost; that's why the president has asked Congress for an extra $25 billion for Iraq.

And for the education war? All the rhetoric and data are in place for the education war: high standards, tough accountability, disaggregated data by the truckload. But financing?

No Child Left Behind is superb at finding fault. It has labeled a third of America's schools failing. It has labeled over half of New York City's middle schools failing. Within a few years, almost all city middle schools are expected to carry that label. Fine, fail them all. But where is the money from the states and the federal government to arm city schools with small classes and more good teachers?

Blaming public schools, their principals and teachers for losing the education war feels a lot like blaming the ground troops for losing the Vietnam War. Are we committed to an education war? Do we have the will? I fear that the late Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, had it right: We have met the enemy and he is us.

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Nev. Teacher Claims Rosters Altered to Meet ‘No Child’ Law  

By Michelle Galley, Education Week, 5/26/04

A high school teacher in Zephyr Cove, Nev., has accused his principal of altering school records in order meet a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Michael Kiger, a mathematics teacher at the 250-student George Whittell High School, filed the complaint with the Nevada Department of Education last month.

His complaint alleges that Principal Janie Gray told him that grades for eight youngsters who were not in his class would be credited to him. "She was attempting to place these kids under a highly qualified teacher," he said in an interview last week.

There is a "paper trail" to prove the allegation, he added.

The allegations are currently being investigated by the state.

"We are looking into the issue," said Gloria Dopf, the state’s deputy superintendent for instructional research and evaluative services.

An investigation is under way at the district level, Ms. Dopf added. "We will have a short turnaround with a resolution by the end of the school year," she said.

Ms. Gray, the principal of the Douglas County high school, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the May 11 edition of the Reno Gazette-Journal, Mr. Kiger filed his complaint in the form of an e- mail in which he wrote: "It sickens me to go to school each day and know that our school stands for nothing when the principal and others are allowed to preach that we have the highest standards and are 100 percent in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act."

Because Whittell High is not eligible for money under Title I of the federal education law, officials at the school do not have to prove that all of its teachers are highly qualified until the 2005-06 school year.

By contrast, schools that receive Title I aid have been required to ensure that teachers hired after the 2002-03 school year meet federal definitions for being highly qualified.

An Issue to Watch

Ms. Dopf said that even if the allegations are confirmed, the principal’s actions would not have had any bearing on the school’s NCLB compliance. "At this point," she said, "whether their teachers are highly qualified or not does not count against the school."

While many educators say they are increasingly feeling strained by the law’s requirements, the incident in Nevada appears to be an anomaly—at least for now.

"That was the first example I’ve heard" of a principal allegedly changing school data regarding highly qualified teachers, said Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the National Education Association.

But, because school districts and teachers are under pressure to comply with the law, such infractions could become more common, Mr. Kaufman said.

"We are on the cusp of any possible trend," he said. "It is certainly possible that we will see some unintended effects of the law along those lines."

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