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State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – June 25 – July 1 , 2004

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STATE

State board backs tort fund salaries / Quincy Herald-Whig
GOP supporters tout Gidwitz bid / Chicago Tribune
Legislators try to keep teacher insurance alive / Peoria Journal Star
School boards are going paperless / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Area high schools begin to offer online classes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
School funding fairness isn't sexy - it's essential / Sun-Times
Reform plan is just the push failing schools need to win / Sun-Times
Lack of Political Will Hurting State Education System / Southern Illinoisan
Schools to opt out of No Child Left Behind / Daily Southtown
Turning down grant reasonable in SD 230 / Daily Southtown
Schools need balanced student populations / Pantagraph
Daley seeks talks on changes in school funding / Chicago Tribune
Governor signs school construction, teachers insurance bill / Daily Southtown
Few parents know about fee waivers / Daily Southtown
Hawthorn denies charter request / Vernon Hills Review
State pols must fix school funding / Daily Southtown

NATIONAL

Teachers Union Still Plans NCLB Lawsuit / FOXNews.com
Boston considers redesigning high schools / Boston Globe
Court blocks school vouchers / Chicago Tribune
Advice to students writing essays on college exams: Try to be neat / Boston Globe
Schools must use $2 billion or lose it / CNN.com
Governor pledges to settle suit over school conditions / Mercury News (CA)
Study Raises Concerns on Misconduct in Schools / Washington Post
Texas teachers retiring for benefits / Boston Globe
Scanners to lend hand in tracking students / Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Judge OKs magnet school diversity plan / CNN.com

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STATE

State board backs tort fund salaries

By Phil Weber, Herald-Whig Staff Writer, June 25, 2004

The Illinois State Board of Education says using tort fund money to pay salaries is acceptable.

Regional Superintendent Ray Scheiter received an ISBE memo which states that tort funds may be used to pay the cost of risk management programs "including the wages and salaries of employees in connection with defending or otherwise protecting against any liability or loss."

The Quincy School District is facing a potential lawsuit alleging that a portion of the salaries for teachers and other employees are being improperly paid out of the district's tort fund.

The memo was originally sent to school districts in 1990, but was resent to Scheiter in response to his concerns about the potential lawsuit. The memo represents the legal opinion of the ISBE, but is not the same as a court judgment. So far, no Illinois judge has rendered a final interpretation, which leaves districts still wondering if the practice is legal.

"(The risk management clause) isn't clearly delineated in the school code. It leaves room for interpretation and we need that judicial interpretation before we can move forward," Scheiter said.

Freeport attorney Robert K. Slattery is representing Quincy resident Jim Carlock and plans to file a tax objection lawsuit against Quincy Public Schools in September.

His interpretation is that the school code requires salaries to be paid out of the education fund, and that using tort money for even a small portion of the salary expense is a misappropriation of funds.

Keeping students safe in class, he said, falls under a teacher's normal duties and does not warrant compensation from the tort fund as a risk management issue.

"There is a world of difference between safe practices and risk management. They are cooking the books. Nobody is doing anything extra. It's all accounting," Slattery said.

"If they can prove that on a certain day, a certain person spent a certain amount of time on risk management, then it is directly attributable. Unless they can do that, they can't (spend tort money of salaries)."

Quincy Superintendent Tom Leahy said he looks at this latest information from ISBE as further vindication of Quincy's practice of paying 2-5 percent of salaries out of the tort fund, a practice that is accepted among school districts statewide.

"It's what we've known all along. That's what a lot of school districts have used," Leahy said, adding that administrators are in the process of refining job descriptions and conducting time studies to document how much time is actually spent by various personnel on risk management.

Melissa Merz, press secretary for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said Madigan's office has not issued any formal opinions on the use of tort funds that can help guide school districts in making decisions about spending.

If the tax objection lawsuit is successful, anyone who joins Carlock in the suit could be eligible for a tax refund equal to about 55 percent of their share of the tort levy — about $100 for most Quincy homeowners.

If enough people join the suit, it could be disastrous for the school district, which has committed to paying at least $1.6 million to restore the length of the school day for 2004-05.

"We cannot afford to lose any resources for our programs," Leahy said.

Slattery has filed a similar lawsuit against the Freeport and Pearl City school districts, the Highland Community College district and the Freeport Park District. The outcome of the Freeport-area suit will be closely watched by educators around the state.

"I've talked with a number of superintendents around the state who do this. It is very common," Freeport Superintendent Peter Flynn said. "What we're doing is well within the law. Our attorney has assured us that we have a good case."

Districts that use tort funds in this way generally pay only 2-3 percent of salaries using tort funds, although Pearl City School District attorney Ken Florey said that is a conservative estimate and that some districts reach the 5-6 percent mark. Some areas pay additional percentages for administrators and other supervisors.

The Freeport-area suit is scheduled to have a hearing July 27 to set a final trial date. Slattery said he believes that date will be in September or early October.

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GOP supporters tout Gidwitz bid

Ex-school chief's fighting spirit cited

By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter, June 27, 2004

With his strong will and trademark candor, prominent Chicago businessman and civic leader Ronald J. Gidwitz can bedazzle as well as offend--and he's not shy about doing either.

"He's always in the eye of the storm," said Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, where Gidwitz previously served as chairman.

Case in point: As Illinois State Board of Education chairman last year, the outspoken Gidwitz bumped heads with new Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who promptly demoted him. Gidwitz remains a member of the board, though Blagojevich is widely believed to be preparing to dump him.

Supporters say Gidwitz's candor and fighting spirit are among the qualities that would make him a good choice to replace Jack Ryan as the Republican U.S. Senate candidate. Ryan bowed out Friday after a controversy involving allegations in his divorce records that he had taken his ex-wife to sex clubs, and Gidwitz is considered a leading contender to replace him.

Gidwitz, 59, moves comfortably in the worlds of big business, political fundraising and education. He is an influential fundraiser for both the state and national Republican parties.

Usually talkative, Gidwitz declined to discuss a possible Senate bid.

He did, however, stress there are no divorce records in his background--he and his wife will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary in September. They have two sons.

Brief political post

Gidwitz has had a only a brief foray into elected politics--when he ran unopposed and then served as a Republican ward committeeman in Chicago in the late 1980s, he said.

But friends and supporters said that Gidwitz's extensive business and civic work makes him well suited for the U.S. Senate--or any top political job.

"He is as close to being an alderman, a governor, a state representative or a U.S. senator than anybody I can think of," Roper said. "I would say the business community would be solidly behind a candidate like Ron Gidwitz."

Gidwitz is the former president and chief executive officer of Helene Curtis Industries, the cosmetics firm founded by his family. He left the company after it was sold in the mid-1990s, and is now a partner in GCG Partners, a Chicago investment firm. He was a founder of the Illinois Business Roundtable, an association of business executives who study and propose solutions on public policy issues.

"He has been a major force in the business community for quite some time," said Jeff Mays, president of the organization. He said Gidwitz was instrumental in drawing businesses together in 1995 to support a major overhaul of the Chicago Public Schools, handing control of public education to Mayor Richard Daley.

"I love a businessperson who has a civic commitment, and his is so deep," Mays said.

Gidwitz also served as chairman of the City Colleges of Chicago for nearly eight years before resigning in 1999. His departure was attributed to a power struggle with a new chancellor handpicked by Daley.

As chairman of the state school board from 1999 to 2003, Gidwitz focused on closing the gap between white and minority test scores and helping poor children achieve. He pushed to establish a new state test that would give all high school juniors the opportunity to take the ACT college-entrance exam so they would have a chance to go to college.

He was a "real visionary," said Glenn "Max" McGee, the former state schools superintendent who served with Gidwitz.

At the same time, Gidwitz's approach wasn't always the most tactful, McGee said.

"He can be combative and he can be outspoken and he can be a micro-manager," said McGee, now a local school superintendent in Wilmette.

Gidwitz was at the center of tensions between the board and the governor's office after Blagojevich took office in 2003. Among other things, Gidwitz criticized the governor's school spending proposals.

`Battle of wills'

A possible Gidwitz candidacy for U.S. Senate did not inspire accolades in the halls of Joliet government. Gidwitz has been in a battle for months with Joliet leaders over a troubled public housing project managed by a company in which his family has a controlling interest.

The city wants to raze the housing project, saying it has had serious code violations. Gidwitz wants to keep the complex open and make improvements. The matter remains unresolved, said James Haller, Joliet's economic development director.

"He's very firm in his convictions," Haller said about Gidwitz. "But sometimes when you're opposed to his views, it becomes a battle of wills."

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Legislators try to keep teacher insurance alive

Health-care program is about to expire, making retirees antsy

By ADRIANA COLINDRES of Copley News Service, June 26, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A Senate panel on Friday advanced legislation meant to provide a financial reprieve for Illinois' health insurance program for retired downstate teachers.

At present, the Teachers' Retirement Insurance Program is set to cease operating June 30. The program has had financial troubles for years because of rising health-care costs. When lawmakers last shored up the program, in 2001, the legislation they passed included a provision to end it on June 30, 2004.

As that expiration date approached, retirees have grown more anxious about what will happen with their health insurance, officials said.

"We have been getting an increasing number of calls from concerned members," said Jon Bauman, executive director of the Teachers' Retirement System.

But Senate Bill 1553, which unanimously cleared the Senate Education Committee on Friday, would remove the 2004 expiration date. The legislation also sets forth revenue sources and benefit levels for the program during the next three fiscal years, Bauman said.

He said the Retirement Insurance Program receives funds from four sources: active teacher contributions, school districts, the state and participating retirees' premium payments.

The bill includes provisions increasing premiums to be paid by retirees and raising the contributions from active teachers.

It also calls for the state to appropriate $13 million a year into the Teacher Health Insurance Security Fund.

To become law, Senate Bill 1553 still must win approval from the entire Senate and be signed by the governor. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, said the Senate vote would take place "very soon."

Jim Bachman, executive director of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, said he was pleased with the Senate committee's action Friday.

But Bachman said it is unclear whether the governor will go along with another portion of the bill that would limit the powers of the Capital Development Board on school construction projects.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he wants the CDB to have oversight duties for the school construction program. Blagojevich's office did not respond Friday to a question about his stance.

A third portion of the bill would change the state's teacher certification system.

If legislation extending the retired teachers health insurance program is not enacted by July 1, the program's participants could be left without coverage. But Bauman said the state Department of Central Management Services has indicated it was looking at short-term options to prevent that from happening.

The TRIP program consists of nearly 50,000 retired teachers, their dependents and beneficiaries.

One of them, Neil Williams of Canton, said he is "very happy" the bill is advancing through the General Assembly.

Williams, a regional director for the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, said he has been reading lately about legislators complaining that there is no reason for them to be in Springfield right now because a budget deal has not surfaced.

Williams, whose region includes Peoria, Tazewell, Fulton, Mason and Logan counties, disagreed: "For 50,000 retired teachers, their insurance is a reason," he said.

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School boards are going paperless

By Carolyn Bower Of the Post-Dispatch, 6/27/2004

Stacks of agendas and reports have moved off tables and appear on laptops by high-speed Internet connections at Parkway School Board meetings.

Parkway has become one of the first school boards in the region and one of only a few in Missouri and Illinois to move to mostly paperless board meetings. Board members use laptop computers to page through agendas and reports. The public can view the agenda and reports online, even before meetings. Those who attend board meetings can look at agenda items projected from cyberspace onto a large screen.

A few municipalities such as Clayton, O'Fallon, Mo., and St. Charles also have gone electronic. The Rockwood and St. Louis school boards are considering the concept.

The idea is to preserve trees, save employee time spent copying and distributing material and make information more accessible to the public.

Although many school districts and municipal governments have begun to post reports and agendas online, Parkway offers one of the most comprehensive systems. The district keeps its agendas and supporting documents online, as well as policies, minutes, proposals and other reports.

Some districts such as Edwardsville post school documents and information online, but the School Board uses paper agendas and reports at meetings.

Edwardsville Superintendent Ed Hightower said he could see the board considering paperless meetings in the future.

"I can see a lot of benefits," he said. "Certainly our board is forward-thinking."

The Clayton School Board also is likely to study the possibility of electronic meetings, said board President Vic Frankel.

The Missouri School Boards Association is considering promoting the concept of paperless agendas, said Brent Ghan, chief public policy officer for the association. Although such a move requires an investment in laptop computers and software, Ghan said districts can realize considerable saving in the long run in the cost of paper and staff time.

"This is a trend that's beginning to take hold," Ghan said. "We urge boards across the state to investigate the possibility."

School boards have gone digital across the country. Kelley Garbero, president of the Parkway School Board, learned about paperless meetings at a national technology conference in 2002 and a National School Boards Association conference last year.

Parkway agendas and supporting documents are available at www.pkwy.k12.mo.us on a site called BoardDocs.com, operated by Emerald Data Solutions in Marietta, Ga. The company also serves several districts in upstate Illinois.

Parkway pays about $1,000 a month for the service. Emerald donated laptops for board members. The district used to spend about $8,000 to $10,000 a year to print more than 100 board meeting agenda books each month.

Now board secretary Carol Chlanda prints a half dozen or so for people who prefer the paper version. She also still prints hefty reports of 100 pages or more for board members who have difficulty reading them online.

Larry Opinsky, a parent from Chesterfield and owner of a shoe factory, said the online agenda and documents reassured him about a last-minute agreement to fund an elevator for the district's early childhood center. The elevator, which the board approved last week, will benefit his daughter Lilly, 4, who uses a wheelchair.

"If the system wasn't paperless, I probably wouldn't have seen what was proposed," Opinsky said.

Opinsky said the presentation on the large screen at board meetings could be made a bit easier for the audience to follow, but he likes the electronic system.

Some municipalities and state boards e-mail agendas, but a person who has not requested the electronic agenda often is unlikely to see it.

Clayton city clerk Catherine Moore used to mail up to 250 agendas. Now she sends those electronically to people who request them.

O'Fallon's Web site provides agenda information, but the public must request reports and supporting documents. The St. Charles Web site provides agenda information and some reports. At meetings, the public gets paper agendas; council members view the material on computers.

The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Missouri State Board of Education e-mail their agendas to people who request the information. The Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees post some information online.

The St. Louis Public Schools also has looked for ways to reduce the amount of printing, said Charles Burton, director of board operations. Some board agendas run 300 to 400 pages and used to be distributed to 60 people. Now about a dozen people get board packets, he said.

"We anticipate by the end of the school year next year, we'll be not completely paperless but very close," Burton said. "It's a major concern to a number of board members as well as to administrators."

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Area high schools begin to offer online classes

By Norman Parish Of the Post-Dispatch, 6/28/2004

Two years ago, Danielle Darden feared she wouldn't graduate from Madison High School after failing an English class. She had a busy schedule as a new mom, a prep basketball player and a full-time student.

But she was able to graduate on time after passing the class by retaking it on the Internet.

"The (Internet) class saved me," said Darden, 19, who graduated with her class last year. "I could not have graduated if it had not been for that class."

Darden was one of 14 students who graduated after taking an online class in an experimental program at Madison High School. Now, officials want to expand the online diploma program to students throughout Madison County. Earlier this month, the County Board asked the state to provide $168,038 to the county to help pay the program.

Lovejoy High School in Brooklyn is also attempting to start online classes. It is asking for state assistance to start the Internet classes for Lovejoy students and other students in St. Clair County.

Madison County officials said they believe they will get state assistance so they can expand the program by fall.

Since the program began in January 2003, more than 40 Madison students have taken classes online, said Don Wallace, a Madison School District administer involved with the program.

The program focuses on students who are classified as "at-risk," students like Darden who might have challenges such as being teenage mothers. Others might have discipline problems.

Currently, the program targets students ages 14-19. If the program expands in fall, it could include students up to age 21.

"Most of the students who have participated in the program have had trouble in a traditional classroom setting," said Connie Vick, planning and marketing specialist for Madison County Employment and Training department, which oversees the program. "But it is not a watered down program at all. It is just delivered differently."

Most Madison High School courses are offered on the Internet through the program.

Darden said she was able to take work on the online class after her regular classes by using Internet computers at the school and at a library. She said she ended up receiving a "C" grade. Darden is now a nursing student at Southwestern Illinois College in Granite City.

"I enjoyed the (online) class," Darden said. "It allowed me to work at my own pace and work when I had time because I was busy."

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School funding fairness isn't sexy - it's essential

Column by Ralph Martire, Sun-Times, June 26, 2004

Next weekend is the 4th of July, the holiday Americans set aside for celebrating our nation. There will be fireworks and parades. Editorial columns will be written that appeal to national patriotism or highlight a national failing. Inevitably, some pundit will author a preachy tome about apathy in America, and the lack of citizen participation in government. Blame for this sorry state of affairs will be foisted upon politicians, lack of faith in government institutions and the self-absorbed, indifferent American people themselves. Of course, part of the problem is citizens who try to be engaged tend to be ignored by the very same media folks who decry voter apathy.

Citizens such as Faith Spencer, Sharon Voliva and Ursula Ahern. Spencer organized a group of parents into a volunteer, grass-roots collaborative called "Fair Funding for Illinois Schools." The idea was to create a platform for citizens to push the governor to consider comprehensive tax reform that would fairly and sustainably fund schools over the long haul.

Encouraged by Voliva, who chairs another statewide coalition with the same goals, Spencer spent the last three months distributing a petition pushing school funding reform. It was signed by more than 4,000 Illinois citizens, representing more than 140 school districts. Thrilled with the response, Spencer obtained a permit to hold a rally and news conference at the Thompson Center last Tuesday. During the news conference, concerned parents from across Illinois presented compelling testimony about what the state's failed education funding structure has meant for their schools, including increased class sizes, scaled back programs and reduced hours, teachers and staff.

What, you missed the story? Well there's a good reason. The media didn't cover it. It just so happened that at the same time Spencer was making an impassioned plea for school funding reform, U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan decided to hold an impromptu news conference to discuss sex clubs. While I understand the media frenzy caused by Ryan's public self-immolation, from a hard news standpoint, the stuff Fair Funding offered was more meaningful.

As a public service, here is some of what you missed. Ahern, a proud mom and member of her local school board in Grayslake, said the mission of her school district was to structure expenditures to be fiscally responsible while educationally sound. She then complained that all the rhetoric emanating from Springfield measuring dollars that technically go into the classroom vs. other necessary education spending both missed the point and made her job more difficult.

"We save over $60,000 per year by hiring the staff necessary to educate students that are cognitively impaired, rather than paying the tuition to send them to the Special Education District of Lake County," Ahern said. "This staff includes occupational therapists and psychologists. Money spent on their salaries is not money that counts as going into the classroom, yet it saves tens of thousands of dollars annually."

Ahern's district also employs a director of operations and maintenance, an administrative position that pays $73,000 annually. A decent living, no question. And while that administrative salary is also money that doesn't go into the classroom, the person who held the post saved the school district more than $4 million during the last 11 years.

Ahern voiced frustration that folks who know little to nothing about what it takes to educate children complain about these expenses because they don't go directly to the classroom. "Accountability is not the missing part of the education equation," Ahern said, "state funding is."

Ahern's contention is supported by Education Week, the respected national think tank that grades all 50 states on school funding and performance. According to its report card for Illinois, the state received a laudable "A-" for standards and accountability and "F" in school funding fairness.

Still, the media ignored the education news conference while tripping over each other to cover Ryan's extracurricular interests. Finally, Voliva got so frustrated that she grabbed the microphone and loudly complained that the real scandal wasn't whatever Ryan did during his marriage, but what is happening to our schools and children because of unfair and inadequate state funding. Decent sound bite, Sharon, just not sexy enough.

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Reform plan is just the push failing schools need to win

Sun-Times Editorial, June 28, 2004

Facing reality in dealing with city schools can be a difficult thing, not only because subpar performances reflect so poorly on the system, but also because failures to improve them reflect poorly on reformers' best-laid plans. But the only way to turn things around is to stare that reality in the face and try something else, which is precisely what Mayor Daley is out to do with his ambitious Renaissance 2010 plan.

Under the terms of the program, which he unveiled last week before business, civic and education leaders, more than 100 troubled elementary and high schools will be shut down, reorganized and restarted as smaller charter schools, independently operated entities or district-run schools. The private sector will be called upon to provide direction and managerial input -- and funds to help pay for the sweeping transitions. Considering the profound connection between an educated work force and a thriving one, the investment will be a sound one for the long term and quite possibly the short.

In forcing many teachers to reapply for their jobs or find new ones, the changes will create hardships. They also will pose a sizable threat to the Chicago Teachers Union by placing teachers in a large percentage of cases outside the reach of current labor contracts. But the thought is that the good teachers will land on their feet and the bad ones will be judiciously weeded out. And whatever difficulties result will be overshadowed by improvements that will offer a wider range of choices for parents and students.

That's the view of education experts representing such organizations as the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, who are praising the Daley initiative. In its 2003 report on Chicago Public Schools, the Civic Committee bemoaned the lack of "competitive pressures pushing it to achieve desired results. It responds more to politics and pressures from the school unions than to community or parental demands for quality."

With the Civic Committee spearheading an effort to raise $50 million for start-up costs at the new schools, there is little chance they will replicate conditions where "schools, principals, and teachers are largely insulated from accountability or responsibility for results." Those with the entrepreneurial spirit that schools CEO Arne Duncan embraces as a vital component of school reform will want to see some bang for their buck in terms of results.

The success enjoyed by schools such as the Noble Street Charter School, where smaller classes, a longer school day and a more disciplined environment have had a salutary effect, can be infectious. The more this kind of thinking out of the box works, the more it will be duplicated. And, one can hope, the more the CPS will be able to pull these schools out of the worst kind of losing streak.

The newest soap opera on the dial -- "These Are The Days of Our Lives in Springfield" -- gets a thumbs down from our critics. We are particularly disenchanted with one of the lead actors, House Speaker Michael Madigan, who in the latest plot twist seems to be trying to back the dark-haired protagonist -- Gov. Blagojevich -- into a deep corner. Madigan appears to be unfolding a diabolical plot to force the governor to raise taxes. He couches his plan in a seemingly reasonable way: How else is the governor going to pay for his dearly beloved health and education programs? But the governor knows raising taxes would make him look like a real villain in the eyes of the Illinois electorate -- particularly since he made a solemn vow never to do that. And he has offered Madigan several alternatives, such as closing corporate loopholes and lowering government administrative costs. But Madigan continues to rebuff the governor's overtures.

What will happen next? Can Madigan ever be wooed? Will the governor cave? Is Madigan just plotting to undo Blagojevich and make it easy for his own private hero, his daughter Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to run for governor? We wish the Springfield scriptwriters would try to resolve this twisted debate -- on behalf of voters. We are finding it very difficult to stay tuned.

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Lack of Political Will Hurting State Education System

Opinion by Mike Lawrence, interim director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale,Southern Illinoisan, 6/26/04

The huge resource gap between the haves and have-nots among Illinois school districts remains dwarfed by the chasm between political rhetoric and action when it comes to education funding.

For decades and decades, we have heard the sermons on the stump: Illinois relies too heavily on local property taxes. Taxpayers and children in districts that lack expensive homes or manufacturing plants are disadvantaged. The state is shirking its responsibility. Education must be our top priority. It is vital to our future.

The sermonizing has evoked amen after amen. But where are the amendments?

Up to this point, Illinois' leadership has lacked the political will to overhaul a terribly flawed funding scheme. Unlike tribunals in other states, the Illinois Supreme Court has steadfastly refused to intervene, and there is no assurance of an expeditious resolution if it did. Yet, we sorely need comprehensive reform to a system that allows a homeowner in one school district to pay $874 in property taxes to support $5,137 in per pupil spending and the owner of a comparable home in another district to pay $454 to support $18,189 per student.

Some proponents believe the reform, which would command hefty state tax increases, could happen this fall in the post-election legislative session. About 75 percent of the school districts are running deficits, and one in four has been doing so for at least three years. Springfield must respond, the bold prognosticators say.

However, their optimism flouts reality. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has vowed ad nauseam to oppose income or sales tax increases. He demonizes those who suggest even moderate, temporary boosts to close the yawning state deficit. So, advocates presumably would have to muster veto-proof, three-fifths majorities among lawmakers skittish about backing general tax hikes even when a governor begs for them.

A more realistic strategy would focus on pushing the legislature to place before voters in November 2006 a proposed constitutional amendment to shift the burden of school finance to the state, reduce property taxes and guarantee adequate funding everywhere. The governor has no formal role in this process; lawmakers could send the matter directly to the ballot. Moreover, they essentially would be supporting a referendum instead of imposing tax increases. If approved by voters, the governor and the General Assembly would have a mandate and the political cover to implement sweeping changes.

In 1992, voters nearly approved a proposed amendment that was so vague its proponents could not agree on its ramifications. In 1996, when a more defined measure was stymied in the General Assembly, Democratic lawmakers criticized the Republican majorities for not permitting a roll call. Now Democrats control both the House and the Senate, and they should seize the opportunity to prove they were not merely pandering to education interests. Likewise, downstate Republicans who repeatedly have promised to support the reform if it ever came to a vote should be delighted to hop aboard.

It is not that leaders have totally ignored the problem. In the last six years, governors and legislators have boosted funding designed to help the less affluent districts by nearly $900 million or more than 30 percent. At the same time, the education establishment has balked at district consolidations that help pare administrative bloat and improve academic opportunities for students who currently attend tiny, curriculum-limited schools. But the additional funding nourishment has been more broth than beef and, even as we pressure the education community to become more spartan, we must acknowledge that the funding system itself remains profoundly intolerable.

It's time to convert the canyon between rhetoric and performance on this crucial matter into a crevice.

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Schools to opt out of No Child Left Behind

District will forgo load of federal money to avoid costly penalties under law

By Kati Phillips, Staff writer, June 27, 2004

Consolidated High School District 230 will forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal poverty funds to avoid potential penalties under a controversial federal law — an unprecedented decision in Illinois that special education advocates find worrisome.

On the administration's recommendation, the District 230 school board voted unanimously on Thursday to reject about $115,000 in federal Title I funds that would be spent on a summer school program for students who are struggling academically.

By declining the aid, District 230 can avoid costly sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law, which can include paying for students to transfer to higher-performing school districts or offering private tutoring when students fail to meet state learning standards.

Implementing such federal sanctions probably would cost more money than the district gets in federal aid, and paying for student transfers or private tutoring would take money away from other programs designed to boost achievement, assistant Supt. Brenda Reynolds said.

District 230 will still be held accountable for test scores, though it will only face penalties under Illinois' accountability system.

Last year, the district's three high schools — Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg, which are among the best academically in the Southland — failed to meet "adequate yearly progress" under the federal law because of lower test scores by special education students.

Reynolds insisted that the district is not skirting responsibility for student achievement in bypassing the Title I money.

"We are not looking at getting away from accountability," she said. "We are putting our resources in a place to raise the bar higher."

For 22 years, District 230 has used the federal poverty aid solely to support the summer Emphasis program, which helped students transition from middle school to high school by creating a sense of "belonging," Reynolds said.

Though only the poverty level at Stagg in Palos Hills qualified for the funds, Andrew and Sandburg students in Tinley Park and Orland Park could participate because of a waiver from the state board of education, she said.

The waiver expires after the 2005-06 school year, and Reynolds doubts that it could be extended because No Child Left Behind requires poverty money to be spent on low-income students.

Rather than keep the money and retool the summer program, Reynolds recommended that District 230 drop the funds to avoid the federal sanctions under the law.

She said the district is focusing on improving special ed students' test scores. Last school year, educators profiled the kids most likely to have trouble on the state assessment and worked with them on test-taking skills, Reynolds said.

But if the students fail to make sufficient progress on their test scores this year, the federal government will make District 230 offer them the chance to transfer to another school — at District 230's expense. A list of schools that must offer such school choice, based on 2004 test results, will be released before school starts this fall.

"There is potential that special education students will not get to the benchmarks," Reynolds said. "In more and more districts, the special education designation creates the most difficulty. But that's not the sole reason for (opting out)."

Special education experts praise the No Child Left Behind law's emphasis on educating all children. Schools are forced to educate kids who were previously thought to be unlikely or unable to learn.

"We would be very concerned about any school district opting out of (the federal law) to escape accountability for children with disabilities," said Don Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, a public school reform organization.

A small number of states are trying to dodge the law, which has been criticized by many educators nationwide as unrealistic and underfunded, said Michael Resnick, associate executive director of the National Association of School Boards.

Utah lawmakers have rejected the law, and several school districts in Vermont pulled out shortly after it was enacted two years ago.Opting out is a tougher option for some districts than others. Title I makes up a tiny portion of District 230's nearly $100 million budget. Schools with higher poverty rates find it difficult to turn down the money.

"In (Title I's) 40-year history, it's very unusual for a school district that's eligible for Title I to turn Title I down," Resnick said.

District 230 is offering the Emphasis program for the last time this summer. Officials will use this school year to plan a new way to transition at-risk middle school students to high school.

Better coordination with feeder schools and families and activities in the first semester of the freshman year that focus on academic success are possible alternatives, Reynolds said.

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Turning down grant reasonable in SD 230

Daily Southtown Editorial, June 29, 2004

The federal No Child Left Behind Act — the Bush administration's game plan for fixing public schools — calls for laudable improvements in our schools.

Under the law, schools must be able to show steady improvements in test scores for all students. If the students don't improve, they are supposed to get an opportunity to transfer to another school where the academic results are better.

We're all for increased accountability, performance standards for schools and better opportunity for students. But the No Child Left Behind Act promises far more than it delivers, largely because it imposes standards created in Washington without providing the resources that schools need to meet the new standards.

The law is flawed in other ways, as well. Its emphasis on dividing students into groups for evaluation purposes leads to absurd conclusions. For example, in December every high school but one in the south and southwest suburbs was labeled a "failure" under the federal rules.

Half of these schools failed because they had one group of students or more that failed to show adequate test scores. The school that "passed" did so because it had very little diversity and thus didn't have to show the kind of progress that most of the rest had to document.

The shortcomings in the law are prompting Consolidated High School District 230 to drop out of the program. The school board last week voted to reject a $115,000 federal poverty grant that has been used to pay for a summer school program at Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew high schools to help middle school students adapt to high school.

District 230 officials decided it made better fiscal sense to reject the grant than to accept it and remain subject to the No Child Left Behind requirements. They said they will devise a different program to prepare at-risk middle school students for high school.

Under the federal law, if District 230's special education subgroup had failed to make adequate improvement in its test scores, the district would have had to set up a program allowing special ed students to transfer to other schools. Such a program could cost the district more money than the value of the federal grant.

We think the District 230 school board made the right decision. Why voluntarily adopt a set of standards that you will have a hard time paying for because federal and state officials provide far too little cash?

An official at the National Association of School Boards said it's very unusual for an eligible school district to turn down a Title I grant. That's not surprising, considering that schools as a rule are grossly under-funded.

Now, the new federal law comes along, mandating higher costs but not providing enough help to pay for them.

As far as Washington is concerned, accountability is a one-way street.

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Schools need balanced student populations

Opinion by G. Alan Hickrod, professor of educational administration emeritus, Illinois State University, 6/29/04

About two decades ago, I headed a research team that reported to the then existing Illinois School Problems Commission.

We were investigating the causes of low test scores in the public schools. We found that the leading cause of poor test scores was the percentage of students from families below the poverty line in a given school. We also found that a "tipping point" existed, so that when there were more than a majority of poverty impacted pupils the test scores in the school fell like a rock.

Since then this finding has been replicated many places in the United States, and in Great Britain, and in Japan.

The policy recommendation that my colleague, Ben Hubbard, and I made to the General Assembly at that time was that the weighting in the grant-in-aid formula for poverty students should be increased for districts with high concentrations of these kinds of pupils.

The recommendation was accepted, the law was accordingly changed and more state money flowed to poverty impacted schools.

I received an award from the Urban League for my role in that endeavor. Our diagnosis was correct. However, with the passage of time, I have come to believe that the therapy we suggested was not nearly aggressive enough.

What I should have recommended was that no public school be allowed to operate with more than a majority of students from poverty families. This would require, of course, help from the state in terms of drawing new attendance lines and in the busing of students to attain these goals.

Busing of students is assuredly not popular, even to obey the edicts of the court, as in Brown v. the Board. In the 50 years since Brown, we have learned that not only is racial segregation bad for the schools, socio-economic segregation is even worse. To insist rigorously therefore on "neighborhood schools" is often to condemn some students to a bad education, and to give other students a good education.

Granted, this situation is not as bad in places such as Bloomington-Normal as it is in the larger metropolitan areas where we have both schools and school districts with no poverty students, and then other schools and districts in which every single student comes from a poverty home.

Why admit the mistake now? Because socio-economic segregation in American schools is growing decade by decade. A large number of economic studies indicate that both wealth and income are now more concentrated than they have been since 1890 and 1920.

These inequalities in wealth and income then become translated into very unequal residential housing choices. People use their wealth to choose homes that will also provide good schools for their children. Very understandable. But the poor are unable to do that.

In a private enterprise system the people surely have every right to choose automobiles, clothing and yes, housing, on the basis of their individual purchasing power in the market. But, at least in my opinion, they do not have a right to exert this differential purchasing power with regard to public schools.

The public schools, unlike some private schools, are not a commodity to be purchased on the free market. The "common schools" are exactly that. They exist for the greatest good for the greatest number.

All this has been known for a very long time. And it is very disturbing to people to be forced to look at this problem, so why not just sweep it all under a rug. Because the stakes are now much higher than they were a quarter of a century ago.

Most economists, liberal or conservative, agree that our economy can not survive in this competitive world without greatly increasing the effectiveness of the public schools. We did not really become alarmed about this until middle-class jobs started to disappear to South America, the Far East, and to Europe. We must do something, and do it fast.

Without effective schools our mighty armed forces will not work, our highly technical economy will not work, our medical services will not work and it is for darned certain our democracy will not work.

Certain kinds of charter schools, and even a very carefully controlled voucher system might help, but they would just be bandages on a major infection. And an uncontrolled voucher system could very well make the disease worse.

This is not a pipe dream of a superannuated professor from Illinois State Univesity. A remarkably good book published recently from the Brookings Institution lays out much of the research on this issue.

It also provides examples of school districts that have faced the problem squarely, and then done something about it. Ever the teacher, I suggest you add Richard D. Kahlenberg's, "All Together Now," 2001, to your reading list.

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Daley seeks talks on changes in school funding

By Gary Washburn, Tribune staff reporter, July 1, 2004

Mayor Richard Daley on Wednesday called for a state-city summit to discuss education funding and ways to shift the burden from beleaguered homeowners.

Daley also hammered away at Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, calling for immediate changes in assessment practices the mayor called unfair.

But Daley, who repeatedly has said Chicago homeowners deserve a break, would not rule out the possibility of a property tax increase of his own next year when pressure on the city's budget is expected to grow.

The mayor dodged when asked if he would refrain from increasing the city's levy. "We are just starting our whole [2005] budget process," he said. "I haven't said anything about it ... I will make the decision in the fall."

In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Illinois' four legislative leaders, Daley proposed "that members of our staffs come together to discuss how we can best address the shortcomings of the current system" of funding education.

Though the state constitution gives Springfield "primary responsibility" for funding schools, the state is paying only a little more than one-third of the cost, the mayor said in the letter.

Property owners unfairly have been saddled with the burden of covering most of the bill for education, Daley said at a City Hall news conference. But he refused to say whether he favors property tax relief in exchange for an increase in the state income tax or sales tax, or some alternative.

The Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, of which Daley is a leader, will make a specific proposal in the fall, said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who also spoke at the news conference.

"We know the reality of life," said Bennett, when pressed for possible recommendations. "It will be a mix of different revenues."

Daley took aim at Houlihan, who has become a familiar mayoral target in recent months, calling on the assessor to protect longtime homeowners from steep property assessment increases and take into account income and ability to pay when computing assessments.

Increasing the assessment only when a home is sold "would be an option to look at," he said.

Asked whether such a far-reaching alteration of the system would require legislative changes, Daley replied flatly, "No, it doesn't. It's called a fairness issue."

But Michelle Kucera, a spokeswoman for the assessor, said, "Most of [the mayoral proposals] require a change in state law."

Kucera agreed that the tax system in Illinois is "fundamentally flawed" and should be fixed, but she said assessments are done according to statute.

Houlihan and Daley both pushed for passage of a bill, now on the governor's desk, that would generally limit assessment increases to 7 percent a year under a cap that would expire in 2006.

Questioning the accuracy of Houlihan's assessments, Daley asked why up to 70 percent of homeowners who appeal are winning reductions from the Cook County Board of Review.

"How can [the board] give them relief when they are not getting relief in the assessor's office?" he said.

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Governor signs school construction, teachers insurance bill

By John O'Connor, The Associated Press, July 1, 2004

SPRINGFIELD — The Senate scrapped one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's major education initiatives Wednesday, sending him legislation that would salvage an insurance program for retired teachers but prevent the governor from changing a popular school construction program.

The bill would keep the state-aided construction program under the State Board of Education's administration; Blagojevich wanted to move it to the Capital Development Board, which he controls.

Blagojevich signed the bill into law within hours. Spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said Blagojevich supported it because of the insurance program, which "is just too important to sacrifice."

The Teachers Retirement Insurance Program covers 50,000 former teachers and their dependents. A 2001 bailout that sharply increased participants' premiums expired Wednesday; the new plan increases premiums 19.6 percent over three years and requires more financial support from active teachers, the state and school districts.

Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, complained the new plan would cut $22 million in benefits in the coming year.

The school construction program began six years ago and provides state money to help districts replace crumbling or overcrowded buildings. New funding is still part of negotiations as Blagojevich and legislative leaders try to agree on a state budget.

Blagojevich argued schools could save construction-planning money by coordinating projects through the Capital Development Board and suggested state-chosen architects and engineers could design the projects.

Critics feared it would give Blagojevich too much control over which schools got funding.

The 56-0 Senate vote Wednesday marked the second Blagojevich education plan lawmakers had gutted or rejected. In May, they blocked his effort to shut down the independent State Board of Education and replace it with a cabinet-level agency under his control.

———

The bill is SB1553. On the Net - Illinois General Assembly: http:/www.legis.state.il.us.

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Few parents know about fee waivers

Critics say most school districts don't do enough to notify parents

By Linda Lutton, Daily Southtown Staff writer, July 1, 2004

Officials in Sauk Village's School District 168 found themselves facing state scrutiny last month when they sent eighth-graders home from school and tried to keep them from participating in graduation ceremonies because their parents hadn't paid school fees.

Advocates for the poor say while other districts might not be locking the schoolyard gates or keeping poor kids out of the class picnic, many are doing a lousy job of making low-income parents aware they're eligible for fee waivers.

"It's a common problem," said Michael O'Connor, managing attorney at the Kankakee office of Prairie State Legal Services, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal help to senior citizens and low-income people in northern and central Illinois.

"The law requires schools to notify parents of their right to a fee waiver, but it's one of a bundle of documents parents are given when they enroll their children," said O'Connor.

School fees can total hundreds of dollars.

O'Connor said people usually seek his help after being evicted or turned over to a collection agency for failure to pay gas or electric bills.

"You're trying to figure out how they got into this mess and they tell you, 'I had to enroll four kids in school at $150 a pop,' " O'Connor said.

Schools are required to notify parents in writing at the beginning of the school year that waivers are available, but nothing forces them to do so at the time fees are assessed. Advisories can be buried in thick binders or newsletters that don't get read.

At a minimum, districts must grant waivers to students who receive free lunch. They can also decide to waive fees in other cases, such as for students who qualify for reduced-price lunch, or to families going through hard times, such as divorce or job loss.

But few districts waive fees automatically, even for students who qualify for free lunch. Instead, citing a federal privacy law that forbids them from giving out information about which students qualify for free lunch, they require parents to fill out a separate form. If parents don't know about the form, advocates say, they don't end up filling it out.

'A cat-and-mouse game'

Dozens of Sauk Village parents have said they were never told they could apply for a fee waiver. Others contend the district denied them a waiver even though their children receive free lunch.

Christine Bankhead of Sauk Village says one of her grandchildren qualifies for free lunch, and two others qualify for reduced-priced lunch. Every year, Bankhead says she pays their fees, which has cost her more than $200 annually because she hasn't been able to get the money together by August, which means she pays late fees.

Bankhead said that until a community activist told her recently that she was entitled to a waiver, she'd never heard of them.Not all school districts make it hard for parents to find out about waivers.

A letter sent to parents in Kirby School District 140 in May that outlined the fee schedule for the 2004-05 school year also included information about waivers.

By last Friday, Kirby business services secretary Marge Winter said she had already received at least 70 requests for waivers — in a district where just 1.8 percent of students are low-income.

That's how it should be, says Patricia Nix-Hodes, attorney with the law project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

"This shouldn't be a cat-and-mouse game," Nix-Hodes said. "Parents should understand what they're eligible for. If you're putting information about fees up, you should put up information about fee waivers."

Nix-Hodes said districts are not aware that the state requires them to waive all fees, including cap and gown fees, field trip fees, driver's education fees and locker rental charges, in addition to enrollment or book rental fees.

Even though Illinois State Board of Education attorneys are looking into the way District 168 handles fee waivers, school officials there recently posted 2004-05 fees and registration dates on the their Web site without mentioning anything about the availability of waivers.

Attorneys for the district have said in the past that parents owe Sauk Village $40,000 in fees.

'Unfunded mandate'

Some district officials consider the state's requirement to offer fee waivers an unfunded mandate.

"We lose by not being able to charge the fees," said Todd Covault, Assistant Supt. for business in Crete-Monee School District 201U. "There's an unfunded mandates act in Illinois. You've got two laws in the state that are in conflict. Which one supersedes?"

Covault grumbled that media coverage of the fee fracas in District 168 prompted several parents in his district to ask for waiver applications.

A number of Southland school districts have raised fees in recent months to try to plug budget holes, including Kirby, Bremen Township High School District 228 and Thornton Fractional School District 215.

Rich Lesniak, business manager in Orland School District 135, said the district has collected $554,000 in fees during the 2004 fiscal year, which ends next week.

"It's very important," he said. "That's 1.5 percent of our budget."

The state should reimburse districts, Nix-Hodes said. "The districts should follow the law no matter what. But maybe there has to be a larger discussion about how the state can assist these districts that are waiving a lot of fees."

In Sauk Village, 57 percent of students are low-income.

Covault said the federal law governing school lunch programs prevents the district from automatically giving families fee waivers.

He contends it would be illegal for food service employees, who process requests for free lunch, to pass names on to the district's business office so they can be given waivers.

Instead, the district makes parents fill out a consent form that authorizes school officials to divulge information about their free-lunch status. In the past, the parent was responsible for turning that form in to the proper district official.

The law does allow school lunch officials to disclose information to "a state health or education program administered by the state or local educational agency."

Attorneys for the firm Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, which represents both Sauk Village and Crete-Monee, have also argued that federal law prohibits districts from automatically granting fee waivers to all students who get free lunch.

And, they say, districts can't be expected to give waivers to students who don't apply for them.

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Hawthorn denies charter request

BY MARLENE HUNT, Vernon Hills Review Staff Writer, 7/1/04

School Board members at Hawthorn District 73 voted to deny the application for the George C. Marshall Charter School Academy proposal. The charter school request proposed to educate 144 middle school students at a school to be built in Lake Forest starting in 2005.

"The basic problem we have is there is no local interest or demand for this," said Rich Paul, school board president. "When we had the hearing, no one showed up to testify other than the promoters."

Paul said the school board and administration were greatly disappointed that the promoters did not do any research or check into what is offered at Hawthorn. "Almost every thing they said they would offer, we are already doing except having Latin among subjects that are taught."

Hawthorn officials said the school district is noted for offering parents a wide variety of educational choices and use a portfolio to track individual student achievements.

Those studying the proposal found the budget inadequate to serve the needs of children. "For example there was no money to buy furniture for the first year of the school operation." Paul said.

Under the charter school proposal, transportation is the responsibility of the parents. This led some school board members to question whether the special requirement would end up limiting children from economically disadvantaged areas and children whose parents both work.

School board member Mary Jane Rattner worried there were no specifics as to how the proposed school planned to meet the needs of children at risk.

"One of the things the state law governing charter schools tell local school districts is that they give preference to proposals who meet the needs of at-risk children," Paul said.

Public hearings were held at 15 school districts including those in Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Deerfield , Highland Park, Bannockburn, Lincolnshire, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Green Oaks, Mundelein, North Chicago and Buffalo Grove. None of the boards approved the charter application.

According to state law, the charter school must seek approval from every school district it could affect. If the school district were to approve the application, it would then assume the role of fiscal agent.

Michael H. Farley, director of education for the George C. Marshall Foundation, said he expected the applications to be denied. It would then allow the Foundation to bypass the school districts and take their case directly to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The state board has the option to approve the petition despite opposition from the local school districts.

Libertyville District 70 Elementary Superintendent Mark Friedman said school districts objected to the proposal as it would take away the per-pupil expenditure from the affected school districts.

In Lake County this amount ranges from $8,500 to $17,000 per child.

Friedman said the school districts would still have to provide and pay teachers for the classes and supplies and other administrative expenses.

Paul said when he contacted Harry Warner, president of Marshall Foundation based in Lexington, Va., he was surprised to learn that Farley, the point man for the Lake County proposal, was leaving the foundation at the end of the year.

When contacted Tuesday, Farley confirmed this. He said he was leaving the foundation to concentrate on the Illinois proposal.

He said the proposed charter school would enrich educational offerings in Lake County by providing a nurturing middle school environment and empower students to achieve their dreams and contribute to society through excellence in character, citizenship, service, leadership and academics.

"Marshall Academy will feature gender-specific advisories with the student/advisor relationship maintained throughout students' middle school experience."

Farley said this is intended to help students effectively address the physiological, psychological and emotional/social challenges encountered during those years.

Farley described the Marshall Foundation as a small operating foundation that did not want to be in a position of running schools.

"The objective for the charter proposal is to be self-sustaining," he said.

"We will have a collaborative relationship. In Illinois the organization has to be organized as non-for-profit to become a charter school," Farley said. "This will be our first school for Lake County and we want it to be an objective demonstration site and model that we can replicate in other areas. Until that time, I want to be intimately involved."

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State pols must fix school funding

Letter by Bindu Batchu, Campaign manager, A+ Illinois, July 1, 2004

Schools across the state of Illinois are failing to give our children what they deserve. The number of Illinois schools facing serious academic performance problems increased by 640 percent — from 49 to 363 — over the last year, according to a recently revised and released academic watch list issued by the Illinois State Board of Education. Another 305 schools throughout Illinois are on academic early warning.

Too many students fail to meet national standards in math, reading, attendance and graduation rates. While many of the schools on the watch list are in Chicago, other communities where academic quality is suffering include Waukegan, Aurora, Decatur, Peoria, Springfield, Joliet and Rockford.

It should come as no surprise that the education financing crisis in Illinois is directly impacting academic performance across the state. Fundamental changes in how we fund education are essential to reverse the trend. Such changes include an increased state role and ending the reliance on ever increasing local property taxes to fund education.

A+ Illinois is a statewide campaign comprised of groups and individuals committed to real reform in the quality and funding of public education in Illinois. A+ Illinois is working to make change on these important issues inevitable, demanding that our state and political leaders step up soon to resolve the crisis in our schools and communities.

The problems facing Illinois students and families are many — and they are severe. Our level of state funding for education ranks 48th in the nation and the per-pupil spending gap between Illinois ' property-rich and -poor school districts is the country's worst, leaving the quality of children's education unacceptably dependent upon where they live.

The governor and the members and leadership of the Illinois General Assembly agree that education must be the state's top priority. A+ Illinois believes now is the right time to address the crisis faced by schools, students, and communities across the state. Yet, as the spring legislative session concludes, our leaders have not begun to tackle the fundamental problems facing our education system in a serious way.

We need the support of the government and the taxpayers of Illinois to improve education quality, reform financing, and ensure the efficient use of public dollars. The governor and the General Assembly should focus this year on producing real solutions to these pressing problems. It's time for Illinois' leaders to back up their rhetoric with real solutions.

This education crisis affects nearly every school, every student, and every community across the state. The time for change is here — let's fix this broken system. The future of Illinois depends on it.

For more information on A+ Illinois and to find out what you can do to help, log on to www.aplusillinois.org.

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NATIONAL

Teachers Union Still Plans NCLB Lawsuit

FOXNews.com, June 27, 2004

WASHINGTON — The nation's largest union boldly pledged a year ago to rally states to sue the Bush administration over education spending under the No Child Left Behind (search) law.

It turns out that the National Education Association (search) has been the one left behind.

At least 30 state legislatures, including some led by Republicans, have expressed their displeasure over the law. Not one state, however, has agreed to join a lawsuit the teachers' union announced one year ago and planned to file by last summer.

"Maintaining a good relationship with the federal government that oversees your programs and suing them at the same time makes it a very difficult proposition," said Patty Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (search).

"You have to be pretty certain that you're going to win, because you really will jeopardize your ability to get other things. You have to think through the politics of that," she said.

The threatened challenge, which would have been the most direct shot at the heart of Bush's domestic agenda, is not dead, the union says. A few school districts have agreed to participate and the union is weighing when to go on if no state joins the fight.

Union leaders claim the primary reason the suit has stalled is that states fear retaliation by the Education Department (search). Yet participation by states is critical because they would have the strongest standing to sue, the union says.

"It's difficult to think that in 2004, there is fear of reprisal, intimidation and harassment," said Reg Weaver, the NEA's president.

Added the group's general counsel, Bob Chanin: "I would have thought they (states) would be jumping at this. We have a solid legal theory. We're prepared to do all the work. We just want to enlist them, but for a variety of reasons we haven't been able to push any state over the hump."

Union leaders could not offer proof of threats against states or name ones that fear retaliation. But they said state and local school officials tell them they fear cuts in discretionary programs, such as reading grants, or rejection of changes they want in state school plans.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the claims were "utterly baseless" and that the administration has proved it works closely with state policy-makers. "We're pleased the states have chosen to work directly with us rather than through the courts," she said.

A lawsuit would hinge on a provision of the law that says states and school districts would not have to use their own money to pay for any of the law's requirements. It is an important issue because debate has been continuous over whether the government is paying enough to implement the law.

The NEA courted a plaintiff from the Democratic Governors Association (search), a group to which the union makes considerable donations through its political committee.

The governors support the NEA but have opted for "rigorous discussions" with the administration about their problems with the law, spokeswoman Nicole Harburger said. She said Democratic governors did not fear reprisal if they were to join the suit.

The law is considered the most sweeping education overhaul in almost 40 years, a bipartisan effort intended to help schools succeed and to punish many that fail.

It demands highly qualified teachers in all core classes, expanded standardized testing, more information for parents and verifiable yearly progress among many subgroups of students.

As the law's effects began to take hold, most states debated or passed measures to seek relief. Vermont and Maine have passed laws prohibiting use of state money to pay for the law's mandates, the same basic ground of the proposed NEA suit.

A few considered opting out of the law, thereby rejecting millions of federal dollars for poor children, although none did. A lawmaker in one such state, Democratic Sen. Steve Kelley of Minnesota, said any fight for money by a state could be portrayed as opposition to the law.

"State legislatures support the idea of closing the learning gap," said Kelley, a leader of a task force on the law for the National Conference of State Legislatures (search). "You would not want to be in a position where somebody on the other side could say that you are suing in order to preserve an inequality of results for kids."

States cited other reasons for staying out of the suit -- internal disputes among crucial personnel or organizations, lack of data about their state's costs, hopes that Congress will change the law.

Meanwhile, the states are feeling heat from below. Half face suits from local agencies over the adequacy of school financing; that may grow as scores emerge about achievement of poor and minority students, reporting required by the new law.

The NEA says just the threat of a suit has been a success, drawing attention to the question of whether Bush has kept his promise about the size of his spending increases.

The 2.7-million member union begins its annual meeting this week in Washington, when it expects to endorse Democratic Sen. John Kerry for president and raise perhaps $1 million for its political committee.

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Boston considers redesigning high schools

AP, June 27, 2004

BOSTON -- School officials want to redesign the traditional four-year high school to allow students to work at their own pace toward graduation.

The proposal is part of several changes the Boston School Committee could approve as soon as next month.

Existing rules require freshmen to repeat ninth grade if they fail English or math or two courses in science, history or languages.

Under the proposed new plan, students would repeat classes they fail instead of the entire grade and advance to the next level in classes they pass.

Advanced students could graduate in three years while struggling students could take up to five years to finish.

Critics say students need grade levels for structure, but Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant said too many students repeat grades, attend summer school or drop out under the current system.

The committee has asked Payzant to provide a detailed report for its next meeting. The panel could approve the plan in July or September, Payzant said.

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Court blocks school vouchers

Colorado justices say plan violates state constitution

By Jon Sarche, Associated Press, June 29, 2004

DENVER -- The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state's school voucher program is unconstitutional because it strips local school boards of control over education.

Colorado's voucher law--the first passed after the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2002 that voucher programs are acceptable--never was put into effect because of legal challenges.

The high court's 4-3 decision upheld a lower court ruling.

The law would have offered vouchers of $4,500 a year to public school students to help cover their tuition at private or parochial schools. The program was supposed to start this fall.

But the high court said the program requires school districts to turn over a portion of locally raised money to private schools, over which local school boards have no control. That violates local-control provisions of the Colorado Constitution, the court said.

Voucher supporters are likely to introduce a new version in the 2005 General Assembly to conform to the ruling.

"I think it would be fairly easy to draft legislation that didn't use local dollars," state Rep. Nancy Spence said.

The court challenge was brought by teachers, education groups and religious organizations. They said the program could direct tax money to private religious schools.

Ron Brady, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said it probably will be impossible to devise a voucher program that passes state constitutional muster because of strong prohibitions against giving taxpayer money to private or religious institutions.

Voucher programs have withstood legal challenges in Cleveland and Milwaukee. Washington, D.C., is scheduled to begin using vouchers this fall, and Florida's program is operating while a state appeals court considers a challenge.

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Advice to students writing essays on college exams: Try to be neat

By Associated Press, June 28, 2004

Worried sloppy penmanship will cost you on the new SAT with essay, or the similar, optional section of the ACT? Don't be, test administrators say.

Administrators point out they have years of experience scoring other tests with essays, like the SAT IIs and Advanced Placement exams. They've also drilled scorers not to penalize bad penmanship (a few spelling and grammar errors also won't count). They'll even be throwing in good but hard-to-read dummy essays to make sure scorers are giving them proper credit.

Still, experts say it doesn't hurt to try and keep your penmanship neat for a reader who may have 100 essays or more per day to plow through.

Some studies have indeed shown that, of two identical essays, the more neatly written tends to get a higher grade. But college counselors differ over whether bad penmanship really matters on standardized tests.

Perhaps it's no surprise that test prep companies think it will and that they can help.

Princeton Review, Kaplan and Peterson's will all likely be discussing handwriting with students. But their general advice is pretty uniform: practice, and take your time, emphasizing quality over quantity. Scorers will be reading the essays, not weighing them.

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Schools must use $2 billion or lose it

AP, June 29, 2004

WASHINGTON -- States are getting a reminder from the federal government: Quickly make plans to spend more than $2 billion in education money, or be ready to lose it.

The Education Department has found that all the states, the District of Columbia and eight territories have high cash balances left from 2002, including money meant for poor children, disabled students and limited-English learners.

That money must be obligated -- not spent, but at least legally earmarked toward a specific expense -- by September 30, which is 27 months after it was released to states.

States then have two final years to spend the money. Ultimately, school money not committed or spent returns to the federal treasury, as happened with $155 million last year.

The department's move comes as an election-year fight grows over whether states and schools have enough money to do what's demanded of them under new federal law. House Republicans announced Monday that states have $16.8 billion in unspent school money dating from the former Clinton administration, a figure that the Education Department confirmed but state school officials called misleading without context about how school financing works.

GOP leaders are expanding an argument made this year by the department, the White House and congressional Republicans, that schools are flush with federal money. It's meant to counter the claim that President Bush, who championed a law demanding greater improvement in all schools, has not come close to keeping his promise to pay for changes the law demands.

"We've literally flooded the system with cash, and it's time to start focusing on improving student achievement instead," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The Education Department has issued letters to chief state school officers, reminding them of what appeared to be substantial cash balances with just three months before the September deadline.

Meeting obligations

More than $2.1 billion is unspent from 2002, or about 8 percent of the money allocated for five broad areas, including special education and adult education. The department's letters to states identified only those cash balances that seemed particularly high.

Todd Jones, a department budget official, acknowledged Monday that the agency does not know how much of that money already has been obligated. He said it makes sense that some cash is not yet committed, such as money for summer reading expenses that have yet to occur.

Still, Jones said, the department issued its reminder to ensure that states don't miss their chances to use the money. It's part of a broader effort this year to help states account for all the federal money available and to draw it down more quickly.

"The states are telling us that they're not seeing this as a red flag at all," Jordan Cross, lobbyist for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said after leaders there reviewed the numbers with budget and top education executives from at least 10 states Monday. "They expect, by September, that almost all of that money will be obligated."

Patty Sullivan, the council's deputy executive director, added: "To the department's credit, they gave us a heads-up on this. I don't think this is a `gotcha' activity. I think they really are trying to help."

Still, Sullivan said, the implication that states "have a closet full of money," is misleading. Her group plans to publish a document that explains school financing for the public, knowing the issue will come up again.

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Governor pledges to settle suit over school conditions

By Kate Folmar and Ann E. Marimow, Mercury News Sacramento Bureau, 6/30/04

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday vowed that he ``absolutely'' plans to settle a groundbreaking class-action lawsuit over inferior conditions in California schools serving more than 1 million poor and minority students -- a case with serious budget implications.

Sources familiar with the still-fluid negotiations say the administration could offer at least $138 million to settle the lawsuit. The Mercury News first reported in January that the administration was working behind the scenes to resolve the 4-year-old case.

Word of the anticipated deal came as top lawmakers and the governor held two closed-door talks Tuesday in an effort to stitch together agreements on several remaining issues in the $103 billion state budget, including funding for cities and counties, and proposed cuts to higher education and social services.

Today is the last day of the fiscal year. With hours to go before the deadline, Democrats seemed optimistic that an accord could be struck today that would solve the estimated $12 billion shortfall; Republicans, less so.

Day of meetings

The so-called Big 5 -- Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders -- shuttled in and out of the governor's office throughout the day Tuesday trying to settle several outstanding issues. Senate President pro Tempore John Burton, D-San Francisco, carried carafes of foamed milk into one meeting to help the group through the late afternoon with an espresso buzz.

Among the issues resolved Tuesday was funding for public schools and community colleges. Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman of Tustin said schools would receive at least an extra $110 million and colleges $80 million to address perceived inequalities in the state's school funding formula. The money is intended to help school districts that receive less than the statewide average.

The Legislature today is expected to close out another piece of the budget by signing off on the governor's $1 billion Indian gambling deal with tribal leaders, according to Burton and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nez, D-Los Angeles.

A settlement in the school-conditions suit is coming soon, an impassioned Schwarzenegger said during a news conference Tuesday to announce new federal funding for charter schools. But he did not divulge details.

He said that in his work with after-school programs, he has ``seen how inner-city schools are falling behind because they are not getting equal teaching and equal books and equal learning materials. So of course we are settling that lawsuit. We are very close to settling that.''

Resolving the suit, filed in May 2000 by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil-rights groups, could profoundly affect students who attend schools with few qualified teachers, outdated textbooks, crowded classrooms and decrepit facilities, including some in East Palo Alto, Campbell, Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco.

It also weighs heavily on the continuing negotiations over the state budget, because remedying crummy school conditions will cost tens of millions of dollars as the state grapples with a deficit.

Nez said the administration and lawyers for the students were working on ``a good settlement'' in the case known as Williams vs. State of California.

``It's great that we've finally put it to rest,'' Nez said. ``To do what's right for children, to make sure that their bathrooms are cleaned, to make sure that they have sufficient textbooks -- all these things are very important and certainly the governor was easily convinced it was the right thing to do.''

Part of the settlement talks, first reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, includes the possibility of California devoting $138 million for new textbooks and other instructional materials for schools whose students score in the lowest two rungs of state rankings. It's also possible that the state could kick in $50 million for deferred school maintenance, but no dollar figure has been proposed for improving teacher quality.

Burton said he anticipated that the state would pay ``a big chunk now'' and make smaller payments in the future.

A settlement conference on the school-conditions case is slated for today in San Francisco, although no final agreement is expected then.

Praise for governor

Participants in the settlement negotiations are barred by court order from discussing the talks. But ACLU lead lawyer Mark Rosenbaum praised the governor Tuesday.

``He has publicly demonstrated a commitment and leadership from his office to ensure equal educational opportunities for all California kids,'' he said. ``That's a refreshing change from that office.''

The case plagued the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis, the self-styled ``education governor,'' as he was spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve public schools. His administration fought the case for nearly four years and spent nearly $20 million, much of it on top-flight outside lawyers, but also took an unsuccessful stab at a settlement before Davis was recalled.

The lawsuit asks for a state monitoring system to ensure every student has the bare necessities to learn: sufficient textbooks, qualified teachers and clean, functioning classrooms. The outcome could determine the quality of classrooms and teachers for about one-sixth of California's 6 million schoolchildren.

In court papers, student plaintiffs describe schools where vermin scurry around classrooms, with bathrooms so filthy they're unusable and classes that have no permanent teacher all year.

In response, the Davis administration counter-sued the 18 school districts with schools named in the suit, arguing that local districts, not the state, are responsible for ensuring decent school conditions. That complaint was delayed until the class-action suit is resolved.

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Study Raises Concerns on Misconduct in Schools

Ben Feller Associated Press, June 30, 2004

More than 4.5 million children are forced to endure sexual misconduct by school employees, from inappropriate comments to physical abuse, according to an exhaustive review of research that reads like a parent's worst nightmare.

The best estimate is that almost one in 10 children, sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade, are targets of behavior ranging from unprofessional to criminal, says the report for Congress by Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Hofstra University's School of Education.

"Most people just don't think this can really happen," said Shakeshaft, hired by the Education Department to study the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools. "We imagine that all teachers are like most teachers, in that they've gone into teaching to help children. Most do, but not all. We need to acknowledge that's the case and do something to stop it."

The report, required under the No Child Left Behind law and delivered to Congress on Wednesday, is the first to analyze the field of research about sexual misconduct at school.

Some educators immediately took issue with its approach, mainly the combining of sexual abuse with other behavior, such as gestures or notes, into one broad misconduct category.

But another prominent researcher supported the findings, suggesting, as Shakeshaft did, that they may even understate the problem. And the American Association of University Women, whose surveys of students were at the core of the new report, stood by its research.

There have been no nationally financed studies to collect data about how common sexual misconduct is in school, one of many areas Shakeshaft suggests must be addressed. Her analysis covered almost 900 documents and reviews that have dealt with the topic in some way, from private research and newspaper stories to reports for government agencies.

What she found portrays a problem that, no matter how uncommon, united groups of teachers, superintendents, parents and education leaders in concern -- and disgust.

The report describes schools as places where abusers come to prey, targeting vulnerable and marginal students who are afraid to complain or unlikely to be believed if they did. It describes adults who trap, lie and isolate children, making them subject to unwanted behavior in hallways, offices, buses or even right in front of other students in class. And the offenders work hard to keep kids from telling, threatening to fail or humiliate them.

Misconduct is defined in the report as physical, verbal or visual behavior, from sexually related jokes or pictures of sex to fondling of breasts and forced sex. Shakeshaft did not limit her review to sexual abuse because, she says, that would exclude other unacceptable adult behaviors that can drive kids from school and harm them for years.

Yet spokesman Michael Pons of the National Education Association, a union of 2.7 million education workers, said: "Lumping harassment together with serious sexual misconduct does more harm than good by creating unjustified alarm and undermining confidence in public schools. Statistically, public schools remain one of the safest places for children to be."

The NEA, he added, takes any sexually inappropriate behavior seriously, training teachers and working with the Education Department on rules banning harassment in schools.

The other large teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, also found fault with the report's description of misconduct, and Eugene Hickok, the deputy education secretary, said the findings were so broad they may be viewed as "insufficiently focused." But those officials, too, did nothing to downplay the importance of the problem.

"Clearly, sexual predators have no place in public schools," said John Mitchell, deputy director of educational issues at the AFT. "We support background checks, and when someone has gotten through, they need to be removed. And other inappropriate behaviors must be attended to, also, we just really need to have an effort to separate the two."

The report found teachers are the most common offenders, followed by coaches, substitute teachers, bus drivers and teacher aides. Among students, 56 percent of those targeted are girls, and 44 percent are boys, a smaller gap than commonly expected, Shakeshaft said.

Robert Shoop, a Kansas State University professor of education law and expert on sexual exploitation in schools, said the estimate of one in 10 children affected is not high. The actual number may be larger, he said, because of historical underreporting of the problem.

"Children need to be very clearly educated about inappropriate behaviors, and teachers do too, so when children see the earliest signs of this behavior, they have someone to tell," Shoop said. "But often, parents say, 'Mind your teacher.' So it's very unlikely that this 10-year-old kid is going to rip the teacher's hands off and say, 'Back off.' "

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Texas teachers retiring for benefits

By Liz Austin, Associated Press Writer, June 29, 2004

DALLAS -- Thousands of Texas teachers are rushing to retire before a lucrative loophole in Social Security law closes, but there's one catch: They must first spend a day washing windows or scrubbing floors.

Most Texas teachers do not pay into Social Security and instead participate in a state pension fund. But the loophole allows them to receive Social Security benefits if their last day of work before retirement is in a job covered by Social Security.

School districts around the state helped teachers out by hiring them to work janitorial or maintenance jobs for just a day. The loophole ends Wednesday.

Junior high school principal Margie Nancarrow said she wanted to spend at least two more years at her school in suburban Dallas, but the benefits were too tempting at a time of soaring costs for health insurance and prescription drugs.

"I'm not wanting to do anything extravagant," said Nancarrow, who spent her last day before retirement moving furniture. "I just want to live a modest lifestyle and take care of myself and not be a burden on anyone else."

The loophole allows teachers to double-dip into retirement benefits and collect both their state pension and Social Security money.

By doing the janitor work, they become eligible to receive Social Security spousal benefits equal to one-half of their spouse's monthly Social Security check. For instance, if a teacher's husband receives $1,000 a month from Social Security, she would get $500 while also receiving a monthly pension check.

Congress changed the law in February after auditors estimated that the loophole could cost the Social Security system $450 million. Auditors also reported that one-fourth of all Texas public education retirees, or 3,521 people, had used the loophole in 2002.

Use of the loophole appears to be on the rise this year as well. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas processed 35 percent more retirements from September through May than it did in the previous year's period.

The loophole's use has been most extensively documented in Texas, but there are about 2,300 state and local retirement plans nationwide. Some of those employees could have used the loophole, auditors said.

Some argue that school employees are taking advantage of the system.

"The fact that something is technically legal doesn't make it appropriate or ethical," said David John, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "A teacher is supposedly instilling in my children a sense of responsibility and a sense of worth, and you don't see that when you sneak around a rule and find a cute exception."

Nancarrow paid the Lindale Independent School District $350 to move furniture in a library so the carpet could be cleaned. She was among 3,500 school workers temporarily employed by the district. She resigned from the Richardson district on June 25 and retired Tuesday after one day of work in Lindale.

Under the new law, teachers will have to work their last five years in a job that pays into Social Security to receive their full spousal benefits.

Mike McSwain, Lindale's assistant superintendent for business, said what his school district and a few others in Texas did this summer was perfectly legal. After subtracting wages and administration costs, his district made about $700,000 helping teachers beat Wednesday's deadline.

"We just couldn't look at our taxpayers and say we passed up this opportunity to get this kind of revenue into the district," McSwain said.

Nancarrow said paying the fee and driving the 90 miles to Lindale were well worth it -- retiring early gives her several hundred dollars in additional monthly benefits.

"I'm not hung up on not doing manual labor," said Nancarrow, 54. "I was just glad that I had the opportunity to get in and get those benefits."

Nancarrow, who plans to teach Spanish part time at a private school next year, said she is comfortable with her decisions.

"I think I've provided for myself, saved some money for the future," she said. "I hate to leave any money on the table."

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Scanners to lend hand in tracking students

By Lois K. Solomon, Sun-Sentinel Education Writer, July 1 2004

BOCA RATON When teachers take attendance at a new middle school next month, they won't need a notebook or even a piece of paper.

They can depend on biometric hand readers to do the job.

The little black boxes, which take less than a second to identify students based on the dimensions of their hands, will be placed in all 61 classrooms, the cafeteria, main office and media center at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School, which will open Aug. 11 at Spanish River Boulevard and Military Trail.

The technology also will be on Don Estridge school buses so the school can monitor who gets on and off at each stop.

"We are a testing ground for this new technology," said Jim Kelly, Palm Beach County schools' police chief. "It's like an ID card for kids, but they won't be able to lose them."

The machines store a mathematical equation, but not a picture, for each hand, making them different from electronic fingerprint systems typically associated with federal law-enforcement agencies, Kelly said.

Don Estridge joins a small group of schools and universities using the high-tech tool to keep track of students.

At Eagan High School in Eagan, Minn., students check out library books using electronic hand scans.

The hand scans of students at 18 Akron, Ohio, middle and high schools are read each day instead of using meal tickets in the cafeteria.

At the Johnson & Wales University campus in Denver, hand sensors are used instead of keys to allow students into their dorms.

The technology also identifies employees at banks, hospitals, ports and apartment complexes.

Don Estridge is a choice school, designed to use the latest technology to teach traditional subjects. Students must apply to attend.

Some Palm Beach County residents and privacy advocates have criticized the new school for its many "Big Brother" technology gadgets, such as video cameras in its classrooms. But electronic hand readers sink schools to a new low, said Beth Givens, director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

"The kids will always be looking over their shoulder as they get older," Givens said. "Instead of taking common-sense measures such as locking doors or monitoring the halls, schools are going to extreme measures. It gives a false sense of security."

The school opened Wednesday.

Don Estridge Principal Debra Johnson said she sees the hand readers as a time-saver as much as a security measure. Teachers spend precious minutes each morning taking attendance. And she said she has spent many hours on the phone with parents whose children did not get off the bus on schedule.

"We'll be able to say, `Johnny got off the bus at 10th and Dixie,' and the parent will say, `Oh, that's where my aunt lives,'" she said.

Johnson said she sees the hand readers' potential use at other sites at the school, such as checking in at the nurse's office and dispensing medication. School volunteers could log in using hand scans instead of sign-in sheets, she said.

The hand readers were donated by Ingersoll-Rand as part of its "Try-Me" program, company spokeswoman Cindy English said. The company typically donates the readers, valued at more than $2,000 each, to day care centers to identify employees and people who are allowed to pick up children. The company monitors how well the programs work.

The hand readers take 90 measurements of each person's hand.

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Judge OKs magnet school diversity plan

AP, June 30, 2004

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- A federal judge largely upheld the way Kentucky's largest school system ensures racial integration of its popular magnet schools.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II said the Jefferson County Public School's assignment policy is lawful because race and gender are outweighed by other selection factors, such as geography.

He ordered some changes, though, intended to prevent the system from using race and gender as "the defining feature" in student selection.

Attorneys in the case say the ruling is the first to address the use of race and gender in school assignments since last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said race could be used as a factor in admissions at the University of Michigan, but could not be the determining factor.

Heyburn also said the public school system for the Louisville metropolitan area may hold to a standard that black students comprise 15 percent to 50 percent of enrollment at all public schools.

"Its broad racial guidelines do not constitute a quota," Heyburn wrote.

Jefferson County school officials cheered Tuesday's ruling, saying it validated the majority of the student assignment process.

"We feel absolutely wonderful about this. We think the judge is so right on with this," said School Superintendent Stephen Daeschner.

The role of race

Heyburn's ruling came in response to a 2001 challenge by several parents who claimed their children were denied admission to nine "traditional" magnet schools because of racial and gender quotas.

Admission to the schools -- which stress textbook-based instruction, discipline, morality and parental involvement -- is based on various factors, including race and gender, geographic boundaries and student choice.

Heyburn ordered officials in selecting students for the magnet schools to stop sorting applicants as "black male," "black female," "white male" and "white female."

"If few or no black students apply to a traditional school, a principal would be limited to admitting only those black students who apply at that time," he wrote.

That makes race and gender a "defining feature" of a student's application, rather than just one of several factors as required by the Michigan case, the judge said.

Attorneys for the 97,000-student district argued that such sorting by race and gender is necessary to maintain integrated schools, but Heyburn said using factors such as where a student lives, school capacity and random selection can achieve the same goal.

The school system will not have to make any changes to the magnet school selection process until the 2005-06 school year. School assignments for 2004-05 are complete.

Ted Gordon, the attorney for the parents who sued in 2002, said he will appeal the judge's ruling. He said race should play no part in student assignments.

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