ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

News Clips

News Clips – April 1 - 8, 2005

TOP OF PAGE

STATE  
Blagojevich proposes to increase gaming tables to pay for schools / State Journal-Register
School leaders mixed on governor's proposal / Southern Illinoisan
Big hike in pupil funding urged / Chicago Tribune
State to track every student / Courier News
Learning starts at home / Chicago Tribune
Scene of the crime: Young chemists do their own investigating at Lutheran high school
               
Decatur Herald & Review
Special ed may get $1 million reprieve / Chicago Tribune
Dist. 203 considers option  of previewing student articles  / Daily Herald
Students look to sky for math lessons /
Naperville Sun
Gambling not the way to fund Illinois schools / Galesburg Register-Mail
Senators far apart on school funding / Chicago Tribune
Forget casino, Daley says, just fund schools, CTA / Chicago Sun-Times
Schools taxed by voters across state / Chicago Tribune
No Child Left Behind rules could be relaxed / Chicago Tribune
Bills pitching tax swap facing uphill battles / Champaign News-Gazette
Large school superintendents back tax swap to solve funding woes / Daily Southtown
Education programs face loss of federal funding / Pantagraph

NATIONAL
Our High Schools Need Help /
Washington Post
A Lucrative Brand of Tutoring Grows Unchecked / New York Times
State, schools debate curriculum / Des Moines Register

Hue knew? Red pen out of favor with teachers / Chicago Sun-Times
Apple executive had key role in technology bill / Houston Chronicle
Seattle study of kids links bullying to TV / Seattle Times
State lawmakers take steps to pass No Child legislation / Daily Herald (CT)
Connecticut to Sue U.S. Over Cost of Testing Law / New York Times
Honda robot helps teach in classrooms / Boston Globe
U.S. to change No Child Left Behind law / Boston Globe
Education secretary cuts slack to states that play ball / Chicago Sun-Times
Utah will press its NCLB challenge / Salt Lake Tribune
Public schools work to win back children who are home-schooled / State Journal-Register
Evolution backers to boycott Kansas hearings / Kansas City Star

TOP OF PAGE

STATE

Blagojevich proposes to increase gaming tables to pay for schools
Scott Reeder and Stephanie Sievers, State Journal-Register
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Reneging on a campaign pledge not to expand gambling, Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed Thursday to more than double the number of slot machines and gaming tables in Illinois.
 
The governor made the surprise announcement at a high school in
Oak Park during a speech in which he called for increasing education standards.
 
Even though the proposal would increase the number of slot machines and gaming tables in the state from 11,000 to more than 23,000, gubernatorial spokeswoman
Rebecca Rausch said the governor does not consider this an expansion of gambling because under the plan no new communities would receive a casino.
 
But during his campaign for governor, Gov. Blagojevich signed a pledge saying he would not support expanding the number of gaming positions on the state's nine gaming boats.
 
Ms. Rausch said the additional gaming positions would not necessarily be divided evenly among the state's floating casinos. Just how they would be allocated would be left to the Illinois Gaming Board. If demand is greater than the number of positions available, an auction would be held, she said.
 
Bill Renk, a spokesman for the Casino Rock Island, said the governor's plan is encouraging news but would not likely have much impact initially on the state's smallest casino.
 
"Right now, we don't have any place to expand," he said. He said if the Illinois Gaming Board approves a planned relocation of the casino to the intersection of Interstate 280 and
Illinois 92, it might well take advantage of the additional gaming position that the proposal would allow.
 
Since entering office, Gov. Blagojevich has faced staggering budget shortfalls. The governor's proposal would generate $300 million in additional revenues, Ms. Rausch said. But she added the governor would veto any measure to increase the number of the state's casinos.
 
This puts him at loggerheads with some powerful political forces -- namely Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who wants a land-based casino in the city, and Senate President Emil Jones, who also wants new floating casinos in
Waukegan and the south Chicago suburbs.
 
Cindy Davidsmeyer, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jones, said he is encouraged by the governor's recognition that the state needs more money but remains undeterred in his plans to push for additional casinos.
 
Quad-Cities lawmakers embraced the governor's plan.
 
"I know a lot of people might disagree with me, but I will support this bill. One of my main issues when I came to
Springfield was to bring more money to education," Rep. Patrick Verschoore, D-Milan, said.
 
He added that he considers gambling to be a self-imposed tax. "You don't have to go, and people who go there are going on their own accord. People don't like their services cut," he said.  
 
"I'm not a big gaming person," said Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, "but unfortunately we have to come up with the money from somewhere, and we don't have many options without an increase in sales or income taxes."  
 
Gov. Blagojevich's rationale for expanding gambling is to boost education spending, something he has promised to do every year since taking office.
 
In his state budget address, he called for $140 million in new money for the state's schools. By expanding gambling, he could pump another $300 million into education for next year. The increase would boost per pupil funding -- or the minimum amount the state spends on each student -- by $240, to $5,204 annually.
 
TOP OF PAGE

School leaders mixed on governor's proposal
Jennifer Miller, Southern Illinoisan
 
SPRINGFIELD - Local school administrator reaction was mixed to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new proposal to increase state graduation standards.
 
Blagojevich proposed new graduation requirements Thursday that he claims would better prepare students for college and the workforce.
 
The governor's plan would require two years of science, two intensive writing courses, four years of English and three years of math, including algebra and geometry. Blagojevich also said he wants more high school students to have access to college courses.
 
Currently the
Carbondale school district does not meet Blagojevich's standards. The district requires only two years of math and three years of English.
 
"Anything that would raise the standards is going to be good for education," said Steve Sabens, the
Carbondale school district superintendent. "How that could be implemented would be the challenge for the governor and school districts across the state."
 
Additional staffing would be needed, which in turn would require more funding, Sabens said.
 
Tim Bleyer, superintendent for the
Carterville School District, said his high school currently meets the proposed math, science and English requirements.
 
"The state has lagged behind what school districts are already doing," he said.
 
For the past few years students have also been able to take courses at
John A. Logan College.
 
"That has been a very popular thing for us in Carterville," Bleyer said. "We have a lot of kids graduate from our school with 15 or 16 hours of junior college credit."
 
Bleyer's major concern with the governor's plan is the new intensive writing course requirement. Most of his students already meet or exceed writing requirements through their English courses, he said.
 
"Now does this mean we are going to have to offer a separate writing course on top of an English course? And if so, of course, that's going to require adding staff," he said.
 
Massac County is another local school district that already has in place most of the proposed requirements. One change in the district would be adding geometry as a requirement.
 
"We're pretty solid on this plan. I think it's a good thing," said Danny Stevens,
Massac County superintendent. But Stevens wants schools to be compensated for changes they make.
 
"I expect some funding to come along with that. If that doesn't happen of course it's going to be difficult to meet the standards."
 
The Illinois State Board of Education has run the governor's plan past ACT, Inc., the company that creates the standardized test all 11th graders are required to take, said agency spokeswoman Rebecca Watts. According to ACT officials, 38 percent of the 116,500
Illinois students, who took the test last year would not have met the new high school graduation standards, she said.
 
If approved by the General Assembly, requirements will start being phased into curriculum in 2008.
 
The governor also said Thursday he wants to increase the number of slot machines and other games at the state's nine riverboats to bring in more education revenue. In February Blagojevich proposed $140 million in new education dollars, and expects the gambling expansion to bring $300 million more.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Big hike in pupil funding urged
By
Diane Rado and John Chase, Tribune staff reporters, 4/5/05

Illinois should contribute $6,405 per student to educate its schoolchildren next school year--almost $1,500 more than it spends now--an influential group of state education advisers recommended Monday.

The Education Funding Advisory Board stopped short of saying how to pay for that increase, estimated at $2.3 billion, and declined to engage in the politically dicey debate of how to fund schools.

Still, the board's recommendation adds an important element to the school-finance debate that is growing more intense in
Springfield and around the state as most school districts struggle with deficits.

Voters go to the polls Tuesday to consider nearly 100 referendum proposals to raise local taxes for school operations or issue bonds for school building projects, mostly in the suburbs around the
Chicago area.

On Wednesday a state Senate panel will review proposals to overhaul the way Illinois pays for schools, including increasing the state income tax and reducing reliance on local property taxes that create disparities between wealthy and poor districts.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich opposes raising income or sales taxes, and last week proposed expanding gambling in
Illinois to provide another $300 million for schools. But even that figure, coupled with $140 million previously recommended by the governor, falls short of the increase proposed Monday by the advisory board that he appointed.

Still, the board's recommendation is a credible one that "we hope will buttress the governor's efforts to put more money into the foundation level," said Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's director of education reform.

The "foundation level" is the key measure of the state's support for public schools, the basic aid that should be guaranteed every child. The figure does not include local property taxes that largely fund schools, state grants for special programs or federal dollars.

The Education Funding Advisory Board arrived at a foundation level of $6,405 per student for 2005-06 by using a complex model that evaluates how much it takes to run schools efficiently and ensure children perform at grade level and above. The analysis also took into consideration annual increases in salaries and benefits that school districts have to pay.

The per-student aid figure this school year--$4,964--is a "national embarrassment," said Bindu Batchu, campaign manager for a statewide initiative to reform school finances.

"I think it shows that we are in an abysmal situation in this state, where we are shortchanging children across the state in the kind of education we're delivering," she said.

While per-student funding has increased to $4,964 from $4,560 during Blagojevich's term,
Illinois still ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of contribution to public education.

Groups favoring school finance reform proposals urged the advisory board as late as Monday to support reforms that would reduce reliance on local property taxes and pump up the state's contribution to schools.

But chairman Steve Demitro, a lawyer, said the board's powers are limited under state law, including recommending a per-student foundation level and a few other tasks.

After the meeting, however, Demitro did not rule out discussions on school finance reform in future board meetings.

Prior to Blagojevich's recent appointments, the Education Funding Advisory Board made broad recommendations about school finance reform, including reducing property taxes and increasing the state income tax to pay for schools.

The new board's recommendation of $6,405 "is an obligation that can only be met by increasing revenues. How it's done is up to the legislature and the governor," said Arthur Berman, a board member and former state senator.

"I am sure that if I looked at the speeches of all of them, legislators and the governor, they would have used the phrase `education is my top priority."' Berman said. "We have given the legislators and the governor the dollar figures necessary to provide an adequate education for every child in the public schools of
Illinois. And when I say adequate, I'm not talking about a Mercedes-Benz, I'm talking about a Chevrolet.

"I want them [politicians] to live up to their campaign speeches and to take care of our children."
 
TOP OF PAGE

State to track every student
New information system: Allows educators to easily record, access and share data
By
Teresa Black, Courier News Staff Writer, 4/5/05

State-level educators will be able to look up each public school student's standardized test scores, suspensions, citizenship status and mother's maiden name next year with the implementation of a new information system.

A centralized database cataloging more than 2 million
Illinois students will help the state better comply with reporting requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, state officials said.

At some local schools where as many as 40 percent of students enroll or leave during the school year, such as Carpentersville's Golfview Elementary, the change could make for easier access to student records but more administrative data entry.

Not to mention questions about privacy and security.

"Other than if my kids' grades and attendance are linked to that number ... I've got issues," said Golfview Principal Craig Sundstedt, who also serves as Community Unit School District 300's student assessment coordinator.

Local schools in pilot

Statewide assignment of randomly generated student-identification numbers is scheduled to begin in August. About 80 school districts, including
St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 and West Aurora School District 129, were selected for the pilot phase and are set to start compiling assessment data in June. District 303's director of media and technology, Anne Fleming, said the new database would be a streamlined source for data that now must be gathered from various areas for staff to create reports. "By the state having all this data, they could generate that all themselves," Fleming said. The use of individual records also will help follow a student's progress over time and "provide better quality data to drive more enlightened policy decisions resulting in enhanced educational opportunities for all children," according to the Illinois State Board of Education's Web site.

The tool will aid districts and schools in using state data, improve accuracy and help get state report cards for schools out sooner, ISBE spokeswoman Becky Watts said.

The system will include several hundred data fields, many for indicating native languages such as Gujarati, Gaelic and Mandingo, according to the ISBE's Web site.

There is also an entry for the mother's maiden name of a student to eliminate confusion among children with identical first and last names. Eventually one section will document a student's discipline and behavior record, such as weapons possession charges, alcohol- and drug-related offenses, suspensions and expulsions.

Country of citizenship, race, homelessness, free or reduced lunch status and assessment test scores also will be recorded electronically.

Safety a concern

Golfview's Sundstedt said he is keeping an eye on the project because District 300 has been preparing to purchase its own new student data system, which would need to be compatible. He expressed some reservations about including biographical instead of just education-related data in the state database, citing privacy issues.
Watts said addressing security and privacy concerns are a top priority.

"It's very, very safe,"
Watts said.

Similar systems have worked well in other states like
Ohio, Watts said.

The system will make things like tracking high school graduation rates more accurate, she said, because the data tracks individual students — not just percentages of aggregated groups.

And when a student moves into a new school district, an administrator will be able to look the student up using a name and birth date,
Watts said. Districts enter data through the state's Web site, but it's password-protected.

Electronic storage of records will cut down on the time requesting files from other districts and receiving them in the mail, Sundstedt said.

One of the first questions he has about a new student, especially in
Carpentersville where there are many bilingual pupils, is the child's reading level — in English, Spanish or both languages.

Now a staff member and the student have to spend several hours on placement tests to determine exactly where reading levels fall.
 
"It would save that kid at least a day's worth of school," Sundstedt said about the new database.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Learning starts at home
A troupe of home-schooled children in
Lake County brings history to life
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter,
4/5/05

Dressed in a royal blue dress, Faith Johnson, 13, stepped into the spotlight and without hesitation transformed herself into the 18th Century poet Phyllis Wheatley.

A polished performer, Faith recalled how her lips and hands trembled and her knees knocked the first time she brought the words of the former slave to life on stage.

"I tried to be calm and breathe," Johnson said about her recent appearance in "A Generation Remembers," a play highlighting famous African-Americans. "I'm not used to being in front of a lot of people I don't know."

Faith is a member of an acting troupe made up of about a dozen home-schooled children who write, produce and perform plays in
Lake County. They are among a growing number of African-American students whose parents have opted to pull their children out of traditional schools in favor of home-schooling, experts say. The troupe, and other groups like it, allows children to enjoy the extracurricular part of school while being taught at home.

"Every day, more and more black families are starting to home school," said Joyce Burges, a founder of the National Black Home Educators Resource Association based in Baton Rouge, La. "There is no way an African-American child can get a good education in an overcrowded classroom. There are too many children that fall through the cracks. It's really sad, and now parents feel that they have to do something."

According to the
National Center for Education Statistics, 850,000 children were home-schooled in 1999, the last year figures were available. Of that number, almost 10 percent were African-American.

"A lot of African-Americans didn't know home-schooling was an option ," Burges said. "At one point [blacks] represented only 1 percent of home-schoolers."

The main sign of growth is the number of support groups that have cropped up around the
U.S., she said. Organizations such as Mocha Moms and the Network of Black Homeschoolers help parents learn how to educate their children and provide support groups and meetings, Burges said.

Her organization was created five years ago and now has chapters throughout the country, she said.

Nicole Cartwright of
North Chicago is the director of "A Generation Remembers," which was written by her daughter Crystal, 20, who thought it was a creative way to get her home-schooled friends to celebrate black history.

"During Black History Month, most kids only learn about Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman," Crystal Cartwright said. "I thought it would be nice to do something different and learn about different types of people."

The actors researched their characters, including jazz singer Billie Holiday; Ellen Craft, a former slave who passed as white to escape to freedom; and Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave and seamstress who sewed dresses for Abraham Lincoln's wife.

The play is mostly a series of monologues in which actors tell stories in front of a slide show. In a few scenes, they mingle with each other to discuss the Freedom Train and portray an African-American church on a Sunday morning.

"It's nice to show people what we home-schooled kids can do," Crystal Cartwright said. "We can do more than just win the spelling bee."

Nicole Cartwright started her support group to make sure home-schooled children don't miss out on the performing arts and cultural growth.

"We wanted our children to know that even though they are home-schooled, they are not limited in what they can do," she said. Home-schoolers increasingly are exposed to such extracurricular activities as plays, bands, sports, even the prom, says Margaret Kahn, a home-school liaison with Parents Educating at Home, based in
Southfield, Mich.

"You are getting more people with talents and gifts to share who are home-schooling," Kahn said. "The other side of it is: Now there are many programs and products and services that are filling the voids we had in the past."

"I enjoy acting," said Faith Johnson, a soft-spoken 8th grader at a recent dress rehearsal for Cartwright's troupe at
Bonnie Brook Baptist Church in Waukegan "Most people ask me if I get to socialize. This is my social group."

Faith's mother has home-schooled her since she was in 2nd grade so she could get more one-on-one attention.Joshua Renson said his mother yanked him out of public school in 7th grade, after one too many fights. He said he never tried to participate in a play--until now.

Joshua plays Dr. Ben Carson, a brain surgeon.

"My legs were shaking the first time I got up there," he said. "There was a huge crowd. But after a while you don't look at the people, you look over their heads."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Scene of the crime: Young chemists do their own investigating at Lutheran high school
By VALERIE WELLS,
Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer, 4/5/05

DECATUR - The culprits left behind broken beer bottles and two broken plate glass windows.

And John White's forensics team is on the case.

At
Lutheran School Association High School on Easter night, vandals threw two full Heineken beer bottles at the windows of White's classroom. The police are on the case, too, of course, but at the LSA High School, advanced chemistry class is taught as forensic science, and White and his students couldn't let a golden opportunity pass them by.

"We're trying to figure out if we can shed some light on what happened out here," White said, while his students measured, photographed and collected evidence from the crime scene.

Thanks to the popularity of the "CSI" programs, White said, almost everyone is interested in forensic science, and he thought studying it would make it more interesting and give students a chance to see a practical application for chemistry.

"Essentially, they're doing chemistry on all those shows," White said. "This gives them a chance to teach advanced chemistry principles that are used in analyzing evidence, some of the sophisticated techniques they use, and it gives us a chance to have some fun."

In the lab, several girls were checking the pieces of broken beer bottle for fingerprints. Rather than use the black powder and brush so familiar from TV crime shows, the girls sprinkled powdered iodine into the plastic evidence bags and waited for prints to appear. "Iodine fuming," as this method is called, reveals latent prints more completely than powder and even reveals prints powder misses, said student Beth Haupt.

Jordan Baker researched broken glass patterns on the Internet - "CSI" fans will know the break pattern can reveal a great deal - and with his information and photographs taken from every angle, the students already have concluded the beer bottles were full when they struck the glass.

Lead investigator Michael Wilkerson, a junior, assigned his classmates to teams to make sure every angle was covered.

One class member was at the school when the vandalism happened. Tabitha Pennekamp was practicing volleyball in the gym while her father and another man were working elsewhere in the building. The men heard a crash and found the broken windows, but a search of the grounds failed to turn up the perpetrators.

"When we saw this, we scrapped the current lesson plan and decided to devote some time to this," White said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Special ed may get $1 million reprieve
By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter,
4/6/05

With advocates for children with disabilities in an uproar, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has proposed restoring $1.1 million to statewide special education programs that were scheduled for dramatic cutbacks in June.

The amount is only a fraction of about $7 million in cuts scheduled, but advocates were nonetheless hopeful.

"Certainly if we can get some funding restored, that would be wonderful," said Kathy Gould, director of a well-regarded state autism training program that is set to lose more than $500,000 of its $732,600 grant by the end of June, despite a dramatic rise in autism in Illinois.

At the same time, Gould and other advocates remain cautious because the $1.1 million is tied to the governor's controversial proposal to expand gaming in
Illinois to raise more money for schools, which is subject to lawmaker approval.

"What if that doesn't happen? What if the extra funding isn't generated?" asked Cheri Sinnott, director of the
Illinois Service Resource Center, which assists schools and families that have deaf children with emotional, behavioral and mental problems. The center's $460,000 grant is scheduled to be eliminated in June.

The Tribune wrote late last month about cuts to 41 state grants that help schools and families work with the state's most vulnerable children. For example, a statewide network of consultants who work on behalf of students with severe emotional and behavioral problems will lose $2.4 million of its $3.8 million in grants.

The Illinois State Board of Education said a law that took effect in August requires it to redirect money to local districts that have to cover extraordinary expenses for some disabled children.

The law, in combination with other factors, drained the pot of federal money that had been used for the state grant programs, which supplement the work of local districts and are not likely to be duplicated, local educators say.

The impact of the new law on the state grant programs was not widely known, even to lawmakers who approved the bill and the governor, who allowed it to become law.

Elliot Regenstein, the governor's top education aide, said he learned about the situation when advocates for deaf children appeared at the Illinois State Board of Education meeting in mid-March to express concerns about the cuts.

The governor's office began working with the board to determine an amount that would provide essential services to those with the greatest need, Regenstein said. The figure arrived at was $1.1 million. State education officials have not yet determined how that money will be divided, but Regenstein said a competitive process might be used.

"From our standpoint, we really view this as a way to try to right a wrong," he said. "This is something important to the governor, to help serve people who have significant needs."

The governor will be reminded of those needs Wednesday, when busloads of advocates for autistic children descend on the capital for a rally and other events to draw attention to autism. The group plans to lobby to restore funding for the state grants.

Autism cases have surged in
Illinois over the last several years, with the number now reaching about 8,100, said Gould, of the training program called the Illinois Autism/PDD Training and Technical Assistance Project.

That compares with only 1,960 young people between the ages of 3 and 21 who were receiving special education services for autism in 1996-97.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Dist. 203 considers option  of previewing student articles
By Kari Allen, Daily Herald Staff Writer,
4/6/05
 
Following a debate at
Naperville Central High School, district officials and an attorney confirmed Tuesday that administrators legally can preview student publications before they go to print.

The question remains, though, whether administrators actually will pursue the policy in the future, said Tom Paulsen, Naperville Unit District 203’s associate superintendent for operations.

Officials are considering whether administrators should ask, as they see fit, to review high school articles before they’re printed. Staff members of Naperville Central’s award-winning newspaper, the Central Times, and newspaper adviser Linda Kane oppose the practice, often called “prior review.”

Kane, in fact, says she will resign as a journalism teacher and newspaper adviser if administrators plan to review articles before they’re printed.

If the district uses prior review, Kane said she will finish this school year as the Central Times’ adviser and a journalism teacher and then return next school year simply as an English teacher. She has been the Central Times’ adviser for 16 years.

Kane and newspaper staff members worry prior review would lead to censorship.

But administrators say they need to protect students who might be adversely affected by articles in the student newspaper.

“We want to give as free a journalistic experience as possible and protect our community,” Paulsen said.

He said administrators plan to meet again soon to talk about whether they should preview any student publications in the future.

“Our practice over time has been only in very, very rare circumstances to question what’s being published,” Paulsen said.

But a debate started in February, after Principal Jim Caudill asked to preview a story the Central Times staff was writing about a band volunteer charged with luring a 15-year-old female student into an Internet relationship and attempting to coerce her into taking nude photographs of herself.

Caudill had several concerns about the story, including whether the girl would be named. She was not.

He asked staff members and Kane to see the story in advance and they refused. Staff members did answer his questions about the article, though, Kane said.

“If we get questions from the administration, I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Students look to sky for math lessons
By Tim Waldorf,
Naperville Sun staff writer, 4/6/05

In his eight years as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, Art George has only heard of two or three instances in which an airplane's cabin has lost pressure and oxygen masks have fallen from the ceiling. Sometimes they fall when a pilot lands the plane a little harder than he'd like to land it, said George, but the masks rarely fall because cabin pressure has been lost.

Still, George explained to a group of
Ranch View Elementary School students Tuesday why those masks are important, even though the likelihood they'll be used is remote.

As an airplane's altitude increases, air pressure decreases, which means molecules of oxygen are spread further and further apart, George said. Above 10,000 feet, they're too far apart to breathe normally, he said.

"You can't breathe fast enough or deep enough to get enough oxygen to your body," he said.

Which is why the engines that fly some planes up to 41,000 feet above sea level also pressurize the air inside the plane's cabin at the level found at 8,000 feet, George said. It's also why your ears might start to hurt once the plane descends below 8,000 feet, he said.

George visited Ranch View fifth-graders in Cathy Kaduk's honors math class once a week for the past month as part of Southwest Airlines "Adopt a Pilot" program. The purpose of his visits is to help the students make connections between their current study of fractions, decimals and percents, and the basic principles of flight or the different responsibilities of an airline pilot.

So before the students studied how air pressure factors into flight, they mapped the distances of a few of George's scheduled flights and compared them to the actual distances he logged in his flight book. And after they studied air pressure, they tackled the principles of centrifugal and centripetal forces using a model of an A-10 Warthog, which is what George flew for 21 years before he retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel and joined Southwest.

George said he hopes his visits will encourage students interested in flight to pursue possible careers in the industry.

"Anybody can be a pilot," he told the students. "I proved that."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Gambling not the way to fund
Illinois schools
Editorial by Don Cooper, publisher, Galesburg Register-Mail,
4/5/05

You can say this for Gov. Rod Blagojevich: he's a schemer. Or at least he has a few schemers working for him.

The latest concoction is a proposal to increase education funding by more than doubling the number of slot machines and gaming tables in
Illinois casinos. It's a bad scheme.

Last week the governor proposed boosting the number of "gaming positions" - slot machines and gambling tables - allowed on the nine existing "riverboat" casinos from about 11,000 to approximately 24,000. It was estimated the additional stations would raise $300 million a year for schools.

The plan may be a response to those who criticized the governor's budget, which added a paltry $140 million to elementary and secondary education.

To make the idea a bit more politically acceptable, the proposal also includes stricter standards on high schools, including requiring more credits for graduation, as well as more math, science and English courses. About $30 million is directed to fund the tougher requirements.

By the governor's way of thinking, the plan allows him to provide more money for education without breaking his pledge not to expand gambling. He's been under a lot of pressure to do just that, especially from Chicago-area lawmakers who want licenses for three more casinos, including one in the city.

"I'm drawing a line in the sand," Blagojevich said. "They can talk about it until the cows come home. I'm simply not going to support it, and I'll veto anything that expands gaming where it doesn't exist."

The operative phrase, of course, is "where it doesn't exist." Doubling the number of slot machines and tables, in the governor's mind, isn't an expansion of gambling if they are located in existing casinos.

There are lots of problems with the governor's idea, not the least of which is that casino owners are looking for an incentive to go along with it. In exchange for adding the slots and the tables, the casinos want the state to lower taxes on their operations. It is legitimate to wonder how much the lower taxes will eat into the additional revenue projections. It's also legitimate to wonder where the saturation point for gambling is. Is there really enough gambling interest to support more than double the number of slots and tables in
Illinois?

But the biggest question is whether gambling is the best way to support education. The resounding answer is "No." It is unreliable at best, unconscionable at worst. We shouldn't want to fund something as basic as schools by encouraging more people to play the slots.

The governor's proposal may allow him to keep his promise not to raise income taxes, but it fails to address the fundamental problem with education funding in
Illinois - the reliance on local property taxes. The only way to fix that problem is to make the shift to a system supported by income taxes.

State-sponsored gambling in
Illinois began with the lottery, which was supposed to help fund education, so we've been traveling down this slippery slope for some time. The governor's last scheme makes that slope a little slicker.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Senators far apart on school funding
By Diane Rado,
Chicago Tribune, 4/7/05    
 
SPRINGFIELD -- High school senior Sean Dickson came to the state Capitol Wednesday to tell politicians how cuts in school funding play out in real life.
 
After voters shot down a tax increase last year, his district cut the school day at Hononegah High School in Rockton by an hour, forcing students to take six rather than seven classes and forgo elective courses that make them competitive for college. Class sizes have shot up as well.
 
Without more money, Dickson said, "our schools are going to continue in this miserable state." The audience broke out in applause for the 17-year-old, who testified before the Senate Select Committee on Education Funding Reform.
 
Dickson's eloquence underscored the plight of schoolchildren in deficit-ridden districts, but it didn't move lawmakers closer to agreement on how to overhaul
Illinois' beleaguered school finance system.
 
In fact, finding a solution to the funding problems seemed elusive Wednesday, with the Senate hearing showing just how contentious and divisive education finance reform, which includes tax increases, will be this year.
 
Sen. James Meeks, a
Chicago independent, announced the results of a March poll, which he said showed overwhelming support for his legislation to raise state income and sales taxes to increase school funding, and reduce local property taxes. The poll was paid for by supporters of those reforms.
 
But those results were questioned by Sen. J. Bradley Burzynski (R-Clare), who said the poll understated the size of the income tax increase required under the reforms.
 
The poll questioned voters about a "2 percent increase in income taxes" to help pay for the reforms. Meeks' legislation, however, proposes that the state income tax be increased to 5 percent from 3 percent, a 66 percent increase, Burzynski said.
 
Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), a supporter of the reforms, agreed that there was a problem with the question. "But I think what this poll shows is that there is general support for an income tax increase," he said.
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich opposes increasing the income or sales taxes. Instead, he has proposed expanding gambling in
Illinois to increase school funding.
 
The governor's gambling proposal would raise $300 million for schools, which would add to the $140 million in new school funding that he previously recommended for next school year. But Senate President Emil Jones, a major proponent of expanding gambling, said Wednesday that he doesn't think the governor's plan would go far enough to help schools.
 
"It doesn't make too much of a dent," said Jones, who supports a recent recommendation by an education advisory board to increase funding by nearly $1,500 a student, which would cost the state $2.3 billion.
 
The Chicago Democrat also is the most powerful supporter of school finance reform proposals that reduce reliance on property taxes. He said "the possibility is always there" that such reforms will be approved.
 
But the governor's opposition to raising taxes--what supporters see as a key ingredient of school finance reform--sparked concern at Wednesday's Senate hearing.
 
Sen. Todd Sieben (R-Geneseo) spoke about "the lack of gubernatorial leadership" as lawmakers try to move forward on school finance reform that includes politically difficult tax increases.
 
"How can we possibly move this issue forward and how will people have the courage to vote for a 66 percent increase ... if the governor continues to say he will veto it?" Sieben asked.
 
Meeks replied: "If this is the right thing to do ... then we don't need the governor. If the governor won't do the right thing, that's what the General Assembly is for."
 
School superintendents talked about the need to reform a system that relies heavily on local property tax dollars rather than state funds.
 
Supt. Michael Jacoby, of
Geneva School District 304 in Kane County, said a 92-year-old woman in his district told him she has supported school referendum measures for 50 years but doesn't think she can do so any longer.
 
Jacoby said the woman told him, "I think I might lose my home." The woman explained that she is on a fixed income and can't keep up with the property taxes on her home, which have risen in value.
 
"There are many, many individuals who are wondering if they can support education because supporting education from a property tax perspective doesn't work with their income," Jacoby said.
 
"We do need to make the transition ... if nothing else, to be more fair to those people struggling to keep their homes."

TOP OF PAGE

Forget casino, Daley says, just fund schools, CTA
Fran Spielman,
Chicago Sun-Times, 4/7/05
 
Mayor Daley said Wednesday he couldn't care less whether Gov. Blagojevich approves a casino for downtown
Chicago. The mayor said he has only two funding priorities for the spring session: CTA and schools.
 
"I really don't care [about a
Chicago casino]. Just get the money for whatever he's going to do for education and public transportation. That's what we want. Forget about everything else. That's No. 1. That's all we want. We want money for education. I want money for public transportation. Simple as that," he said.
 
"If I don't get a casino -- if the city doesn't get a casino, so be it. Who cares? We were trying to help the state. The state has other means to help themselves. But you have to help education and transportation. They can't disregard that. The real issue of
Illinois is education and transportation."
 
Joined by other chief executives
Pressed on whether he has given up on a downtown casino viewed as the long-term salvation for
Chicago's budget troubles, Daley said, "No, but it's not a priority."
 
Flanked at a City Hall news conference by the mayors of
Evanston and Oak Park, whose residents rely on CTA service, Daley urged lawmakers to explore the possibility of raising the RTA sales tax. Chicago and suburban Cook County currently pay a 1 percent sales tax that goes to mass transit. In the collar counties, the RTA sales tax is 0.25 percent.
 
The mass transit funding debate has centered around the possibility of changing the funding formula that determines how transit money is distributed between city and suburbs and about raising the RTA sales tax in the collar counties.
 
Gov's veto threat
Last week, Blagojevich proposed doubling the number of slot machines and table games at
Illinois casinos -- a move he said would generate $300 million in new money for cash-strapped schools. But he made it clear that he would veto any plan for new casinos, including the mega-casino that Chicago has coveted.
 
That's apparently why Daley was so willing Wednesday to kiss the
Chicago casino goodbye. With a $2 billion-plus state budget deficit, top mayoral aides firmly believe the governor needs the pot of gold generated by a Chicago casino more than the mayor does. If Blagojevich believes otherwise, he'll either have to put up or shut up.
 
Asked whether he would support a gambling-for-education plan that specifically excludes
Chicago, Daley said, "That's his [the governor's] problem. Not mine. I'm not the head of the gambling industry. He is. That's up to those senators and legislative leaders. They can do anything they want. That would be up to them -- not me. That's the golden goose that Illinois has found."
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
Schools taxed by voters across state
Most rate hikes fail; budgets to be cut
Jodi S. Cohen and Grace Aduroja,
Chicago Tribune, 4/7/05
 
In a post-election scene that's become the norm, school administrators across the Chicago suburbs returned to work Wednesday saying they may have to cut more teachers, programs and even the school day.
 
Of the 109 school tax and bond issues on ballots statewide Tuesday, only about 36 percent passed, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Many of the districts have faced election rejection several times.
 
Gurnee District 56 voters turned down an education-fund tax-rate increase for the seventh time, and officials again will look to cut from a budget already trimmed of funds for foreign-language and gifted classes, art, music, nurses and custodians.
 
Glenbard High School District 87, in the west suburbs, will cut 40 teachers, and in south suburban Thornton Township High School District 205, officials may cut sports teams after laying off 113 teachers in the last year.
 
"Schools are in a desperate financial situation, and they have few places to go. Property-tax payers are sending a clear message that they can't be the ones to bear the brunt of funding
Illinois schools," said Bindu Batchu, campaign manager for A+ Illinois, which supports reducing property taxes and increasing funding for schools through higher state income taxes and sales taxes.
 
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office countered that those would be other unwanted taxes and that legislators should instead pass his plan to add $300 million in school spending by doubling the number of slot machines and other casino games.
 
Some people who voted against school referendum measures attributed the widespread loss to resistance to higher taxes and distrust of school spending.
 
"It's not that [schools] don't have the money, it's that they are spending it the wrong way," said Shawn Depke, who voted against a tax increase for Gurnee District 56 because he thinks teacher and administrator salaries and benefits are bloated.
 
After the district failed to get a tax-rate increase approved, with 52 percent of voters saying no, Gurnee Grade School Principal Colleen Pacatte isn't sure what's left to slash.
 
"I've seen us dismantle just about every program that was a feather in our cap," Pacatte said. The district has cut $2.3 million from its budget in the last two years.
 
In
Lake County and on the North Shore, four of the 15 referendum questions passed. Community Consolidated District 46 in Grayslake lost its bid for a tax-rate increase for the fourth time, and Lake Villa District 41 lost for the second time.
 
A surprise
Lake County winner was Grass Lake School, which educators threatened to close if voters didn't approve a tax increase on the sixth try.
 
Deerfield voters approved a tax increase despite a pre-election mailing that told residents that schools don't need additional tax money because students have accomplished parents and good genes.
 
"You always have people who want to take a cowardly cheap shot at the last minute, thinking they will win the day," said Deerfield District 109 Supt. Lawrence Pekoe.
 
He said the success was due to a grass-roots effort that included coffee-shop discussions and meetings at senior citizen homes to tell voters why the 35-cent tax-rate increase was important. The measure won with nearly 64 percent of the vote.
 
"In a season of losses, this is a community that not only won but won by a landslide," parent Jeff Rothstein said.
 
Voter reluctance was widespread, and school officials--including many newly elected board members--will be charged with finding ways to cut from thin budgets.
 
Of the 11 school referendum questions in the west suburbs, three passed. Glenbard High School District 87 voters rejected a tax increase for the second time. About 54 percent opposed the 33-cent increase.
 
The district reduced its deficit to $27.2 million by imposing fees, cutting extracurricular programs and cutting staff.
 
The district's 9,000 students will be the first in
DuPage County to have six class periods a day instead of seven.
 
"I'm not sure where our public was; maybe they didn't think they were going to do the cuts," said Bill Wright, president of the Glenbard Education Association.
 
School referendums in
Will County fared slightly better, with successes in 9 of 23 districts. Referendums in North Palos Elementary District 117, Orland School District 135, Kirby School District 140 and Summit Hill District 161 all passed.
 
But at
Troy School District 30C, a 3,700-pupil elementary district that failed to pass a tax increase, several programs will be gone by fall, including art, music, computer, technology labs, remedial reading and gifted programs, said business manager Al Gegenheimer.
 
Many of those programs already have been cut in
Crete-Monee District 201-U, including physical education, music, Spanish, journalism and art. Supt. Roberta Berry hoped the referendum measure would allow the district to restore the programs, but voters turned it down.
 
Bond referendums fared worse than in any year since 1973, the first year for which data are available from the State Board of Education. Nearly 59 percent of bond measures failed.
 
Voters in
Indian Prairie School District 204 in Naperville rejected a request to sell $130.5 million in bonds to build a third high school, among other plans. Yorkville Community Unit District 115 in Kendall County lost a bid to issue $49 million in bonds to fund construction projects.
 
In north suburban
Mundelein, voters rejected three bond questions totaling $26 million that would have allowed school officials to expand the high school cafeteria and music department, set up a working cash fund and restructure debt.
 
Said spokeswoman Kelley Happ: "The voters have spoken, so we live with the results."
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
No Child Left Behind rules could be relaxed
Education chief hints test policy to change
By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporters Darnell Little, Tracy Dell'Angela and Diane Rado contributed to this report, 4/8/05
 
In what could lead to broad changes in the Bush administration's education reforms, federal officials said Thursday they are open to relaxing requirements for states that show a commitment to improve.

The plan, outlined Thursday during a meeting between Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and state school chiefs, may help defuse a growing rebellion against No Child Left Behind, a law criticized as unfunded and an intrusion into state control.

Education officials are adamant that the cornerstone of the law--having all students reading and doing math at grade level by 2014--will not change.

But, among other things, Spellings' policy shift could make it easier for school districts to pass state tests under the 2002 law by increasing the number of students who can take a modified test because of disabilities.

Some sanctions for failing to meet state standards, including a provision that children in failing schools be given the opportunity to transfer to better ones, could also be relaxed. Chicago Public Schools leaders, for example, would prefer to allow students to be tutored before offering them a transfer as mandated by the law.

"Many of you may have your own issues," Spellings told state officials. "We are willing to consider requests, as long as the results for students are there and the principles of the law are followed."

Spellings' announcement opens the door for states to ask for greater flexibility in everything from how they measure student progress to when they must offer student transfers, but she stopped short of saying what changes she would approve.

She hinted that she would be open to measuring academic achievement by tracking individual students, instead of by comparing grade levels from one year to the next. Educators say the current approach fails to measure student progress.

For federal officials to consider changes, states will have to show they are following the rules of No Child Left Behind, including testing students every year in grades 3 though 8, reporting results by student subgroups, and hiring qualified teachers, Spellings said.

"They absolutely have to put some skin in the game," she said. "I am not going to prejudge what issues will be raised by states, but I will be open-minded."

The announcement comes as about 15 states are challenging the law.
Utah leaders, for example, will vote later this month whether to give priority to Utah's education laws and forgo about $1 million in federal aid.

Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the first state to sue, contending the law illegally requires communities to spend more money to comply than the federal government provides.

Ottawa Township High School District 140, 80 miles southwest of
Chicago, sued the Education Department in federal court in February, arguing that No Child Left Behind conflicts with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires individual academic plans for special education students.

State Supt. Randy Dunn said he would like flexibility in testing procedures for special education and limited-English students. He also would prefer that students have a longer track record with a particular school before their test scores count in measuring that school's success.

"We hope there is some willingness for them to work with us," Dunn said. "We are very much in favor of the approach that Secretary Spellings is taking and her willingness to demonstrate flexibility."

Spellings said she would concede on at least one area: how special education students are tested.

The secretary would consider allowing 3 percent of tested students, or about 18,000 in
Illinois, to take a modified test, perhaps with simpler questions, to measure progress. That could raise a school's overall performance.

Spellings said she will issue guidelines to help states identify and appropriately test students with disabilities.

The current law allows up to 1 percent--those with the most significant cognitive abilities--to be assessed at their instructional level rather than grade level.

Judging from special education students' past performance, they are more likely to succeed on an alternative assessment. About 53 percent of special education students passed the alternative reading test last year, compared with 28 percent who passed the standard elementary and middle school reading test.

There were 142
Illinois schools last year that failed to meet state standards only because of the performance of special education students. Schools are judged not only on schoolwide scores, but also on the performance of subgroups, such as minority, poor and special education students.

But Ottawa Supt. Thomas Jobst, whose district is suing federal officials, said allowing more special education students to take an alternative test still isn't acceptable. The change would only affect a fraction of the more than 87,700 special education students tested in reading last year.

"They are missing the point," Jobst said. "You are still saying that 97 percent of special education kids have to be at the same place, at the same time as their non-special education peers."

Former special education teacher Deborah Zech, director of student services in Palatine-based
School District 15, said new flexibility will help students caught in the middle--those who aren't severely disabled but are not up to taking the regular test.

Those children suffer at test time, she said.

"I have seen (special education) children taking that test just break down in tears," said Zech. "The expectation is still for children to make progress, and that's fair. But let's test them fairly."

Advocates for disabled students reacted more cautiously Thursday, saying No Child Left Behind for the first time held schools accountable for the performance of their special education students.

Meg Heron-Blake, a director at the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, said she fears that shifting more students into alternative testing will lessen focus on how these children perform.

"The point of these tests is to bring some accountability, and we want our schools and our teachers accountable for our students," she said.

Xavier Botana, director of No Child Left Behind programs for Chicago Public Schools, said he hopes federal officials also allow schools to offer free tutoring to students before offering them a chance to transfer to a better-performing school.

The transfer option--the first sanction that kicks in when a school has not met standards for two years in a row--has faced difficulties because few slots are available at better schools.

While educators cautiously praised more flexibility, others cautioned that the plan to treat states differently could raise questions of fairness and political favoritism, said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy.

"The message today is if you are doing a good job, we will give you additional flexibility," Sullivan said. "One of the concerns is how transparent will that process be? If this isn't a transparent process and one where everyone is treated fairly, politics can come into play."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Bills pitching tax swap facing uphill battles
By KATE CLEMENTS, Champaign News-Gazette,
4/7/05

SPRINGFIELD – A new poll released on Wednesday showed more than two-thirds of voters around the state support education funding reform legislation that would increase income taxes, reduce property taxes and provide more money for schools.

But the chances of such a measure becoming law are slim. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has repeatedly vowed to veto any increase in the income or sales taxes, and those lawmakers who do back a tax swap disagree on how exactly it should work.

The poll, conducted last month, asked 600 likely voters about SB 750, which is sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks, I-Chicago, and state Sen. Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago. The bill would increase the personal income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, increase the corporate income tax rate from 4.8 percent to 8 percent, add a sales tax on services and end certain corporate tax breaks.

The money raised would be used to increase the per-pupil minimum funding level from $4,964 to $6,092; provide $2.4 billion in property tax relief; offer a tax credit to ensure that the bottom 60 percent of Illinois wage earners see no net tax increase; allocate an extra $400 million to higher education; provide $44 million more for special education; and offer $1.5 billion to help balance the state budget.

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, has introduced a separate bill, SB 1484, which is a scaled-back version of the same idea.

Winkel's bill would increase the individual and corporate income taxes by the same amount, but would not expand the sales tax or end existing business tax breaks.

The legislation would increase per-pupil spending by $1,000 to $5,964; provide $3.2 billion in property tax relief, and offer an extra $500 million a year to universities and community colleges.

Winkel said his plan offers the best chance of obtaining the veto-proof majority that will be needed to accomplish major education funding reform, noting there is little support among Senate Republicans for an expansion of the sales tax or eliminating the business tax breaks targeted by Meeks' bill.

But supporters of SB 750, including Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said that legislation offers a better, more comprehensive solution to the state's education funding problems, while also addressing the structural deficit.

State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, has introduced a third option, SB 81, that would allow individual school districts, by referendum, to impose an income tax on district residents in order to offer a 50 percent reduction in property taxes for education.

Any of those bills would need a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate in order to become law over the governor's expected veto.

Meeks appeared to welcome the challenge.

"We don't need the governor," he said. "If the governor won't do the right thing, that's what the General Assembly is for."

Many school and labor groups are strongly backing SB 750, and say such major reform is a top priority this legislative session.

"Our educational programs are at risk," said Marleis Trover, president of the Illinois Association of School Administrators and
Vienna superintendent of schools. "One more Band-Aid cannot sustain the system."

But business groups, including the Illinois Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, oppose the tax swap idea.

"There's a lot of skepticism among small-business owners," said Kim Maisch,
Illinois state director for the national business federation. "Our members are wary of enacting a permanent tax increase in exchange for what they see as potentially fleeting property tax relief."

Blagojevich has proposed adding gambling positions at existing casinos and skimming cash from hundreds of special state funds in order to increase education funding in the coming school year by $440 million. The proposals from Winkel and Meeks would both boost school funding by more than $1.5 billion.
  
TOP OF PAGE

Large school superintendents back tax swap to solve funding woes
By Jan Dennis, AP,
4/8/05
 
PEORIA — A group of school superintendents who oversee more than half the state's students lined up behind a proposal Thursday that would boost income taxes and trim property taxes to solve a financial crisis they say has left 80 percent of Illinois' public schools in debt.

The tax swap is just one proposal lawmakers are considering for increasing education funding, and the governor has said he opposes it.

The superintendents, however, questioned the reliability of the other school finance plans. Increasing school funding through gambling, higher cigarette taxes or other variable sources won't generate enough money and are only a patchwork solution to a problem that has lingered for more than three decades, officials of the Large Unit District Association said Thursday.

"We cannot depend on the political will of year-to-year funding to fund these districts," said Robin Miller, executive director of the association, which represents the state's 54 largest school districts.

Bloomington Superintendent Robert Nielsen said the tax swap would provide stable, long-term funding for schools. He urged Blagojevich and legislators to approve the switch, even though it could be politically unpopular.

"We will stand by them as they are criticized for thinking outside the box," Nielsen said.

Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's top education aide, said the governor agrees that schools need more money, but "we disagree with them about whether the people of
Illinois are ready for a substantial tax increase."

The association applauded Blagojevich for setting aside his campaign pledge against gambling expansion. The Democratic governor last week proposed more slot machines and gambling tables at existing riverboat casinos to increase school funding by $300 million, up from the $140 million increase he originally proposed.

But the group says schools need at least $600 million next year to halt years of spending cuts that have forced schools to increase class sizes and eliminated programs ranging from music and foreign language classes to sports and other extracurricular activities.

The group says the answer is a tax swap bill that was debated this week by a special Senate committee. It would collect $7.4 million by raising income taxes, adding sales taxes for consumer services and ending business tax breaks, then reduce property taxes around the state by $2.4 million.

Schools would get more than $2 billion to boost state aid from the current $4,964 per pupil to an amount closer to the $6,405 per pupil that an education funding advisory board says is needed for adequate education.

"It has to be better than the present system," said Geneva Superintendent Michael Jacoby. "The present system is completely broken."

Jacoby said the tax swap would also quell a growing revolt over spiraling property taxes. He said his district was among 70 of 109 school referendums to fail Tuesday and now faces another round of program cuts.

"The voters are telling me this is enough. We have to have systemic changes in funding structures in
Illinois that move away from property taxes," he said.

Senate Republicans have criticized the tax swap plan, saying it also would raise $2 billion for other government services that would be rife with opportunities for waste. Another bill has been proposed that would increase taxes just enough to cover school funding needs.

Senate President Emil Jones supports the tax swap. Blagojevich, also a Chicago Democrat, has vowed to stick to a campaign pledge to not raise general taxes.

Blagojevich increased school funding by a total $860 million during his first two years in office, but proposed an increase of only $140 million this year. Under pressure to boost that level, he dropped his opposition to some gambling expansion last week to pump more money into schools.

Roberta Berry, superintendent of Crete-Monee schools, called the governor's funding increase over the last two years "sleight of hand." She said general state aid increased, but money for special education and other programs declined, so her district received less state money last year than the year before.

"There's no better investment we can make than in the future of our children, and it's time for the leadership in
Springfield to start turning around our state's dismal record of supporting our children and our schools," said Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan.

TOP OF PAGE

Education programs face loss of federal funding
Area vocational school gives 'sense of pride'
By Phyllis Coulter, Pantagraph,
4/8/05
 
BLOOMINGTON -- Gene Garrett has been teaching Twin City high school students building trades for three decades, but now he's worried about the future.
"Students have a sense of pride. They remember the houses they build," said Garrett, head of construction trade projects at
Bloomington Area Vocational Center.

He was out of the classroom recently, teaching students how to hang dry wall. This project house, at
1314 N. Mason St., is the 28th built or renovated in cooperation with the city of Bloomington's community development department.

How many such houses will be built in the future isn't clear.

Federal funding for vocational education may be cut, and local educators say that threatens the future of youths learning in fields ranging from building trades to hairdressing, dietetics and health care. The U.S. Department of Education, however, argues the programs have failed.

Mark Anderson, who teaches computer-aided design at the
Bloomington Area Vocational Center, said vocational education is too important to lose.

"We'd feel it as a country" if vocational programs were cut, he said.

"Three out of five students in
Illinois participate in some form of career and technical education in public high schools," said Steve Poznik, director of the Bloomington Area Vocational Center.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Act expired
June 30, 2004. Intensive lobbying saved the Perkins Act's $1.3 billion in funding for one more year, but now the proposed 2006 budget would eliminate it again.

President Bush proposes diverting that money into the High School Intervention Initiative, a program that would extend the No Child Left Behind Act's concepts of standardized testing and emphasis on basics to the high school level.

The Bush administration zeroed out vocational funding in its 2006 budget plan because it believes the federal vocational education program is "ineffective."

"It has produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for students despite decades of federal investment," a budget summary on the
U.S. Department of Education Web site stated. "In its final report to Congress in June 2004, the National Assessment of Vocational Education found no evidence that high school vocational courses themselves contribute to academic achievement or college enrollment."

Local districts would have more latitude on how the money is spent under the high school initiative, and they still could fund existing vocational programs, the Web site indicated. Vocational-education advocates fear the demands of other priorities will mean their programs will lose.

Poznik said he and others hope funding for the Perkins Act, which dates to 1984, can be saved again.

Technical and career training reach some students who would otherwise be missed and help others along their career paths, Poznik said, citing a study of the Chicago Public Schools. The study shows the graduation rate is higher and attendance better among students who participate in technical education.

The
Bloomington Area Vocational Center, which is adjacent to Bloomington High School, offers 14 programs, including automotive technology; criminal justice and law enforcement; culinary arts; and health occupations. The center serves high school students in McLean and DeWitt counties.

Students must be enrolled in high school to take courses at the vocational center.

Federal funding makes up about a third of the
Bloomington Area Vocational Center's budget. That means the center stands to lose about $318,000 in the school's almost $1 million budget.

The construction trades program could receive a double hit because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget stands to lose other money that helps community-based building projects.

Local officials expressed cautious optimism for the Perkins Act money because lawmakers reinstated funding last year, but they still want people to campaign for it. They see a temptation to divert funding into meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind Act and President Bush's proposal, which calls for more testing in high schools.

"I feel we need to stay vigilant with our letter writing,"
Anderson said.

Car dealers, home builders, hairdressers, the food service industry and health-care providers likely will inundate Congress with reasons to keep education programs that train young people to work in those areas, he said.

Anderson's students have won many awards as a result of the computerized architectural design course he has taught for 15 years at the center.

One of his students, BHS senior Tim McAvoy, expects to attend the
University of Michigan next year to study architecture and play football. Vocational training has given him a head start, he said.

"It would have been a different high school experience without it," said McAvoy, who has won awards for his architectural work.

Erik Miller, a
Bloomington High School senior who studies animation and graphic design, said he would like to see this opportunity continue for other students. He said the two-hour classes, access to expensive software and experienced instructors make a big difference.

"Every (computer) program we have is well-used," Miller said.

Larry Daghe, regional school superintendent for DeWitt, Livingston and
McLean counties, said he believes many vocational and adult education programs are safe for the next year, but the following year he is not certain.

The money isn't finished moving around in the federal budget, he said.

For example, lawmakers who feel high school students are "being tested to death" may oppose more spending on those programs and favor funding vocational education instead.

TOP OF PAGE

===========================================================================

NATIONAL

Our High Schools Need Help
Opinion by Margaret Spellings, Washington-Post
 
Education has been front-page news and page-turning drama of late. To hear the media tell it, there is a new civil war going on between the federal government and the states. But the truth is that having this discussion is a healthy development and one I applaud.
 
At the heart of the story is the No Child Left Behind Act -- a law that asks one thing: that our public schools teach students to read and do math at grade level. It is imperative that we turn out young adults who can compete with the rest of the world in the global marketplace of ideas and talent.
 
So why all the noise about No Child Left Behind, and why now? There's no question that the law has been revolutionary: It calls for accountability for increased student achievement. And as with any change, particularly one that affects some 3.5 million educators serving 50 million students, there will be a period of adjustment. But it continues to be the right policy at the right time.
 
There is indeed a compelling national interest in education. The federal government has a role to play. Just as the Brown v. Board of Education decision moved to end unequal education because of race, the federal government can now help ensure that states provide a quality education to every student.
 
Under No Child Left Behind, students and parents are given options. Thanks to the law's insistence on assessing all students regardless of their race or background, teachers and administrators have been able to find out which students are learning and which need extra help and attention. And if schools continue to underserve their customers, the law calls for intervention and assistance. The needs of the student, not the system, come first.
 
No Child Left Behind is the law of the land. My goal as secretary of education is to help states continue to implement it, and to stabilize and embed this positive change. I understand some aspects of the law have been more difficult to implement than others, which is why I have signaled a willingness to work with states to make it fit their unique local needs. That's why each and every state has developed its own accountability plan: No two states are alike, and neither are their plans.
 
But some bright lines must be drawn. Annual assessments are nonnegotiable, because what gets measured gets done. This is the heart of accountability. The data must also be reported by student group -- African Americans, Hispanics, those with special needs, etc. -- so that those who need the most help aren't hidden behind state or district-wide averages. Some states have asked for waivers from the law. Some have sought to exempt whole grades or student groups from annual assessments. Others have sought to keep some students' test scores under wraps. That is simply unacceptable. It undermines the very purpose of the law. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of these same states have the largest achievement gaps in the nation, with minority students lagging dozens of points -- whole years, really -- behind their white peers.
 
In states where the law has been embraced, it is working. Teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and children have all chosen to roll up their sleeves and meet the challenge. As a result, children are achieving, and the achievement gap in the early grades is closing. In those states, public confidence in public education is soaring.
 
Now we must expand the promise of No Child Left Behind to our high schools. Its principles of accountability, flexibility, choice and research-based practice can help restore value to the high school diploma, making it a ticket to success in the 21st century. There is a growing consensus behind high school reform. Never before have so many groups -- governors, business leaders, children's advocates -- been so united on the need to act.
 
I am heartened that so many states are seriously considering innovative ways to reform our high schools. But this must become a national effort. That's why President Bush has proposed a $1.5 billion High School Initiative to ensure that every student graduates prepared for college or the workforce. We need to encourage students to take challenging coursework, and to assess our high school students every year, so that teachers can intervene before a problem sets in and sets a student back for life.
 
Three years after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed, more children are learning and children are learning more. This law is a bipartisan expression of the fact that we as a nation no longer find it acceptable to let some children remain in the shadows, without the skills to achieve the American Dream. Instead of trying to go back to those days, we should go forward and take the next step. Let's work together, in the same bipartisan fashion as we did three years ago, to help our high school students.
The writer is
U.S. secretary of education.
 
TOP OF PAGE
 
A Lucrative Brand of Tutoring Grows Unchecked
Susan Saulny, New York Times
 
Propelled by the No Child Left Behind law, the federally financed tutoring industry has doubled in size in each of the last two years, with the potential to become a $2 billion-a-year enterprise, market analysts say.
 
Tutors are paid as much as $1,997 per child, and companies eager to get a piece of the lucrative business have offered parents computers and gift certificates as inducements to sign up, provided tutors that in some cases are still in high school, and at times made promises they cannot deliver.
 
This new brand of tutoring is offered to parents by private companies and other groups at no charge if their children attend a failing school. But it is virtually without regulation or oversight, causing concern among school districts, elected officials and some industry executives. Some in Congress are calling for regulations or quality standards to ensure that tutors are qualified and that the companies provide services that meet students' needs.
 
"The potential here is unbelievable, and it's not being regulated by the states or the Education Department," said
Patty Sullivan, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research group that released a study in late March examining the tutoring programs. "We're pouring a lot of money into it, and we're not sure it works. To the extent that it is going to grow, we've got to get a handle on it."
 
Critics are particularly concerned about aggressive marketing tactics, like the offers of computers, gift certificates and basketball tickets, though they acknowledge that such practices do not violate the law.
 
Students are not required to enroll in a tutoring program. The option is merely offered at poor schools that have been deemed "failing" for two years in a row. But because families can choose from a list of state-approved providers, some tutoring groups have reacted by engaging in aggressive solicitations.
 
School officials in
Clark County, Nev., the district that includes Las Vegas, had to call security to remove tutoring providers from a school where they were soliciting families too aggressively, the Center on Education Policy found in its report. The parents, many of whom did not speak English, said they felt that they were being pressured to sign things against their will, according to the official who called the school police.
 
In
New York City, where more than 81,700 students are being tutored, complaints about inappropriate incentives led officials to start an inquiry into all the providers about six months ago. It is expected to be completed by the summer.
 
The law's silence on such issues is not an oversight.
 
"We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be as vibrant as possible," Michael Petrilli, an official with the federal Education Department, told tutoring company officials at a recent business meeting organized by the education industry.
 
In fact, hundreds of new companies and community groups have been established to take advantage of the law, joining more established names in test preparation and tutoring like the Princeton Review, Kaplan and the
Huntington Learning Center. Across the country, there are more than 1,800 "supplemental educational services providers," as they are called in the law.
 
Experts say these groups will earn as much as $200 million this school year, with about 30 percent of that going to the big national companies. And the revenue is only expected to grow, as more schools are labeled as failing under national law and more parents take advantage of tutoring programs. Only about 11 percent of eligible students are now being tutored.
 
Experts point to the potential for fraud as a major issue. But so far, most of the problems reported appear to reflect poor management. In March, for instance, the
Chicago school system asked Platform Learning Inc., the nation's largest federally financed tutoring company, to leave seven of its schools because of numerous lapses - including repeated absences by tutors - leaving hundreds of struggling students without extra help just before the Illinois Standard Achievement Test.
 
TOP OF PAGE

State, schools debate curriculum
A proposal encourages districts to adjust classes required for high school students to graduate.
Madelaine Jerousek and Jonathan Roos, Des Moines Register
 
High school - the timeworn institution and cultural fabric of many
Iowa communities - is under scrutiny at the Statehouse this year.
 
Recent proposals call for higher expectations and more challenging curriculum. And, as it has before, the discussion is returning to old themes of greater efficiency and school consolidation.
 
"We want to make sure the high school experience is rigorous. Are we asking enough of kids? In some districts we are and in some districts, I'm told, we're not," said Sen. Joe Bolkcom , an Iowa City Democrat.
 
But in a state where local school boards control most education decisions, educators resist a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing high school.
 
"
Iowa prizes indepen- dence," said Steve Hanson, Ottumwa High School principal. "There's a challenge to give high levels of skill to all students. How to get there is something that requires differentiation. They're judgment calls that you can't legislate or impose from the outside."
 
Recent far-reaching - and controversial - education proposals endorsed by Gov. Tom Vilsack and a select group of 12 legislators include:
 
• Establishing an education commission that would recommend to the 2007 Legislature a minimum size for school districts and high schools.
 
• Encouraging all districts to set higher performance standards for students by adjusting graduation requirements and creating more opportunities to take advanced courses.
 
• Requiring districts of all sizes to collaborate on ways to become more efficient and share academic programs or business operations.
 
Driving the debate is the concern of some state leaders that small high schools are unable to offer the breadth of advanced courses that bigger schools do. There also is the belief that if districts of all sizes become more efficient, they can concentrate more of their resources on teaching.
 
Vilsack said the proposals are intended to challenge schools. "There really needs to be an honest, frank conversation about education," he said.
 
State education data show size does matter. Students are more likely to take advanced math and science classes and the nationally recognized Advanced Placement courses in larger school districts.
 
For example, just 10.3 percent of students took calculus or trigonometry classes in districts with fewer than 250 students in 2003-04, while more than double, 22.8 percent, took advanced math in districts of 1,000 to 2,500, according to state data.
 
The challenge to beef up high schools will only grow in districts with declining enrollment, which often lack resources to hire more math and science teachers.
 
"We're at the max of what we can do," said Linda Hoskins,
Albia High School principal. "We say we're going to increase rigor, but we have to find people to teach those classes."
 
Large districts also must find ways to make high school more personalized by improving academic advising, reducing the number of students per teacher and making curriculum more relevant to students' lives, state education officials said.
 
Demanding more
 
All schools must demand more, too, Vilsack and education leaders said. The majority of
Iowa school districts required two years of math and science to graduate in 2003-04, the most recent year data are available. And even those districts with higher requirements rarely mandate that students take the most rigorous courses available.
 
Meanwhile, governors in
Wisconsin and Illinois have proposed adding another year of science and math to statewide graduation requirements.
 
Legislation approved by the Iowa Senate last month sets a lofty goal for school districts to get more students into college-preparatory classes, but it contains no penalties for failing to achieve the goal.
 
The goal is that by July 2009, 80 percent of graduating seniors will complete a model core curriculum based on recommendations of Iowa City-based testing company ACT: four years of English and three years each of mathematics, science and social studies.
 
About two-thirds of graduating students from
Iowa took ACT's college entrance exam last year. Within that group, 66 percent met ACT's recommended curriculum.
 
According to the testing service, only three in 10
Iowa students are ready for college and the workplace. Part of the problem is low expectations for students.
 
Senate File 245 "is a first step" in making sure high school students are challenged academically, said Sen. Paul McKinley of
Chariton, Republican co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
 
"Our students have to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. If they are to succeed, they need the tools that a more rigorous curriculum brings," McKinley said.
 
State education Director Judy Jeffrey and members of the state Board of Education are meeting with leaders from nearly every district in the state this spring in hopes of jump-starting a conversation about improving high schools.
 
"I'm hoping they'll be much more flexible places, where students are working toward individual goals, where we have higher expectations and that high school is a place where we are graduating kids who are prepared," Jeffrey said.
 
Would changes be effective?
But in a state that believes decisions about education should be made at the local level, opinions vary widely about how to fix high schools.
 
Not all educators believe raising graduation requirements will make a difference, for instance.
 
"Merely requiring more math courses, requiring more science courses isn't necessarily the path that has to be taken," said Hanson, the principal at
Ottumwa, which requires two years each of math and science to graduate.
 
Hanson said strengthening curriculum across the school will better prepare students for college and work.
 
Maureen Griffin, a chemistry teacher at
East High School in Des Moines, said she has reservations about a proposal the school board will vote on Tuesday to require students to take three years each of math and science. Students must take two years of each subject now.
 
"We want them to be successful in society, whether it be the college track or the workplace,"
Griffin said. "Should we be beefing up the current curriculum to produce better thinkers? Or do we make another requirement, another hoop to jump through?"
 
Some worry that asking students to take more math and science will mean the students can take fewer elective courses, like art, orchestra or journalism. Those kinds of classes are valuable, too, educators said.
 
While the high school discussion is just beginning in many districts, others have adopted new graduation requirements that will go into effect with next year's freshmen.
 
The
Ventura school district will require students to take three years each of science and math, with at least one year of algebra.
 
"We felt that in order to give our students a better opportunity at competing after high school, we needed to expect more of them so they're ready for work and postsecondary education," said Superintendent Dan Versteeg.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Hue knew? Red pen out of favor with teachers
Ben Feller, AP
 
WASHINGTON -- Of all the things that can make a person see red, Principal Gail Karwoski was not expecting parents to get huffy about, well, seeing red.
 
At
Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Conn., Karwoski's teachers grade papers by giving examples of better answers for those students who make mistakes. But that approach meant the kids often found their work covered in red, the color that teachers long have used to grade work.
 
Parents objected. Red writing, they said, was ''stressful.'' The principal said teachers were just giving constructive advice and the color of ink used to convey that message should not matter. But some parents could not let it go.
 
So the school put red on the blacklist. Blue and other colors are in.
 
''It's not an argument we want to have at this point because what we need is the parents' understanding,'' Karwoski said. ''The color of the message should not be the issue.''
 
In many other schools, it's black and white when it comes to red. The color has become so symbolic of negativity that some principals and teachers will not touch it.
 
Sales of purple increase
 
''You could hold up a paper that says 'Great work!' and it won't even matter if it's written in red,'' said Joseph Foriska, principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in
Pittsburgh.
 
He has instructed his teachers to grade with colors featuring more ''pleasant-feeling tones'' so that their instructional messages do not come across as derogatory or demeaning.
 
''The color is everything,'' said Foriska, an educator for 31 years.
 
At Public School 188 in
Manhattan, 25-year-old teacher Justin Kazmark grades with purple, which has emerged as a new color of choice for many educators, pen manufacturers confirm.
 
''My generation was brought up on right or wrong with no in between, and red was always in your face,'' Kazmark said. ''It's abrasive to me. Purple is just a little bit more gentle. Part of my job is to be attuned to what kids respond to, and red is not one of those colors.''
 
Bic, Pilot Pen and Sanford are making more purple pens in response to rising sales.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Apple executive had key role in technology bill
Legislation adds funds for updates such as wireless laptops for youths
By JANET ELLIOTT,
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau, 4/2/05

AUSTIN - An Apple computer executive has been a key player in crafting legislation that could provide a lucrative new market for his company's wireless laptops — Texas middle- and high-school students.

Tom Burnett of
Austin, who is manager of strategic initiatives for Apple's education division, helped write a report that became the foundation for House Bill 4, which promotes the use of technology including laptop computers, electronic textbooks and online testing.

"If we're successful,
Texas will have one of the most aggressive educational technology programs in the nation," said House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, the author of House Bill 4.

Bill in committee

The bill, which is pending in the committee, would provide at least $200 million a year in new technology funding for schools to buy laptop computers and educational software.

HB 4 would rewrite state law to shift the focus from traditional textbooks to electronic materials such as Web sites and CD-ROMs, and would streamline the textbook review process so that the materials could be quickly updated. It also would allow schools to use alternative materials.

Grusendorf, an Arlington Republican, said he invited Burnett and other potential vendors in 2003 to begin a study of how
Texas could use technology to improve student success.

Burnett became one of three authors of a report called "The Texas E-Learning Initiative." The report recommended the Legislature increase the school technology allotment from $30 per student to $300 and specify how the money could be used.

Multiple use of laptops

HB 4 includes those provisions and specifies wireless laptops as one use for the technology grants. Other uses include electronic learning software, library and research tools, electronic assessments and professional development for teachers.

Grusendorf said the legislation was not written to benefit any company but to help students and teachers take advantage of technology.

"I would not carry a bill that favored any particular vendor," Grusendorf said. "That's absolutely the worst thing we could do."

Educator groups are reserving judgment on HB 4 until the final version is unveiled, which could happen next week.

Richard Kouri with the Texas State Teachers Association said it does no good to provide electronic materials unless students have computers.

He said that schools also are concerned about costs. The state pays for textbooks, but HB 4 would require districts to put up $50 per student to qualify for the $300 grants.

"We see HB 4 as a bit of an iceberg," he said.

Grusendorf said his bill would open up the market for educational materials beyond the textbook publishers who now dominate.

"Small suppliers have a hard time competing in the
Texas market because it's so costly and there are so many barriers to entry. This bill would significantly increase the competitive nature of providing educational materials," he said.

Burnett said he could not comment on his involvement with HB 4. Apple has a partnership with the state of
Maine to provide laptops for students.

Dell backs measure

Representatives from other computer companies, including Dell, were involved in a broader technology group that Grusendorf put together.

"We're supportive of the bill," said Colleen Ryan, a spokesman for Dell. "From our vantage point, it's an opportunity to innovate
Texas classrooms and help bring Texas schools into the 21st century."

The other two members of the steering committee that wrote the E-Learning report were Jon Fleming, former president of
Texas Weslayan University, and David Anderson, former curriculum director for the Texas Education Agency who now is a lobbyist for textbook and educational software companies.

Anderson said his clients include Harcourt, an education publishing company, and Wireless Generation, a developer of online tests.

Anderson said he "tried to keep a neutral hat on" while working on the report and keeping his clients' interests in mind.

Anderson said technology can be helpful to students in studying foreign languages and science. But he said there is "something about reading a Shakespeare sonnet in print."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Seattle study of kids links bullying to TV
By Julia Sommerfeld, Seattle Times staff reporter, 4/5/05
  
Preschoolers who watch lots of television are more likely to become bullies later on,
Seattle researchers say. And the risk increases by the hour.

The finding adds to the list of social ills child-development experts have already linked to the tube, including obesity, attention-deficit problems, violence, smoking and sleeping difficulties.

"These are all hot-button issues for parents," said Frederick Zimmerman, study author and assistant professor at the
University of Washington's School of Public Health.

For each hour of TV watched daily by kids at age 4, the risk of bullying in grade school increased 9 percent, the study concluded. This means youngsters who watch the average amount of television — 3.5 hours a day — are more than 30 percent more likely to bully others than kids who watch no TV.

The results are based on surveys filled out by parents as part of a larger, long-term study of children's lives across the nation. Researchers compared the television-viewing time of about 1,300 kids at age 4 with later bullying when kids were ages
6 to 11.

About 13 percent of the grade-schoolers were deemed bullies, based on reports from their mothers who took the survey. These kids watched an average of five hours of daily television. They also received less cognitive stimulation — a score that means their parents took them on fewer outings and didn't read to them as much.

Other studies have found that about 30 percent of kids report being involved in bullying — either as the bully or as the target.

"Bullying isn't just bad for the victims," added Karin Frey, a researcher at the Committee for Children, a Seattle-based nonprofit that developed an anti-bullying curriculum used in schools.

Research shows that grade-school bullies suffer in the long run: They're more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and be involved in street and dating violence, according to Frey, who's also an educational psychologist at UW.

The study, published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, evaluated only how much TV the kids viewed, not what they were watching.

"Violence in TV isn't just 'The Sopranos,' " Zimmerman said. "Kids' TV often has a particularly bad kind of violence — the humorous kind," he said.

Zimmerman doesn't allow his own toddler to watch any TV or videos and says his study backs the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 watch no television and that older kids be limited to one to two hours a day.
 
TOP OF PAGE

State lawmakers take steps to pass No Child legislation
Amie Rose, Daily Herald,
4/6/05

President Bush's federal plan to improve education is under renewed attack from multiple states, including one whose officials are preparing a lawsuit in protest.

In
Utah, a legislative interim committee approved a bill Tuesday that would give priority to state education goals over requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind law. 

That comes two weeks before the full Legislature meets in a special session to discuss it and more than a month after the governor asked lawmakers to hold off so he could meet with federal officials. It also came the same day
Connecticut announced plans to sue the federal government over the law.

In a news release Tuesday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced he's preparing legal action against the U.S. Department of Education "for imposing million of dollars worth of illegal unfunded mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act."

This is the second year
Utah has considered action on the federal law. In 2004, Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, sponsored a bill to opt out of the federal law. She dropped it after federal education officials threatened to pull more than $100 million in federal education funding to the state. During the regular session this year, Dayton sponsored the bill that puts state programs ahead of federal ones.

Mike Lee, attorney for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., said Tuesday that this year's bill should not jeopardize any federal funding.

But it was held by the Utah Senate after Huntsman asked for time to negotiate with federal education officials. He set the April 19-20 special session to discuss the bill.

The state, so far, hasn't gotten the flexibility from the federal government it asked for, said Tim Bridgewater, Huntsman's education deputy. He said Huntsman would sign the bill if the Legislature passes it this month.

"I think some substantive things have happened,"
Bridgewater said of the negotiations with federal officials. "We've been asking for X,Y,Z. We're going to get X in some form, there's movement toward Y and then we're probably not going to get Z."

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to make an announcement Thursday about increased flexibility for special education students in NCLB requirements. That could mean more
Utah schools will meet the standards under NCLB.

Last Friday, the state Office of Education submitted the state's Utah Performance Assessment System for Students to the U.S. Department of Education to replace NCLB requirements. The difference between the two achievement-gauging programs is that NCLB compares one group of students' test scores to the group of students in their grade the year before. UPASS compares students' scores against their own scores the year before.

"It's the difference between a movie and a snapshot," said Patti Harrington, state superintendent. "A movie, such as UPASS, is a more accurate portrayal."

David Shreve, senior committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said NCLB is a "flawed yard stick of student performance." He said NCLB not only compares apples to oranges, it compares this year's crop of apples to next year's crop of oranges.

There are 35 states taking some sort of action on the federal education law, but not many states have taken it as far as
Utah in terms of pursuing a law saying the state makes more sense than the federal government, Shreve said.

But
Connecticut has gone the furthest of all.

"This (what
Utah's doing) is mild compared to what they're doing in Connecticut," he said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures set up a task force to study NCLB. The group ended up with 25 conclusions and 43 recommendations. It decided NCLB is not flexible and is stifling innovation; it's narrowing curriculum and forcing specialists to lose their jobs, and the law is focused on compliance and regulation.

In his news release, Blumenthal said the U.S. Secretary of Education had refused Connecticut's request for flexibility in allowing alternate grade testing; the option to compare students' progress over time, not against other students; allow special education students to test at their own level, not at their grade level; and let non-English speakers have up to three years, instead of one, to learn English before testing them in English.

Those requests are similar to
Utah's requests.

The task force also decided NCLB violates the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution with ever-changing conditions and is coercive, because of the federal interpretation of the consequences for not participating -- loss of funding.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Connecticut to Sue U.S. Over Cost of Testing Law
By SAM DILLON,
New York Times, 4/6/05

The State of
Connecticut will sue the federal government over President Bush's signature education law, arguing that it forces Connecticut to spend millions on new tests without providing sufficient additional aid, the state's attorney general announced yesterday.

Although a handful of local school districts, in
Illinois, Texas and other states, have filed legal challenges to the law, known as No Child Left Behind, Connecticut would be the first state to do so.

Its suit would open a new chapter in a struggle between states and the federal government that has seen legislatures lodge various protests over the law, and at least one state education commissioner, in
Texas, issue an order this year that appeared to directly contradict a federal ruling.

Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he was announcing his plans now because he was going to be contacting attorneys general in other states, in the hope that they would join the suit. He said he expected to file within weeks.

"The federal government's approach with this law is illegal and unconstitutional," Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. He declined to predict whether any of his colleagues in other states would join his action, but he said he was finding "fertile ground."

"There is burgeoning unhappiness among both Republicans and Democrats," Mr. Blumenthal said. "The dissatisfaction is felt across the country and is across the board, politically. So I can pretty much call any of my colleagues and get an earful."

Legal scholars said that previous lawsuits brought against the federal government over so-called unfunded mandates had had mixed success. But
Connecticut's suit could gain traction because the No Child Left Behind law includes a passage, sponsored by Republicans during the Clinton administration, that forbids federal officials to require states to spend their own money to carry out the federal policies outlined in the law.

The federal law requires Connecticut to spend some $112.2 million to expand its testing program and to help local districts carry out other federal requirements over the next three years, while Washington has appropriated only $70.6 million, leaving the state with an unfunded burden of $41.6 million, Connecticut's commissioner of education, Betty J. Sternberg, said in a report issued last month. In a statement issued yesterday, D J Nordquist, a federal Department of Education spokeswoman, said
Connecticut had based its planned suit on flawed accounting and she called Mr. Blumenthal's announcement "a sad day for students in Connecticut."

"The basis for the state's lawsuit appears to rest on a flawed cost study of the No Child Left Behind act that creates inflated projections built upon questionable estimates and misallocation of costs," Ms. Nordquist said.

She added, "It is very disappointing that officials in
Connecticut are spending their time hiring lawyers while Connecticut's students are suffering from one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation."

Connecticut is not the only state to have charged that the federal government is not paying for all the requirements it is imposing on school systems under the three-year-old No Child Left Behind law. And many states also complain that the federal law interferes with states' rights and their own efforts to improve schools.

In Utah, the House of Representatives, for example, has passed a measure that would require Utah officials to give higher priority to the state's educational goals than to the federal law, and the Utah Senate is to vote on the measure at a special session this month.

Connecticut currently tests public school children in grades four, six, eight and 10, while the federal law requires all states to administer standardized tests in every school year from three through eight. Expanding Connecticut's testing program to cover grades three, five and seven will force the state's Department of Education to spend $8 million of its own money over the next three years, Dr. Sternberg said in a report to Connecticut's General Assembly last month.

In preparing the lawsuit, Mr. Blumenthal said he had relied heavily on Dr. Sternberg's educational views.

"I'm the lawyer, she's the educator, and we have a good partnership," Mr. Blumenthal said. "Our legal action will vindicate the policies that she has advocated so eloquently in recent months."

In a letter to Margaret Spellings in January after her designation as education secretary but before her confirmation, Dr. Sternberg noted
Connecticut's "effective 20-year history of testing in alternate years," and requested that Connecticut be relieved of the requirement to expand the testing. Annual testing, Dr. Sternberg wrote, "will cost millions of dollars and tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students' achievement."

In a reply faxed to Dr. Sternberg on Feb. 28, Secretary Spellings refused that request, saying that "annual testing is important." The secretary followed up with a March 20 opinion article in The Hartford Courant that chided Dr. Sternberg for requesting the waiver, saying many Connecticut students "would welcome the chance to be tested only every other year, but the adults in charge of their education surely know better."

That article angered many
Connecticut educators and parents, to judge from letters to the editor and e-mail messages received at the state's Department of Education, and one of those offended was Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, who wrote Secretary Spellings on Thursday.

"As
Connecticut's governor, and as a parent who deeply values high-quality education for every child, I was offended by your commentary," Governor Rell's letter said. "You disparaged the knowledge and judgment of Connecticut educators who - with the full, bipartisan support of governors and legislatures over more than 20 years' time - have conducted a highly effective student testing program since 1984."

Governor Rell also said Secretary Spellings's Feb. 28 letter "included incorrect information, data stated in misleading ways and a suggestion that Connecticut might consider not adhering to federal law" and was "hardly becoming to the federal Secretary of Education."

Yesterday, the governor's spokesman, Dennis Schain, said: "On the one hand the Department of Education fails to provide states with the funds needed to implement the law and on the other, it resists requests for flexibility.

"Governor Rell understands there are reasons for bringing the lawsuit but believes the best solution for our children is for the federal government to grant states flexibility."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Honda robot helps teach in classrooms
By Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer,
4/6/05  

TOKYO -- A walking childlike robot from Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. is entering classrooms to help teachers demonstrate the wonders of science.
 
The 51-inch-tall, bubble-headed robot named Asimo has already shown it can jog, walk up stairs, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations. It has worked as a guide in showrooms and visited schools as Honda's ambassador.

But this is the first time it's being used in science classes as part of the official school curriculum, Honda said.

In a demonstration for reporters at a
Tokyo museum Wednesday, a teacher explained to students how the robot has sensors inside its body to maintain balance, and the robot displayed how it can keep its balance by tilting its body while standing on a swaying platform. A wooden figure standing next to it collapsed.

The teacher also explained to students that weight is transferred from the heel to the toe when a person walks, and moved the robot in slow motion to demonstrate.

Asimo, which is similar to the Japanese word for "foot," will help teach thousands of students at elementary and junior high schools who visit science centers in two Japanese cities as part of their education, Honda and city officials said.

"Adults must work harder to make learning about science more interesting for children," said Mamoru Mohri, an astronaut who heads the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in
Tokyo.

Honda has been working with the museum for three years to arrange for Asimo to take part in science classes, said Kiyotaka Tanaka, a Honda official overseeing the robot project.

Japan leads the world in robotics. Various Japanese companies, including electronics makers Hitachi Ltd. and Sony Corp., and Honda rival Toyota Motor Corp. have developed entertainment robots.
 
TOP OF PAGE

U.S. to change No Child Left Behind law
By Ben Feller, AP Education Writer,
4/6/05  

WASHINGTON -- A fundamental change in how the Education Department enforces the No Child Left Behind law could affect the education of millions of students as states seek federal approval on everything from teacher quality to the measuring of student progress.
 
For example, the department plans to give certain states more freedom in how they test hundreds of thousands of children with milder disabilities, Bush administration officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Only states that can prove progress or a strong commitment to improve will be seriously considered for that flexibility, the officials said.

The idea is to get something in return for offering such flexibility, said one official familiar with the changes, such as increased learning and "narrowing the achievement gap." Shrinking the test-score gap between white and minority students is a central goal of the 2001 law, which aims to get all children to grade level in reading and math by 2014.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policies had not been formally announced. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has invited top school officers from the states to
Mount Vernon, Va., on Thursday to unveil the enforcement approach and the special education policy. Education Department leaders declined comment until then.

The new enforcement approach is the first significant change under Spellings, who helped write the law as Bush's domestic policy chief in the White House before becoming secretary in January.

Spellings has determined that the Education Department hasn't focused enough on the big picture -- whether students are learning -- when it reviews and approves state education plans. States must get approval if they want changes in how they hold schools accountable.

As examples, the department now plans closer review the states' progress in graduating students, showing gains in early reading and providing report cards to the public.

"If they're going to judge states' efforts on meeting the intent of No Child Left Behind, then I think it's going to be a great move and something everyone will be in support of," said Scott Young, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It would put more focus on results, not on making sure states comply with certain regulations."

The bipartisan conference of state lawmakers has criticized the Bush administration over the law, calling it a coercive act that sets unrealistic goals for some hard-to-reach students. One state,
Connecticut, became the first on Tuesday to pledge a federal lawsuit over the law.

Yet the department's plans to give states different treatment based on good behavior raise political and legal questions, said Patricia Sullivan, director of the independent Center on Education Policy. Administration officials said lawyers have cleared the idea.

"Who is going to decide whether you have a different level of commitment than another state?" Sullivan said. "Will it matter whether you're a red or blue state? Will it matter whether you have something pending in your state legislature to send the federal money back?"

On the special education policy, the department already allows schools to test 1 percent of students -- those with significant cognitive disabilities -- at their instructional level rather than their grade level. That has been the only testing exception.

Now the department will also allow flexibility for students who are not severely disabled but who have not been able to reach grade level because of disabilities such as moderate mental retardation or severe emotional disabilities. Schools will be allowed to give alternate tests for an additional 2 percent of kids, aimed at covering these "gap" students.

The tests may be geared toward grade-level content but presented in a different way, or they may be based on a different academic level deemed appropriate for an individual student. The department will be looking for models that ensure progress and align tests to content.

Put together, the change means 3 percent of all children -- that's roughly 30 percent of all children with disabilities -- will be allowed to be tested on standards geared for them.

States have been clamoring for that flexibility. But several advocacy groups for the disabled are angry about the change, saying it weakens the promise to leave no child behind.

"It doesn't make sense to decide there is a group of kids who will never make grade level," said Ricki Sabia, associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center. "We hold great exception to that concept."
 
TOP OF PAGE

Education secretary cuts slack to states that play ball
BY BEN FELLER, AP, 4/8/05
 
MOUNT VERNON, Va. -- Education Secretary Margaret Spellings came into her job promising to deal with horror stories from states about the No Child Left Behind law. Now state leaders say she appears to be delivering on the promise -- with a catch.

Spellings pledged Thursday to take a more sensible approach to enforcing the law, starting with allowing many more children with disabilities to be held to different academic standards. The flexibility isn't open to all states, only to those that prove they are committed to President Bush's education law, mainly by raising test scores.

''States that understand this new way of doing things will be gratified,'' Spellings told state school chiefs and other education leaders invited to hear her announcement.

''It makes sense, plain and simple,'' she said. ''Others looking for loopholes to simply take the federal funds, ignore the intent of the law and have minimal results to show for their millions of dollars in federal funds will think otherwise and be disappointed.''

She will favor states that don't challenge principal points of the law -- yearly testing of students in reading and math in grades
three to eight, and public reporting of scores for all major groups of students.

State leaders contend the law sets unreasonable and rigid standards for many children. Connecticut plans to file a federal suit over the law, Utah is poised to pass a bill giving priority to its own education goals, and other states are clamoring for change.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Utah will press its NCLB challenge
Feds ease up: State lawmakers welcome a new flexibility, say it's not enough
By Ronnie Lynn, Salt
Lake Tribune, 4/8/05

Utah will press forward with legislation challenging No Child Left Behind - despite an announcement Thursday that Washington will be more flexible and responsive to states' complaints about the sweeping federal law.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told state superintendents that they will have more room to comply with the law providing that their efforts are aimed at improving student achievement, hiring highly qualified teachers, and closing the achievement gap between minority and white students.

So what does that mean for
Utah, which has led a nationwide rebellion against the measure's mandates?

It means state officials welcome the flexibility, but there is not enough of it - yet.

"We have achieved some of our objectives, but not all," said Tim Bridgewater, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s education deputy, who was in
Washington for the announcement. "I expect a robust discussion on the remaining issues [today] and next week."

Sen. Orrin Hatch's office issued a statement Thursday saying Spellings would visit
Utah April 15.

Despite the promise of ongoing negotiations, state lawmakers say they intend to proceed with an April 19-20 special session to consider a bill to put Utah-designed standards ahead of NCLB requirements. The
Utah measure says the state will comply with NCLB as long as it doesn't conflict with state education priorities or require state dollars.

"We're hoping to hear from states that have ideas they want to try, and we want to encourage their creativity and innovation," said Kerri Briggs, a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education.

Bridgewater and other state officials are still angling for concessions on how to measure school quality, teacher-quality standards in rural districts,   and teachers for incarcerated youth - and how to hold schools accountable for academic achievement among English learners.

Some lawmakers worry that the changes Spellings announced Thursday don't go far enough.

"I'm encouraged that [Spellings] is listening to states, but I don't think that has any bearing on our special session," said Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who sponsored bills challenging the law the past two general sessions. "They [the feds] are still involved in a state's rights issue. They're in the wrong arena."

The bill has overwhelming support in both houses, and Huntsman probably will sign it if it passes,
Bridgewater said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey declined to speculate on how the department would respond if the bill passes.

Meanwhile,
Bridgewater applauded Spellings' concessions on standards of special education.

"We have won [that] battle," he declared. "We think that will dramatically change the number of schools that meet" NCLB standards for student progress.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Public schools work to win back children who are home-schooled
By JULIA SILVERMAN, AP,
4/8/05

MYRTLE POINT, Ore. - One day after jazz band practice, 14-year-old Peter Wilson’s band teacher pulled him aside.

The instructor wanted to know whether Peter, who is home-schooled alongside his three brothers, liked being taught by his mother, and why he didn’t come to public school full-time, instead of just for music.

The teacher seemed uncomfortable bringing it up, and the conversation was brief, Peter said. When he got home, he told his parents.

Mark and Teckla Wilson, who are raising their four sons in Mark Wilson’s roomy childhood home in this former timber town, soon found out to their annoyance that the teacher’s questions were part of an effort by the Myrtle Point school district to persuade home-schooling families to give the public system a shot.

Enrollment has been dropping steadily as timber jobs have dried up, and
Oregon’s budget cuts have left Myrtle Point facing a $675,000 gap for next year. Since Oregon bases its state school funding on enrollment, every home-schooled child Myrtle Point can woo means an extra $5,000 or so. An estimated 100 youngsters living in the district are home-schooled.

Already, 18 percent of the nation’s 1.1 million home-schooled students are enrolled at least part-time in public school, usually for specialty courses such as music, art or science that are more difficult for parents to teach at home. But that is usually the parents’ choice, not the result of a recruitment effort by strapped-for-cash public schools. In Myrtle Point, the district is trying to phase in some courses that could prove particularly appealing to home-school parents, such as forestry, ecology and computer science.

Superintendent Robert Smith said the school system is also willing to adjust the curriculum - for example, by allowing discussion of creationism in biology class, or biblical literature in English courses.

“We’re not setting up a church steeple. But students want academic freedom enough to encourage different things, and that should not be stifled by relying on exclusive treatments,” Smith said.

Myrtle Point, with an enrollment of 779, is not the only district pursuing such a strategy.

In
Walla Walla, Wash., school officials have launched plans for a new learning center that they hope will attract at least 30 home-school students, to help cope with a projected $200,000 in budget cuts next school year.

A school district in
Fort Collins, Colo., started a program aimed at drawing home-schooled youngsters into the system with two days a week of art, science and music. In 2003, it earned the district an extra $203,341 in state funding.

There are no guarantees the strategy will work.

Many home-school parents are fiercely loyal to the lifestyle, and to the educational benefits they see for their children. Some want to protect their youngsters from the peer pressure and drugs they fear are rampant in public schools. Others, like the
Wilsons, home-school their children in part for religious reasons.

“I like instruction where the instructor, not just the body of knowledge, is important,” Teckla Wilson said. “Home-schooling allows you to work out the pace that is best for them. And, we are Christians, and for me, it is important that I teach them to think with a biblical world view.”

After Mark Wilson complained, Myrtle Point officials told teachers not to try to recruit home-schooled students directly. Instead, parents got letters inviting them to a dinner to hear about the new classes the school is adding.

Lynn Potter was one of about 30 home-school parents who went to the dinner; her daughter, who plays in the band, was even part of the evening’s entertainment. She said she is grateful that her children are allowed to participate in music and sports, but that there is nothing the district could say to get her to give up home-schooling.

“There would be the moral issues that our children would have to face with all the others who aren’t taught the way they are,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, it is hard, but I am committed to five more years of home-schooling.”

The fate of the school has provoked plenty of discussion in the town of 2,700 and prompted a tart opinion column by school board member Dal King in the weekly Myrtle Herald.

“Families who home-school or choose to send their kids to other districts, we need your full support, not just what’s convenient for you,” King wrote. “While you may have good reasons, please do your part by enrolling your kids full-time in the district and don’t just ‘cherry-pick’ music or sports.”

The
Wilsons, whose son plays drums and other percussion instruments in the jazz band, took offense at that.

“We do this at some cost to ourselves,” Mark Wilson said of home-schooling. “If the kids were all in school, my wife could get a job. To think that by offering us a few courses, by dining us, they could get us to say, ‘Oh, never mind,’ is unrealistic on their part.”
 
TOP OF PAGE

Evolution backers to boycott
Kansas hearings
By DIANE CARROLL, The
Kansas City Star, 4/8/05

It looks as if the coming hearings on the
Kansas science standards will be a one-sided event.

Proponents of intelligent design have lined up 23 witnesses — including one from
Italy and another from Turkey — to support their point of view.

But scientists who defend evolution apparently are boycotting the hearings, said Alexa Posny, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Education.

As of Thursday, the state's deadline, only one scientist had agreed to testify and his appearance had not been confirmed, she said.

“We have contacted scientists from all over the world,” Posny said. “There isn't anywhere else we can go.”

The hearings, tentatively scheduled for May 5-7 and May 12-14, were set up by the conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education.

Board members say they want the public to hear more about intelligent design, the theory that some aspects of life and its diversity are the result of planned processes, not chance or necessity.

The president of Kansas Citizens for Science, who had called for the boycott, said he was pleased Thursday to hear it was being honored. Intelligent design is the latest form of creationism, Harry McDonald said, and has no place in a science classroom.

In addition, he said, he thinks board conservatives have made up their minds to support a proposal from the intelligent design side that calls for students to learn about the weaknesses of evolution.

“Intelligent design is not going to get its forum, at least not one in which they can say that scientists participated,” McDonald said. “We have learned too much to continue participating in this charade.”

The board's conservative Republican chairman, Steve Abrams of
Arkansas City, called the boycott and the assertion that the board had decided the issue “bull malarkey.” The hearings will take place even if evolution's defenders choose not to show, he said.


“If they've got the guns on their side to defend it (evolution), then why not defend it? Instead, what they are going to do is take potshots, they are going to do the one-liners, they are going to do the 30-second sound bite instead of coming in and trying to testify and defend a position that they say is the only position in the world.”

The state board voted 6-4 in February to set up a three-member subcommittee to oversee the May hearings. Abrams is the subcommittee's chairman.

The state board periodically updates the standards in each of its curriculum areas. A 26-member committee appointed by Education Commissioner Andy Tompkins has been working to revise the science standards since June. It will present its second draft to the board at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

The board also will receive a second draft that day from the eight members of the science-writing committee who are proposing ideas backed by intelligent design supporters. The board hopes to approve revised standards this summer.

The May hearings are in addition to public hearings earlier this year on the first draft from the 26-member committee. The first draft from the committee's minority group was not presented at that time, although members of the public did comment on it.

Posny said the state invited scientists from all of the state universities in
Kansas as well as pro-evolution scientists from across the nation who have critiqued the intelligent design proposal. Also, she said, the state posted the invitation on the Internet list serve of the National Science Teachers Association.

She said she still was trying to reach several evolution-defenders whose names were provided Wednesday by John Calvert, the attorney for the eight on the science-writing committee who favor the intelligent design proposal. One of those scientists has agreed to come, she said.

Calvert said he was happy to hear that Abrams wanted the hearings to go forward.

“I think the public will be educated in a major way,” he said.
 
TOP OF PAGE

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777