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News Clips

News Clips – July 1 - 8, 2005

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STATE  
Kids learn alternatives to violent behaviors during summer programs in parks
Decatur Herald & Review
Illinois students required to get dental checks / Pantagraph
Test scores, poverty are entwined / Chicago Tribune
Former principal wants job back / Daily Southtown
Mom's racism lawsuit targeted / Chicago Tribune
Teachers ask school to pay medical bills / Galesburg Register-Mail
Don't blame teachers / Chicago Sun-Times
Yearbook irks BHS special ed parents / Courier News
Official resigns his school post / Herald News

NATIONAL
Union wants $40,000 starting salaries across nation / Chicago Sun-Times
Studies bolster links between lots of TV, bad grades / Chicago Sun-Times
Teachers: Computer training bytes / Chicago Sun-Times
Schools crack down on teachers who dress like kids / Chicago Sun-Times
States Show How to Succeed in School -- Cheat / Bloomberg News
Politics and public education / Washington Times
Prosecutor: School killer was mad about acne teasing / Chicago Sun-Times
$148 million Kansas school fund passes / Kansas City Star
By a vote, House approves tax change for schools / Austin American-Statesman
School district seeks ways to help teachers find, afford homes / Palm Beach Post (FL)
Vote targets unfunded mandate / Derby Valley Gazette (CT)

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STATE

Kids learn alternatives to violent behaviors during summer programs in parks
By THERESA CHURCHILL,
Decatur Herald & Review Senior Writer
  
DECATUR - Romeon Blue, 7, said he gets mad when somebody makes fun of him.

Jean Moore, executive director of the
Macon County Child Advocacy Center, asked him what he would do if that happened.

"I could make fun of them back," the boy said, "or I might punch 'em."

But after participating in a violence prevention activity Thursday in
Hess Park, Romeon had some other ideas about what he could do with his hands. "I could draw a picture," he said.

Romeon, who will be a second-grader at
Stevenson School, was among eight children who took part in Moore's presentation, "Hands Are Not For Hitting."

Moore and other members of the Macon County Safe From the Start Coalition have been making the presentations in
Decatur parks this summer in conjunction with the development of a Neighborhood Crisis Response Team that will provide information about how trauma affects children and families and direct people to community agencies if they need further help.
 
She said volunteers are being trained and the team should be activated later this month.

"We were looking for ways to be proactive,"
Moore said. "We want to prevent violence, not just react to it."

Other parks visited by Safe from the Start so far have included Jasper, Baker Woods,
Brush College, Lions, Fans Field, Torrence and Galloway.

On Thursday, children at
Hess Park painted colorful pictures of their hands while brainstorming a list of good things they can do with them, such as wave, write, wash dishes and take out the garbage.

"I clean," said Neeyah Johnson, 6, who will be a first-grader at
Harris School.

"I play basketball," said Darion Woods, 9, who will be a fourth-grader at Harris.

"A lot of these things you can do when you're mad at somebody,"
Moore said. "These things will use that energy and help you feel better."

Moore showed the children how to join hands, make a human knot and unravel into a circle again. Then she passed out Frisbees and toy airplanes they could play with and keep.

Tish Hill, a 10-year-old fifth-grader who's on the waiting list to attend
Hope Academy, said she hadn't thought about just how many things you can do with your hands.

"You should only use your hands in good ways," she said. "Not bad."
 
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Illinois students required to get dental checks
The Associated Press
 
SPRINGFIELD -- Some grade school students will have to visit the dentist if they want to collect their end-of-year report cards, under a law that went into effect Friday.

School officials already require students of certain ages to prove they have received vaccinations and health screenings, but now students attending kindergarten, second and sixth grades would be required to undergo dental checkups.
 
Still, children wouldn't be barred from school for not complying, and waivers would be permitted in certain cases.
 
The dentist and lawmaker who sponsored the measure, Rep. David Miller, said requiring kids to get exams is important to establish hygiene habits that will save money in the long run and improve children's education.
 
"Dental disease and dental pain is one of the primary reasons children miss school," said Miller, D-Dolton.
 
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Jennifer Williams also cited research that has determined dental problems can lead to other illnesses.
 
"If you don't have proper oral health, it has been associated with heart disease and respiratory illness and low-birthweight babies," Williams said.
 
But parents and kids who don't follow the new rules won't face any consequences until mid-May. That's because the only penalty is for the school to withhold a child's final report card.
 
The legislation originally barred children from enrolling until they had gone to the dentist, but opposition from school administrators led to the compromise of withholding the final report card for children who don't comply.
 
Ben Schwarm, a lobbyist for school administrators, has similar concerns about overloading schools.
 
Schwarm said getting more children to visit dentists is a good thing, but lawmakers must be careful not to overburden teachers and principals with health responsibilities that should fall on parents.
 
He said some lawmakers also want schools to monitor whether parents have given their children vision and lead poisoning screenings, but those efforts have been defeated.
 
"Certainly, the local school district cannot be the police for all these things," Schwarm said.
 
A student would likely be exempt from the dental exam requirement if monetary constraints or a lack of dental access prevented the child from visiting a dentist, Miller said. The legislation also allows a religious exemption.

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Test scores, poverty are entwined
Middle-class blacks fare better away from low-income schools
Jodi S. Cohen and
Darnell Little, Chicago Tribune
 
More than any other group, middle-class black students show the greatest academic improvement when they aren't trapped in high-poverty schools, according to a Tribune analysis of
Illinois test scores.
 
In elementary schools where fewer than half the students are low-income, nearly 62 percent of middle-class black students passed last year's state reading test. That's nearly 12 percentage points higher than how they fared in predominantly poor schools. No other group of students -- whites, Hispanics or low-income blacks -- posted as great an improvement, the analysis showed.
 
But few black children have the option of attending a low-poverty school. In
Illinois, three out of every four black students are enrolled in schools where most children are poor.
 
Educators say the high concentration of black students in poor schools is one of the biggest barriers to closing the stubborn gap in test scores between white and African-American students, an issue at the forefront of national education reforms.
 
Achieving that goal could require changing rigidly segregated housing patterns or school-district boundaries that isolate black students in poor schools, where they often are taught by less-experienced teachers, encounter lower expectations and watch many peers drop out.
 
"Anybody ... who is with a lot of low-achieving students is likely to have their achievement pulled down," said John Easton, director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the
University of Chicago.
 
There are few middle-class black neighborhoods large enough to support an entire school, leaving most black families in the state, regardless of income, in schools with high percentages of low-income students. About 73 percent of the state's black students last year attended predominantly low-income schools, compared with 10 percent of white students.
 
Not surprisingly, the trend extends beyond
Illinois. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of black and Hispanic students attend high-poverty schools -- where more than 50 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch -- compared with 30 percent of Asians and 18 percent of whites, according to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.
 
When Hispanic students escape poor schools, they show similar improvement on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT), though less pronounced than their black peers. But experts believe many low-income Hispanic families do not sign up for the free and reduced-lunch program, which skews test results.
 
Low-income black students also see more success in low-poverty schools, although it's less than the gains of their middle-class peers.
 
The Tribune has defined low-income students as those eligible for the lunch program, the only available indicator of a student's economic status. A three-person household qualifies for the program if its total annual income is less than $30,000. For black households in
Illinois, the median income is about $31,700.
 
Many experts believe that most high-poverty schools in
Illinois have subpar test results in part because the schools lack resources to deal with the problems that accrue when poor children are clustered together.
 
These schools typically struggle with higher mobility rates and the difficulties that come when children have unstable home lives. Students may have untreated health issues such as asthma, behavioral problems and other challenges that can make it harder to learn for all children, even those from wealthier families.
 
Conversely, minority students in low-poverty schools are exposed to higher expectations from peers and teachers, less student and staff turnover, and greater academic competition, often pushed by parents determined to see them succeed, according to education experts.
 
"If you have a lot of kids from more highly educated families, and the kids come to school with more resources that contribute to the intellectual environment in the classroom, the more likely you are to have an environment more conducive to learning," said William Julius Wilson, a sociology professor at Harvard University.
 
The link between a school's poverty level and academic success could help explain why black students perform better when enrolled in majority white schools, where the poverty levels tend to be low.
 
For example, 49 percent of black elementary students enrolled in majority white schools passed reading tests, a result similar to the performance of blacks in low-poverty schools. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of black elementary students in majority black schools passed the same tests.
 
That's about the passing rate for students in
Lincoln Elementary School in south suburban Calumet City, where 86 percent of the school's 1,000 students are low income. Principal Douglas Higgins said the high poverty rate leads to everything from untreated vision problems to low parental involvement and high student mobility.
 
Last school year, 105 students enrolled in his school midyear. In a class of 24 students, as few as three parents will show up for parent-teacher conferences.
 
Low teacher expectations have been a problem at
Coles Elementary School on Chicago's South Side, where nearly 80 percent of the students are low-income, Principal Larry Thomas said. Its middle-class students perform just as poorly as their low-income peers, with only about 37 percent passing last year's reading tests.
 
Thomas said he pairs weaker teachers with "low-motivated" students, those who appear uninterested in learning, don't participate in extracurricular activities and tend to bully students with better grades.
 
Thomas defended his practice. "You wouldn't want to put an unmotivated teacher with a highly motivated group. They would regress," he said.
 
Vickie Johnson, whose daughter Miche'le recently finished 7th grade at Coles, said teachers push her daughter to succeed, but that it can sometimes be a struggle to make sure she isn't brought down by negative influences. Many of her classmates' parents don't put the same emphasis on education, she said.
 
"I have moments when my children have tried to blend in with lesser students, and I snap them back to reality," said Johnson, executive director at a social service agency.
 
State Sen. Miguel
del Valle (D-Chicago), vice chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, suggested Chicago students be allowed to transfer to nearby suburban schools with less poverty. Under federal law, students in failing schools can transfer to better ones, but only within their districts. In Chicago, just a fraction of students get that chance because of space constraints and transportation hurdles.
 
"Why not give that kid an opportunity to cross the street in
Austin and go to a school in Oak Park, or cross Howard Street on the North Side and go to a school in Evanston? That would be choice, wouldn't it?" he said.
 
Willard Elementary School in Evanston has such an environment. And 10-year-old Deianara Smith, an African-American student at the racially diverse school, is a standout among her classmates, winning a reading contest and playing a lead role in the school play.
 
At Willard, where fewer than one-fifth of students are low income, 72 percent of middle-class black students -- including Deianara--passed last year's state reading test, compared to 61.5 percent for the group statewide. She also aced the state's writing and math tests.
 
Her schoolwork at Willard is demanding, keeping her up until
2 a.m. earlier this spring to finish a report on Vietnam. Her teachers don't let her slack. And her peers challenge each other to read the most books.
 
"They push her, which is really good," said her mother, Kaquana King, noting that her daughter received extra help in math when she struggled in 2nd grade.
 
A single mom, King pushes her, too, making sure she completes her homework and signs up for school activities. She also is involved in the school, doing everything from knitting her daughter's costumes to making photo albums for teacher appreciation week.
"Her teachers have been consistent about demanding a lot, expecting a lot from her and staying on her to get things done," said John Minor, her 4th-grade teacher. "That usually translates into success."
 
It helps that Deianara is surrounded by high-achieving students with few disciplinary problems, he said. Without that encouragement, she may not have the same success.
 
"If that intensity isn't there, it is easy to get drawn into the opposite to success," he said. "It is easy to slip away. It would be easy for any kid."

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Former principal wants job back
Edward Hayes was called up by the Army soon after taking school post
Crete-Monee SD 201U says he has 'no right to re-employment'
Jennifer Golz, Daily Southtown
 
A former
Crete-Monee High School principal who has spent the past two years overseas as an Army Reservist wants his job back.
 
Edward Hayes came to
Crete-Monee School District 201U in July 2002 as the high school principal.
 
But he left seven months later after his Reserve unit was activated and sent overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
 
Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, Hayes believes he should be able to return as
Crete-Monee High School principal.
 
"I am seeking to be re-instated, as is my right as a serviceman returning from active duty," Hayes said.
 
But district officials said he has "no right to re-employment."
 
In a May 25 letter from the district to Hayes, the school system's attorney, Ray Hauser, told Hayes the school board "formally decided not to re-employ" him for the 2003-04 school year, and he had been "notified of this decision regarding the action to be taken by the board on
Feb. 21, 2003."
 
Hauser said the decision to terminate Hayes' one-year contract with the district was a personnel issue and had nothing to do with his status as a Reservist.
 
"It was a fit issue," Hauser said. "He just wasn't the right fit at the high school."
 
The district paid Hayes the full amount of his one-year contract, officials said.
 
However, Hayes maintains he should be retained as principal and has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor.
 
In a July 23 letter provided by Hayes, a Department of Labor representative said Hayes' employment issue would be forwarded to the
U.S. attorney general.

A spokesman for the Department of Labor said, "It is policy not to comment on individual cases regarding the ASERRA law" for the privacy of the employer and those seeking re-employment.
 
The
Crete-Monee High School principal post remains vacant. Jan Paron, who was appointed interim principal after Hayes' deployment, resigned in May.

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Mom's racism lawsuit targeted
School district asks judge to dismiss it
By Carolyn Starks, Tribune staff reporter,
7/7/05

Arguing that the litigation was not properly brought, Harvard school officials have asked a
McHenry County circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in May by an African-American woman who contends the district failed to protect her children from racial harassment.

Timothy Couture, a lawyer for
Harvard School District 50, said he tried to be sensitive to Starry Cousins-Brandon in his motion seeking dismissal of her lawsuit, realizing that she filed the one-page typed and written complaint on her own. But Couture contended that the lawsuit failed to spell out how the school district could be held liable under state law.

A hearing on the motion is set for Friday in McHenry County Circuit Court.

Cousins-Brandon said Wednesday that she did not research how to file the suit. She said she wanted to get the school district's attention.

"I didn't think that they would respond about trying to get it thrown out," she said. "I thought we would sit down and talk and try to change the things that went on, so my two kids won't feel harassed."

Saying she had no money for an attorney, Cousins-Brandon filed the $25 million suit in a complaint that resembles a letter and begins with "Dear your Honor."

She alleged that the district refused to address persistent racial remarks made toward her daughters by other children.

At the bottom, she wrote in pen, "I am suing for 25,000,000 for civil rights violation and racism."

"I'm not criticizing her for this," said Couture, a
Chicago attorney representing the district. "We're not asking that she walk away with her hat in her hand and have nothing. We're asking that she be required to plead in an appropriate manner."

In his motion, Couture argued that since minor children are not allowed in
Illinois to represent themselves in filing lawsuits, they must have a lawyer. Although Cousins-Brandon could file a lawsuit on her behalf if she were wronged, Couture contended that she cannot file a lawsuit for her children because she is not a licensed attorney.

In addition, he said, her suit does not state a basis for a claim or specifically what the school district did that was wrong.

"If they don't know what is alleged, how can they respond?" Couture said. "It's one thing to say the children treated her children poorly and another thing to say it was racially motivated."

Cousins-Brandon's suit cited several incidents, including one last fall in which a white boy allegedly walked up to her daughter, Shari Perry, 12, at Harvard Junior High School and threw flour in her face.

Shari came home in tears, her hair wet after a teacher tried to clean it and her eyes caked with white dust, said Cousins-Brandon, who moved to Harvard two years ago from Marengo.

The boy was suspended, but school Supt. Randy Gross said school officials could not prove the act was racially motivated.

She said her other daughter, Evanya Perry, 14, who attends
Harvard High School, has attempted suicide twice this year, in part because of name-calling.

Although school district officials confirmed that the flour incident occurred, they said Cousins-Brandon never told them her daughters were being racially harassed.

But in her complaint, Cousins-Brandon said, "I complained to the school about the severity of this and other racist remarks toward my children but nothing happened."
 
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Teachers ask school to pay medical bills
Two were injured in 2004 accident in
Iowa 
By TAMMY BOULD,
Galesburg Register-Mail, 7/6/05

GALESBURG - Two Galesburg District 205 first grade teachers have filed separate complaints in Knox County Circuit Court asking the district's health plan pay their medical bills.

Celia Godsil and Debra Mastin were seriously injured when a car driven by another
Galesburg first grade teacher, Nancy A. Lewis, collided with a tractor-trailer on Aug. 4, 2004, near Creston, Iowa. Lewis was killed in the crash. Mutual Medical Plan, the company that handles the district's insurance claims, has denied the requests for payment of their medical bills.

Godsil said Tuesday her medical bills so far are over $400,000 and nothing has been paid. She still is being treated and could face more surgery. She has been receiving collection notices from doctors and hospitals asking for payment.

Mastin's husband, Wayne, said her medical bills are more than $130,000. They are receiving collection notices asking for payment.

The women each have filed a "complaint for declaratory relief," a miscellaneous remedy suit instead of a lawsuit. A complaint for declaratory relief usually deals with contracts and is heard by a judge.

According to court records, the insurance claim was denied because of a clause in the policy that reads, "expenses covered by or pending under auto, property and casualty, or liability insurance for which another party is liable" are not covered.

Their attorney, Dwayne Morrison, argues in the cases that no third party has admitted to being liable, no determination has been made about liability and a lawsuit has not been filed against any third party seeking payment of the bills.

District 205's health plan is self-insured up to $75,000 and any claims over that amount are covered by a reinsurance policy the district has with an insurance company. Interim Superintendent Gene Denisar, who took over the position on July 1, said the district is looking at the claims and hopes any issues will soon be resolved. The district hired an attorney, Bill Campbell,
Peoria, to handle the case early this year after the women approached the district about their claims being denied.

"It is going to take some time to work through it, but the parties have agreed on how they are going to be paid,"
Campbell said Tuesday.

He said the reinsurance company has agreed to cover the amounts over $75,000.

Wayne Mastin said the attorneys for both sides are negotiating. An agreement has been offered, but the attorneys are working out details.

Godsil also said the claims are still being negotiated and nothing has been finalized.

"It's frustrating," Godsil said. She and Debra Mastin have been paying into the district's health insurance plan for 29 years "with the understanding and trust they would do what they said they would."

The court suits are asking for a judgment that the plan pays medical expenses, attorney fees and costs.
 
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Don't blame teachers
Letter by Marilyn Stewart, President of the
Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/7/05

Recently Stanley Crouch [column, June 19] attacked teachers' unions as ''the greatest enemy of public education.'' This statement is certainly among the most outrageous of his many ''shooting from the lip'' pronouncements.

To begin, it minimizes the many problems faced by public education to zero in on teachers' unions as ''the greatest enemy of public education.'' As many of the teachers and paraprofessionals represented by the Chicago Teachers Union are aware, hundreds of students in the Chicago Public Schools come to classes each day with empty stomachs, after walking down streets and alleyways where drive-by shootings are commonplace, leaving homes where one or more of their parents are barely more than children themselves or are suffering from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, emerging from family situations that are torn apart by abject poverty, etc. And teachers in the public schools are required to cope with these social conditions in providing a quality education to these students. In the face of all of these problems facing public educators, Crouch has the audacity to say that teachers' unions are ''the greatest enemy of public education'' today?

The genesis for Crouch's latest attack on teachers' unions was the opposition to No Child Left Behind legislation that recently was voiced by the United Federation of Teachers in
New York. What Crouch and others of his ilk fail to acknowledge is that teachers' unions oppose federal No Child mandates because neither the federal government nor anyone else has provided funding to implement programs necessary to meet the new goals.

As a result, more and more children -- especially in the inner city -- now are facing two problems: (1) they are having a difficult time receiving a good education because of the social conditions; and (2) their failure to meet requirements now further stigmatizes them as poor learners.

No Child legislation was created without input from the individuals most familiar with what is needed for success in the classroom: the teachers. Furthermore, it is being implemented top-down without funding. For Crouch to suggest that this constitutes success is the greatest absurdity to emerge from his pen yet -- and that's really saying something!
 
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Yearbook irks BHS special ed parents
By Liza Roche, Courier News Staff Writer,
7/8/05

SOUTH ELGIN — Although special education student Natalie Herrera's time at Bartlett High School is over, it isn't one for the books.

This past school year was the first one at BHS for Natalie, a 15-year-old who has Down syndrome and attends self-contained special education classes.

The school, one of many Elgin School District U46 schools Natalie attended over the past several years, seemed less welcoming than others, said Natalie's mother, Kim Herrera.

And in the family's opinion, that's apparent by looking through the most recent BHS yearbook.

Natalie's photo doesn't appear in it, and neither do photos of many of her special education friends, Herrera said.

Instead, the girl's name is listed in a patch of names filed under "camera shy."

The term is offensive to Herrera, who said her daughter would have loved to be in the yearbook. She wonders just who was shy about her daughter's picture appearing in the pages.

Photo notices came for her children at other schools, Herrera said, but she kept waiting to hear about BHS until it was too late.

Natalie "likes to have pictures of her friends and everything and it's not possible now because she wasn't in there — and they weren't there either," Herrera said.

Fellow special education parent Patty Luplow said she was surprised she didn't even see special education teachers in the yearbook.

Diane Longfield, principal of
Bartlett High School, said the school goes out of its way to include special education students.

"We totally embrace our special education kids. We make sure to make our special education kids heroes," she said.

Still, she conceded, errors were made regarding this year's photo shoots.

At one point, the picture room was placed on the third floor of the school, and that might have kept some students from coming to be photographed, she said.

Longfield added that many of the more than 3,000 BHS students last school year were without pictures in the yearbook.

While some special education students did make it into the yearbook, a page that lists the "camera shy" students shows more than 200 names. They include both regular and special education students, Longfield said.

Next year, the school will work harder to make the picture-taking process work for all students, she said.

With the yearbook complete and published, Herrera knows there is little that can be done.

And Natalie, along with other special education students, is moving next year.

Parents interviewed for this story said they originally were told the students would attend the new
South Elgin High School — which is closer to their homes — this fall. But the class now has been moved to Streamwood High School. It will be the seventh U46 school Natalie Herrera has attended.
 
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Official resigns his school post
County board member: Leaves
Fairmont district since dual seats cannot be held
By Andrea Hein, Herald News Staff Writer,
7/8/05

LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP — Will County Board member Henry Travis resigned from his position on the Fairmont School District board Thursday night after the Will County state's attorney's office told him he cannot legally hold both posts.

"I have to abide by the law," Travis said after the board meeting.

But another county board member, Frank Stewart, said he would not comment Thursday on whether he will give up his seat on the
Joliet Grade School District board because he hasn't made a decision on the issue.

Travis' resignation comes three months after The Herald News first investigated whether several candidates seeking their second office during the April election could occupy two elected posts simultaneously.

In some cases, elected officials cannot sit on two government entities, according to opinions issued by the
Illinois attorney general's office and state law. A county board member cannot serve on a school board in counties with populations of more than 40,000, legal officials have said.
 
Following the April election, Will County Board member Jim Bilotta didn't even accept his position on the Ludwig-Walsh School Board. Manhattan Mayor Bill Borgo also resigned from the Manhattan School Board after learning the same person cannot occupy those offices.

Travis and Stewart were not willing to give up so easily.

Both have served in the dual roles for many years: Travis first was elected to the
Fairmont board about 36 years ago and is entering his ninth year on the county board.

First Assistant State's Attorney Phil Mock previously said legal officials did not put a stop to the dual roles because no one previously brought it to their attention.

Stewart has maintained that voters chose him as their representative in both positions and he should be allowed to keep his offices.

In some instances, county board members can hold two posts.
County Board member Mary Ann Gearhart Duetsche and County Board Chairman Jim Moustis are township supervisors, and state legal officials have said that is OK.

The conflict between the county and school boards exists because the two groups can enter into contracts with one another.

Late in June, a state appellate court opinion in the case of the Rev. Elmer Wilson from
Kankakee County further bolstered efforts to remove Travis and Stewart. Wilson served on both the Kankakee County and Kankakee School boards.

The appellate court ruled
Wilson's election to the county board nullified his school board post.

After the appellate court issued the opinion, Mock said he would supply a copy of that court's ruling to both Travis and Stewart and give them until July 18 to respond.

On Thursday,
Fairmont board members and the superintendent praised Travis for his dedication to the district and his hard work.

"He's really going to be missed,"
Fairmont board President Della Travis said.

Fairmont officials now have 30 days to chose a replacement.

"I hope the board will pick someone who has
Fairmont in their heart," Henry Travis said.
 
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NATIONAL

Union wants $40,000 starting salaries across nation
Ben Feller, Chicago Sun-Times
 
LOS ANGELES --The typical starting salary for teachers should be $40,000, the head of the country's largest education union said Sunday, pledging a renewed fight for higher pay.
 
But the National Education Association's challenge is enormous. Not a single state pays its new instructors an average of $40,000, with the U.S. average hovering close to $30,000 for beginning teachers, according to the American Federation of Teachers, another teachers union.
 
NEA president Reg Weaver, speaking to reporters at the union's annual meeting, said his officers will work with their state and local chapters to lobby state leaders and school boards.
 
Weaver, poised to begin his second three-year term as the union's president, said higher pay for veteran teachers and classroom aides will also be a political priority for the NEA. No cost for the ideas was given, but they would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars or more.
 
''The issue is where the money is going to come from,'' Weaver said. ''And to respond to that, my answer is I don't care. I don't care where the money comes from. Because when this country thinks and decides that something is important, they find the money.''
 
Teacher pay has long been a point of contention within education. Salaries are often seen as an important reason why schools struggle to hire and keep teachers.
 
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Studies bolster links between lots of TV, bad grades
Children's ability to learn is impaired
Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press,
Chicago Sun-Times
 
Too much TV-watching can harm children's ability to learn, three new studies suggest in the latest effort to examine the effects of television on kids.
 
Critics faulted the research for not adequately considering the content of the TV watched, but experts said it bolsters advice that children shouldn't have TVs in their rooms.
 
The separate findings were published Monday in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
 
One of the studies involved nearly 400 northern
California third-graders. Those with TVs in their bedrooms scored about eight points lower on math and language arts tests than children without bedroom TVs.
 
A second study, looking at nearly 1,000 adults in
New Zealand, found lower education levels among 26-year-olds who had watched lots of TV in childhood.
 
A third study, based on nationally representative data on nearly 1,800 U.S. children, found that those who watched more than three hours of television daily before age 3 scored slightly worse on academic and intelligence tests at ages 6 and 7 than youngsters who watched less TV. The effect was modest but still worrisome, researchers said.
 
The studies took into account other factors that might have influenced the outcome, such as household income. But they largely ignored other research that "found positive associations between children's educational TV viewing and subsequent academic achievement," according to an Archives editorial.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that youngsters under age 2 not watch any television, that older children watch no more than two hours daily of "quality" programming, and that televisions be kept out of children's bedrooms.
 
Recent data suggest that American youngsters from infancy to age 6 watch an average of one hour of TV daily, and that 8-to-18-year-olds watch an average of three hours daily.
 
John Wilson, senior vice president of programming at PBS, released a statement saying that other studies have shown that the Public Broadcasting Service's children's programs, which include "
Sesame Street," can benefit child development.
 
The
New Zealand study acknowledged that the results don't prove that TV is the culprit and don't rule out that already poorly motivated youngsters may watch lots of TV. But the authors said they don't think that explains their results.

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Teachers: Computer training bytes
Chicago Sun-Times
 
LOS ANGELES -- Even in a nation where most every school has Internet access and computer use often starts by nursery school, teachers of technology see a warning message flashing.
 
For students in elementary and secondary schools, states have few developed standards or required courses in computer science -- a field that goes beyond basic literacy to encompass hardware and software design, real-world applications and computers' effect on society.
 
Such lean coursework means students don't have the chance to study the science of computers until college, where a declining number are majoring in the subject.
 
States must embrace the idea of training sophisticated computer users at a younger age, teachers say.
 
The sell isn't easy. Computer science, like other subjects, is fighting for time on student schedules and a place on the political agenda, where reading and math dominate.
 
''Students don't have to take our classes, it's only an option,'' said Jim Lindberg, who teaches computer software applications to high school students in
Tacoma, Wash.
 
Mike Brown, an instructional supervisor for Robertson County Schools in
Springfield, Tenn., said more high school students should be learning programming or Web site management. Instead, they take basic keyboarding and graduate without much computer savvy, he said.
 
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Schools crack down on teachers who dress like kids
Ben Feller, AP,
Chicago Sun-Times
 
LOS ANGELES -- Teachers are expected to bear long days, challenging students and demanding parents. Now, apparently, some teachers are baring too much of themselves.
 
School boards and superintendents increasingly are pursuing dress codes for teachers. At issue is the same kind of questionable attire most often associated with students.
 
In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps.
 
Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.
 
CLASS WARFARE
 
GRADING TEACHERS' DRESS: Teachers are being asked to mind what they wear, with schools trying to buck a trend of casual dress in the classroom.
 
NEW RULES: Districts around the country have prohibited short skirts, flip flops, spandex, baseball caps and revealing clothing in an effort to have teachers set an example with their dress.
 
CRITICISM: There is concern that setting broad standards would fail to take into account the different jobs teachers do, as well as possibly being restrictive and demeaning.
 
District 11 in
Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes ''cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments,'' district rules say.
 
In
Georgia's Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.
 
''There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more -- well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,''' said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. ''Another term for it would be 'sloppy.'''
 
Regulating dress is touchy, teachers say.
 
Crop pants, but no Capri pants

Teachers may view policies that get too specific as restrictive and demeaning. And what to do about broad policies that are enforced inconsistently? What works for a physics teacher may not fit a kindergarten teacher who sits with students on the floor.
 
''Because we work with children, and we're trying to relate to them, sometimes we need to have guidelines that say, 'You know folks, here's the line, and you really need to stay on this side of it,''' said Karen Moxley of Grapevine,
Texas, who teaches gifted seventh-graders.
 
But, she added, ''I don't know that it needs to go down to what style of outfit you wear.''
 
School administrators say inappropriate dress is most often an issue with younger teachers, whose trendy clothing and casual style can make it hard to distinguish them from their students.
 
Mark Berntson, who teaches high school band in
West Fargo, N.D., wears a tie each day. It's a tradition he began years ago to stand out from his students. He does not wear blue jeans to class often, saving them for occasions such as the first day of baseball season.
 
''I don't think I'm taken as seriously if I'm dressed down and I don't think I take my job as seriously if I'm dressed down,'' he said.
 
Schools usually have exceptions, such as allowing gym teachers to wear shorts. But sometimes the trouble is in finding the line -- literally.
 
At the Tangipahoa Parish School System in southeastern
Louisiana, the dress code was recently updated to let women wear crop pants that stretch almost to the ankle. But the school board still does not allow Capri pants because those stop only around the midcalf.
 
''What's too short? What's too long? What's too provocative? What's too revealing?'' said Jacqueline Oglesby, a representative for the Alabama Education Association union, which worries about unfair enforcement of a dress code. ''Everyone has their own definition."

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States Show How to Succeed in School -- Cheat
Column by Andrew Ferguson, Bloomberg News, 7/5/05

Ever since the 1983 landmark report ``A Nation At Risk'' sounded the alarm about the failing system of U.S. public education, more than 10,000 newspaper articles have begun with the words, ``Ever since the 1983 landmark report `A Nation at Risk' sounded the alarm about the failing system of U.S. public education...''

The upshot of these stories is that everyone involved -- parents, teachers, administrators -- has been earnestly pursuing education reform since 1983.

This column, with due respect, will buck the trend. The upshot here is that the earnestness of Americans to reform their public schools has been wildly overstated.

Everyone says he's for education reform, of course. And everyone has agreed that ambitious measures are required to fix the problems of low test scores, high dropout rates and incompetent teaching.

Yet all this unanimity has carried an unspoken proviso: Reform can only proceed so long as no one in the educational system -- those very same parents, teachers, and administrators -- is made to feel uncomfortable. Reformers must not be ``judgmental.''

Which is why, after two decades of conferences, legislation, blue-ribbon panels and lavish increases in spending,
U.S. schools are in roughly the same shape they were when that landmark report was issued in 1983.

Exceptions

Among reformers there have been, as there always are, a few honorable exceptions. Some of those exceptional people had a hand in putting together the most recent earnest attempt at reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, in 2001.

For the most part, NCLB was a reform in the classic manner. A great pot of federal money, with a great tangle of federal regulation attached, was handed to the states, who are the traditional administrators of
U.S. education.

But NCLB was also ``judgmental'' to a surprising degree. Those regulations included a genuinely innovative system of accountability, by which blame for the failure of individual school systems could be assessed, assigned -- and publicized. School systems whose ``report cards'' fell below established goals were subject to probationary oversight and even loss of funding.

For the first time, in other words, education reform was designed to make some people uncomfortable.

Important Number

A good example was NCLB's emphasis on graduation rates. This year, the act required states to provide the U.S. Department of Education precise data about the percentage of students who were graduating from their high schools.

It's an important number. ``A high school diploma is the bare minimum requirement for participation in the workforce and the larger society,'' said Daria Hall, a policy analyst at the Education Trust, a Washington-based education reform group.

High school dropouts lag in every social indicator -- workforce participation, income level and incarceration rates. If public education can be expected to do anything, it should equip young people with a diploma that signifies a minimum of social and intellectual competence.

The problem for many states is that their graduation rates are abysmal. What to do? Most of them have formulated a coping strategy: Fudge.

Mishmash

The Education Trust released a report late last month demonstrating that the graduation data furnished by states is a mishmash of wishful thinking, statistical trickery and outright fabrication.

North Carolina, for instance, reported a graduation rate of 97 percent. Hall, the Trust's policy analyst, looked further.

``They were just reporting the percentage of graduates who received their degrees in four years or less,'' she said. Kids who dropped out of high school, in other words, weren't included in the calculation.

New Mexico reported a 90 percent graduation rate. But that reflects only the number of seniors who finish their senior year and get a diploma. What most people would consider a graduation rate -- the percentage of high school freshman who go on to graduate -- is significantly lower.

Dishonesty

With few exceptions, the graduation rates furnished to the education department under NCLB, Hall said, amounted to ``rampant dishonesty.''

Some states respond that they haven't had time to build the data collection systems that could furnish the reliable numbers NCLB requires. Yet Hall points out that a few states --
Washington, for example -- have been able to make accurate estimates anyway, even though the honest numbers reflect lower graduation rates.

The problem goes beyond data collection. NCLB required states to set goals for improving their graduation rates -- a good idea.

But it also gave them wide latitude in defining what constitutes ``improvement'' -- a bad idea.

``They've used their discretion to make the requirement almost meaningless,'' Hall said. Some states --
New Mexico and South Carolina among them -- have declared that as long as their graduation rates don't decline, they will be making sufficient improvement to satisfy their obligations under NCLB.

Despite this hard evidence of bad faith on the part of state education establishments, Hall prefers to look on the bright side.

``This is NCLB's greatest contribution,'' she said. ``For the first time, the public is getting numbers about performance. Three years ago, we wouldn't have had any numbers to work with.''

And even if those numbers are bogus, we're still learning something important: A lot of education reformers aren't interested in education reform, especially if it makes them look bad.

We should have known that all along, though -- ever since the 1983 landmark report ``A Nation At Risk'' sounded the alarm about the failing system of
U.S. public education.
 
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Politics and public education
Washington Times Editorial, 7/6/05

Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, liberals and Republicans claimed the legislation that called for overhauling public education would itself have to be overhauled to ensure that the law would reach its audacious goal to have all public school students proficient in both math and reading by 2014. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings earlier this year fine tuned some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, including those pertaining to students with disabilities. While we continue to support education reform on the federal level, we nonetheless urge policy-makers to revisit NCLB as critical deadlines approach and as local and state authorities rightly question the breadth of NCLB.

Two deadlines are in the upcoming school year. The first of those two is January 2006, when paraprofessionals must prove they are "highly qualified" to be in the classroom. The second is the end of the 2005-06 school year, when teachers must prove that they are "highly qualified" and proficient in certain subjects. Neither deadline is a surprise to local and state education authorities, because NCLB, which President Bush signed into law in 2002, states that classroom educators would have to prove their mettle no later than four years after enactment of the law. Strict enforcement of the competency mandate means that school districts across the country might lose good, effective classroom teachers and that teachers might meet the same the fate as their students -- failure to measure up. The superintendent of D.C. Public Schools, for example, already has primed anyone who cared to pay attention: He told a congressional committee in May that 1,400 of the city's 4,700 teachers cannot prove they are licensed to instruct in certain subjects (as if consistently low test scores and high illiteracy rates said otherwise).

That the competency of veteran teachers is questionable is not surprising either. As the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education has pointed out: "Some states have used their discretion under NCLB to adopt tests for new teachers and alternative requirements for veteran teachers ... that are far too easy. Unless this portion of NCLB is modified, the law will not significantly improve the quality of teachers." The Koret group recommended revising the definition of "highly qualified" to include teachers: who have a bachelor's degree; and can prove they either majored in the subject being taught, passed a national subject competency test or can demonstrate through test scores that their teaching methods significatnly raised student test scores.

The National Education Association is unambiguous about where it stands on quality teachers: Pay new teachers higher salaries and they will come; pay veteran teachers still higher salaries and they will stay. While we strongly disagree with the NEA's position, we do agree with
Hoover's Koret: NCLB will not reach its ambitious 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math without certifiable quality teachers.

Moreover, there are the politics of NCLB itself. NCLB has drawn criticism from all quarters. While some unions and liberal groups repeatedly blasted NCLB as unfunded mandates, some Republicans decry the constitutionality of NCLB, while some states simply want out. At a recent forum at the Cato Institute,
Utah state lawmaker Margaret Dayton characterized NCLB as "unrealisitic and unconstitutional." She also cited the contrariness of federal mandates regarding special education: NCLB measures student and school achievement by grade level, while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act uses a measuring stick that is based on ability level. Such contradictions led Mrs. Dayton, a Republican, to draw near-unanimous bipartisan backing for her NCLB "opt-out" legislation. "Schools should be accountable to the communities in which they are located," Mrs. Dayton said.

As for federal overreach, suffice it to say that both Ronald Reagan and the Constitution got it right. "Education is the principal responsibility of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and state governments," said Mr. Reagan, who had promised to abolish the Education Department if elected. The 10th Amendment assigns no proper federal role regarding education. In fact, it states, "The powers not delegated to the
United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The No Child Left Behind Act we envisioned during the 2000 presidential campaign is the not the same No Child left Behind Act that Mr. Bush signed into law in January 2002. The liberal lions on Capitol Hill, the NEA and other lobbies made sure of that. For their part, to make the law less rigid, both Mrs. Spellings and her predecessor, Rod Paige, relaxed some requirements, including those for rural districts, special education and new non-English-speaking students -- surefire signs that NCLB was getting in the way of itself (not to mention, again, the Constitution).

It's worth noting at this juncture that NCLB is not up for reauthorization until 2007, but that hardly means critics and skeptics will remain quiet until then. Assistant Deputy Secretary Nina Rees told the Cato audience that the fact that the debates are being held and some states are suing is viewed by the White House as "signs of success" of NCLB.

We don't hold the view that states suing the federal government and vice versa as "signs of success." The fact of the matter is that the No Child Left Behind Act, like innumerable federal laws, is flawed but reparable. The Bush administration should take full advantage of the next 12 months to reinforce the successful pillars of NCLB -- school choice and giving parents more information about neighborhood schools. Inside the Beltway, timing is everything.

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Prosecutor: School killer was mad about acne teasing
AP
 
ST. CLOUD,
Minn. -- A teen charged with killing two high school students was angry about being teased about his acne and told investigators he had targeted one victim ''to hurt him like he hurt me,'' a prosecutor argued Tuesday.
 
In opening statements at the teen's murder trial, Assistant Attorney General William Klumpp Jr. said John J. McLaughlin, then 15, took one of his father's guns to school on
Sept. 24, 2003, intending to kill his alleged tormenter.
 
McLaughlin shot Seth Bartell ''execution style,'' Klumpp said.

TOP OF PAGE

$148 million
Kansas school fund passes
Amendment to rein in high court fails; legislators end standoff
By DAVID KLEPPER and JIM SULLINGER, The
Kansas City Star, 7/7/05

TOPEKA — Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, Kansas lawmakers adjourned a contentious 12-day special session late Wednesday by passing a $148.4 million school funding measure and sending it to the governor.

They hope that legislation will satisfy the state’s Supreme Court and keep it from carrying out a threat to close public schools this fall.

Earlier Wednesday evening, the Senate, on a 29-9 vote, passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would forbid the state Supreme Court from cutting off money to public schools when justices determine that education funding levels are not constitutional.

But the measure failed later in the House, 74-49. It was 10 votes shy of the required two-thirds majority.

“It took us a long time to get here, but we’ve done what we had to do on school finance, and we have tried to do what we should have done on the constitutional amendment issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican. “The Senate should be very proud of this session.”

The court gave lawmakers until July 1 to find an additional $143 million for schools. That deadline passed with no plan enacted, which prompted the court Saturday to schedule a hearing for
9 a.m. Friday to determine whether the justices should issue an injunction stopping all state funding of schools.

Lawmakers said passage of the plan Wednesday will allow attorneys for the state to argue that the Legislature has appropriated the money the court requested and that the court should not order schools closed.

“Level-headed lawmakers came together to pass a bipartisan solution that keeps the schools open without raising taxes and allows us now to focus on solving next year’s problems,” said Rep. Ed O’Malley, a Roeland Park Republican.

While O’Malley said he was “ecstatic” that millions more were pumped into schools, many other lawmakers were crestfallen after attempts to rein in the court through the constitutional amendment were defeated.

“We were snookered,” said Sen. Kay O’Connor, an Olathe Republican. “I feel betrayed.”

The House approved the bipartisan school compromise 75-48. Votes for the measure came mainly from Democrats and moderate Republicans. Minutes later, the Senate passed the measure, 26-11.

The amendment, had it passed, almost certainly would not have affected this year’s conflict with the court, but supporters said it was important to have the protection in the constitution for future years.

Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, said he disliked changing the constitution but said the effects of shuttered schools would be “staggering.”

“The risk of those horrific results to our communities, our individuals and our institutions far outweighs the risk” of changing the constitution, he said.

By approving the funding plan Wednesday night, lawmakers did in one day what they were unable to do last week after being deadlocked for 11 straight days.

“Let’s get this over with and go home,” House Majority Leader Clay Aurand, a Courtland Republican, told his GOP caucus.

The failure of the constitutional amendment upset some conservative Republicans, who argued for most of the special session that the court had exceeded its constitutional authority by ordering the Legislature to appropriate more money for schools. The main issue, they contended, was separation of powers.

House Speaker Doug Mays, a Topeka Republican, said he knew that some Republicans would resent his decision to drop the insistence that a constitutional amendment be passed along with the school funding measure.

“If I’ve failed some of you, I’m sorry,” Mays told a GOP caucus. “I take full responsibility.”

Mays said he was worried that there were enough votes among House Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a larger $160 million plan approved last week by the Senate.

To keep that from coming to a vote Wednesday, he agreed to drop the linkage provision and agree to the $148.4 million compromise.

Coupled with a $142 million package adopted during the regular session, basic aid to schools will increase $150 a student this fall, from $4,107 to $4,257. Money to help students who are performing poorly in school will increase by $53.7 million.

House passage of the compromise prompted a warning from conservatives.

“The stage is set for a huge tax increase,” said Rep. Bonnie Huy, a Wichita Republican. “We are facing a $500 million deficit in 2008.”

Money to pay for the schools plan would come out of a $172 million revenue increase found by revenue estimators in June.

“I don’t think it’s fiscally responsible for anyone to vote yes on this,” said Rep. Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican.

The court’s June 3 order requires legislators to increase funding again next year, perhaps by as much as $568 million.

In a written statement, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, praised the special session’s results as the work of a bipartisan group of “responsible Republican and Democratic legislators.”

“Today, the Kansas Legislature came together to do the right thing for our schools and our children,” Sebelius wrote.

Democrats said the spending bill showed they were right to pressure Republicans into giving up their insistence on the amendment. Throughout the special session, Democrats in the House put on a united front opposing linkage.

“Unity is our strength,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat. “No one gives away their strength.”

The constitutional amendment which failed in the House would have changed the Kansas Constitution to state that courts cannot order schools closed as a result of a school finance lawsuit.

For much of the special session, the Legislature was deadlocked over another proposed amendment. Conservative House leaders were unwilling to support any school plan without an amendment saying the court cannot interfere with spending levels set by the Legislature.

Lawmakers said debate over potential amendments would continue when the Legislature convenes in January for its regular session.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans argued the amendments went too far and should be studied during a regular session.

“It doesn’t take a constitutional amendment to prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from closing our schools,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “All of us could have avoided this.”

This was the Legislature’s first special session since 1989 and the longest since 1966. The session cost the state about $500,000, though about half of that was offset by savings from a shorter-than-usual regular session.

“Today, our schoolchildren scored a big victory in the Kansas Legislature,” Hensley said.

Next year, however, will bring even greater challenges, given the court’s order for still more school finance money. The state also faces mounting Medicaid costs and highway bills. Next year also will see the race for governor take center stage.

“This was a warm-up,” said Sen. Nick Jordan, a Shawnee Republican. “The next session has the potential to be very, very contentious.”
 
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By a vote, House approves tax change for schools
Plan shifts some costs to business, consumers from property owners
By Mike Ward, Jason Embry, Austin American-Statesman Staff,
7/7/05

A plan to broaden
Texas business taxes and increase sales taxes to pay for billions of dollars in school property tax cuts was approved in the House on Wednesday by a single vote, moments after appearing to lose by the same margin.

The vote came on the same day the state Supreme Court considered whether the current school finance system — which distributes property tax revenue among districts — complies with the Texas Constitution. The high court heard arguments in a lawsuit that more than 300 school districts filed against the state.

Capping more than nine hours of politically supercharged debate at the Capitol, the dramatic 73-72 vote approved a scaled-down version of tax shifts House members had passed earlier this year. House members approved it with hopes of doing in the next couple of weeks what they couldn't during the spring session: Finding common ground with the Senate to overhaul the way the state pays for its schools.

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he expects that the measure will pass by a few more votes on final reading today.

"We knew it would be close. We knew we were within one or two votes of it," Craddick said. "I've been here a long time, and every tax bill and tax vote has been close and has been controversial."

The plan approved Wednesday would raise the state sales tax from 6.25 cents per dollar to 7.25 percent and expand it to car repairs, bottled water and computer programming, among other things. It would boost cigarette taxes by $1 per pack. And it would require more companies to pay the state's franchise tax, but it doesn't introduce any new taxes on business.

In exchange for the tax increases, the House plan would cut the maximum property tax rate for school maintenance and operations from $1.50 per $100 in assessed property value to $1.23 this year and $1.12 next year.

But a preliminary analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board said that the measure would result in a net tax decrease only for households with incomes of $100,000 or higher.

On the initial vote, House Bill 3 failed to pass 74-73 — with Craddick, who normally does not vote as presiding officer, voting in favor.

A hushed silence dropped over the House as Craddick verified each vote.

Two members who voted against the measure could not be located — Reps. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio — and their votes were then struck from the tally, leaving the one-vote margin of passage.

Thirteen of the 87 House Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill.

Democrats immediately seized on the razor-thin passage as a sign that the House-passed plan is in trouble, and needs to be revamped to get it to final passage.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the vote "sends the message that this is divisive plan that has the House split almost evenly and that . . . it would be advisable for the leadership to moderate the plan by reducing the sales tax and balancing the burden of new taxes more evenly across all taxpayers."

With two weeks left in a 30-day special session, major hurdles remain.

Because tax bills must originate in the House, the Senate has not yet weighed in with its own plan, but it is expected to start doing so today.

And the plan that the House approved Wednesday contains some of the same elements that most alarmed senators in the regular session, such as a proposal to give
Texas the highest state sales tax rate in the country.

The Senate has shown a preference for making businesses shoulder more of the burden, arguing that they will receive sizable property-tax cuts.

In case the Legislature can't agree to a new school financing scheme this month, House members approved a separate bill Wednesday, HB 1, that restores the public education money lawmakers had approved in the regular session.

Gov. Rick Perry had vetoed that money when he called the Legislature into special session.

Perry won a victory in the House on Wednesday when lawmakers rebuffed a proposal to give businesses the choice of paying a payroll tax or the corporate franchise tax.

Perry has urged lawmakers to modify the franchise tax to make about 10,000 more companies pay it by including corporations that now establish partnerships to avoid paying it.

He had hoped to move the sluggish school-finance negotiations forward by encouraging lawmakers to abandon a payroll tax that many of them did not want to pass and that could have slowed the tax-swap push considerably because it is a tough political sell.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, proposed an amendment that would give businesses the option of choosing between a payroll tax and the franchise tax. He said 325,000 more
Texas businesses would pay taxes, raising an additional $100 million and ensuring a fairer tax system.

Perry had met with several dozen House Republicans for breakfast Wednesday, hours before the debate began, to underscore his opposition to the payroll tax. And his top aides were busy throughout the day, before the vote on Chisum's amendment, lobbying against its adoption. House members then killed the amendment 96-47. Democrats and Republicans split both ways on the vote.

During the marathon debate Wednesday, one lawmaker warned that one part of the bill could hit
Austin hard: Software development will be taxed for the first time.

Throughout the day, emotions ran high at times as most of the more than 91 proposed amendments were either tabled or withdrawn. The amendments included increased taxes on beer and wine, a three-year moratorium on property tax hikes, legalization of video slot machines, a new tax on airplane repairs to pay for school supplies — even an $8-per-customer tax on nude-dancing clubs.

The school finance debate was not left solely to the legislative arena Wednesday. Next door to the Capitol, lawyers for more than 300 school districts and the state argued over whether the current finance system is constitutional.

The eight Supreme Court justices heard two hours of oral arguments in the state's appeal of a district judge ruling last year that the school funding system is unconstitutional. The justices are not expected to rule for at least a couple of months.

Attorney General Greg Abbott and his lawyers argued that the Constitution does not allow judges to weigh in on the adequacy and fairness of the school finance system, two of the key issues in the school lawsuit.

"The school districts are asking the courts of the state of
Texas to order the Legislature to raise taxes and spend more money on education," said state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who argued before the high court on Abbott's behalf.

Lawyers for the school districts suing the state say the Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted its role in education matters.

"We're not trying to get the court to order the state to embark on any specific remedy," said David Thompson, a
Houston lawyer representing a group of school districts that includes Austin and Round Rock. "What we have asked for is for the court to stop the operation of an unconstitutional system if the violations are not corrected."
 
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School district seeks ways to help teachers find, afford homes
By Christa DeNardo, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, 7/7/05

Faced with the rising costs of housing and its potential to keep new teachers away, the Palm Beach County School Board agreed Wednesday to start the process to help them find and pay for affordable homes.

The district may partner with mortgage giant Fannie Mae, as well as municipalities and community groups using seminars that help people navigate the home-buying process, make a down payment on a home, get lower interest rates and find other financial assistance.
 
Palm Beach County's Community Partnership Group holds some of its home-buying seminars at several schools in the western part of the county, but it's never recruited teachers to attend.

"The process of buying a home, especially with all the creative financing out there, can be very mind-boggling for a person buying a home for the first time," Katrina Wright, senior deputy director for Fannie Mae in
South Florida, said during a presentation to the school board.

Helping teachers purchase a home could help the district compete with less-expensive counties in recruiting and retaining teachers. And there are big-picture benefits, too, she said. Homeownership creates a stable community that's good for any business, and children in stable homes are more likely to do better in school.

The district routinely needs more than 2,000 new teachers each year to to meet the need of the growing student population and to replace retiring or leaving teachers.

"I'd like to get some pilot (programs) out there as soon as possible, and as soon as we get success, replicate them," said schools Superintendent Art Johnson, who wants to focus the incentives for teachers who work in the most challenging schools, such as those in
Belle Glade.

But teachers in more affluent areas need the help, too.

Palm Beach County's median existing-home price hit $390,900 in May, making it among the highest in the nation, according to the National Association of Realtors.

That's bad news for teachers in
Palm Beach County, where salaries average $45,904. New teachers starting this year will make $33,494

Employers helping workers find housing is not new, especially not in hot markets such as
South Florida. Fannie Mae started its national initiative in the 1990s, but participation has grown exponentially — from 65 to 750 programs — during the past five years, Wright said.

This spring, the Realtors Association of the
Palm Beaches and Fannie Mae started a countywide initiative to give public and private workers housing assistance such as seminars, cash to help with closing costs on homes and low interest rates.

So far, the city of
West Palm Beach is the only employer in the county to promise housing subsidies — up to $45,000 — for some of its employees, Wright said. Three private employers, including the Boca Raton Resort and Club, plan to offer seminars on home-buying and financing.

"We need to recruit and retain good teachers and give people better piece of mind, and let them know the school district cares about their welfare, even when they're not on the job" school board Vice Chairman Bill Graham said.
 
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Vote targets unfunded mandate
By Susan Hunter, Editor of
Derby Valley Gazette, July 07, 2005
 
The state Legislature has given overwhelming support to Atty. General Richard Blumenthal's efforts to sue the U.S. Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). 

Last Wednesday, the House voted 80-34 to support Blumenthal's plan to sue the federal government for imposing expensive, unfunded mandates as part of the NCLB.
 
Representatives voted on an emergency certification bill, according to state Rep. Themis Klarides (R-Derby), who voted against the bill.

Emergency certification is a process used for a bill intended for a special legislative session.

State senators voted 23-9 in favor of Senate Bill 2004.

"There was overwhelming support of the attorney general's lawsuit," said Rep. Linda Gentile (D-Ansonia,
Derby).

Underfunded mandates lay at the crux of the vote, she said.

"There is a piece of federal legislation that forbids the federal government from imposing unfunded or underfunded mandates," Gentile said.

The NCLB, an initiative pushed by President George Bush, aims to close the achievement gap among groups of students, especially those from disadvantaged areas.

However, state officials and educators have criticized the NCLB for mandating tests and standards but not providing the corresponding funding to pay for them. "For small cities like
Ansonia and Derby, the cost of the [NCLB] requirements can blow education budgets right out of the water," Gentile said.

She said she believes some
New England states have contacted Blumenthal about joining the lawsuit, and Maine has made a strong commitment.

Blumenthal's April 5 announcement that he was preparing legal action against the federal government elicited criticism from top officials at the U.S. Education Department.

But Blumenthal and many educators in the Valley and across the state say the NCLB Act would require
Connecticut to spend millions of dollars to conduct testing they say is already in place.

The state has a successful 20-year history of alternate grade testing, they say.

The NCLB law mandates that only 1 percent of school children - specifically, those with severe developmental delays or learning handicaps - may be exempt from regular standardized testing.

This dictate worries educators and parents alike, as children designated for special education will be forced to take tests geared for students at regular education levels.

Despite a revision of the NCLB law that would increase the number of special education students eligible to receive individualized testing from 1 to 2 percent, Blumenthal said he is still determined to sue.

He was happy with the state Legislatures show of support.

"This strong legislative support can help stop hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in illegal federal unfunded mandates," he said last Wednesday. "It reflects a growing groundswell from town school boards, educators and citizens across the state. The stakes for
Connecticut are huge - indeed, hundreds of millions of dollars beginning this fiscal year July 1.

"I would prefer the conference room, not the courtroom, in seeking the full funding or flexibility," he said. "But the federal government has been invariably inflexible and rigid - repeatedly rejecting our key requests, as recently as last week. Litigation is always a last resort, but we now have no choice in protecting our children and taxpayers.

"We will begin legal action very soon, after we finish consulting with other states, local school boards, educators and citizens to mobilize maximum support."

Klarides said she voted against the bill last week because she thinks Blumenthal should get his approval for this course of action from the state Board of Education.

The state board tabled the issue until September, she said.

She termed the legislative vote "ridiculous."

On the other hand, state Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17) said the legislative vote will have an impact on the state's financial position.

"We're required to add testing that many feel is already being done," Crisco said. There should be additional funding for the testing, he said.

"We were acting on behalf of the state commissioner of education, the attorney general, the legislative chambers, and the governor's office," he said.

Crisco said he did not know whether Governor M. Jodi Rell will sign the bill supporting Blumenthal's efforts. 

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