Jean Moore, executive director of the MaconCountyChildAdvocacyCenter, 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
HessPark, 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 StevensonSchool, 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
Other parks visited by Safe from the Start so far have included Jasper,
Baker Woods, BrushCollege, Lions, Fans Field, Torrence and Galloway.
On Thursday, children at HessPark 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
"I play basketball," said Darion Woods, 9, who will be a fourth-grader
"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
HopeAcademy, 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." TOP OF PAGE
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
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
"If you don't have proper oral health, it has been associated with
heart disease and respiratory illness and low-birthweight babies,"
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
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 HarvardUniversity.
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 LincolnElementary
in south suburban Calumet
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
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
Low teacher expectations have been a problem at ColesElementary 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
Thomas defended his practice. "You wouldn't want to put an unmotivated
teacher with a highly motivated group. They would regress," he
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.
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 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."
Former principal wants job back
Edward Hayes was called up by the Army soon after taking school post Crete-MoneeSD 201U says he has 'no right to re-employment' Jennifer Golz, Daily Southtown
A former Crete-MoneeHigh
principal who has spent the past two years overseas as an Army Reservist
wants his job back.
Edward Hayes came to Crete-MoneeSchool 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-MoneeHigh
"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
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.
principal post remains vacant. Jan Paron, who was appointed interim
principal after Hayes' deployment, resigned in May.
Arguing that the litigation was not properly brought, Harvard school
officials have asked a McHenryCounty 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 HarvardSchool
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
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
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 HarvardHigh
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." TOP OF PAGE
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
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
"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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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! TOP OF PAGE
SOUTH ELGIN Although special education student Natalie Herrera's
time at BartlettHigh
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
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 BartlettHigh
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,
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,
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
Parents interviewed for this story said they originally were told the
students would attend the new SouthElginHigh School which is closer to their homes this fall.
But the class now has been moved to StreamwoodHigh
It will be the seventh U46 school Natalie Herrera has attended. TOP OF PAGE
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
But another county board member, Frank Stewart, said he would not comment
Thursday on whether he will give up his seat on the JolietGradeSchool
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.
FirstAssistantState'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. CountyBoard 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 KankakeeCounty further bolstered efforts to remove Travis and Stewart.
Wilson served on both the KankakeeCounty and KankakeeSchool 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. TOP OF PAGE
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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.
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti
straps are not welcome in the classroom.
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 MillerCounty, 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."
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
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.
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
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
For the first time, in other words, education reform was designed to
make some people uncomfortable.
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
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.
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.
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
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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.
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
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.
$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 states Supreme Court
and keep it from carrying out a threat to close public schools this
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 weve 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
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 years problems, said Rep. Ed OMalley,
a Roeland Park Republican.
While OMalley 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
We were snookered, said Sen. Kay OConnor, 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 years 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,
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.
Lets 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 Ive failed some of you, Im 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
Money to pay for the schools plan would come out of a $172 million revenue
increase found by revenue estimators in June.
I dont think its fiscally responsible for anyone to
vote yes on this, said Rep. Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican.
The courts 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 sessions 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
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 doesnt 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
This was the Legislatures 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
Today, our schoolchildren scored a big victory in the Kansas Legislature,
Next year, however, will bring even greater challenges, given the courts
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. TOP OF PAGE
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
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
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
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
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
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." TOP OF PAGE
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
BeachCounty'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.
BeachCounty's median existing-home price hit $390,900 in May, making
it among the highest in the nation, according to the National Association
That's bad news for teachers in Palm BeachCounty, 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 PalmBeaches 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
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. TOP OF PAGE
Vote targets unfunded
By Susan Hunter, Editor of DerbyValley 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
The NCLB, an initiative pushed by President George Bush, aims to close
the achievement gap among groups of students, especially those from
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
The state has a successful 20-year history of alternate grade testing,
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
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,"
Crisco said he did not know whether Governor M. Jodi Rell will sign
the bill supporting Blumenthal's efforts.