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Texas: Sin taxes

Republican Gov. Rick Perry is facing opposition from his own party over his plan to increase sin taxes to pay for education, according to the April 24 Houston Chronicle. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst both oppose the idea, and the GOP-controlled Legislature isn’t jumping on board with Perry. The governor wants to cut property taxes for more affluent homeowners while increasing cigarette taxes, imposing an admission tax on topless bars and expanding video gambling to racetracks.

California: College prep

A bill now pending in the Legislature would require all high school students to take a college-prep curriculum starting in 2010, according to the April 21 Contra Costa Times. Students would have to take the minimum requirements for admission to colleges in the state university system. “All of our students need the skills once reserved for our college-bound students,” says state Schools Chief Jack O’Connell. In order to pay for the more rigorous coursework, schools would be given more flexibility in how they spend some state funds.

Maryland: Teacher rehires

Schools will no longer be able to rehire retired teachers since lawmakers scrapped a plan aimed at bringing veteran math, science and special education teachers back to struggling schools, according to the April 14 Baltimore Sun. Lawmakers could not agree on reforms to curb misuse of the program. An investigation by the Sun found that many of the rehires were at high-performing schools and some were earning over $100,000 in combined salaries and pension. As many as 1,000 rehired teachers and principals won’t return next school year unless they agree to work part time or reduce their pensions.

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The number of high school students participating in service learning has risen dramatically since the mid-1980s, but the percentage of school districts requiring participation has remained generally stable, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. In 1984, about 81,000 high school students were involved in service that was tied to the curriculum, and about 13 percent of school districts had service learning as a requirement.

In 1997, more than 3 million students were involved, but only 16 percent to 18 percent of school districts required it.

Here’s what is happening in three urban districts.

PHILADELPHIA The School Board last year voted to require students to do “citizenship” projects by the end of 4th, 8th and 12th grades. Beginning in June 2002, the projects will be required for promotion to 5th and 9th grades and graduation from high school. The district also has hired 22 coordinators to deliver and coordinate teacher training.

MILWAUKEE Two years ago, the School Board approved a high school graduation requirement for “community membership,” says Paco Martorell, who coordinates school-community services. “But it was not clear exactly what that meant.” As a result, the mandate is not being enforced. This month, a new proposal would make service learning one component of a social studies portfolio that students would have to present to graduate, he says.

DADE COUNTY (MIAMI), FLA. The district requires all high school students to do at least one project during non-school hours that benefits the community. Projects must be pre-approved by a teacher in the Social Studies Department, which is responsible for ensuring that students fulfill the requirement. Students must turn in a form documenting what they did and write an essay analyzing the experience.

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ROCHESTER, NY

Parents will grade teachers. A new contract for teachers in Rochester is among the first in the country to bring parents into the teacher evaluation process, and to involve teachers in the evaluation of principals, according to the Sept. 17 issue of Education Week.

Parent input will be a formal part of teachers’ performance evaluations but will have no bearing on raises or promotions.

The issue of parent involvement had held up a contract agreement for more than a year. Union officials were concerned that parents would be asked to evaluate a teacher’s competence in a particular subject. Under a compromise between the School Board and the union, parents will be asked to respond to 20 questions that hone in on their relationship with their school.

For example, parents will be asked whether teachers are available for meetings when parents request them. The form also asks if teachers call parents to report problems with a child’s school work or attendance. Another issue is whether the teacher assigns “clear and meaningful homework” and “makes clear what my child is expected to learn in … class.”

Parents are to return completed forms to their children’s teachers, who, in turn, are expected to bring the forms to evaluation sessions with their principal. Parents have the option of sending a copy of the form to principals.

Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, told Education Week that the agreement likely will encourage parents and teachers to communicate with each other, which will benefit students. “Kids tend to do better in school if they know parents and teachers are talking to each other,” he says.

Rochester Schools Supt. Clifford Janey also points out that parent feedback on teachers may help the district pinpoint areas that are working or need improvement.

Parents’ comments make up one of four areas of teacher evaluation. The others are pedagogy, knowledge of subject matter and school-professional contributions.

A form for teachers to use in reviewing administrators has not yet been written, according to Urbanski.

Beyond New York, school districts in Alaska also are working out the details of a document for parents to use in teacher evaluations. A new state law mandates that parents and community members participate in evaluating the performance of school teachers and principals.

CLEVELAND, OH

Groups sue over mayoral control. The local chapter of the NAACP and members of school unions have filed federal lawsuits to block a mayoral takeover of the city’s public schools, according to the Sept. 17 issue of Education Week. The two nearly-identical suits challenge the constitutionality of a recently-enacted state law that allows Mayor Michael R. White to appoint a new school board and chief executive officer.

“Most of our claims relate to the [Cleveland] community being deprived of their right to vote for a school board,” a lawyer for the union members told the newspaper. According to a union spokesperson, the suit cites the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a clause of the state constitution that guarantees local districts the right to have a say in how their school systems will be governed.

The state got jurisdiction over the city’s schools in 1995, when the judge presiding over the district’s desegregation case declared the 76,000-student system to be in a “state of crisis.” Gov. George V. Voinovich signed the mayoral-takeover provision into law in August of this year.

An assistant to Voinovich insists that there is nothing illegal about the new law, noting that it will give Cleveland residents the right to vote the appointed leadership up or down after four years.

Mayor White, who has engaged in bruising battles with the Cleveland Teachers Union in recent years, cannot take official control of the district without the federal court’s OK.

FLORIDA

Bingo may pay for school buildings. Under a plan proposed by two powerful state GOP lawmakers, a nightly televised bingo game run by the state lottery could raise up to $100 million for school reconstruction, according to the Sept. 19 issue of the Miami Herald. Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, has strongly opposed similar proposals to use revenues from expanded state-sanctioned gambling to fund schools.

Funding for school construction has become a top political issue, the Herald reports. Republicans have also sought to claim part of the state’s tobacco settlement for that purpose.

The secretary of the state lottery system is skeptical of the plan, noting that it would require both a restructuring of the way lottery funds are divvied up and a renegotiation of the lottery’s contract with the private vendors who administer the games.

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen low-income counties in Colorado are considering a lawsuit against the state to challenge its reliance on property taxes to pay for school repairs, according to the October 1997 issue of The American School Board Journal.