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Education Budget Rises But Falls Short of Needs

The omnibus spending bill signed by President Bush in December gives the Department of Education $59.7 billion in FY 2005, an increase of $1.4 billion over FY 2004 but $300 million below the president's request.

Few programs came out big winners. Students with disabilities fare better than some, says Jane Browning, executive director of Learning Disabilities Association of America. Funding for IDEA Part B increases to $11.07 billion in 2005. "We're still seeking the full funding [that was promised] when IDEA was passed in 1975," Browning says. Currently, the feds pay less than half of their share of special education services as outlined by IDEA.

National Education Association spokeswoman Denise Cardinal says, "This is a 0.2 percent increase overall, but the question is: Is education adequately funded to meet the growing needs of already strapped-school districts? We say it's not."

For example, at $19.61 billion, funding for NCLB falls short of the $26.9 billion authorized and the $44.37 billion it would take to fully fund the law, according to the NEA.

" We're going to see devastating cuts across domestic programs in the 2006 budget." -Jane Browning, executive director, Learning Disabilities Association of America

But Ted Rebarber, CEO of Education Leaders Council, contends that NCLB funding is sufficient to comply with the law if districts redirect expenditures and change practices. For example, aligning reading instructional practices with research on effective instruction could yield better results and reduce the number of students in special education and Title I. Districts could do this by changing the professional development already in place instead of adding to it, says Rebarber.

Krista Kafer, senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, says Congress needs to better prioritize funding and limit special interest allocations. The Whaling and Trading Partners program, a smaller NCLB program that funds museums, receives an increase for 2005. Kafer says this seems ill advised when special education and Title I aren't funded at levels requested by the president.

Title I funding rises to $12.74 billion in the current budget, an increase of $400 million but $7.8 billion less than authorized in NCLB.

Schools may need to prepare for more belt-tightening in FY 2006. "We're going to see devastating cuts across domestic programs in the 2006 budget," Browning predicts.

Rebarber says schools will see increases in funding at the state level as the financial situation in many states improves. These increases could result in net gains even if the federal share drops as state funding represents a larger share of the education budget.

--Lisa Fratt

Best Use in Technology

A new Web site highlights nine federally funded grantees charged with studying the effects of educational technology on student learning.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association launched the new Web site for its Technical Assistance Partnership Program. It provides examples of how schools in Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin are using scientifically-based research to make the best uses.

New Pre-K For Florida

Florida legislators put nearly $12 million aside to start setting up a pre-K program that voters approved in 2002, according to the

Lawmakers also plan to allocate about $350 million in the spring regular session for the first year's operation. Under the bill, 150,000 4-year-olds can enroll in a three-hour daily school year program or 300-hour summer program starting in August. It's estimated to cost $2,000 to $3,000 per child.

Task Force Suggests System to Track Dropout Rate

After a year of work, the Task Force on Graduation, Completion and Dropout Indicators determined that the most accurate system to determine national dropout rates is for states to adopt a universal data collection system.

The task force's report recommends it provide specifications for on-time graduation rates, completion rates, transfer rate and dropout rate. In addition, the report suggests the National Center for Educational Statistics work with states to develop the record systems, as well as coordinate the collection and reporting efforts.

National educational officials made it clear in the report that the system is not intended to be regulated by the federal government. "The system recommended by the task force is not a nationwide system. The recommended systems are at the state level," says Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Educational Science at the U.S. Department of Education.

The key requirement for making the system work is for each student to be given a unique identifying number and a set of interoperable database systems that allow administrative records to be linked from year to year and from school to school within a state, he says. "At a point when all states have the capability of tracking students across time and schools within a state, it would be possible to develop a system whereby one state could query the database of another state to search for any students who might have transferred across state boundaries," Whitehurst says.

Currently Florida, North Carolina and Texas have established such systems. The goal is to have a nationwide system complete over the next four years. In November, Congress authorized more than $25 million to help finance the project.

--Steven Scarpa

Gates Foundation Funds More Early College High Schools

School districts in more than 25 states will get a chance to boost their high school graduation rates and give low-income students a head-start on a college education through $29.6 million in new grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation announced in December that it was giving more than $22 million to seven organizations to support creating 42 new early college high schools. In addition, Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based non-profit that leads implementation of the ECHS network, will get $7 million to expand technical assistance, track the progress of students enrolled in the schools, and share best practices.

Early college high schools give traditionally underserved students a rigorous college-level curriculum and the opportunity to earn two years of college credit or an associate's degree, encouraging students to stay in high school as well as saving time and money for a student's future college education.

As of last fall, 50 such high schools were open and educating more than 8,000 students in 19 states. By fall 2008, more than 170 schools will exist throughout the country, ultimately serving more than 65,000 students, according to the Gates Foundation.

Since 2001, the ECHS network has received more than $124 million from the Gates Foundation and other foundations and corporations. Whether the investment is paying off is still unknown because most of the schools already open are less than two years old, says Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Gates Foundation.

"However, given the high expectations, coherent curriculum, college partnerships and strong supports, we're confident that nearly all of these schools will be better options than currently exist for target low-income students," Vander Ark says.

"It's time to re-engineer our secondary schools. Millions of our teenage youth are being left behind every day, unprepared to study further or secure good jobs in our sink-or-swim economy," adds Jobs for the Future CEO Marlene Seltzer.

All early college high schools are public schools. Although most are located on a community college campus, they operate in partnership with the local school district.

Even without outside funding, any school district can create an ECHS, says Cece Cunningham, director of the Middle College National Consortium. She recommends allowing a year to make arrangements with a local college, select students, designate faculty, and design the curriculum.

Instead of a separate high school building on the college campus, high school classrooms should be integrated with college classrooms by academic disciplines. "The more students can blend in, you won't have all the behavioral issues that you normally do as kids start high school," Cunningham says.

--Alan Dessoff

New Orleans Leader Safe

New Orleans School Superintendent Tony Amato is safe in his job.

The Louisiana attorney general recently showed his support for Amato in his struggle with the school board, giving him the OK to move or dismiss several employees and end existing contracts, according to The Times-Picayune.

The opinion, given in December, says Amato has unprecedented and far-reaching powers over hiring, policy and contracts. It marks the end of a bitter process that started in part over a state Senate Act that stripped the board of some authority. Five of the seven board members are new following elections in November.

School Crime Is Down, or Is It?

A report recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that the crime rate in the country's schools has decreased dramatically from 1992 to 2002.

The report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2004, states that violent victimizations dropped from 48 incidents per 1,000 students in 1992 to 24 per 1,000 in 2002. Approximately 659,000 violent crimes occurred while at school and approximately 720,000 violent crimes while away from school in 2002. However, more thefts occurred in school than outside. For the more serious crimes--rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault--the rates per 1,000 students were lower at school than away in each survey year from 1992 to 2002.

The information was gleaned from annual surveys taken by the bureau, says spokesman Stu Smith. However, both Smith and report co-author Katrina Baum decline to comment on why the numbers are decreasing, claiming the report only looks at patterns and not causes. Baum says the decline in school violence mirrors a decrease in crime among the whole population.

Bill Modzeleski, associate deputy undersecretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education, feels several factors help make the schools ostensibly safer. He says the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act means that more schools are employing programs that are proven to be effective. Secondly, he adds that in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, schools have become more sensitive to potentially explosive situations. "Schools are not only employing better programming but combining that programming with strong policies and practices," Modzeleski says.

Finally, Modzeleski feels that schools are better at linking with the community, particularly in involving the police in the day-to-day affairs of school. "As for whether this trend will continue, no one knows," he says.

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Service, takes issue with the way the report was prepared, calling it misleading. "The federal report grossly underestimates the extent of school crime because it is based upon limited research surveys, not actual reported crime incidents," he says. "While no one wants to be alarmist and overstate the problem, most experienced school safety professionals know that school crime is underreported to law enforcement and that there is no federal mandatory K-12 school crime reporting and tracking law on the books."

Trump claims that by using reported crime incidents rather than a random sampling, the numbers are quite different. For example, Trump claims the number of school-associated violent deaths jumped to 49 in 2003-2004, more than the two prior school years combined and greater than any school year since 1999.

--Steven Scarpa

Using Senses Together Boost Academics

A balance and sensory activity program is helping struggling children catch up in reading, writing, comprehension and focus as well as allowing gifted children to excel.

The Learning Breakthrough Program was developed for children with attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

The program involves having a child watch a video which sets up tasks, such as tossing balls at a target or tapping a hanging ball while standing on a balance board. It combines various activities to strengthen most areas involved with learning and performance.

Got Milk?

Soda machines are so last year. Now, milk machines are in, according to a CNN report.

Wisconsin is the biggest milk state, with 66 percent of high schools having milk vending machines, the highest percentage in the U.S., says Laura Wilford, director of the Wisconsin Dairy Council, the nutrition education department of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. And they don't just offer plain milk but chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, and vanilla cream.

Recent research reveals that adolescents who had two servings of dairy food a day appeared to have fewer weight problems than children who had less dairy.

Seattle School Water Gets Clean

A new policy in Seattle ensures all schools have some of the cleanest school drinking water in the U.S., worth more than $12 million over three years.

The Seattle School Board recently approved the policy which has Superintendent Raj Manhas reporting in March how he will execute the plan. It also establishes a citizen-oversight committee and ensures future levies to get more money to pay for water-quality projects.

The plan should correct the lead found in one quarter of the fountains districtwide.

Colorado Charters Defy Trend

Colorado's charter-school students are performing better than their traditional public school peers on the state assessment test, according to the Denver Post.

Nearly 40 percent of traditional schools were rated "high" or better on the state's School Accountability Reports this year, compared to 46 percent of the state's charter schools.

And nationally, charter-school students tend to perform at or below their peers in traditional schools. Some say the reason is in part due to Colorado's charter students coming from more affluent homes, in general, than their peers at traditional public schools.

California Teachers Get Cheap Car Rates

The Teachers' Insurance Plan, already in 13 states, offers low automobile insurance premiums and additional discounts to teachers and others who work in California schools.

It also offers Teachers' RoadAssist, or discounts and emergency services for towing and roadside service vendors; a Scholastic Assistance Program that makes a donation to schools' programs for every employee in schools requesting free car insurance quotes; and a ChalkTalk newsletter full of education issues and car safety tips.

Title IX: Does it Protect Educators from Retribution?

The Supreme Court is expected to decide this spring on a court case brought by an Alabama girls' high school basketball coach who sued the school board under Title IX claiming it retaliated against him after he complained his team was not enjoying the same privileges as the boys' team.

The coach, Roderick Jackson, was not offered a contract to continue as coach in 2001. But he and his attorneys say Title IX, the 1972 law barring discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funds, should protect educators from penalty for speaking out about inequities.

"The essence of the lawsuit is that retaliation is part of discrimination so if you were going to give effective protection against discrimination you have to give protection for retaliation,'' says Dina Lassow, Jackson's attorney and senior counsel from the National Women's Law Center.

Lassow contends Jackson was denied a coaching contract at Ensley High School in Birmingham because he complained that his team had to practice in a gym with broken backboards, while the boys' team practices in a regulation-size gym with basketball rims that weren't bent.

Jackson, who has been teaching at the school since 1999, never lost his teaching job and was reinstated as coach on an interim basis last year. The school board maintains that it didn't retaliate against Jackson and contends he has no case under Title IX.

Kenneth L. Thomas, an attorney representing the Birmingham school board argues that Title IX doesn't mention the subject of protection for school staff who voice concerns about gender discrimination.

"The issue is what was Congress's intent when it passed Title IX and nowhere in the statute is the word retaliation or that there should be no retaliation,'' says Thomas.

The National School Boards Association agrees with Thomas and the Birmingham school board. "Our brief urges the court to find against him,'' says Julie Underwood, general counsel for NSBA, "because we think there are lots of other ways he could have gone about seeking a review of the school district's decision."

--Fran Silverman

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