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More Oversight of NY School Funds

Motivated by the financial scandal that rocked the Roslyn school district on Long Island where several administrators, including the superintendent of schools, were recently convicted of embezzling, New York state lawmakers created a law calling for stricter oversight of school finances. Enacted in July 2005 and fully invested this month, the law mandates five steps:

1. School board members must undergo training to better understand their fiscal responsibilities.

2. Every school district must be able to do internal audits.

3. Each district must have an audit committee formed.

4. Districts must secure the services of external auditors through formal bidding every five years.

5. Districts must create a corrective action plan less than 90 days after receiving an auditor's recommendations.

By June 30, every district must comply with all aspects of the law. Because the law was approved so late in the legislative schedule, up to this point there has been very little change in how districts do business. "I think it is too early to say," says Steven Van Hoesen, director of government relations for the New York State Association of School Business Officials. Rural districts are having the biggest problems conforming, Van Hoesen says. Large school districts may have had some of these components already in place, and suburban districts can get the money to fund expensive audits, but rural districts are often starting from scratch, he says.

Accume Partners, a New York City based internal auditing firm, is handling the process for about a dozen districts across the state, including Peekskill and Sag Harbor. Internal auditing is about people, processes and controls. Simply put, it is a way of making sure everyone is working by the same rules in an effort to ensure fiscal responsibility.

"There is a need for transparency in accounting and a need for transparency for schools and how they do their business," says David Moran, director of Accume Partners Education Practice. "It helps reaffirm confidence in school districts."

In another new online payment system, given the popularity of stricter audits, PaySchools help simplify and streamline financial operations for parent groups across the country, not just for one state.

PaySchools enables parent-teacher group leaders to collect and manage dues and fund-raising proceeds for their schools safely and efficiently while offering parents the convenience of making their payments online with a credit card or electronic check. -Steve Scarpa

Tag Is Out

As worries over lawsuits and injuries to students loom over districts, the age-old game of tag is being banned, or at the very least discouraged, in various districts across the U.S., according to

Willett Elementary School in Attleboro, Mass., as well as some schools in South Carolina, Wyoming and Washington, recently banned the game. Some schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have chosen to limit it.

The fears include increased violence and aggression against classmates, from hitting to poking students, and lawsuits due in part to hard blacktop surfaces, where the game is usually played. Others say the game interferes with organized physical education classes. But tag supporters claim the game teaches students how to compete fairly, how to deal with disagreements and how to find solutions to problems.

STATS71% of students surveyed said they do the bare minimum to get by in school. 74% of professors and 73% of employers surveyed said American students lack basic grammar and spelling skills, and similar percentages said they can't write clearly. -Source: Center for Education Reform, "The American Education Diet: Can U.S. Students Survive on Junk Food?"

Pair Excitement with Extended Time

A key attribute of successful extended learning time in high school is the idea of engaging students with their interests beyond school, a recent study shows.

In a new Center for American Progress report, Expanding Learning Time in High Schools, student surveys show that the most useful extended school options are those that help students advance toward postsecondary goals by giving them access to work experience and to college credit. Extending the school day and/or year can help raise student achievement and close the achievement gap, the report says. Increasing the time in school has grown more popular as higher standards and expectations have risen.

The report recommends every state create an Extended Learning Time Initiative, which means encouraging the development of charter schools and new schools that use extended-time models and also encouraging the use of technology to supplement the curriculum in high poverty schools.

Oregon Gets Laptops

Three Oregon middle schools will take part in a pilot program where sixth-graders will each recieve a Gateway laptop computer this winter, according to One-to-One Laptop Pilot program officials.

The program is designed to improve test scores and prepare students for today's world by giving them their own laptops to be used in lessons in every sixth grade class. The partnership includes Intel Corp., the state Department of Education, and the Oregon Association of Education Service Districts. The three Education Service Districts selected for the program are Northwest Regional ESD in Hillsboro, High Desert ESD in Redmond and Malheur ESD in Vale.

Single-Sex Ed Gets Easier

Thanks to a new federal law, school districts nationwide will have a greater opportunity to offer single-sex schooling options, provided there is a firm educational benefit to doing so.

In late October, the U.S Department of Education announced the release of Title IX regulations that give more flexibility to districts to create single-sex classes or schools. Nonvocational single-sex classes are allowed if related to improving achievement or providing diverse opportunities. Single-sex schools can be set up if the district is willing to set up a "substantially equivalent" school for one or both genders, according to department information. "The amended regulations are designed to give more choices for children," says Katherine McLane, a department press secretary. "Research shows that some students better perform in a single-sex environment."

According to the National Association of Single Sex Public Education, a benefit to single-sex education is that girls in a single sex classroom are more likely to study subjects like math, computer science and physics. Conversely, boys are more likely to study foreign languages and the arts.

Leonard Sax, executive director for the National Association of Single Sex Public Education, believes the news is long overdue. The program was enacted in 2002 with the advent of No Child Left Behind regulations but held up by Washington political machinations, he says. "Why did it take four years? This was not something the Bush administration had any interest in. They have been extraordinarily unhelpful," Sax says. However, he does feel the announcement comes "better late than never." "One need not assert all girls learn one way and all boys another," Sax says. "The evidence [for the benefit of single-sex education] is quite striking."

Yet some powerful groups oppose the measure, saying it encourages gender stereotyping and is based on spurious research. And Jocelyn Samuels, vice president of education and employment for the National Women's Law Center, is among them. She believes single-sex education can be beneficial in carefully defined circumstances. However, she believes the new regulations are too broad to be constitutionally defensible. "It stands to endanger equal opportunity for both boys and girls," she says. And she thinks the regulations would not stand up to a court challenge. "Never before have parents been able to dictate a school's civil rights responsibilities," she says. The American Civil Liberties Union had successfully combated public single-sex education in Louisiana and plans to keep an eye on any developments at the local level. "The regulations allow schools to separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can dream up-including outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes," says Emily Martin, deputy director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

-Steven Scarpa

Chicago's First

Chicago Public Schools' teacher incentive fund, linking teachers' pay to improved student test scores, beginning fall 2007, will be among the nation's biggest merit pay systems.

It's the first time the district has experimented with the controversial idea of paying teachers more money for improved student achievement. Chicago, which is the largest district implementing this, has so far received the largest grant, $27.5 million, from the U.S. Department of Education. But 15 other districts are receiving grants from the government as well. This is part of President Bush's plan to design a performance-based teacher and principal compensation system in high-needs, high-poverty schools.

Meanwhile, 50 Texas schools have rejected state grants to establish such merit pay programs.

Voters Want More Money in School

Although a clear trend can't be made, a handful of state voters spoke out in last November's elections' proposals and referendums, saying in unofficial results that they want more money to go toward public schools.

"Since the 1980s, things have been fairly tight with money but you are still getting varying decisions over bonds or referendums," says Education Commission of the States spokeswoman Kathy Christie. But where voters did support more money for schools, "it seems to echo the amount of trust" that people have in district management or state offices, she says.

Nevada voted to require the legislature for two years to fund K12 public education first, over other parts of the state budget, and Alabama districts are required to have at least 10 mills of property tax allocated for public education.

Wyoming voted to repeal the former limitation on the amount of property tax revenues that may be redistributed by the state-through the school foundation account-from districts with greater property tax revenues to other districts.

Nebraska created an early childhood endowment fund and Arizona increased taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products and allocated the resulting revenue to preschool programs and their families as well as health screenings and access to preventive health services.

In California, voters rejected a proposition for a bond issue that would not have exceeded $600 million for construction and renovation of public library facilities, but voters did approve $10.4 billion in state general obligation bonds for school districts, county superintendents of schools, boards of education, and the college system to construct and modernize education facilities. Voters also rejected voluntary preschool for all 4-year-olds to be funded by a tax on individual incomes over $400,000.

The 65 percent solution was axed in Colorado. Voters rejected two proposals which would have amended the state constitution to require districts to spent at least 65 percent of operational expenditures on classroom instruction starting in 2007-08.

And South Dakota rejected prohibiting school boards from establishing the start of school prior to the last day of August, so school can start in August in that state.


Pro-NCLB Commentator Settles

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams recently admitted no wrongdoing regarding payments he had received from the government to promote President Bush's agenda, but he was ordered to pay $34,000 that prosecutors said had been overpaid.

The settlement was reached last fall by Williams, the Education Department and its subcontractor, Ketchum Communications. Among the first steps Education Secretary Spellings took when she came to office was establishing guidelines to prevent future occurrences of this type of situation, says Katherine McLane, Spellings' spokeswoman.

First Online, Accredited University

The Teachers College of Western Governors University was recently given full and unconditional five-year accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a first of its kind.

The Teachers College, which is nearly 4 years old, continues to grow more than 40 percent every year and has 4,000 students, about a fourth of whom focus on math and science education. About 600 candidates getting their license will graduate this year.

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