Contents of this issue:
  • Colorado high court narrowly rules against voucher program

  • House approves local control of ISDs

  • Charter school board votes to dissolve academy

  • NYC to promote 1,500 students that failed must-pass exam

  • School unions focus on stopping charter schools

  • Increases in college aid lowers tuition burden by one-third

  • NEA union delays No Child Left Behind lawsuit

  • Valedictorian silenced during speech will receive diploma

DENVER, Colo. — The Colorado Supreme Court ruled yesterday against that state's voucher program, citing a clause in Colorado's constitution restricting the use of locally raised tax money towards private education.

The 4-3 decision will force state legislators to recreate the voucher program in a way that will not violate the state constitution, according to Chip Mellor, president of the Washington-based Institute for Justice. The Institute for Justice represented 12 Colorado families in support of the program. "A lot is going to depend on the races for the seats this fall. What the bill will look like will depend on the makeup of the assembly," he said.

Colorado legislators approved the voucher program in 2003 to provide low-income families with up to $5,000 of tuition assistance to attend the private school of their choice. Qualified families would have received the money beginning this fall.

A lawsuit against the program, led by the Colorado Education Association, the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, cited a statute in the Colorado constitution that gives local districts control over educational instruction. The "statewide system of school finance is designed to preserve local control over locally raised tax revenues," wrote Justice Michael Bender in the majority opinion.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Rebecca Kourlis argued that a district "loses no control whatsoever over the education provided in its public schools, but merely loses some revenue that it would otherwise have." According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, average per-student expenditures in Colorado are well above $6,000, leaving the state's public school system with over $1,000 extra per student in the voucher program after the maximum voucher contribution.

Denver Post, "State high court nullifies vouchers," June 29, 2004
http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36% 257E53%257E2240978,00.html

National Center for Education Statistics, "Digest of Education Statistics, 2002"

Michigan Education Report, "Education Reform, School Choice, and Tax Credits," Spring 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education," November 1997

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," January 2001

LANSING, Mich. — An informal voice vote of the Republican majority in the state House approved a measure that would allow voters in several Michigan counties to decide whether to dissolve their local Intermediate School District (ISD).

The measure, introduced by House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, will be attached as an amendment to a bill clarifying school choice rules. Legislators said that allowing voters to decide whether to keep their local ISD is key to making the districts accountable for their financial management. "We think [ISDs] spent way too much money on overhead than helping students learn," Rep. Johnson's spokesman, Keith Ledbetter, told the Detroit Free Press.

Allowing voters local control of ISDs comes in the wake of allegations of financial mismanagement in several of the districts, most notably the Oakland Intermediate School District. But critics of the measure say giving voters this power is unnecessary, as most ISDs are not involved in financial scandals. "This is another attack on the dollars that fund special ed and vocational training," said Rep. Paul Gieleghem, D-Clinton Township.

If approved, residents in Gennessee, Kent, Macomb and Oakland counties would reserve the right to dissolve their ISDs by a countywide vote.

Detroit Free Press, "Plan for intermediate school districts OK'd," June 25, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," August 2003

Michigan Education Report
, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Group files complaints against districts," Spring 2000

LANSING, Mich. — After failing to find an organization willing to re-charter the Walter French Academy high school in Lansing, school board members voted unanimously to close the school, Lansing's first charter high school.

School officials say they made the decision to close in order to minimize impact on parents and students making decisions about where to enroll this fall. "We have to," said board member C. Jean Moon. "It's not fair to the kids and the parents to keep stringing them along."

The school lost its charter with Central Michigan University at the end of this school year after accusations of financial mismanagement and poor academic success flew among the Academy, CMU and the Academy's charter management company, East Lansing- based Leona Group. ""Did the school have some successes? Absolutely," said James Goenner, executive director of CMU's Charter Schools Office. But, "the fight's over."

The ability to close charter schools when they fail to achieve good results is a feature of such schools, which rely on the free choice of parents and students to succeed. Charter schools that failed to meet the expectations of parents have closed previously in Michigan, while traditional public schools rarely close when they fail to meet standards.

Lansing State Journal, "Survival bid by Walter French fails," June 25, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," November 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

New York, N.Y. — Officials with the New York City Department of Education announced last week they would allow 1,500 third- graders who failed a citywide exam required for promotion to move to the fourth grade.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in January that the city's Department of Education would require third-graders to pass a standardized test to earn promotion to the fourth grade. Since January, the Department instituted an appeals process, which allows students to be promoted upon review by teachers and principals even if they failed the exam.

According to the New York Times, over 10,500 third-graders failed the exam. After reviewing appeals, however, school officials decided to pass over 1,500 of those students based on other criteria. "It seems like they're retreating on their own standards," Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the City Council Education Committee, told the Times.

Critics of the new system say too much time is spent making sure students and teachers are prepared for the tests. "With the emotional costs to kids and the huge paperwork burdens on teachers and then months that then became dedicated to teaching and learning to prepare for the tests, was it worth it?" asked Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

New York Times, "Promotions Granted to 1,500 Who Failed 3rd Grade Tests," June 25, 2004

BOSTON, Mass. — A commentary printed last week in the Boston Globe expressed dismay at the amount of resources the Boston teachers' union is using to keep a cap on the number of charter schools, rather than using their resources to improve education in the schools they represent.

Though charter schools serve only two percent of students in Boston, says Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, the unions "are less interested in improving their product than in trying to stomp out competition — especially when it comes from a tiny but popular upstart."

The Massachusetts state legislature voted recently to impose a moratorium on new charter schools, and would force five schools, whose charters have been approved and already have teachers and administrators on the payroll, to cancel their opening.

The success of charter schools in Massachusetts belies the unions' efforts to quash their rise in demand, writes Jacoby, and shows that union control is not necessary for student success: "What does it say about the union's effect on education if charter schools — which are union-free — tend to do so well?"

The moratorium will "consolidate power in the hands of those who already have too much, and eliminate choices from those who already have too few," writes Jacoby. A veto by Gov. Mitt Romney "cannot come soon enough."

Boston Globe, "Veto the charter-school moratorium," June 22, 2004
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2004/ 06/22/veto_the_charter_school_moratorium/

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," November 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An analysis of tuition rates at public institutions across the country found that students today typically pay about one-third less for a college degree than in 1998, challenging some critics of skyrocketing college costs.

The USA Today analysis of the average actual cost of attendance at public institutions found that an 80 percent increase in financial aid-over $22 billion-has alleviated many of the out-of- pocket costs families must pay to send their student to college. "College still takes a big chunk out of most families' income. But the average student is much better off today than headlines would have you believe," said Sandy Baum, an economist for an annual College Board report on college costs.

According to the report, students attending college today receive benefits not seen since the GI Bill after World War II. The billions in financial aid offered since 1998 was targeted at middle-class American families earning $40,000 to $100,000 annually, shrinking the average amount per year paid by 32 percent since 1998, while published tuition costs rose an average of 18 percent.

USA Today, "Tuition burden falls by a third 80% jump in aid offsets price hikes," June 28, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A lawsuit planned over a year ago by the National Education Association (NEA) against the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act has failed to garner official support from any state.

Though at least 30 state legislatures have officially expressed disapproval of the law, which mandates federal control of standards and accountability, officials say they are leery of sparking a legal battle with the body that provides them funding. "Maintaining a good relationship with the federal government that oversees your programs and suing them at the same time makes it a very difficult proposition," said Patty Sullivan, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Some states have chosen to forgo legal battles with simple opt- outs: federal control of state and local programs is limited when officials opt out of federal funding for those programs.

Other states say they do not want to be associated with a suit that may project the wrong image. "You would not want to be in a position where somebody on the other side could say that you are suing in order to preserve an inequality of results for kids," said Minnesota State Sen. Steve Kelley.

Boston Globe, "Teachers union: Spending lawsuit delayed," June 27, 2004
http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2004/06/27/ teachers_union_spending_lawsuit_delayed/

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The valedictorian of a Brooklyn high school will receive her diploma after originally being denied the certificate when the assistant principal of her school cut off her graduation speech in which she criticized her school.

The principal of the High School of Legal Studies in Brooklyn shut off the microphone during valedictorian Tiffany Schley's commencement speech that contained criticism of the school, and afterwards denied her diploma and demanded an apology for her words.

Schley said an assistant principal originally edited her speech and removed any negative comments before giving it back to her, some of which she decided to keep. "He typed over it and had me glorifying the school," she told the New York Daily News. She delivered the original speech but was unable to finish when the assistant principle cut the microphone.

Education officials from the school district later apologized for the incident and the school's behavior afterwards and agreed to award Schley her diploma at a separate ceremony. "Our position is that while she should have handled the matter differently, she will receive her diploma," said New York City Education Department spokesman Stephen Morello.

New York Daily News, "Diploma for teen," June 27, 2004

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report ( http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy ( http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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