When public school isn’t free

Illinois public schools are charging “hefty” fees for textbooks, technology, bus rides and classes, reports the Chicago Tribune. Some districts charge a “registration fee.”

“This is like private school,” said parent Gio Chavez, who walked out of Oak Lawn Community High School’s registration this week shell-shocked. The final tally for her sophomore son’s classes: $665.

The bill started out with a required $275 registration fee but ballooned as a variety of course fees got tacked on, including $25 for Culinary Arts I and II classes (her son Seth wants to be a chef); $15 for a consumer education course required for graduation; $30 for a Woods I class; and $250 for driver education.

Chris Berta spent about $886 on required and optional fees for her high school freshman son and middle-school-age daughter in Naperville Community Unit School District 203.

Most states don’t allow public schools to charge parents, but Illinois courts have upheld the fees, reports the Trib. Low-income parents can ask for a waiver.

District policies vary widely, the Trib reports.

Suburban Naperville charges a general fee of $68 to $81, plus a $29 technology fee, plus charges for P.E. classes.  At the high school level, students pay extra for more than 100 courses ranging from English ($11), a required course, to French I ($24) to nutrition ($45).

School officials say course fees cover “workbooks, paperback novels and other ‘consumable’ materials.”

Pay to play” has become “pay for regular classes” at a growing number of schools nationwide, reports the Wall Street Journal.

. . .  in Medina (Ohio), the charges imposed on the Dombi family’s four children include $75 in generic school fees, $118.50 for materials used in biology, physics and other academic courses, $263 for Advanced Placement exams and $3,990 to participate in cross-country, track and band. That’s not counting the $2,716.08 the Dombis paid in property taxes specifically earmarked for the schools.

The oldest daughter gave up choir to save $200, but the total for the year was $4,446.50.

 

States cut writing exams to save money

Illinois won’t test high school juniors’ writing skills, reports the Chicago Tribune. The change will save about $2.4 million. The writing assessments for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year.

Oregon lawmakers last month suspended the writing test for fourth- and seventh-graders, but retained the high school assessment. “Proficient” writing will be a high school graduation requirement by 2013.

In a cost-cutting effort last fall, Missouri education officials eliminated for at least two years the detailed, written response questions that had been hand-graded in science and math. Writing prompts in language arts also were suspended. Students still write some short answers as part of state testing.

It will be a shame if schools spend less time on writing because it’s not going to be on the test, leaving students unprepared to communicate clearly in college or on the job.

Colorado students provide free tax help

Colorado community college students can take a class, earn IRS certification in tax preparation, then provide free tax assistance to low- and moderate-income families.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A rural Illinois college is a good return on the taxpayers’ investment, college leaders argue.

LIFO is out

Last-in, first-out layoffs are out in Georgia, reports Teacher Beat. It’s a trend.

The bill, SB 184, prohibits local boards of education from using seniority as the “primary or sole” determining factor when implementing a reduction in force. Boards that don’t comply can have some of their state education funds withheld.

Georgia’s action follows that of Utah, where a similar bill was recently signed into law. Other states that have recently ended LIFO through legislation include Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, in addition to the District of Columbia through its recent teachers’ contract.

Illinois teachers’ unions have agreed to an anti-LIFO bill that allows both performance and seniority to be taken into account in deciding who get laid off.

Dennis Walcott, New York City’s new schools chancellor, wants a LIFO exemption from the state, but the teachers’ unions and Democrats in the legislature are opposed.

Not surprisingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a no-LIFO plan as part of his education reform bill.

Detroit Public Schools is sending layoff notices to all teachers and administrators. Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager who’s running the troubled district, said he’ll use a new law that lets him  modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements.

Detroit is losing enrollment. By pink-slipping everyone, Bobb opens the door to non-LIFO layoffs. He can  retain the teachers and administrators he thinks are best and lay off the rest.

Poor examples

To argue for $10 billion in education aid, President Obama brought two laid-off teachers to the White House. Both Shannon Lewis, a special education teacher in West Virginia, and Rachel Martin, an Illinois kindergarten teacher, were laid off because of declining enrollment, not funding cuts.

Martin is an “excellent, excellent” teacher who was laid off because enrollments had dropped and she was lowest in seniority, said Matteson School District 162 Superintendent Blondean Davis. Davis offered Martin her old job back the day after she returned from Washington, saying enrollment is back up.

Lewis was laid off by her own mother, who’s the county superintendent, because there are fewer students in the district.

West Virginia has not been forced to lay off  or furlough any teachers or other state employees, reports the Charleston Daily Mail.  Last year, West Virginia cut state education funding, filled the gap with federal dollars and used the savings for other government needs. That’s likely to happen again this year.

There must be two teachers in this country who were laid off because of funding cuts. I know California’s got plenty. You’d think Obama’s people could have found them.

Illinois schools don't test low achievers

Illinois high schools have found a way to look good on the Prairie State exam given to juniors, reports Education Week. Juniors who are behind on credits are defined as sophomores. That means the low achievers don’t take the test. But most move on the next year to 12th grade, where their test scores aren’t counted for federal or state accountability purposes.

Rich East High School has seen state test scores for its 11th-graders improve by a stunning 37 percent during the last two years — a gain so impressive that regional education officials asked the Park Forest school to host a seminar to help others emulate its success.

There’s only one problem: Rich East did not give the Prairie State Achievement Exam to about 40 percent of its juniors last school year. And it excluded the ones furthest behind academically.

A Chicago Tribune analysis found that 20 percent of Illinois sophomores weren’t counted as juniors the following year and didn’t take the Prairie State Exam, which includes ACT questions.

Iowa rejects independent charter schools

Iowa’s charter schools are run by school districts. It turns out they’re not very innovative,  reports the Des Moines Register. In essence, the state collected federal charter funding for a handful of magnet schools with no autonomy or ability to challenge the status quo.

Iowa schools, once rated the best in the nation, are slipping in national rankings.

In North Carolina, a top-scoring charter school that uses Direct Instruction wonders why the state seems uninterested in learning about their methods.

(Founder Baker) Mitchell said he feels the state is not really looking at the good things his school is doing, and he doesn’t know whether regular public schools are learning anything from the charter school.

Indeed, the state doesn’t keep track of innovations at charter schools and how they influence the public school system, said Jean Kruft , a consultant with the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.

Illinois will double the number of charter schools, including charters for five schools specializing in drop-outs.

Update: Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, spoke at the House Education and Labor Committee hearing on charter schools, reports Edspresso:

“I’m from the state of Ohio, so I think I look at things a little differently because most of our charter schools are not public charter schools. So, you may hear me coming from a very different vantage point.”

Of course, charters are public schools by definition. Fudge’s flub wasn’t the only one at the charter hearings.