NSBA invites you to visit our newly launched Center for Public Education web site. NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant will discuss the Center’s creation, objectives and goals during the Saturday general session of NSBA’s Annual Conference in Orlando. The Center aims to assist school board members and public school advocates in making the case for public schools and local school boards. BoardBuzz will have more to say about the Center for Public Education in the weeks ahead.
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
Articles from March, 2004
As Florida lawmakers consider legislation to add meaningful accountability to the state’s troubled voucher programs, a deepening rift has formed among private school operators. In one camp are the established private schools calling on lawmakers to require voucher-accepting schools to be accredited. In the other camp are the “start-up schools” that opened to accept voucher-bearing students and taxpayer dollars, the Palm Beach Post reports. The president of the Florida Association of Academic Non-public Schools sent a letter this week to Gov. Jeb Bush and the Senate president and House speaker pushing for the accreditation requirement and signaling a potential withdrawal from the voucher program by established private schools if the accountability push goes awry. BoardBuzz readers are familiar with the multitude of scandals that have plagued Florida’s multiple voucher programs in recent months. For further information check out the Florida section of NSBA’s Voucher Strategy Center Web site.
The increasing cost of health insurance isn’t breaking news, but what is an emerging story is the toll that these insurance costs are taking on school budgets. CNN reports that an informal poll by the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) found health care costs for employees has jumped by 20% per year for the past three years for more than half of the school districts surveyed. In its own survey, the Oregon School Boards Association reached the almost identical number: 19.2% annual increases in each of the last four years.
These increases are felt not only in the personnel budget, but in the classroom. Districts responding to ASBO International’s survey said that they’ve had to take measures such as cutting maintenance, reducing classroom aides, freezing classroom purchases, and cutting health insurance coverage for employees. So how do districts pay for these increases, especially in a time when schools have seen their state funding cut? Here are some ideas from members of NSBA’s school board member email group, School Boards of Tomorrow:
- “To achieve economies of scale [our state] is looking into putting all public school teachers under the State’s health care coverage instead of having each district negotiate their own. It’s still in the initial stages of discussion… but would save districts a lot of money.” – Scott, Pennsylvania.
- “We addressed this last year with some success … We set up a committee with representation of administration (district Treasurer), a Board member (me) and a couple of members of each of our bargaining units. [After] reviewing our current benefits…[w]e surveyed all staff to see what they wanted. All things being equal, and knowing some “give” had to happen somewhere, what were their priorities in terms of coverage? For example, was a lower co-pay for well visits or for hospitalization more of a need? If they wanted a low prescription co-pay, what would they be willing to pay more for? Although no one really wanted more out of pocket costs, most agreed this was a reasonable approach, and they were pleased with the results in the end.” – Jenny, Ohio.
- “I believe that as a group (school board members) we have to address this concern. Here in [our district] we previously negotiated a cap … In 2002-2004 any increase would be based on our foundation grant increase. If the state gave us a foundation grant increase of 10% the per employee portion would increase by 10%. My position on this is we want to give our employees the best coverage we can afford without jeopardizing the district. My opinion is if people do not pay a portion of their healthcare, they have no practical understanding of what is happening to health care costs in this country. We start our negotiations in August and we will see where it goes from there.” – Gerald, Michigan.
NSBA’s Annual Conference in Orlando this weekend is the place to be for a slew of events marking the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation Supreme Court ruling. Featured speakers include Juan Williams, former Washington Post reporter and author of a biography of Thurgood Marshall. For information on other conference speakers, click here.
Utah Governor Olene Walker on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have created the state’s first private school voucher program. The measure, similar to Florida’s troubled McKay voucher program, would have granted vouchers worth up to about $5,400 for children with disabilities to attend private schools. Though vetoing the voucher bill itself, Walker wants the $1.4 million allocated by it to be used by school districts to contract with private schools that can provide help to autistic or other special-needs students. That approach would follow federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. As Florida’s McKay voucher program has proven, students using vouchers relinquish their IDEA rights. That program also has been racked by accountability shortcomings, and a recent report found that 77 percent of the voucher schools do not even offer special education services or classes.
Walker’s veto came the same day that local caucuses begin the process to nominate candidates for governor. Walker, a Republican, will face challengers in the primary and some pundits believe she may suffer a backlash because of her voucher veto. “I think that has some political ramifications, but I feel I had to do what’s best for children with developmental disabilities and what’s best for all children of the state,” the governor told the Deseret Morning News. To which we say, “Hear hear!”
This morning the U.S. Supreme Court hears the Pledge of Allegiance case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. As BoardBuzz reported a couple of weeks ago, NSBA has been active in supporting the school district’s Pledge of Allegiance policy, submitting an amicus curiae brief to the court and hosting a moot court for Terry Cassidy, the attorney representing Elk Grove.
NSBA’s press statement on Elk Grove again emphasizes that this case is more than just a matter of church and state: It is a school law case. That fact sometimes is lost in the national debate, but it actually has significant legal implications.
First, it is important to remember that the issue in the case is not whether the Pledge of Allegiance should include the words “under God.” It is not whether Congress impermissibly promoted religious views when it added these words to the Pledge in 1954. Rather, the specific issue the Supreme Court has taken up is whether a school policy violates the Establishment Clause by requiring teachers to lead willing students in the Pledge, in the form schools have received that Pledge.
School recitation of the Pledge must, therefore, be considered in the full educational context in which it occurs. The courts have been clear that the full context must always be considered in decisions over church and state. And here, the full context shows that the Pledge is a patriotic statement, not a religious one.
The pledge is recited in classrooms. Many states’ curriculum standards call for schools to use historically significant and traditional statements like the Pledge to instill patriotic values and civic unity. Students pledge allegiance to the flag, not to God. Indeed, this is the very reason why some religious students exercise their constitutional right to opt out of saying the Pledge.
This reality is not convincing to Dr. Newdow, the parent plaintiff in the case. Nor, for that matter, is it particularly satisfying to some religious groups that, ironically, would like to view the Pledge exactly as he does: as an affirmation of religious faith. As a practical matter, however, NSBA believes students understand that the Pledge is about the flag. As a legal matter, the courts have consistently ruled that statements like the Pledge do not unconstitutionally promote religion.
In some ways, Elk Grove Unified School District symbolizes the dilemma facing the nation’s public schools, which always seem to be caught in the middle of these contentious cultural issues. In fact, the very same day that the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the Pledge case, another group announced that it was suing Elk Grove for another curricular decision the group felt was hostile to religious beliefs.
All this attention from the litigious culture warriors of the world reflects a key recognition on their parts: few institutions play a more important role in shaping America’s future citizens than its public schools. Under the circumstances, this may be a compliment school boards feel they could do without. And NSBA certainly agrees that taxpayer dollars are better spent on educating children than fighting lawsuits.
To an extent, though, that’s what may come of being one of the most crucially important public institutions in a vibrant and pluralistic democracy. The task of fostering civic unity will never be easy. But the things that matter most never are.
It’s the can’t miss learning opportunity of the year for school board members nationwide and it begins this week. NSBA’s 64th Annual Conference, held this year in Orlando, kicks off Saturday, March 27. Information is a powerful tool for any school leader and this year’s conference will put more valuable information in your hands than any other event all year. The Conference will offer more than 200 workshops and sessions, more than 300 exhibits on the latest educational products and services, and ample opportunities to meet and share experiences with your peers from districts across the country. Are you one of the thousands already registered for this year’s conference? Stay up to the minute on what you can expect at the conference web site and get ahead of the game by mapping out your schedule in advance.