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Pubic Education Weekender: 3/16/2014

Public Education Weekender
Sunday, March 16, 2014

KANSAS SUPREME COURT TO LEGISLATURE: EDUCATION FUNDING MUST BE EQUITABLE 

Kansas’ highest court recently ruled that funding disparities between affluent districts and their less affluent counterparts violate the state’s Constitution.  The state Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court to determine adequate funding levels and set a July 1st deadline for legislators to restore money to aid less affluent districts, setting the stage for a messy budget battle in the capital.  The much-anticipated ruling in Gannon v. Kansas comes as part of an intense battle between the legislative and judicial branches in the state over education spending. The lower court originally ordered an approximately $400 million education funding increase, which the majority of the Republican-led legislature stated they would not honor if the order was upheld.  The legislature believes they have full control over budget issues and that it’s not the place of the court. The Kansas Supreme Court, however, rejected that contention, saying that it has the duty to determine whether legislative acts comply with the Kansas Constitution. “The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore or waive this duty,” the decision said.  Read the court’s ruling here.

AFT ENDS RELATIONSHIP WITH GATES FOUNDATION 

Last Monday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced that it is ending a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Randi Weingarten, AFT’s president, made the announcement at the Network for Public Education Conference that the union will no longer accept Gates funding for its Innovation Fund, which provides grants to support and scale educator and union-led innovations in public education. Union members had consistently expressed distrust of the Gates Foundation due to its strong support of charter schools and its views towards the Common Core State Standards. To date, the AFT has received more than $11 million from the foundation.  Whether the AFT will terminate funding for areas besides the Innovation Fund is still up in the air. “I don’t want to say ‘never never ever ever,’” Weingarten said, but “this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them.”

PUBLIC SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT! 

Roberts High School is an alternative public school and NEA priority school located in Salem, Oregon.  The school serves at-risk students, which includes students who have been expelled, parenting teens, and students who are homeless. More than 55 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch and a large number of students are English language learners.  In 2012, the high school was ranked in the bottom 5% of Title I schools in the state.  Roberts was one of four schools in the district to receive $2 million in federal funding from a School Improvement Grant (SIG).  With the SIG, says Lorelei Gilmore, the school’s Principal, “We’ve been able to have a laser-light focus…It’s been a driving force. It’s been the target that we can shoot for, and it’s given the purpose to move forward in lots of ways.”  The district has been able to transform by implementing smaller class sizes, providing students access to online classes, establishing a GED program, and extending the school year.  The academic gains have been clear in all areas: scores have improved from 5-20 percentage points in science, math, and reading. The school also boasts a 96% attendance rate, the highest in the district.  Click here to watch a short video about the second chances students at Roberts have been given.

ADVOCACY ALERTS! 

PUSHING BACK AGAINST STANDARDIZED TESTS:  3/21 WORKING GROUP CALL
Please join us for our next Public Education Working Group call. Across the country, there is an ever-growing chorus amongst students, teachers and advocates pushing back on public education’s increased use of high-stakes standardized testing. From high-stakes graduation exams to implementation of the Common Core Standards, excessive testing has sparked push-back nationwide and become one of the greatest education policy flashpoints working group members are grappling with this year. Click here to reserve your spot.
 

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