States Education Issues
Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa is asking for increases in education funding from $643 million in fiscal 1983 to $680 million in fiscal 1984. The legislature has raised the state sales tax by one cent, effective March 1, and expects $50 million in additional revenues.
The Governor is also expected to make some proposals to address the state's shortage of mathematics and science teachers. He has mentioned the possibility of putting $50 into a school district's general fund for every student enrolled in an advanced mathematics, advanced science, or a foreign-language course.
Other bills that have been introduced include a loan-incentive program to encourage college students to major in mathematics or "specified areas" of science. The state would reimburse up to $1,000 per year toward such students' Guaranteed Student Loan debt for a maximum of 6 years or $6,000. The Governor is also trying to increase financial incentives for smaller school districts that share mathematics and science programs.
Different versions of a "flexible-school-year bill," permitting districts to change to a four-day school week, have passed in both the Senate and the House.
A bill currently before the Senate and House labor committees would amend the state's collective-bargaining law for teachers, changing a list of 14 specific negotiable items to the broader categories of "wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment." The Iowa Education Association is pressing for its passage.
Bills to allow the teaching of scientific creationism and to consolidate the state's 441 school districts into 106 have been introduced but are given little chance of passage.
South Dakota's House was expected to finish work on a Senate-approved appropriations bill late last week. Gov. William J. Janklow asked the legislature to set aid to local school districts at $63 million, a $2-million increase over last year. James O. Hansen, state superintendent of education, said the department wanted more, but "it's a figure that we can work with."
Proposals have been introduced to raise sales, gasoline, and used-car-sales taxes. The car-sales tax increase has failed, but state officials said there were indications the other two might pass.
One proposal, passed by both houses and awaiting the Governor's signature, would change the funding formula for state aid to local districts. Under the current formula, districts that send special-education students to other districts for services can receive from the state up to 147 percent of the cost of the out-of-district tuition. The new legislation would limit the state reimbursement to 100 percent of tuition. The proposal would also reduce state reimbursements for tuition paid on behalf of nonhandicapped students who are sent outside their home districts. The sending districts would receive only 50 percent of the tuition cost; currently, they receive 97 to 98 percent.
A House-Senate conference committee was scheduled to begin deliberations last week on the question of state regulation of nonpublic schools. The Senate version of the bill would allow private schools to operate without accreditation and to hire noncertified teachers. The House bill would require private schools to hire only teachers who have four-year degrees from accredited universities.
Another bill has been introduced to provide incentives for school-district consolidation. Districts with fewer than 50 students would receive a 50-percent bonus, on top of a full state reimbursement, for sending students to larger districts nearby.
North Dakota has managed to stay in the black during the current fiscal year, but is watching expenditures carefully because its $180-million carryover from 1982 has dwindled to about $10 million. Because of shortfalls in revenue collected from oil-extraction taxes and mineral leases on state-owned lands, the per-pupil state allocation to local districts has dropped from $1,591 to about $1,380 this year.
One proposal for alleviating the problem would accelerate collections on all state sales and mineral taxes. Converting from quarterly to monthly collections would result in a one-time increase of about $40 million to $50 million.
The Senate has passed a bill permitting districts to convert to a four-day school week to save on energy and transportation costs. And a concurrent resolution provides for a thorough study of education in the state, to be completed in late 1984. The study would include a review of state policies, the distribution of state aid, and teacher training.
Gov. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri has proposed a $699-million education budget essentially the same amount as this fiscal year, but "there are serious concerns as to whether the money will be there to do that," said William J. Wasson, deputy state commissioner of education.
Because the sales tax was increased by one cent last year, no major tax initiatives are considered likely in the current legislative session. But a bill has been introduced in the Senate that would change the formula for distributing the proceeds from the tax increase, deleting the "income factor" that favors poorer districts. "The rurals would fight [the change] tooth and toenail," Mr. Wasson said.
The Senate has passed a bill, backed by tourism and recreational interests, that would bar districts from starting the school year before Labor Day. About 90 percent of Missouri's public-school students now attend school in districts that start before the holiday weekend, Mr. Wasson said; the measure has been opposed by school-board representatives.
Other bills introduced this session would: require that local boards bargain with elected employee groups; establish a $2-million program for early screening and schooling for handicapped preschoolers; require disclosure of standardized-test questions; and expand the authority of districts to rent out empty school buildings.
Gov. Robert Kerrey has proposed a "hold-the-line" budget for education in Nebraska, although the Governor would increase the state's allocation for special-education programs by 18 percent, from $34.4 million to $40.8 million.
The state legislature has proposed raising the state income tax from 18 to 20 percent of taxpayers' federal income tax. Schools would also benefit from proposals to raise more than $5 million this year through a severance tax on oil and gas.
Religious groups' unhappiness about the state's attempt to require that they hire state-certified teachers has resulted in numerous lawsuits around the state. State control is an issue that has not yet arisen in this session, but new litigation begun last month is considered likely to prompt some discussion in the legislature.
The state department of education introduced a bill to provide loans for college students at a maximum of $2,000 per year for four years. The loans would be repayable three years after graduation at a low rate of interest if students teach mathematics or science in Nebraska's schools. If students leave teaching or school, however, the loan money would be due immediately and payable at the highest commercial interest rate.
The legislature will study the merits of an alternative school calendar that would allow schools in small rural districts to be open four days a week at a minimum of six hours per day, provided that the schools meet the state standard of 1,050 hours per year (the equivalent of 175 regular school days).
Anticipating an $80-million budget deficit, Gov. John Carlin of Kansas has imposed a 4-percent cut in state expenditures and ordered a speedup of withholding and sales-tax collections.
Funding for elementary and secondary education, totaling $571 million this year and $525 million last year, is expected to increase modestly for fiscal 1984.
Governor Carlin has also appointed a commission on high technology; education is to be one of several topics covered.