Kentucky, Idaho Legislators Enact School Reforms
The following summary of state legislative action on education was reported by Richard Wilson in Frankfort, Ky., and Sheppard Ranbom.
The Idaho legislature approved $226.1 million in funds for schools for fiscal 1985, an increase of 5.2 percent over last year's appropriation.
"The increase is not what we had hoped, but we feel fortunate, given the tight economic circumstances and two years of a no-growth budget," said Helen J. Williams, public-information officer for the Idaho Department of Education.
Under an education-reform initiative approved by the legislature, the state will provide $20.3 million to increase teacher salaries. The salary hikes will move state teachers "60 percent of the way toward reaching the national average," Ms. Williams said.
To reach the national average, the legislature will have to provide an additional $13.3 million in new money for salaries next year, she said.
Funds to pay for the salary increases will come from a 1-cent increase in the sales tax. Last year's legislative session raised the tax from 3 to 4.5 cents, with the stipulation that the increase be discontinued by July 1, 1984.
During the recent session, the legislature set the sales tax permanently at 4 cents, according to Ms. Williams, who said that every 1-cent increase in the tax raises about $60 million.
The Idaho School Improvement Act of 1984 also establishes guidelines for a ca-reer-ladder program for teachers and sets aside $100,000 to begin planning.
The law requires districts that want to qualify for state funds for career ladders to submit proposals that are "developed locally through the cooperative effort of local teachers, administrators, patrons, parents, and school-board members." The proposals must "include three or more career levels providing recognition and compensation for extraordinary teaching, innovation, leadership, and additional responsibilities," the law states.
The law allows districts to extend teach-ers' contracts to 10, 11, or 12 months. It also encourages districts to provide opportunities for uncertified teachers to be employed on a part-time basis or as adjunct staff members.
In addition, the school-reform act requires districts to evaluate renewable contracts annually; asks districts to develop a discipline policy and distribute it annually to students and teachers; and allows an income-tax credit for donations to public schools and libraries.
Another tax-credit law allows "any indivual or corporation to deduct from their taxable income an amount equal to fair market value of technological equipment" donated to public elementary or secondary schools. The law prohibits reduction of taxable income to less than zero and prohibits credit for donated equipment that is over five years old.
In an appropriation bill approved on the last day of the session, lawmakers agreed to use money from the state's 1984 budget surplus to provide an additional $2 million to schools for instructional and library materials; $45,000 for remodeling the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind; and $200,000 to enable vocational schools to purchase new equipment.
The legislature also provided funds to establish a mandatory testing program for all 11th-grade students.
A school-consolidation bill "didn't go anywhere," Ms. Williams said, but the legislature passed a bill that will make it "less painful" for districts to merge.
The law extends the state's pre-consolidation support program from three to five years.
"Many districts won't merge because they are worried that shortly following the consolidation they will lose the support funding; at the same time, they worry they will no longer qualify for funding that comes under the state finance formula that favors smaller districts," Ms. Williams said.
During the session a House committee rejected legislation authorizing tax credits for state residents whose children attend private schools. A proposal to split the Idaho Board of Education into two agencies with seperate responsibilities for overseeing public schools and higher education was killed in committee.
While Gov. Martha Layne Collins did not win legislative approval of her ambitious education-reform package and the new taxes to finance it, the Kentucky General Assembly did approve legislation that will bring significant change to the state's schools.
The education legislation is expected to become law, although the lawmakers will return for a two-day "veto" session on April 12 and 13. They may override any gubernatorial vetos during that session, but it is considered unlikely that Governor Collins will not accept these measures.
Chief among the enacted reforms are the provision of statewide mandatory kindergartens, beginning in 1985, and a new program for teaching, assessing, and providing remedial help in the basic skills.
"It gives us a chance to get started," said Alice McDonald, state superintendent of public instruction, as the legislators finished their work last month. "I like to think the opportunity will come again."
Ms. Collins, a former schoolteacher who was elected Governor last November, initially told lawmakers there would be little new money in the next two years for school improvements. But three weeks later, with projected revenue receipts dropping below earlier estimates, the Governor asked the legislature for $324 million in new taxes, with $226 million earmarked for school improvements.
Governor Collins lobbied heavily to win support for her proposals. But when she could persuade fewer than 40 of the 100 members of the state House of Representatives to support her plan, she withdrew it on March 21. The majority of members in the Democratic-dominated House are running for re-election later this year and saw little political future in voting for new taxes.
But, although saving the issue of new taxes for another year, the legislators did enact some significant education legislation. Most new programs adopted were in the Governor's original package.
Over the next two years, the final version of the budget written by the legislature will allocate about $78 million in new money to elementary and secondary education. This year, the state provided $1.03 billion for the schools. During the first year of the next biennium, state education funding will stand at $1.04 billion, and during the second year schools will receive $1.109 billion.
Teachers and other public employees received annual increases of 2 and 3 percent, rather than the 5-percent annual salary hikes proposed by the Governor in her budget. And instead of implementing a $40-million career-ladder plan for teachers in 1985-86, the lawmakers directed the Governor to name a 25-member commission to develop the plan for submission to the 1986 legislature.
Among the other new requirements and programs:
Kindergarten. About 90 percent of Kentucky's 5- and 6-year-olds now attend optional public and private kindergartens. Beginning in the 1986-87 school year, kindergarten completion will be a prerequisite for entering 1st grade.
Basic skills. Under the essential-skills program, the state department of education must establish the skills students are expected to master in each grade, then test them for achievement. Ms. McDonald is required to report on the program to the 1986 legislature--the next scheduled session--and to recommend whether the tests should be used in selected grades for promotion and for diagnostic purposes.
In the remediation part of the plan, 1st and 2nd graders who fall below specified cutoff scores on the essential-skills tests will receive supplemental help in smaller classes from specially trained teachers or teachers' aides.
The legislature put about $17 million into the essential-skills and remediation program, or about $10 million less than the Governor sought for remediation in the first three grades.
Legislation was also passed requiring that 70 percent of the time in elementary grades and 60 percent of that in high school be spent on instruction in basic skills.
Class size. Another bill put a 29-student limit on half-day kindergarten sessions and 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-grade classes in academic courses. This bill also restricted academic classes in grades 4 through 6 to no more than 31 pupils. School districts can apply for limited exemptions from the caps, but they will only be granted for special circumstances.
Discipline. The legislature also directed the state's education department to develop student-discipline guidelines and recommenda-tions for reducing the dropout rate, which hovers around 33 percent, according to the latest available figures.
Instructional personnel. One bill requires new teachers, beginning in 1985, to pass a battery of competency tests and to complete supervised one-year internships after college but before being awarded permanent certification.
Another bill requires instructional leaders, such as principals, assistant principals, and instructional supervisors, to complete additional training to keep their certification. It also requires school districts to adopt evaluation programs for all certified school personnel.
Governance. School districts that do not meet certain state standards will be offered special help by the state department of education. But if they do not accept the help, or do not improve after the assistance is given, the state may declare the districts to be in "academic receivership" and intervene in their operations. Under the most far-reaching part of this act, local officials could be ousted from office.
While it may not have much effect on most districts, the legislators also passed a bill requiring all school-board members elected after this July to have a high-school diploma or its equivalent. Under current law, only an 8th-grade education is required to serve on Kentucky school boards.
School-board members would also be required to complete 15 hours of inservice training annually and to report their campaign contributions and expenditures to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Finance. Kentucky's legislature has complained for years that the state is picking up too much of the state's educational bill and local districts too little. This year, the legislature took action to change that by requiring all districts to levy a minimum property-tax rate of 15 cents per $100 of assessed valuation or face the loss of some state funds. This measure would affect about 45 of the state's 180 school districts.
In another effort to boost the local contribution to schools, the lawmakers also lifted restrictions on districts' authority to levy taxes on utility gross receipts, occupations, and income. Until now, districts have been allowed to levy only one of the three, except for Jefferson County (Louisville), which has had the authority to levy two of the permissive taxes. Now all districts may levy all three. While Governor Collins has not indicated whether she plans to give lawmakers another chance to act on her comprehensive reform package--either in a special session or in the next regular session in 1986--some lawmakers believe she has not given up.
Representative Jody Richards, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he believes the Governor may wait until after November's general election to call a special session to raise taxes for additional school reforms.
"We've got to come back at some point to have some more money for teachers, for these programs to make them work right, and certainly for higher education," Representative Richards said.