State Legislatures Pass Education Reforms as 1984 Sessions End
Legislatures in Maryland, Nebraska, and Wisconsin concluded their 1984 sessions this month, approving a variety of education initiatives. The following summary was reported by Anne Bridgman, Susan Foster, and Sheppard Ranbom.
The Maryland General Assembly has enacted an education bill that will help equalize financing for school districts and will also provide them with $616 million in new funds over the next five years.
During the session that ended earlier this month, the lawmakers also approved a controversial pension-reform bill that places a cap on cost-of-living increases in the state's retirement program, reduces benefits, and increases employees' contribution. Several unions of state employees, including the Maryland State Teachers Association, have challenged the law in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The groups contend the law violates a 1979 guarantee that protects employees from "any change that would reduce current or prospective benefits."
Under the five-year funding plan proposed by a state task force chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti last December, the state will use a finance formula that guarantees that money is distributed in inverse proportion to a district's wealth. But the formula also provides increased state aid to districts that impose higher taxes in support of education.
Of the $60 million in additional revenues that schools will receive in fiscal 1985, $30 million will be allocated through the finance formula; the other $30 million will be distributed in compensatory aid for districts, based on the number of children eligible for the federal Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged pupils.
The new legislation provides guidelines on how new state funds for current expenses can be spent.
Districts may use the money to develop programs in several areas, including award and incentive-pay programs for teachers; across-the-board salary increases for teachers; expansion of staffs to reduce class size or enhance art, music, resource, guidance, and gifted and talented programs; purchasing instructional materials, supplies, and equipment; improving or expanding teacher training and retraining, particularly in areas of critical need; and expanding programs for children who have educational deficiencies.
The law stipulates that in the first year of the program, funds may not be directed solely toward salary increases for teachers. It also calls for the establishment of an accountability task force composed of state senators, delegates, business and education leaders, and private citizens to review spending proposals and financial statements to ensure that money is spent in a manner that is consistent with the guidelines.
The Assembly will be required to reauthorize the law if state aid to schools exceeds 32.8 percent of the total general fund in 1987. If lawmakers refuse to vote for reauthorization, districts would automatically receive an 8-percent annual increase in aid for each of the last two years of the program.
In the last few days of the session, legislators passed a bill that requires local school systems to develop plans for transporting handicapped children in day programs in nonpublic special-education facilities to private schools. Another bill enacted would establish a forgivable-loan program for college students who plan to become teachers.
The loan will go to juniors and seniors enrolled in teacher-education programs in areas of critical shortage, as defined by the state department of education. Recipients will teach for one and a half years to pay off each year of loan. The maximum award will be equivalent to the cost of tuition, fees, room, and board at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The Senate passed a bill to prohibit the state board of education from requiring community service as a credit for high-school graduation, but the bill was killed by the House committee on constitutional and administrative law.
Mandatory community service "was an idea the state superintendent put on the table for discussion. The feeling in the legislature was that mandatory requirements were inappropriate, although every effort should be made to ensure that community-service opportunities are made available to those who want them," said Judy Sackwold, legislative liaison for the Maryland State Department of Education.
After a filibuster that lasted nearly nine hours, the Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed students to participate in prayer, whether reading holy Scripture or standing in silent meditation.
A bill to put a student member on the state board of education was passed in the Senate but defeated in a House committee; a bill that would have done away with the state subsidy for driver's education programs in schools failed on the floor of the Senate; and a bill to require public schools to teach fire safety died in the House committee on constitutional and administrative law.
Another bill mandating that districts offer educational programs for 4-year-olds was killed for fiscal reasons by the House Ways and Means Committee, and a bill that would have encouraged alcohol- and drug-abuse education by providing grant money to be distributed by the state department of education was voted down on the floor of the House.
The Nebraska legislature concluded its 1984 session last week after approving several education measures that were recommended by Gov. Robert Kerrey's task force on excellence in the schools.
But because of another gubernatorial initiative to reduce state taxes, the legislature did not authorize additional money to fund the school-improvement efforts. The Governor recently vetoed a bill that would have increased the percentage of state aid to education from its current share of about 23 percent to about 45 percent of school budgets.
The legislature approved a bill that will require educators to provide 1,080 hours of instruction for high-school students and 1,032 hours of instruction for students at the elementary level. All schools will thus have to remain open for at least 180 days, according to Lorin Blankenhoff, director of governmental relations for the Nebraska Department of Education. Most schools, he said, now operate a 175-day school year.
Under another bill, high-school students will be required to have 200 credit hours to graduate, beginning in the 1987-88 school year, and 80 percent of those credits must be in the core curriculum to be established by the state board.
The legislature also mandated competency examinations in the basic skills and in the subject area to be taught by all new teachers. Mr. Blankenhoff said the testing standards are to be established by the state board and will take effect in the fall. He said the state board also has been authorized to develop by July 1985 an "entry-year assistance program" to help beginning teachers become successful in the classroom.
Mr. Blankenhoff said the legislature has established--for the first time--a mission statement for the schools, requiring them to provide all students with the opportunity to acquire basic skills in reading, mathematics, and science, and an understanding of a foreign language. He said the mission statement will be in effect in the fall but because of the law's vague language, the schools will not be subject to any immediate penalties for noncompliance.
The schools also will be required to meet quality and performance-based standards to be established by the state board, according to Mr. Blankenhoff.
Under a measure approved by the legislature--and recently signed by Governor Kerrey, private-school leaders will no longer be obligated to provide state officials with information on their educational programs. That information now must be provided by the parents or guardians of students attending schools that do not meet state approval standards. (See related story on this page.)
The legislature also approved a bill that will allow school districts to negotiate extended teacher contracts, with the state paying up to 50 percent of the additional salary costs. The program would not be funded, however, until 1985.
Mr. Blankenhoff said the legislature also authorized $50 per teacher to pay for inservice training and professional development activities. Overall, the program will cost the state about $1.2 million in the first year of the program. Also enacted was a $250,000 curriculum-dissemination program and $50,000 to support a state technology consortium.
The Wisconsin legislature, which completed its session earlier this month, approved statewide minimum high-school graduation requirements. Currently, graduation requirements are established by local boards of education.
The rule, which will affect those seniors graduating in the spring of 1989, mandates that districts require four credits in English, three in social studies, two in both mathematics and science, one and a half in physical education, and one-half in both computer science and health education, for a total of 13.5 credits, according to Nancy Wenzel, education-policy advisor to Gov. Anthony S. Earl.
Putting the requirements in place will cost districts about $5.2 million, state officials estimate. The bill was not funded by the legislature, but is expected to be paid for by the state's school-aid fund and by local districts, Ms. Wenzel said.
"The bill encourages local school boards to provide at least 8.5 additional credits," according Ms. Wenzel. Those additional credits, the bill recommends, should be in vocational education, fine arts, foreign languages, and other courses deemed significant by local school boards, Ms. Wenzel said.
Governor Earl's $3-million Excellence in Education package was passed over in favor of a request by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert J. Grover that $15 million to be added to the state's school-aid formula.
"Superintendent Grover felt that providing more school aid across the board was a bigger priority than starting most of these programs," Ms. Wenzel said. She said the programs could be submitted again in the 1985-87 budget request.
Among the programs that were included in the Governor's package but did not receive legislative approval were recommendations that the state's 433 school districts develop educational-excellence plans with the guidance of the Department of Public Instruction, that model-curriculum guides for vocational education be developed for use in districts, and that a state-administered leadership institute for school administrators be established.
Governor Earl's "educational expectation proposal," which calls for the revision of current statutes covering goals for schools was approved by the legislature.
"The bill focuses on educational goals--academic skills and knowledge, vocational skills, citizenship skills, and personal development," Ms. Wenzel said. "The school boards see it as a mandate, but it's more of a goal."
The "Wisconsin Initiative in Sci-ence, Math, and Technology Education," which was proposed by Mr. Grover, was not introduced in the legislature, Ms. Wenzel said. There were no bills in the recent session that addressed science and mathematics education, she said.
Teaching Bills Languished
Similarly, proposals made to the legislature by both the Republican Education Committee of the Senate and the Superintendent's Task Force on Teaching and Teacher Education were introduced too late to receive legislative consideration, Ms. Wenzel said.
The education committee had recommended higher teacher salaries and programs for the gifted and talented. The superintendent's task force called for better preparation in teacher-education programs, raising teachers' base salaries from $13,400 to $20,000, and establishing a four-stage career-ladder plan. Many of the task force's recommendations, Ms. Wenzel noted, were said by legislators to be too expensive to be realistic.
A proposed constitutional amendment that would have made Wisconsin the first state to abolish property taxes as a basis for support of public schools also failed to win approval, she said.