Legislators in 3 States Fund School Reform; Mississippi Action Stalls
Lawmakers in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine enacted significant funding measures for schools as they concluded their sessions this month. But in Mississippi, action stalled on some components of the major school-reform law legislators passed last year. Staff Writers Cindy Currence, Susan G. Foster, and Sheppard Ranbom contributed to this report.
Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed legislation last week that will extend compulsory education for Arizona students to the 10th grade and will provide all students in public elementary and secondary schools with free textbooks.
Earlier this month, the legislature approved a $909.8-million budget for elementary and secondary education during the 1984-85 school year, which represents an increase of nearly $30 million over the 1983-84 budget.
The new compulsory-attendance law requires students to remain in school through the 10th grade or until they reach the age of 16. Formerly, they were required to attend through the 8th grade or until their 16th birthday.
The new law is expected to cost the state approximately $1 million for the 1984-85 school year and up to $9 million in 1985-86, according to Toby Kornreich, legislative assistant to the Governor.
The new textbook law will require an additional $2.5 million for the upcoming school year, Ms. Kornreich said, because all students in the state will receive free textbooks, rather than only those in grades K-8. But because the new textbook law will be "phased in" over several years, "it is not clear at this time how much it will cost," she said.
Another bill adopted by the legislators extends bilingual-education programs from kindergarten through the 12th grade; currently, the state supports only K-8 efforts. The new law also stipulates that students are to receive bilingual instruction "for as long as they may need the program," revising the four-year cutoff provision of the former bilingual-education law.
Lawmakers also approved two bills designed to encourage professional development. They appropriated $528,000 to provide school districts with funds to develop career-ladder plans for teachers and another $40,000 for the establishment of "principals' institutes."
Legislators failed, however, to adopt two major education bills, Ms. Kornreich said. The proposals, based on recommendations from the Governor's Committee on Quality Education, would have extended the school year by 10 days and provided additional funding for teachers' salaries.
Funding for the mathematics and science initiatives instituted in 1983 was reduced from $400,000 to $40,000. The programs include special training for students and teachers and forgivable college loans to prospective mathematics and science teachers.
The Connecticut General Assembly approved a number of major education-reform bills during the 1984 session that ended last week and appropriated an additional $44 million to help fund the changes.
The legislature increased state aid to education from its current level of about $377 million to about $421 million for fiscal 1985. The appropriation includes a 45-percent increase in funding for the state's compensatory-education program, from $4.3 million this year to $6.4 million next year, according to Scott Brohinsky, legislative liaison to the state commissioner of education.
The legislature also approved a bill that specifies--for the first time--high-school graduation requirements. The bill mandates that all students, starting with next year's 9th graders, earn a minimum of 20 credits--four in English, three each in mathematics and social studies, two in science, one in physical education, and one in either the arts or vocational education.
State lawmakers also approved a bill that will expand the state's basic-skills assessment program to include 4th-, 6th-, and 8th-grade students. Currently, the state administers a proficiency exam to 9th graders; however 9th-grade students will be phased out of the testing program at the end of the 1986-87 school year, according to Mr. Brohinsky.
Mr. Brohinsky said the legislature appropriated $500,000 to enable the state department of educa-tion to begin developing tests for the three grade levels.
In addition, the legislature approved a bill that will establish a loan-forgiveness program to attract academically able students to the teaching profession. Under the bill, students would be eligible for loans of up to $3,000 each year if they attended a public college or university and up to $5,000 if they attended a private or independent institution.
To become eligible for the state loans, students must either have a 3.3 grade-point average and at least 15 credit hours, or score 1200 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or grad-uate in the top 20 percent of their class and score 1000 on the college-entrance tests, according to Mr. Brohinsky. The students who become certified and teach in the state will have 10 percent of the loan forgiven after the first year, 25 percent after the second year, 70 percent after the third year, and 100 percent after the fourth year.
Any loan-program student who fails to teach will have to pay back the loan at 1 percent above the prime rate, he explained. The legislature appropriated $80,000 to start the program in the fall of 1985.
The legislature also appropriated $2 million for the state-administered grant program in districts whose students perform poorly on standardized tests. The money will be distributed to between 10 and 25 eligible districts to develop training programs for teachers, administrators, and principals.
In addition, the legislature enacted bills that will require all districts to develop five-year plans for professional-development activities by the 1986-87 school year and all school boards to develop and implement written policies on homework, retention and promotion, and attendance. The legislature approved $500,000 for the "state institute for teaching and learning," a program administered by the state education department that offers model professional-development activities to teachers and administrators during the school year and the summer.
The Maine legislature approved an $18.5-million increase in state aid to education and a multi-tiered teacher-certification program before concluding its 1984 session. But Gov. Joseph Brennan has said he will call a special session of the legislature this summer to consider a number of other education proposals. The lawmakers authorized about $257.5 million in state aid to local schools for fiscal 1985; the state's contribution to education this year is about $239 million, representing about 47 percent of the $425-million cost of education.
The legislature also passed a bill--signed into law this month by Governor Brennan--that establishes "career ladders" for teachers and authorizes $500,000 to be used in part to conduct pilot studies of the concept.
Gregory Scott, director of federal, state, and local relations for the Maine Department of Educational and Cultural Services, said the career-ladder concept will be tested in 10 locations throughout the state between October 1984 and June 1987. He said an advisory committee will monitor and evaluate the program during that time and make final recommendations to the legislature in 1988.
The new teacher-certification law establishes three levels of certification--provisional, professional, and master teacher. The provisional certificate will be issued for a two-year period and, according to Mr. Scott, will be renewable only under "extenuating" circumstances. He said the professional certificate, which will be issued to experienced teachers for a five-year period, will be renewable.
The law also requires that teachers have strong liberal-arts and science backgrounds in addition to the courses required in their major field of study. Mr. Scott said the law also allows the state board to issue "visiting permits" to permit individuals with work experience to teach.
The legislature deferred action on a number of other education bills in anticipation of a special session this summer, according to Mr. Scott.
Although the agenda of the special session will be determined by Governor Brennan, Mr. Scott said, the lawmakers are expected to con-sider a bill that would revise the school-finance law and increase the state's contribution to local districts' budgets from about 47 percent to about 60 percent. He said the proposal would cost the state an additional $17.4 million during the first year.
Another proposal would increase beginning teachers' salaries from the current level of about $11,500 to $15,000 annually. The proposal would cost about $38 million, of which the state would contribute about $21 million.
A bill authorizing a $1.5-million bond package to help local officials pay for the removal of hazardous asbestos from schools, a bill authorizing $13 million for capital improvements at area vocational-technical centers, and a bill authorizing $1 million for a statewide student-assessment program may also receive consideration.
Missisippi lawmakers concluded a legislative session last week that ''wasn't productive at all," according to N.F. Smith, assistant state superintendent of education with the Mississippi State Department of Education.
"The legislature could not get together on a tax package to provide additional revenue for the state," Mr. Smith said. "The Senate had a big tax package, the House had a small one; they were deadlocked twice and finally passed a resolution to go home."
"State aid to school districts was set at $493.8 million for fiscal 1985, but the actual cost is going to be $500.8 million.
"The state is going to be about $7 million short," said Jack Gordon, chairman of the Senate education committee.
He said that the legislature "will have to come up with deficit funds when it meets again next January."
Senator Gordon explained that a 0.5-cent increase in the sales tax that was added by the legislature in 1982 will expire on June 30.
Loss Could Affect Reforms
The loss of that tax revenue will cause a strain on budget allocations for school reforms, such as an increase in teachers' salaries that the legislature approved in 1982.
New taxes will have to be introduced during the next session, Mr. Gordon said, to ensure that the $102-million school-reform act will be kept on schedule.
The state added reading aides in 1st-grade classrooms this year and is scheduled to put reading aides in 2nd-grade classrooms in fiscal 1985. A major component of the reform legislation is to spend $40 million to introduce mandatory kindergarten by 1986, Mr. Gordon said.
"Few bills were introduced to change any of the intent of the reform act," Mr. Smith said. The handful of bills that were introduced "were not even considered," he said.
The legislature provided $908,000 in new funds for handi-capped children whose individual education programs require more than 180 days of school. The funding had been required under an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The legislature also agreed to fund for a second year a study of school consolidation that will cost the state about $400,000.
School for Excellence
Lawmakers approved a bill to create a "School for Excellence" for outstanding students in the sciences, mathematics, and the arts.
Currently, Mr. Gordon said, "the state has five types of school districts operating under five different types of school laws." The Senate passed a bill to "establish a uniform set of school laws to give all Mississippi students the same opportunity to go to school under the same laws." That bill, and a bill that would establish a school-employment-procedures act governing the termination of school employees, were not considered by the House.