Dukakis Vetoes Parental Choice Bill, Cuts Budget
On the eve of his nomination as Democratic candidate for President, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts sparked some political fires in his home state over education-related issues.
Shortly before leaving for the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Governor Dukakis pleased educators and civil-rights groups--and angered a key legislative ally--by vetoing a highly controversial public-school "choice'' measure.
At the same time, he used his line-item veto authority to cut $138 million in politically popular fiscal 1989 funds, including $91 million in aid to cities and towns and $1 million earmarked for lead-paint removal. And he froze $59 million in budget allocations for next year, including funds for education and job-training programs.
Must Be 'Done Right'
In killing the choice measure, which would have allowed students in Boston and Worcester to attend schools in neighboring districts, Governor Dukakis directed the state department of education to come up with an alternative demonstration plan to go into effect next January.
"It's got to be done right,'' he said at a press conference.
The Governor said the demonstration, to be conducted in "one or more'' unspecified metropolitan areas, should address the concerns expressed by critics of the choice plan, which was one of the most bitterly debated measures in this year's legislative session.
Added as a last-minute amendment to the fiscal 1989 budget by Senate President William M. Bulger, the proposal was strongly opposed by educators--including Commissioner of Education Harold Raynolds Jr.--who argued that it would shift top students and badly needed funds from urban schools to more affluent suburban districts.
Under the plan, the state would have sent its per-pupil allocation to the district that received a student, while deducting that amount from aid to the student's home district.
Wrong 'Public Statement?'
"It makes a public statement that urban public education has failed,'' said Paul L. Devlin, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
In addition, civil-rights groups had argued that the proposal might violate the federal court-ordered desegregation of Boston's schools, if more white students than blacks chose to take advantage of it.
At a press conference before a meeting on the issue with Mr. Dukakis July 14, a group of the bill's opponents hinted that support for his Presidential campaign might hinge on his decision on the choice bill.
"There was an intimation,'' according to Mr. Devlin, who attended the meeting, that signing the bill "would be a bad political move as well as a bad policy move.''
But Mr. Devlin--who also served as a delegate to the Democratic convention--said the officials did not "threaten'' to withhold their support.
Senator Bulger, who last month had played a crucial role in helping the Governor pass budget-balancing legislation, was "disappointed'' by the veto, according to an aide, Joseph Brady. "But he's disappointed for the parents of Boston more than anything else,'' Mr. Brady said.
Governor Dukakis said he vetoed $138 million in 1989 spending in order to demonstrate fiscal prudence by bringing his $11.6-billion budget into balance.
In addition to the local-aid and lead-paint-removal funds, the cuts included $7.5 million to provide medical care to the uninsured, a key part of his plan to guarantee health insurance to every Massachusetts resident. But he left intact other funds to implement the newly enacted health-insurance law.
The Governor predicted that communities could weather the aid cuts with the help of $91 million in unanticipated lottery funds that are to be distributed to local governments.
But municipalities may curtail spending on education and other vital services in the wake of the veto, according to Paul H. Gorden, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, since they have already included the expected state aid in their budgets.
In an effort to override the local-aid veto, several lawmakers have petitioned House Speaker George Keverian to call the legislature back into session during its August recess.
The budget would boost total education spending from $1.7 billion to $1.76 billion. But it does not include any of the $39 million authorized by school-reform measures enacted in January.
These would have enabled districts to raise minimum teacher salaries from $18,000 to $20,000; provided an additional $29 million in equal-opportunity grants to schools with severe educational needs; and established seven "Carnegie schools'' that could experiment with new forms of organization to give greater authority to teachers.
Also not included was $1.8 million for a program that helps high-school students find jobs.
If revenues grow at a faster rate than expected, or if the legislature adopts revenue-raising measures this fall, the state will release the funds for these programs in January, Governor Dukakis said.
In addition, according to Edward Melikian, a spokesman for the department of education, state officials plan to seek funds from other sources to implement the Carnegie-schools program.