Ky. Reforms May Buckle Under Budget Crunch, Jones Says
While reaffirming his support. for Kentucky's landmark 1990 education-reform law, Gov. Brereton Jones last week indicated that parts of the law may be subject to the budget crunch that has hit the state.
In a State of the Commonwealth Address outlining a brimming legislative agenda on issues ranging from health care to environmental protection, Mr. Jones emphasized that the state must operate in the face of the impact of the recession on tax collections. "Never before in our modern history have we faced a financial challenge of the magnitude of the one now before us," he said. "We will have to make some very tough choices in the days ahead-- choices that in better times we would never consider."
Still, he added, revenue shortfalls should not deter lawmakers. "We might be broke, but we are not broken," said Mr. Jones, a Democrat elected last November.
But Mr. Jones hinted that revenue shortfalls may require some education cutbacks when he releases his biennial budget in two weeks.
"We cannot and we will not allow tight budgetary times to deter us from fulfilling the covenant that we have with the children of Kentucky," he told legislators last week. "We must strive to maintain in the next fiscal year the essential elements of reform, even if it is at the expense of other worthy programs in government."
The Governor singled out the reform law's early-childhood programs as a high priority, arguing that its family-resource centers, which are school-based sites offering parents counseling and referral for social and health services, should be fully funded.
"There is nothing that will tell future generations more about us than the decisions we make in education," the Governor said. "Kentucky's education reform is an epic saga with thousands of heroes. We cannot allow that courage to leave us unattended now as we move ahead with the next stage of education reform."
Finney Proposes Shift To State School Funding
The state of Kansas should assume the responsibility of collecting and distributing taxes to support school operating budgets in order to equalize education spending and pare down local property taxes, Gov. Joan Finney urged last week.
In her State of the State Address, the Governor proposed to balance a judicially mandated effort to equalize school spending with an "imperative" need to provide property-tax relief.
"We must respond to pressures to restructure our system of education," she said, while adding, "We must reform our... system without further burdening the taxpaying families who struggle to make ends meet in their efforts to sustain our children."
Ms. Finney keyed her reform proposals to the recommendations of a state Task Force on Public School Financing issued late last year. The panel called for the state to assume "full responsibility" for ensuring an equitable school-finance system. (See Education Week, Dec. 4, 1991 .)
Ms. Finney formed the task force after a district court judge ordered lawmakers to devise a way to equalize spending or submit to a court-ordered spending plan.
In her message to lawmakers, Ms. Finney proposed to set a $2-billion statewide lid on school operating budgets and establish a 45-mill cap on local property-tax levies for schools.
The property-tax limitation, she said, would reduce the local property-tax burden by $217 million for "taxpayers in 253 of Kansas' 304 school districts."
To compensate for the lost revenues, Ms. Finney proposed using revenues from a statewide video lottery-which has yet to be approved by the legislature--and by "closing loopholes" that will enable the state to collect $105 million in sales taxes on currently exempt transactions.
Under the terms of the finance proposal, the state would distribute oper- ating funds to schools through a new aid formula on the basis of per-pupil costs and district enrollment.
Basic allocations would be adjusted under the formula to reflect the costs of special-education, bilingual, and vocational programs, she said.
The formula also contains a differential to compensate districts for the varying costs of pupil transportation.
Ms. Finney said she proposes to leave to local voters the decision on whether to float bond issues to rebuild and remodel schools.
"In an effort to insure the right to equal educational opportunity,
we cannot abridge the fundamental right of the people to vote on
critical matters," she said.
Miller's 'Georgia Rebound' Seeks New School Funding
In an effort to spur economic growth, Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia last week proposed using bond sales and increased user fees to fund education reforms and state infrastructure improvements.
The proposals were part of the "Georgia rebound," a sweeping package of 40 pieces of legislation announced by the Governor during his State of the State Address.
The priorities of proposal are "making our children's education better, our streets and neighborhoods safer, our environment cleaner, and our economy stronger," the Governor said.
Mr. Miller proposed restoring $65 million cut last year from state aid to schools and raising the salaries of public-school teachers by 3 percent.
He also urged investing $140 million in state capital-outlay funds in 92 school systems, and using some $250 million in state-lottery revenues to fund voluntary prekindergarten for 4- year-olds, college scholarships, and new capital projects.
The Governor called on the state to fund a total of 60 prekindergartens and 15 foreign-language pilot programs in elementary schools, as well as a school-leadership institute for administrators.
The other education proposals in his plan included increasing state college-tuition grants, expanding distance-learning programs, and developing an environmental-education curriculum.
Much of the funding for the education reforms, as well as infrastructure improvements and expansions of the state prison system, would come from bends that would be sold in a low-interest market, Mr. Miller said.
Governor Miller also proposed more than doubling many motor-vehicle fees and levying a $200 impact fee on out-of-state vehicles newly registered in Georgia.
Romer Renews Request For Tax Hikes for Schools
Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado this month used his State of the State Address to once again urge lawmakers to raise taxes to meet the state's school-funding needs.
"I'm inclined not to leave this building until we get" a budget bill "that adequately funds education in this state," the Democratic Governor said Jan. 9. "We need to face up to the challenge."
As former chairman of the National Education Goals Panel, Mr. Romer has gained prominence as a mover in the process of developing national standards and assessments. But at home, the Republican-majority legislature has given him fits over school finance for the past year. (See Education Week, Oct. 2, 1991 .)
A special legislative session ended last fall with lawmakers adopting a stopgap school-finance measure to deal with a projected funding shortfall. Legislators rejected Mr. Romer's calls to raise taxes to finish implementation of a 1988 school-financier-form law and postponed until the regular session the question of how to deal with a remaining education-budget shortfall of up to $200 million.
Governor Romer submitted a budget this month that does not offer any specific tax increases. But he made clear that he expects lawmakers to come up with something or else cut other state programs or retreat from the goal of reducing property taxes.
"These are not acceptable options to me, and I will work with you on the fairest method to raise the revenue necessary to maintain the goals we agreed to a few short years ago," Mr. Romer said in his speech.
Mr.Romer devoted much of his address to other education-reform issues, such as the need to develop state achievement standards and new assessments.
The Governor also proposed an "educational incentive and innovation fund," in which 1 percent of total state spending on K-12 education would be set aside annually to fund innovative programs. The fund would amount to about $12 million if adopted this year.
MARYLAND Schaefer Calls For $650-Million Tax Hike
Only a month after proposing his sixth round of budget cuts in just over a year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer of Maryland has called on the legislature to adopt a $650-million revenue package.
"We do not have the option of choosing whether we are going to serve people in good times only and close up in bad times," he said in his Jan. 9 State of the State Address.
Since late 1990, the recession has forced the Governor and legislature to pare more than $1 billion from state spending, about a fifth of which came at the expense of local governments. In December, Mr. Schaefer proposed that an additional $225 million be cut, prompting a rally by a coalition of education groups at the State House on the eve of his latest speech.
In his address, Mr. Schaefer said that even if the legislature approves these cuts, the state is facing a projected $1.2-billion deficit next year. To eliminate a part of this shortfall, he proposed a tax and fee package that would affect almost all of the state's residents.
The plan includes: broadening the state's 5 percent sales tax to cover certain services; raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 25 cents; doubling the tax on alcoholic beverages; increasing fees for state permits and licenses; raising the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon; raising income taxes for higher-income workers; and enacting a commuter tax.
A similarly broad tax plan was defeated by lawmakers last year. --E.F.