Weld Proposes $200-Million Increase for Mass. Schools
Massachusetts schools, which have suffered through three consecutive years of cuts in state aid to education, were offered some hope this month when Gov. William F. Weld advocated boosting funding.
In his Jan. 16 State of the State Address, Governor Weld proposed an increase of $200 million for K-12 education in fiscal year 1993.
Under his plan, the Governor said, education spending would rise by a total of $800 million over a five year period.
During the past four years, state aid to education has been cut more than $500 million.
"I don't want to see 35 kids in a classroom," Mr. Weld told the legislature.
"I don't want to see our kids cheated out of first-class sports programs," the Governor added, referring to the extracurricular cuts that many districts have made as their budgets have shriveled.
The Governor made clear, however, that the money would have strings attached. He asked lawmakers to draft an education bill aimed at bringing about substantive reform and urged that legislative action be completed within 90 days in order to enable the changes to be implemented next school year.
In his speech, Mr. Weld broadly outlined the changes his administration is seeking, including measurable standards of success and failure, teacher accountability, and additional authority for teachers, principals, and parents.
"Talent, and not tenure, will be the basis for who leads our classrooms," said Mr. Weld, who also is trying to eliminate tenure and seniority as a factor in employment decisions.
Observers say that legislators may be receptive to many of the Governor's requests. Before adjourning last year, key members of the Democratic-controlled legislature unveiled a comprehensive package to address education reform and funding. (See Education Week, Dec. 11, 1991.)
The Weld administration is proposing the increases in education at the same time it is pushing for tax cuts to stimulate the economy. In his speech, Mr. Weld said he would seek to cut the personal-income-tax rate to 5.75 percent, and eventually to 5 percent. The rate dropped from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent at the beginning of the year.
He also put forth a package that would reduce capital-gains taxes and offer additional tax incentives to companies that invested in their businesses or created programs for their workers such as job training and child care.
Moreover, the Governor promised to seek a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature to raise taxes.
Mr. Weld's State of the State comments marked the second time in recent months that he has agreed to earmark more money for education. Last month, he signed a bill authorizing $2.7 million in emergency aid to help bail out districts in severe financial distress.
The bill includes funds for districts that were penalized financially when their students elected to attend other schools as a result of the state's school-choice program.
Casey Urges Expansion Of Child-Health Benefits
Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania opened the new legislative session last week by seeking major changes in public education and other child-related areas.
The changes sought by the Governor come on top of a tumultuous legislative year in 1991, when lawmakers authorized the largest tax hike in the staffs history and used some of the proceeds to provide a big boost in education funding.
In what may be a pioneering proposition for its breadth, Governor Casey used his State of the Commonwealth Address to propose providing free or low-cost health care to uninsured children up to the age of 6 from families earning $40,000 or less a year.
Pennsylvania and other states currently provide low-cost healthcare coverage under the Medicaid program to children from families with incomes of no more than about $20,000 a year.
"If you're middle income ... the cost will be reasonable. If you're strapped for money, we'll make it affordable. if you're poor, it'll be free," the Governor said.
To further bolster health care, Mr. Casey advocated pilot-testing primary-care health clinics in six neighborhood schools in what he termed "the hardest-hit communities."
As outlined by Mr. Casey, the health-care program, which would begin next January, would initially cover 48,000 children.
Under the plan, youngsters would receive such services as immunizations, dental and eye care, up to 90 days of hospitalization, and a prescription-drug plan.
No new revenues would be needed to get the program off the ground, Mr. Casey contended.
Mr. Casey also called on the legislature to approve an array of education reforms.
The Governor proposed legislation to mandate training for all local school-board members, as well as extend their terms of office from four to six years, with the aim of bringing "badly needed stability to the way school districts conduct their affairs."
He also asked the legislature to give the education department more authority to intervene in strikes should they last so long as to threaten to deprive children of their full 180-day school year.
A bill that would somewhat curtail teachers' right to strike in the state--which usually leads the nation in the number of school walkouts--stalled in the legislature last year.
Also awaiting action by the Senate is a bill from last year's session that would limit the number of hours high-school students may work. Mr. Casey called on the Senate to pass the measure.
In his address, the Governor also sought greater latitude for the state department to deal with school districts troubled by poor student performance, high dropout rates, a prolonged strike, or financial chaos.
"I want to be able to send in an education-rescue team while it's still early enough to help the school help itself," said Mr. Casey.
The Governor also proposed regular testing of students to improve
the accountability of the school system.
Engler Renews Call For Property-Tax Cuts
Gov. John Engler of Michigan last week vowed to continue his efforts to cut local-school property taxes by 30 percent as part of a sweeping plan to promote economic growth.
The Governor, who was thwarted last year in his attempt to get major property-tax reforms through the legislature, pledged during his State of the State Address to lead a drive to gather more than 400,000 petition signatures for a "Cut and Cap" tax-reform ballot initiative.
The petition seeks to place on the ballot a 30 percent across-the-beard cut in property taxes for the schools and a 3 percent cap on annual assessment increases.
Mr. Engler said the measure would provide a $6.5-billion boost to the Great Lake State's economy and send "a powerful message to job providers... that Michigan wants their business and their jobs."
The Governors economic-stimulus proposals also included tax credits for businesses that hired workers who had been unemployed for more than six months, stepped-up spending on road construction, and expanded tax breaks for small businesses.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr. Engler announced that the state would offer "Michigan college-savings bonds" to be sold to the public to help parents save money to send their children to college.
"Wealthy parents have always had a wide range of investment choices," Mr. Engler said. "It's about time that middle-class parents get the same opportunity to help their children go to college."
Mr. Engler has been critical of the state's pioneering prepaid-college tuition program, which was temporarily halted last fall because of concerns over its solvency.
The Governor also said last week that he would seek to expand Michigan's Families First program, which provides intensive in-home service to troubled families to reduce the need for foster care.
In addition, the Governor said he would establish a "Communities First" program that integrates the delivery of state human services with local programs to improve the services and cut red tape.
Asserting that "we can't compete for jobs unless our kids have the skills to fill them," Mr. Engler urged the legislature to enact several education reforms he proposed last fall. The proposals include the "Michigan education warranty," which calls for high schools to be billed for the remediation of incompetent graduates.
The Governor last fall also called for the chartering of innovative new public schools and increased funding for school restructuring, choice programs, teacher training, and math and science education.--P.S.
OHIO Voinovich Sees Hope Beyond 'Doom and Gloom'
Despite Ohio's continuing fiscal problems, Gov. George V. Voinovich has told lawmakers that his fiscal 1993 budget request will seek to protect funding for child immunization, student financial aid, and the staffs Healthy Start program aimed at poor children and mothers.
In his Jan. 14 State of the State Address, Governor Voinovich also hailed state leaders' efforts to eliminate a projected $460-million revenue shortfall, arguing that the steps already taken by the legislature should be viewed as an exercise in streamlining government rather than recession-forced budget cutting.
"Perhaps our greatest challenge in 1992 will be to break through the doom and gloom that some now preach to look past our immediate challenges to the opportunities within our grasp," the Governor added.
In the course of tackling their deficit in the current fiscal year, officials have ordered an $88-million reduction in state aid to schools. The education cuts included a 2.5 percent drop in the school-foundation fund, special-education and vocational-education programs, and the impact-aid fund for disadvantaged students, while other categorical education programs were cut by 6 percent.
State officials have indicated that if lawmakers approve a measure shining some state lottery funds, the cuts would be restored for several low-wealth districts.
In his speech, Mr. Voinovich emphasized the need to balance the budget without increases in major taxes. Despite the fiscal constraints, however, he also promised to work to continue expansion of Head Start programs.
"I know we all agree that we should protect education against any further reductions," he told the legislature. "If revenues exceed projections, our first priority must be to direct those additional dollars to our schools."
The Governor added that with or without new funding, his Education Management Council is continuing its work scrutinizing school governance and finance issues, as well as more general education-reform topics.
Legislation will follow the group's final report, due later this year, Mr. Voinovich said.--L.H.