Conn. Governor Seeks Welfare Cuts, New Aid for Children
Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut used his State of the State Address last week to offer educators and children a mixture of cuts and more money.
Faced with a projected $1.2-billion budget deficit, the Governor proposed spending reductions that include a $176-million cut in state aid to municipalities.
To help ease the resulting strain on school-district budgets, Mr. Weicker called for loosening the state mandate on binding arbitration for teachers. Local-government officials have complained that binding arbitration has driven up teachers' salaries, which are among the highest in the country. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1989.)
Mr. Weicker also urged towns to look at regionalization of education services as a way to save money and offered towns that use regionalization preference for state school-construction bond money.
Following the lead of a number of other states, Mr. Weicker proposed money-saving welfare reforms. He wants to limit the eligibility for benefits of single, employable adults to six months out of a calendar year. In addition, parents who receive public assistance would be required under the Governor's proposal to show that their children are attending school and have received proper health screenings and immunizations.
Nor did Mr. Weicker pass up some less obvious targets for savings. "The people of this state deserve every nickel we can save them," he said, "whether it is eliminating unnecessary water coolers from state office buildings or recovering the $15 million in unclaimed bottle deposits from their cans of soda that today fill the pockets of a few middle-men."
Early Childhood Emphasized
But Mr. Weicker did not talk only about budget cuts. Early-childhood programs received special attention and calls for more money.
"For our children, we continue to reallocate resources to cost-effective programs that promote education and development in the years that are most crucial," he said. "Early Childhood programs have proven themselves to reduce the incidence of special-education needs, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, joblessness, and incarceration among graduates."
Specifically, Mr. Weicker proposed funding increases of $5.9 million for extended-day programs for all kindergartners in Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven; $2.5 million for school-based health centers; $500,000 for child-lead screening and prevention efforts; $500,000 for Head Start; and $500,000 for an early-intervention program for disabled infants and toddlers.
His proposed budget also includes a $23-million increase for the state department of child and youth services.
"These dollars spent today on our children in their earliest years will provide them with a brighter tomorrow and as with a lower tax bill," Mr. Weicker said.
Although he did not mention last year's bitter fight over establishment of the state's first income tax, the Governor did make some indirect references.
"I know that down the hall, the phones in my office are already ringing," he said toward the end of his address. "But again, as we did last year, we have to ask ourselves: Will the budget work or will it mislead? That choice was made last year-shell games are out."
Castle Seeks More Funds For School Block Grants
Gov. Michael N. Castle of Delaware has called for cost-saving changes in the state's vocational education program in order to free up additional funding for an innovative block-grant program for education.
Under the block-grant program, now in its second year, a number of line items of state aid to school districts are consolidated into a single sum, which gives districts more flexibility in how they spend the money.
In his Jan. 30 State of the State Address, Mr. Castle suggested providing an additional $2.3 million for the block grants by changing the way vocational students are counted. According to a budget aide in the Governor's office, the current formula for allocating vocational-education money overcounts students enrolled in a combined program of academic and vocational classes.
The vocational-education change would free up a total of $5.8 million, of which another $2.8 million would fund the third year of the legislature's three-year plan to equalize funding differences among rich and poor districts.
Over all, Mr. Castle's 1993 budget calls for a $7.8 million--or 1.9 percent--increase in Delaware's spending on K-12 education.
A major element of the Governors address was a proposal to improve health care for poor children by expanding Medicare and building a network of new child-health clinics across the state in the next two years. The plan would be funded in part by a 1 percent tax on hospitals and healthcare facilities and a surcharge on doctors' licensing fees.--D.G.