Ohio Lawmakers Urged To Face Up to School Issues
Gov. George V. Voinovich stepped up to the lectern last week and told Ohio lawmakers they must address the state's "No. 1 priority"--better education.
"Realizing that we must work with parents, local communities, and the private sector, we, the elected representatives of the people of this state, should never rest in our efforts to build an education system that enables all Ohioans to go as far in life as their God-given talents will take them," the Republican governor said in his State of the State Address.
Gov. Voinovich focused first on families, proposing to expand Medicaid eligibility to 96,000 additional Ohio children. He also called for additional dollars in the Head Start program so that Ohio "will be the first state to provide a place in preschool for every eligible child whose family so desires."
On school finance, Gov. Voinovich noted that he had worked to close the equity gap between districts, increasing state per-pupil appropriations to the poorest districts by about 31 percent since fiscal 1991 while appropriations to the richest districts grew just 5.7 percent. He said he would propose an extra $213 million to help narrow the gap even further.
To repair dilapidated school buildings, the governor called for $300 million, of which two-thirds would go to the 60 poorest districts. The remainder would go to the eight largest urban districts. He said his proposed budget would recommend using $30 million in excess lottery funds to help wire schools for technology.
As for the state's teachers, Gov. Voinovich said that since many teachers do preparation outside of schools, he hoped to eliminate sales taxes for certified teachers when they buy personal computers.
He also told lawmakers that his new budget would contain funding to help 800 teachers apply for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
And he proposed $1 million "challenge grants" to establish teacher training academies in Akron, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo. The academies would be modeled after Cincinnati's nationally recognized Mayerson Academy, a professional-development institute formed as a partnership between the district and the local business community.
Finally, for the state's struggling urban districts, Mr. Voinovich called for an expansion of all-day kindergarten. He also encouraged the state's heavily Republican legislature to expand Cleveland's pilot voucher program. And he proposed creating more slots in the Jobs for Ohio's Graduates program, which targets high school seniors at risk of dropping out. He said he would like to see participation rise from 9,000 to 12,000 students.
Knowles Looks for Help In Crafting School Plan
Gov. Tony Knowles of Alaska last week highlighted the state's still-plentiful oil and gas resources as the chief engine of its economic prosperity, but he was less specific on the sources of school improvement.
Efforts launched last fall to create new standards, stronger accountability, and expanded business partnerships for schools could be bolstered by community education summits, the Democratic governor said.
In his Jan. 14 State of the State Address, he asked the state school board to "talk with Alaskans" on how to implement improvements such as holding students to high academic standards and teachers and administrators to high professional targets. He said the state should get tough on poor-performing districts, give parents, businesses, and communities a greater role in their schools, and establish computer literacy as a basic skill.
Acknowledging that juvenile crime and domestic violence are severe problems in the state, Mr. Knowles proposed plans for swifter justice for juveniles and increased monitoring of sex offenders. He said that next summer the $6 million Alaska Children's Trust will begin investing its interest earnings in "creative, community-based programs that prevent child abuse and neglect."
More Choice, More Money Top Symington's Agenda
Gov. Fife Symington of Arizona rang many familiar education bells in his State of the State Address: more school choice, more accountability, and more school safety.
But the thrifty Republican's Jan. 13 address, which began with education, included an unexpected message, too: more money.
Gov. Symington said his proposed fiscal 1998 budget hits $2 billion in K-12 operating funds for the first time. The request marks a $90 million increase over last year and the largest single increase in his proposed budget. Part of that increase would go toward a $400 million capital-finance fund to help poor schools.
Under a court order, lawmakers this year are expected to tackle school finance issues, possibly in a special session. In 1994, the state supreme court ruled that the finance system was unconstitutional because of disparities among districts in school construction, building maintenance, and equipment. Last November, a state judge found the legislature's new $100 million construction fund an insufficient answer to the finance problems. The judge said a new system must be in place by June 30, 1998, or the state must stop distributing aid to schools.
"Further funding should be provided if further need is demonstrated," Mr. Symington said in his speech. That sentiment is a far cry from the governor's earlier statements that fixing the finance problems should not mean doling out more state money.
The governor, who was indicted last year by a federal grand jury on charges of abusing his office, called for a $10 million school voucher program. Also in the name of school choice, Mr. Symington asked lawmakers to support a bill that would exempt any facilities used for charter schools from paying property taxes. Many of the state's charter schools face financial troubles.
After discussing his education proposals, Mr. Symington called for cutting the state income tax by $100 million.
Wider Testing Proposed To Back Up Standards
Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado stressed education and children's services in his State of the State Address this month and proposed significant new funding for reforms in the works.
The state this year will begin to phase in a new testing system tied to statewide standards. In its current budget, the state is spending $1.7 million to test 4th graders this spring in reading, writing, and geography.
Gov. Romer proposed $2.7 million in his fiscal 1998 budget to expand the assessments to 4th and 8th graders in six subjects.
"This is a critical investment for our children, and we must not backtrack," the third-term Democrat said in his Jan. 9 speech to lawmakers.
Gov. Romer also proposed adding $25 million in basic education funding to help deal with rising enrollments. An estimated 15,000 new students will fill Colorado schools next year.
Economic Success May Take Time To Help Schools
In a speech touting "Connecticut's comeback," Gov. John G. Rowland made little mention of a specific plan for the state's schools.
Instead, the first-term Republican governor used his Jan. 9 State of the State Address to celebrate the state's robust economy, marked by new jobs and a state budget surplus. He reiterated his pledge to seek further cuts in the state's income and gasoline taxes, and to rein in state spending.
Schools will have to wait to share in the good economic times, Gov. Rowland said, adopting a wait-and-see stance. Connecticut legislators await recommendations for dealing with last summer's order from the state supreme court to desegregate schools in and around Hartford.
"During the upcoming session, one of our greatest challenges will be education reform," he said near the end of his address. "The Sheff v. O'Neill case has given this legislature a chance to make a lasting impact on education in our state, and we are not going to let this session pass by without meeting that challenge."
Miller Looks Beyond Popular Lottery Programs
With Georgia's two lottery-funded education programs--pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and college scholarships for B-average or better students--attracting attention around the country, Gov. Zell Miller is moving on to other proposals focused on children.
In his State of the State Address last week, Mr. Miller outlined initiatives to promote adoption of foster children, increase health screenings for newborns, and reduce teenage pregnancy. He also asked lawmakers to raise teachers' salaries.
In an effort to keep more teen mothers from going on welfare, Mr. Miller wants to set up 15 clinics in communities with high teen-pregnancy rates and high welfare caseloads. He also wants to expand two pregnancy-prevention programs--one that targets teenage boys and the other an abstinence-based program, Postponing Sexual Involvement, aimed at middle-school-age children.
The governor is also continuing his pledge to bring teachers' salaries up to the national average by proposing a 6 percent raise for four consecutive years. This would be the third year of that effort.
Global Economy Anchors Branstad's School Message
Focusing on a healthy economy, Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa last week urged legislators to cut high income and property taxes to fuel future growth.
Looking to the world marketplace, he said in his State of the State Address that he will appoint a bipartisan citizens' commission to compare academic achievement in the state with achievement in the rest of the world and to create a vision for improvement.
He said his administration would assist schools through a program "to encourage innovation and creativity and to expand community involvement" at the local level. He also urged legislators to attract teaching talent by raising the minimum starting salaries for teachers by 10 percent.
Mr. Branstad, in the middle of his fourth term, offered new support for private schools, recommending that legislators double the tuition tax credit to make nonpublic schools more affordable.
And technology will remain a centerpiece of the state's self-improvement efforts, the Republican governor said. His administration plans to continue to connect colleges and schools to the state-owned communications network, so that by 1999 every district will have access to on-line information.
He said distance education should be extended eventually to workers and professionals so "every Iowan has access to the courses and training that are today only available on college campuses."
New Governor Promises New Focus on Education
While not offering too many specifics, newly elected Gov. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire pledged during her inaugural speech to make education a top priority of her administration.
In the Jan. 9 remarks, the Democrat announced plans to convene a state education summit involving teachers, parents, school administrators, researchers, and business executives. The summit would produce an "action plan" for education in the state.
Ms. Shaheen's remarks also focused on the need to expand kindergarten to every 5-year-old in New Hampshire. The state only last year began helping to pay for kindergarten programs. Many districts use local money to provide the program.
"Many states are now moving beyond kindergarten, offering public preschool programs to 3- and 4-year-olds," the governor said. "They understand that an earlier start equals a better student."
Incentives Might Fill Hole in State's Reforms
Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed a statewide salary schedule for Oregon teachers and performance incentives in his State of the State Address last week.
The Democratic governor argued that the decisions on salaries should be made "by the same level of government that makes the funding decisions." Since 1990, Oregonians have approved two measures that cap local property taxes. As a result, more than half of all K-12 revenues now come from the state.
Mr. Kitzhaber argued that a statewide salary schedule for teachers would provide "better control and accountability for the single largest cost of education."
Accountability is lacking in the state's 1991 education reform law, the governor said. To make schools and educators answer for their work, he pledged to institute a system of performance incentives for teachers and administrators.
Mr. Kitzhaber also said teachers and administrators should be able to show that they can effectively teach to the standards set by the reform law. His proposed two-year budget includes $8 million for teacher training and increased public awareness about the law's requirements. The governor said the state must ensure that school managers "possess the will and the ability to require and support excellence in the performance of every classroom teacher."
He also pledged to remove barriers to using teachers' assistants, volunteers, and outside experts in Oregon classrooms.
Early Reading Skills Need a Boost, Dean Says
Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont will propose spending $150,000 to boost the reading skills of elementary school students.
Echoing President Clinton's goals, the Democratic governor said in his third inaugural address last week that he wants every child in the state to be a competent reader by 3rd grade.
While most 4th graders are not reading at grade level, Gov. Dean said that test results will show that the state's schools are not in as bad shape as some residents believe. The job for state officials and local educators, he said, is convincing parents of public schools' worth and getting more people involved.
"Our goal is to empower parents and increase their confidence in their child's school," he said. "And we need to prove to parents that our public education system is worth the taxes that we pay to support our children's education."
--JOETTA L. SACK