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Emphasis on Getting Back to the Basics in Massachusetts

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Education was the focus of Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci's first State of the State Address on Jan. 15, with the Massachusetts Republican outlining plans to hire 4,000 new teachers next school year, calling for character education in schools, and mandating that 90 percent of new school funds go directly to the classroom.

"I believe that the real state of our state will be measured by the state of our schools," Mr. Cellucci, who moved up from the lieutenant governor's job after Gov. William F. Weld resigned last summer, said in his short speech. "The most important thing that government can do--and must do--is provide a first-rate education for our children."

Gov. Cellucci directed the state school board to come up with a statewide character education program.

"Basic values," he told lawmakers in a packed chamber in Boston, "like honesty, compassion, and perseverance--virtues that know no political or social boundary--should have a prominent role in everyday lessons."

The plan to ensure that 90 percent of new school spending goes directly into classrooms is intended, Mr. Cellucci said, to prevent "bloated administrative budgets" from eating more than their share of the $2.9 billion the state will spend on public schools this year.

And while conceding that "many students will fail" the statewide assessments that will be given to public school students for the first time starting this spring, he said he has no plans to lower the academic bar.

ALABAMA

James Eyes Windfall For New School Aid

Alabama should not rest until the academic performance of its students leads the nation, Gov. Fob James Jr. told legislators in his Jan. 13 State of the State Address.

The Dixie State remains one of the lowest-performing states in national education rankings. In his speech, Mr. James, a Republican, hailed efforts taken by the state board of education to strengthen graduation requirements and reduce class sizes, and he promised additional action this year.

The governor also has plans for spending a $1.5 billion windfall due the state as a result of overpayments to Alabama's teacher retirement fund. Mr. James proposed committing $50 million a year over 20 years toward a $1 billion education bond. Of that, $576 million would go to K-12 schools for improving their facilities. In addition, he proposed legislation that would allow school districts to pool their resources to issue a capital-improvement bond of up to $850 million.

Gov. James also recycled some proposals that failed to get off the ground last year, such as funding a statewide computer network and creating a $300 million college merit-scholarship fund for Alabama students to attend in-state public colleges.

Mr. James proposed a salary increase of 8.5 percent this year for all Alabama teachers. That would raise the average salary from $31,000 in 1995 to $36,000 in 1998.

--MILLICENT LAWTON

ALASKA

Knowles Calls forMandatory Standards

In his State of the State Address, Gov. Tony Knowles asked lawmakers to approve an initiative that would implement statewide mandatory standards and assessments in reading, writing, and mathematics for all grade levels.

Alaska now has voluntary standards, and no matching assessments.

"There are many examples of student, teacher, and school excellence in Alaska," Mr. Knowles, a Democrat, said in his Jan. 13 speech. "But it would be foolish to ignore warnings. All studies show that if kids aren't competent in these basic skills by 4th grade, school--and life--only gets worse for them."

The initiative would also include mandatory remedial help for students who are not meeting basic standards.

To help pay for his proposal, Gov. Knowles proposed a budget increase of $24 million in "sorely needed resources" for the state's schools. The increase would raise the state's contribution to school districts to nearly $685 million. If passed, the budget boost would be only the second such increase in a decade, Mr. Knowles said.

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM

GEORGIA

Miller Highlights 'Incredible Investment'

Delivering the final State of the State Address of his career, Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia did more than just talk about how his lottery-financed education programs have made an impact. During his speech, he introduced legislators to Lauren Stripling of Newnan, Ga., the 300,000th recipient of a HOPE scholarship.

In Georgia, any student who graduates from high school with a B average is eligible for a HOPE award. The acronym stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally.

Mr. Miller also welcomed a prekindergarten class from a local church. Georgia provides universal prekindergarten with programs run by public and private providers.

"More than 185,000 Georgia children have already benefited from pre-K," said Mr. Miller, who is not running for re-election after his second term expires later this year. "What an incredible investment in our children and in our future."

--LINDA JACOBSON

INDIANA

O'Bannon Wants Better Test Scores

Vowing against "lowering the bar" for students who haven't performed well on state tests, Indiana Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon advocated redirecting money in the current budget to provide struggling students with remedial help during his State of the State Address this month.

Mr. O'Bannon, a Democrat, acknowledged that the recent scores for the state's ISTEP-Plus (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress) exam were "on everyone's mind."

According to a test sampling, 39 percent of 10th graders were expected to have failed the mathematics portion of the exam this year, and 27 percent were expected to have failed the language arts section. While schools have received results, Indiana officials have not yet made statewide scores public.

Beginning with the class of 2000, Indiana students must pass the ISTEP-Plus test to receive a high school diploma.

The governor asked the legislature to approve creation of an academic-standards commission to "assess, strengthen, and promote the standards to which our students will be held."

--MARY ANN ZEHR

IOWA

Branstad Pushes Range of Changes

Gov. Terry E. Branstad used his final Condition of the State Message this month to press for support for a host of recommendations aimed at "remaking Iowa's public education system."

The work of a commission he appointed last year, the recommendations include adding more programs to reach infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; all-day kindergarten; pay raises for beginning teachers; financial help for districts that want to lengthen the school year; and uniform statewide reporting on students' progress in basic skills.

In addition, Mr. Branstad, a Republican serving the last year of his fourth term, wants the legislature to increase tuition and textbook tax credits for the parents of private school students, from $100 annually to $250. Under Mr. Branstad's proposal, a $250 credit would also be extended to parents of public school students to cover school fees. Finally, the governor wants more money for college-tuition grants.

"If you do nothing else this year," he urged the legislators, "do not leave here without reforming our schools."

--BESS KELLER

NEBRASKA

Nelson FavorsCap on Spending

Gov. Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he wants to make sure this year's increase in state aid to schools goes to property-tax relief and not new spending.

In his final State of the State Address last week, the second-term Democrat proposed limiting annual local-government spending increases, including those of school districts, to 2.5 percent.

State aid to schools is set to increase by more than $110 million to $573 million in the coming fiscal year, a response by the legislature to new property-tax limits.

But Mr. Nelson said that for "true, long-term property-tax relief," the levy limits need to be coupled with a spending cap. "Because voters have the option of overriding the spending cap and the levy limit, communities will decide for themselves if they want increased spending or property-tax relief," he argued.

Mr. Nelson also told lawmakers that he wants to provide more low-income children with basic health insurance, using existing state money to match new federal funds.

The governor also called finishing work on voluntary statewide academic standards "job one." A few days earlier, the state school board had adopted its first standards--in reading, writing, and mathematics for some grades--but the board's plan calls for standards in additional grades and subjects.

--BESS KELLER

OREGON

Kitzhaber Advocates Public Engagement

Gov. John Kitzhaber challenged voters to "reconnect our communities to their schools" in his State of the State Address.

Since Oregon voters approved a property-tax-limitation measure in 1990 that shifted a majority of the school funding burden to state government, Mr. Kitzhaber said, voters have lost their sense of ownership in the schools.

"As a citizen, I intend to lead by example," he asserted in his Jan. 16 speech, "regularly spending time reading to children in the classroom, mentoring, or serving as a classroom volunteer."

The governor has launched a series of meetings throughout the state with parents, teachers, community leaders, and school administrators to find ways to get people involved with their schools and to adopt programs and strategies that work.

He also promised to create a "link between the next budget and student performance," based on what children will need to meet the state's new academic standards.

In addition, the governor pledged to make community-based efforts to prevent juvenile crime his top public-safety priority in the coming year.

--LYNN OLSON

SOUTH DAKOTA

Janklow Is Seeking Consensus on Learning

State board of education members, legislators, local school board officials, and parents need to find consensus on what students should know after completing each grade, Gov. William J. Janklow said in his State of the State Address.

"We need to do something quickly," he said on Jan. 13. He said he wants the state to "move forward on a very aggressive basis" to write standards in American history, mathematics, science, the arts, music, and English.

In addition to talking about standards, the governor boasted about the state's technology accomplishments. "Over the course of the next three years, we will train 2,200 classroom teachers in the utilization of technology in the K-12 system," he said.

Mr. Janklow also discussed the "huge needs" of students, and said that he would like to see more schools open for after-hours programs.

He also cited a new pilot project, called the Social Worker in the School Program, aimed at helping students deal with nonacademic problems

--KAREN ABERCROMBIE

VIRGINIA

Gilmore Reiterates Teaching-Hiring Promise

In his first State of the Commonwealth Address, newly inaugurated Gov. James S. Gilmore III vowed last week to fulfill his campaign promise to hire 4,000 new elementary school teachers and to continue the work of his predecessor to implement Virginia's new academic standards.

Outgoing Gov. George F. Allen Jr. called the state's Standards of Learning, praised by many national education leaders for their rigor, one of the proudest achievements of his four-year term. Mr. Allen, who, like Gov. Gilmore, is a Republican, could not succeed himself under Virginia law.

The state's standards and recently approved tests have been controversial among some local lawmakers and educators, who worry that students and teachers will lack time to prepare for the new exams.

But Mr. Gilmore, who promised additional training for teachers, warned that "if there are those who think that a change in administration is an opportunity to reopen the debate [on standards], hear me loud and clear: Virginia will not retreat."

While he did not outline any major new budget proposals in his 35-minute speech, Virginia's 68th governor said he would support raising teachers' salaries. Mr. Gilmore also exhorted the legislature to enact charter school legislation this year, a battle that Mr. Allen lost during his administration.

--JESSICA PORTNER

WASHINGTON

Locke Promotes 'Reading Corps'

Gov. Gary Locke used his State of the State Address this month to call on Washington legislators to create a state reading corps of 25,000 volunteer tutors. They would help 82,000 students in grades 2-5 learn to read.

The governor pointed to test results that showed that fewer than half of Washington's 4th graders last year met the state's academic standard in reading. "Now those kids are in 5th grade. And it's not enough to tell their parents that schools will do a better job in the future," Mr. Locke said.

He also proposed several incentives for improving teaching. He said the state should reward teachers who pass a rigorous national certification test and should award 100 four-year scholarships to college graduates in return for a commitment to teach in the state's public schools. He also called for a "fast-track route" into teaching for midcareer and retired professionals.

One year after a charter school measure passed in the Washington House but not in the Senate, Mr. Locke asked legislators to try again and said he would sign a charter school bill that promotes innovation and community involvement.

Gov. Locke also said the state should link all its schools to a new statewide electronic network.

--ANDREW TROTTER

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