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Edgar Renews Call for School Finance Reform

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In his eighth and final State of the State Address last week, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar outlined his administration's past victories and vowed to stay focused on children and economic growth during his last year in office.

The Republican governor, who has spent the past several years fighting to change the state's property-tax-reliant school finance formula, once again used the address to call attention to what he sees as the "unfinished business" of finance reform.

"The current system remains unfair. We need to change it," Gov. Edgar, who decided last summer not to run for another term, said in his speech.

And once again, Mr. Edgar called for a tax swap that would reduce public schools' reliance on local property taxes--a system that allows for some of the widest spending disparities between rich and poor districts in the nation. In December, Illinois lawmakers passed a school reform bill that raises spending on poor students and amends teacher-licensing rules. ("New Illinois Law Swells Funding for State's Poorer School Districts," Dec. 10, 1997.)

"As I have said throughout my career in public life, we rely too heavily on property taxes to fund our schools," the governor said in his Jan. 28 speech. "Even with the historic funding reform we enacted last month to raise up the poorer school districts in the state, and even with the success of property tax caps."

Gov. Edgar announced the appointment of a commission to study school funding alternatives and said that he has given the panel until Dec. 31 to come up with ideas.

The governor also called for doubling--from eight weeks to 16 weeks--the amount of time future teachers need to spend in the classroom before becoming certified. He also said that the state needs to ensure that "fewer and fewer of our teachers are teaching outside of their areas of expertise." But he did not offer specifics on how that goal would be reached.

Again omitting details, Mr. Edgar promised to help communities coordinate early-childhood programs and announced a plan that would train welfare mothers to become licensed child-care providers.

And like many other governors this year, he unveiled a health-insurance program for children of the working poor who do not qualify for Medicaid so that "unexpected injury or illness will not drive those already strapped families into financial ruin."

HAWAII

Cayetano Advocates Technology Partnership

Gov. Benjamin Cayetano is hoping that a private-public partnership in Hawaii will soon bring 10,000 more computers into the state's schools.

The Democratic governor said in his State of the State Address last week that businesses in the state's Economic Revitalization Task Force have promised to raise $10 million for a fund that would pay for the computers.

Hawaii's school technology goal, he said, is for "all 8th grade students to be computer literate by the year 2000."

Mr. Cayetano also proposed replacing the state's elected board of education with four decentralized county boards of education whose members would be gubernatorially appointed.

Such a change in the system would help "schools to be more accountable to the surrounding community," he said in the Jan. 26 speech. Hawaii has a single, statewide school system.

Gov. Cayetano praised teachers for agreeing to teach seven more days a year than they do now. He pointed out that Hawaiian students spend far less time in the classroom than their mainland counterparts.

--MARY ANN ZEHR

MARYLAND

Glendening Makes Bid For School Construction

Buoyed by a strong economy, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening says he will seek $222 million in school construction aid to improve the quality of education "for every student in the state."

In his fourth annual State of the State Address on Jan. 21, the Democratic governor called on Maryland lawmakers to approve the largest school construction budget in 25 years in order to modernize dilapidated buildings, open new classrooms, and reduce class sizes.

In addition, relying on state revenue growth, Mr. Glendening has proposed increasing the overall K-12 budget by $181 million next year, from $1.9 billion to $2.1 billion.

The governor said he would require that each jurisdiction craft a plan to show that "this record-setting amount of money gets to where it needs to go--into the classrooms to improve the education of our children."

Gov. Glendening also said he would support more professional development for teachers and suggested strengthening teacher-certification requirements.

--JESSICA PORTNER

MISSOURI

Carnahan Focuses On Early Years

Missouri's foundation for a new century is found "in the faces of our children," Gov. Mel Carnahan recently told legislators.

During his Jan 21 State of the State Address, the Democratic governor proposed a $56.6 million early-childhood-education initiative that would encourage more schools to set up voluntary prekindergarten programs, increase child-care options for parents on welfare, provide training scholarships for child-care workers, and make developmental screenings available to families with young children.

Mr. Carnahan also pledged to end the court-ordered desegregation plans in Kansas City and St. Louis and to ensure that all Missouri students have access to a high-quality education.

He asked lawmakers to pass a bill that would revoke the certification of any teacher convicted of a serious felony, as well as legislation that would help schools block inappropriate material on the Internet.

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM

NEW MEXICO

Vouchers, Funding Sought by Governor

Proclaiming that "our schools are in dire shape," Republican Gov. Gary E. Johnson has called on the Democratic-dominated legislature to adopt his education reforms.

Lawmakers in the past have blocked many of the governor's education proposals.

In his Jan. 20 State of the State Address, Mr. Johnson reiterated his call for increased accountability for student results, more parental choice, more school dollars, more student testing, more early-childhood education, and safer schools. Mr. Johnson announced his "For the Children's Sake" reform plan last fall. Since then, he has held forums across the state to rally support for the plan, which he cited frequently in his address.

One of the governor's more controversial proposals is a call for private school vouchers. He has also pushed for boosting the number of charter schools. State law now permits only five such schools.

"Parental choice means healthy competition among all our schools benefiting the children, not the administrators and bureaucrats who control them," Mr. Johnson said.

Gov. Johnson's proposed budget includes an $80 million increase for public schools, to $1.45 billion. That total would equal 47 percent of the governor's proposed total general fund budget. The governor's goal is to funnel at least 50 percent of the state's general fund into education.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERG

SOUTH CAROLINA

Standards in Spotlight In Beasley Address

Gov. David M. Beasley urged South Carolina legislators in his State of the State Address to approve rigorous, back-to-basics academic standards.

The standards, set by a gubernatorially appointed commission of educators and business leaders, "finally spell out to students in no uncertain terms, this is what we expect you to learn; to every educator, this is what we expect you to teach; and to every parent, this is how we expect your child's school to perform," Mr. Beasley, a Republican, said in his Jan. 21 speech.

Although the state toughened graduation requirements last year, its students have performed poorly on national assessments.

Mr. Beasley also pitched a state scholarship plan that, when combined with federal tax credits, would provide free tuition to almost any public college or university in the state to any student who graduates from high school with a B average and posts a minimum combined score of 1,000 on the SAT.

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM

UTAH

Governor Seeks Accountability, Rewards

In his recent State of the State Address, Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt proposed a "21st Century" schools program in which schools that committed to new accountability measures and achievement goals could be rewarded with extra funding.

The initiative would replace the Centennial Schools program, in which 372 schools statewide now receive extra funding and greater autonomy by establishing performance goals.

"To become one of the 60 21st Century Schools this year, the entire school community must set measurable goals to improve reading, writing, and math," the Republican governor said during his Jan. 19 speech.

Under the program, schools would receive $5,000 to $10,000 each, plus extra per-pupil funding. Schools that met achievement goals by the end of the second year of the program would begin to receive such rewards as an extra $500 per teacher. Local school governing councils would determine whether to spend that money on teacher bonuses or other school needs.

Gov. Leavitt also proposed creating a charter school program. Under his plan, eight charters could be granted to independent groups to run public schools free of most state regulations.

--MARK WALSH

WEST VIRGINIA

Underwood Cites Children's Well-Being

The welfare of children and public education took top billing in Gov. Cecil Underwood's State of the State Address to West Virginia lawmakers. The governor cited progress in those two areas, along with improvements to infrastructure, as keys to the state's future.

"Either we improve the educational background skills of our work force," he declared, "or we will be left in the dust."

The Republican governor called on legislators on Jan. 14 to continue to pay for improvements to school buildings, working up to a total investment of $50 million by 2005. Similarly, he wants to boost the money spent on school computers from $16 million to $26 million in the coming fiscal year.

The chief executive also proposed a $750 pay raise for all school employees in 1998-99, with additional increments in the following two years.

Mr. Underwood also said West Virginia would match new federal dollars to help provide health insurance to an estimated 16,000 West Virginia children without it. He also vowed to personally help recruit foster parents, better protect children from abuse and neglect, and expand services within the state to reduce the number of children who must leave to get the care they need.

--BESS KELLER

WISCONSIN

Thompson Wants Tax Breaks for Parents

Gov. Tommy G. Thompson is seeking $100 million in tax breaks for parents and high standards for students and teachers.

Middle-income parents of students in grades K-12 would receive a $1,500 tax deduction per child, while poor families would get commensurate tax credits, under a proposal the Republican governor made Jan. 20 in his annual State of the State Address.

Mr. Thompson also urged schools to refrain from "social promotion" of students and proposed requiring students to meet local standards on 4th and 8th grade tests in order to advance to the next grade.

And he gave Milwaukee, the state's largest school district, an ultimatum: improve 3rd grade test scores and dropout, attendance, and graduation rates by June 2000 or risk losing its elected school board. The governor said he would seek legislative approval to turn the 106,000-student system over to a three-member commission appointed by him, the state superintendent, and the mayor of Milwaukee. ("Thompson Threatens a Takeover for Milwaukee," Jan. 28, 1998.)

Teachers also need to improve their skills, Mr. Thompson said, by pairing up with more-experienced instructors and earning national certification. The governor wants the state to help pay for teachers to take the tests given by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

--BETH REINHARD

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