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Maine's Governor Wants His State To Move Ahead of Education Pack

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Maine's schools can boast that they are the best in the nation, and the state's governor is promising to give them the resources they need to be competitive with those of other countries.

"What I want is not just progress," Gov. Angus S. King Jr. said in his Feb. 2 State of the State Address. "I want to break away from the pack so that when someone in another state says how they're doing, they'll say, 'We're doing great; we're first in the nation, except for Maine, of course.'"

As evidence of Maine's education success, Mr. King cited the state's top ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 4th graders in mathematics and reading, as well as 8th graders in math and science.

To help schools, the nation's only Independent governor proposed a $11.2 million increase in general school funding, which is currently set at $537 million, and the creation of a $20 million revolving loan fund for school construction.

He also announced that a private foundation would begin upgrading old computers for school use. The computers will be donated by the state's businesses.

The program should double the number of computers in Maine classrooms "at a cost that will be lost in the rounding of most education budgets," Mr. King said.

CONNECTICUT

Rowland Wants To Hire More Reading Teachers

While pledging to continue his efforts to cut taxes and rein in government spending generally, Gov. John G. Rowland is calling for significant state spending on education in coming years.

In his State of the State Address last week, the Republican governor reiterated his recent proposal to increase funding for education by $93 million in the next fiscal year, and by as much as $500 million over the next five years. In FY 1998, the state allocated $ 1.56 billion for K-12 education.

Among the initiatives the governor proposed are the hiring of some 300 reading teachers in the lower grades, putting more computers in schools, and upgrading the system of vocational-technical schools. No more than 5 percent of the new money should be spent on administration, with the rest going "directly to students," said the governor, who is up for re-election next fall.

"If we can teach kids to excel in reading at an early age, we can give them an advantage throughout their school careers and throughout their lives,"Mr. Rowland said.

Lauding the state's recent intervention in the Hartford system, he also said school boards around the state should be given authority to close chronically failing schools and replace their staffs.

--JEFF ARCHER

DELAWARE

Carper Eyes Reading, Class-Size Initiatives

Delaware deserves an A for effort and education spending, but needs to improve its students' test scores and achievement, according to Gov. Thomas R. Carper.

Gov. Carper, a Democrat, proposed hiring more teachers and focusing attention on reading skills in his State of the State Address last month.

Ideally, grades K-3 should have a teacher for every 15 students, and grades 4-12 should have a teacher for every 16.3 students, Mr. Carper said.

Gov. Carper said he wants to add $3 million, for a total of $10 million, for additional instructional time in grades 7-12.

The governor said he feels confident that the state's academic standards and a new accountability system he urged the legislature to adopt last month will help improve the state's lackluster scores on national reading assessments and the SAT.

Gov. Carper, a long-time proponent of mentoring programs for students, said a plan to recruit an additional 10,000 mentors this year would also help Delaware students. In addition, he emphasized that parent-training programs already in place would be a partial solution to the problem of inadequate student achievement.

--JOETTA L. SACK

MICHIGAN

State Reading Plan Mapped Out by Engler

Gov. John Engler of Michigan used his State of the State Address to propose an early-childhood literacy initiative and ask lawmakers to make health insurance affordable for all children up to age 18.

Under his "Reading Plan for Michigan," the state education department would prepare and distribute reading-readiness kits to parents of preschool-age children.

The Republican governor also wants a summer literacy program for students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade, as well as volunteer initiatives to recruit adults as reading tutors.

"Children who start kindergarten this fall must be able to ready by the time they reach the 4th grade," he said in his Jan. 29 speech.

The two-term governor, who is expected to seek re-election in November, also proposed a plan to provide affordable health insurance for children.

The maximum family contribution would be $192; state and federal money would cover the remaining costs.

The program, to be called MIChild, would cover an estimated 150,000 children who are now uninsured.

--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON

MINNESOTA

Carlson Emphasizes Education Choice

In his final State of the State Address, Gov. Arne Carlson pledged to "do everything that I can to make certain that choice, competition, and quality continue to drive our commitment to education."

Mr. Carlson, a Republican who successfully pushed for tax credits and deductions to help parents pay for education programs, said his administration has "challenged the status quo and succeeded."

For the first time, he said in the Feb. 4 speech, Minnesota students in grades 3, 5, and 8 are taking tests this month in reading and math that will provide a benchmark for measuring further progress. And the state has more than doubled the number of charter schools, to 30, in the past year, he said.

In addition, the governor once again said he was "firmly committed" to the state's new high school graduation standards.

Mr. Carlson, who is finishing his second term and cannot succeed himself, reserved most of his spending proposals this year for institutions of higher education. But he asked lawmakers to appropriate $12 million to build three "residential academies" or boarding schools for children who have spent years in foster care.

--ANN BRADLEY

MISSISSIPPI

Teachers Deserve Raise, Fordice Tells Lawmakers

Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice, in his seventh State of the State Address, called for teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to receive salary increases.

These master teachers should be paid a salary equal to the national average or get a $6,000 raise, whichever amount is higher, he said in the speech last month.

The governor endorsed a bill sponsored by two state representatives to use "proven phonics techniques" in teaching children to read.

Mr. Fordice, a Republican, also expressed his support for a "paycheck protection" measure that would require union members to sign off on any contributions to political causes made by their organizations.

Finally, Mr. Fordice spoke out against raising taxes and floating bonds to pay for textbooks, buses, and school buildings.

"Education and 'the children' have been repeatedly used as the excuse ... to raise taxes and increase the size of government," he warned. Instead, the governor called for capping the growth of general-obligation-bond debt.

--ANN BRADLEY

OKLAHOMA

Keating Says Achievement of Schools Is Below Par

Recent improvements in funding have not brought Oklahoma schools to "where we hoped to be, or where we ought to be," Gov. Frank Keating said in his State of the State Address.

Citing lagging test scores and graduation rates, he told lawmakers the state has gone wrong by not focusing enough on academic standards and accountability.

As a remedy, Mr. Keating on Feb. 2 reiterated his call last year for requiring high school students to take four years each of the core subjects of mathematics, science, social studies, and English. Several lawmakers are advocating similar ideas.

The Republican governor also urged the legislature to upgrade standards for middle and high school teachers by requiring that they all have at least a minor in the subjects they teach.

Teachers who study to earn a second bachelor's or advanced academic degree in the core subjects should get a tax credit, he said.

He asked legislators for $21 million to correct inequities in the pay scale for teachers at the lower grades of seniority, which would complement raises for career teachers the legislature passed last year.

--ANDREW TROTTER

PENNSYLVANIA

Ridge Looks To Fund Performance Incentives

In his fourth budget address, Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania proposed a fiscal 1999 spending plan that blends new spending for schools with expanded health insurance for children and major tax breaks.

His proposal would raise the state's basic education subsidy by $120.7 million, to $3.5 billion.

The state's poorest 125 districts would get 30 percent of the new money.

The Republican governor also pledged in his speech Feb. 3 to pay a final, $48 million installment on the state's three-year Link-to-Learn school technology initiative.

In an effort to enhance student performance, Mr. Ridge, who must stand for re-election in November, proposed spending $13.4 million to fund school performance incentives--$3 million more than last year.

Mr. Ridge also asked lawmakers for $3 million to help train teachers in the state's new academic standards. The state's $330 million in surplus funds also would help pay for a $15 million expansion of the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, and extend health coverage to 140,000 new children.

--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON

RHODE ISLAND

Almond Seeks To Launch Child-Care Initiative

Gov. Lincoln C. Almond of Rhode Island pledged new state efforts on teacher training, child care, and all-day kindergarten in an upbeat election-year State of the State Address.

One of the most ambitious initiatives the Republican governor unveiled Jan. 29 to his majority-Democratic legislature was Starting RIght, a multifaceted effort to greatly expand child-care services in the Ocean State.

Starting RIght would be phased in over three years and paid for with state and federal dollars. It would cost $13 million a year when fully in place.

Mr. Almond also proposed setting aside an additional $1 million to help more Rhode Island schools offer all-day kindergarten and preschool programs.

"This plan will make Rhode Island far and away the number-one state in America when it comes to helping kids get the most out of the first three years of life," the governor said.

After praising the state's progress in recent years in adopting new educational standards and assessments, Mr. Almond proposed spending an additional $1 million on teacher training over this year's allocation of $840,000. This fiscal year, the state's overall budget for K-12 education was $519 million.

--JEFF ARCHER

TENNESSEE

Governor Wants Charters, Proficiency Testing

Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist urged legislators to support his administration's education initiatives, the first of which included the creation of charter schools, in his State of the State Address.

"My objective in establishing charter schools in Tennessee is to prod our public schools to become better," the GOP governor said.

Mr. Sundquist also said Feb. 2 that he wants to test the state's high school students in reading, writing, math, and science, and to require that the students pass all the tests in order to graduate.

The state's proposed budget for fiscal 1998-99 calls for an additional $83.4 million for K-12 education, which would maintain full funding of the Basic Education Program and raise state spending for public schools to nearly $2.4 billion, the highest level in state history.

--ADRIENNE D. COLES

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