Arizona Governor Pledges To Improve Education Quality
Declaring education her "top priority," Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull called on legislators last week to support a budget that sends more money to the state's schools.
"We have improved, or are improving, the quality of our school buildings," the Republican said in her Jan. 11 State of the State Address. "Now, we must improve the quality of what happens inside those buildings."
The Arizona Supreme Court last summer signed off on a new law that gives the state more responsibility for financing school facilities. The governor last week proposed issuing $290 million in state revenue bonds over the next two budget years to help pay for the facilities program.
Ms. Hull, a former teacher, also proposed devoting more state dollars to K-12 schools' day-to-day operations in the state's first biennial budget. The targets of the governor's call for a funding boost include reading improvement in grades K-3, special education, and technology and equipment.
She also called for improving teacher training and reiterated her support of school choice and the state's new high school graduation test.
Ms. Hull, then the secretary of state, inherited the governorship in 1997 when her Republican predecessor, Fife Symington, was convicted on fraud charges. After Ms. Hull won election to a full term in November, some observers began to speculate on whether her administration would take a different direction from its path in 1997 and 1998.
"Let me put the speculation to rest. My dreams and my goals have not changed," Gov. Hull told the legislature last week. "I want a better Arizona today and a better Arizona tomorrow. We will get there by traveling the same road we started down 16 months ago."
Arkansas Huckabee Emphasizes Child Health, Education
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee talked up the children's health and education programs he has sponsored and called on lawmakers to support property-tax and juvenile-justice reforms in his Jan. 12 State of the State Address.
Mr. Huckabee said a 1997 health-care initiative he helped usher through, ARKids First, has helped 50,000 of the state's uninsured children gain access to medical care.
As for the state's public schools, which trail most in the nation on many measures of student performance and resources, he said the state's Smart Start program, a K-4 reading and mathematics initiative unveiled last May, will provide "every single kid ... the solid foundation to become good students."
The governor also asked state leaders to change the juvenile-justice system so that someone convicted of a crime as a minor isn't "turned out on the streets just because he or she has blown out 18 candles on the birthday cake."
Mr. Huckabee also called on lawmakers to expand the state's college-scholarship program, and he asked legislative leaders to support property-tax reform.
Mr. Huckabee was elected to a full term in November.
He had succeeded to the office in 1996 following Democratic Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's conviction on charges that grew out of the Whitewater investigation and his subsequent resignation.
--Kerry A. White
Connecticut Rowland Reaffirms Earlier Commitments
In his Jan. 6 State of the State Address, Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut pledged to stay the course he set 12 months before, when he launched a series of election-year initiatives in education and child welfare.
The Republican governor began his second term lauding Connecticut's "vibrant, growing economy," the forecasts of a state budget surplus of as much as $500 million this year, and the recent legislative agreement to build a $374 million stadium to lure the New England Patriots football team to Hartford.
In education, he promised to continue to back the state's response to a 1996 school desegregation ruling, which includes plans for programs to allow students to transfer between districts and improvements in the state's urban schools.
He also said he supported the continuing intervention in the Hartford public schools, which the state took over in 1997, and the campaign he began last year to improve reading skills in the early grades.
"These commitments stand," the governor said.
But Mr. Rowland, who again faces Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, cautioned against increased state spending and promised to continue his crusade for tax relief.
Idaho Building Literacy Is Focus of Kempthorne Speech
Idaho's new governor said in his State of the State Address last week that improving reading skills is his highest priority for the state's public schools.
Dirk Kempthorne, who chose to seek the governorship last year rather a second term in the U.S. Senate, touted a $5.5 million plan to pay for a comprehensive reading program aimed at having all children reading by the 3rd grade. "I also believe in the principles of good competition and reward," Mr. Kempthorne said in his Jan. 11 speech.
The Republican governor is recommending that financial incentives be made available to teachers and schools with successful reading programs. He also wants such incentives for teachers to attain national certification.
Mr. Kempthorne said his other big area of concern is early-childhood immunizations; Idaho's immunization rate ranks near the bottom nationally.
Idaho is in the 70th percentile for immunizations now, and the governor hopes to move the state into the 90th percentile in the next two years.
Overall, he said: "We need to face the facts and find answers, keep what is right and reform what is not."
--Karen L. Abercrombie
New Jersey Whitman Highlights Tax Cuts, Teacher Quality
Responding to perennial complaints about local property taxes, Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey last week proposed a $1 billion rebate program to offset the taxes homeowners pony up for their public schools.
"My fellow citizens, you asked for property-tax relief, and I intend to give it to you--a billion times over," the governor said in her annual State of the State Address on Jan. 12.
Mrs. Whitman wants to send homeowners state checks equal to the school taxes they pay on the first $45,000 worth of assessed value of their homes.
When fully phased in, the five-year program would offset about a third of the average homeowner's tax bill for schools, or around $600, at an annual cost of $1 billion, she said. Renters would get more modest rebates under the plan.
The governor also called for new efforts to improve the quality of the Garden State's teaching corps, make it easier to earn college credits online, and expand a health-insurance program for children.
Under the teaching-quality proposal, all aspiring teachers would need a B average in college to qualify for state certification, up from the C-plus average that now applies only to graduates of in-state teacher-training programs. The state's affiliate of the National Education Association reacted favorably to the idea.
Other facets of the plan include a $200,000 unit in the state education department to recruit and place teachers from top colleges and a panel to examine teacher education issues.
North Dakota Shafer Links Education to Tobacco Settlement
The more than $700 million that North Dakota could receive as part of a settlement states have negotiated with tobacco companies could help secure a more certain future for the state's 229 school districts, Gov. Edward T. Shafer told lawmakers in his State of the State Address on Jan. 5.
"We can show foresight by allocating this new, potentially great, and still-uncertain source of revenue for the education of future generations of North Dakota's children--money that simultaneously relieves the burden on local property tax payers," Mr. Shafer said.
The Republican chief executive proposed directing nearly half of any money the state receives from the tobacco industry over the next 25 years into the state's trust fund for education.
In his $1.6 billion general fund budget for the 1999-2001 biennium, Mr. Shafer has proposed $539 million for education, a 9 percent increase. The budget includes $6 million to enhance technology in schools and provide professional development for teachers.
The governor also has asked for $5,000 in bonuses for teachers who earn certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The state would pay for 60 teachers to go through the certification process.
--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vermont Dean Seeks To Spend Surplus on Education
Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont plans to draw on a state surplus for his highest-spending budget ever, with much of the money going to education initiatives.
Part of the budget surplus should be used to set up a new, $10 million trust for students from middle-class families to attend the University of Vermont, Mr. Dean said in his Jan. 7 State of the State Address.
He also stressed higher standards and accountability, coupled with recruitment of better teachers, as part of the path to improving the state's public schools.
Mr. Dean, a Democrat, has also asked for the state to pay an additional $1,000 a year each to teachers who pass the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' certification exam and to pay half of the $2,000 test fee for any teacher who is willing to take it.
He also wants the state board of education to stiffen the certification requirements for new teachers.
In addition, the governor asked lawmakers to enact legislation that would complete the details of a statewide public-school-choice plan for high school students in 2001.
And one topic that Gov. Dean can't seem to avoid is Act 60, the state's sharply debated school finance overhaul passed in 1997. Mr. Dean announced that he had appointed an advisory panel to study the law's impact on businesses and towns that claim to have been adversely affected.
But, he added, any changes would not stray from the law's original purpose of providing a more equitable education to K-12 students.
--Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 18, Issue 19, Pages 15,17