News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
N.M. Legislature Rejects Governor's Voucher Plan
New Mexico lawmakers handed a resounding defeat last week to Gov. Gary E. Johnson's plan to provide low-income children with vouchers worth roughly $3,000 to attend any public, private, or religious school in the state.
By votes of 29-11 in the Senate and 50-20 in the House, members of the Democratic-majority legislature rejected the Republican governor's proposal largely along party lines. The May 10 votes came during a special legislative session that the governor called primarily to weigh the voucher proposal and a compromise state budget plan. Legislators also agreed on the fiscal 2000 budget plan last week.
Gov. Johnson introduced his voucher plan during the regular legislative session, which ended March 20, but it never advanced beyond education committees in the House and the Senate. ("N.M. Governor Digs In His Heels on Vouchers," March 31, 1999.)
Mr. Johnson remained upbeat after the votes. "I believe the debate is far from over and I'm not giving up on vouchers, " he said in a statement.
--Jessica L. Sandham
WEA Abandons Initiative Drive
Delegates to the annual convention of the Washington Education Association voted this month to drop the union's push for a ballot initiative to guarantee cost-of-living increases in the state's salary framework for teachers.
Leaders of the National Education Association affiliate filed Initiative 708 in April, during a rash of one-day walkouts and rallies by teachers to press the legislature to raise salaries by 15 percent in the 2000-01 biennial budget. ("Teacher Walkouts Spread Across Washington," April 14, 1999.)
Union leaders expressed dissatisfaction with the legislature's salary concessions: The final bill would give most teachers a 6 percent raise over two years, with greater increases to new and the most senior teachers. But on May 8, 67 percent of the 1,000 WEA delegates voted against going ahead with the initiative, which would have required collecting 179,000 valid signatures.
A factor in the vote was opposition by state employees' unions, which argued that the guaranteed raises would come at the expense of their members because of an existing state spending cap, Rich Wood, a WEA spokesman, said. Mr. Wood said the union, which represents about 67,000 school classified employees, teachers, and university personnel, would continue to fight for "fair compensation."
Tenn. Commissioner Leaving
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Jane Walters is stepping down.
The 43-year veteran of the Tennessee schools is leaving her position as commissioner June 30 and has accepted a job as the executive director of Partners in Public Education, a Memphis-based public education fund.
Before her appointment as commissioner by Gov. Don Sundquist in 1995, Ms. Walters, 64, spent 39 years working in the 112,000-student Memphis city schools. When the Republican governor reappointed Ms. Walters in 1999, she said she would stay through this year's legislative session, which is scheduled to end later this month.
Ms. Walters said in an interview she considers the education department's efforts to connect schools to the Internet and to enhance teacher training her most important accomplishments. Gov. Sundquist had not named a new commissioner as of last week.
--Adrienne D. Coles
Ohio House OKs Schools Budget
The Ohio House recently approved a $13.2 billion biennial budget for K-12 education that, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bob Taft, would increase per-pupil spending next year to $4,052 from $3,851 this year. Per-pupil spending for fiscal year 2001, meanwhile, would grow to $4,276.
House members voted 87-11 on May 6 to approve the plan, which would also clear the way for each of the state's 21 urban districts to open charter schools. Only eight such districts now have the ability to run charters. The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the budget in June.
The plan was crafted in the midst of a continuing court battle over school finance. In 1997, the state supreme court deemed Ohio's funding system unconstitutional. Last year, state lawmakers approved finance reforms, but a lower court ruled that the changes did not pass constitutional muster. That lower court ruling is now on appeal to the state supreme court.
--Jessica L. Sandham
Vol. 18, Issue 36, Page 15