From Arizona to Vermont, Governors Highlight Education
Arizona: Hull Highlights Range Of Education Proposals
Gov. Jane Dee Hull asked lawmakers to stay focused on improving Arizona schools in a Jan. 10 State of the State Address that was short on details.
"I challenge you, as resources become available, to invest in areas that produce academic improvements," said Gov. Hull, a Republican who was elected to her first full term in 1998. "Let's look at additional school days, lower class sizes, summer school courses, and better teacher preparation. I want to make sure Arizona students graduate with a diploma that means something."
State schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan, also a Republican, in recent weeks has called on lawmakers to allocate more money toward helping students pass a new high school graduation test based on the state's academic standards. Ms. Hull said in her speech last week that she agreed that additional spending may be needed, "but only if we are sure that we have maximized every dollar we are currently spending."
The state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in school facilities as a result of a long-running legal battle over school finance, but critics have argued that the state has underestimated the scope of the problem. If more funding is required than the state anticipated, Ms. Hull said in her speech, "we will find the money ... but we will not be rushed into writing blank checks."
Last year, the state adopted a biennial rather than yearly budget. Gov. Hull called last week for adjustments in the two-year budget that would add $43 million more for K-12 education to make up for larger-than-expected enrollment growth, as well as $133 million more for school facilities.
California: Recruiting Teachers Is Focus of Davis Speech
Borrowing a phrase from Uncle Sam, California Gov. Gray Davis used his Jan. 5 State of the State Address to tell the state's young people: "I want you to be a teacher."
Gov. Davis, a Democrat who took office a year ago, then backed up his proclamation by outlining a series of proposed state-financed incentives designed to lure qualified teachers into the schools that need them most.
The governor also proposed a program that would reward $1,000 college scholarships to all 9th, 10th, and 11th graders who scored in the top 10 percent statewide or the top 5 percent in their schools on state achievement tests. In addition, students who earned high marks on Advanced Placement mathematics and science exams would be eligible for $2,500 scholarships.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Colorado: Owens Takes Hard Line On His Education Plan
Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado says he is so serious about his education improvement program that he won't sign the state's school funding bill into law this year unless the legislature passes his proposals.
"The time has come to stand up, to be bold, and to demand more from our investment in education," Mr. Owens, a first-term Republican, said in his Jan. 6 State of the State Address.
His education proposals include expanding the state testing system to more grade levels, requiring all high school students to take the ACT college-admissions test, and issuing report cards with letter grades for every school in the state.
Children in schools graded D or below would be eligible for transportation aid to transfer to other public schools. Schools receiving a F would be subject to conversion into independent charter schools.
Gov. Owens also called for the creation of alternative charter schools for "high- risk and expelled students."
"The schools will provide a more suitable education environment for disruptive students than regular public schools," the governor said.
Citing the shootings last year at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., that left 15 people dead, Mr. Owens said every department of state government would work on policies aimed at strengthening families.
He defended zero-tolerance policies on weapons, drugs, and violent behavior in schools, adding that he supports a bill that would make it easier for "schools, law-enforcement agencies, and other government agencies to share information about disruptive children."
Iowa: Vilsack Links Education To Stronger Economy
Gov. Tom Vilsack urged Iowa lawmakers and the public to embrace a long but frugal list of education proposals in his Condition of the State Address Jan. 11.
Mr. Vilsack, a Democrat who was elected in 1998, argued that better schools, run by better-paid and well-trained educators, could help accelerate the state's slow rate of population growth. Enrollment is dropping in about two-thirds of Iowa school districts, and about half the state's counties saw their peak populations a century ago.
"We pledge to do more [for education] because Iowa prides itself on quality schools—from kindergarten to graduate school," the governor said.
In a plan to improve teacher quality, Mr. Vilsack called for spending more on teacher-mentoring programs, enacting tax credits to help rural districts hire teachers, and offering incentives to encourage retirement-eligible educators to leave and thus free up more salary money for younger teachers.
He also proposed to spend $100 million set aside for major urban attractions on school building repairs instead.
"Iowa remains one of only 10 states that fails to provide any direct assistance to districts for building maintenance, repair or construction," Gov. Vilsack noted.
He proposed not to continue programs that award money both to growing and shrinking districts where enrollment is changing. Instead, he advocated an extension of the state's 4 percent annual increase in general funding, aimed at giving all districts a share.
Kansas: State Forced To Cut Funding, Graves Says
Faced with a tighter budget than he was expecting, Kansas Gov. Bill Graves made his case last week for scaling back a pledge to increase per-pupil education funding.
"We cannot spend money we do not have," Mr. Graves, a Republican, said in his Jan. 10 State of the State Address. "Kansas families and businesses recognize this fact—and their government must recognize it as well."
The second-term governor's revised $4.4 billion budget for fiscal 2000, which ends June 30, would reduce the state's per-pupil spending increase for education aid from $50 to $37. He said he would ask the legislature to approve the full $50 increase in fiscal 2001.
In the days preceding Mr. Graves' address, lawmakers argued that his plan would force schools to make painful midyear budget changes, and many legislators have vowed to reinstate the promised increase. The House and Senate budget committees have already voted to push the spending cut into 2001.
"Make no mistake: I share your passion for education," Mr. Graves told the legislature in his address. But he added that the fiscal constraints, including lagging tax revenues, made it impossible to pay for the full increase.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Kentucky: Patton Urges Lawmakers To Continue Reform Effort
Gov. Paul E. Patton is urging the Kentucky legislature to "stay the course" with the state's 10- year-old education improvement programs.
The 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act has been under attack from some quarters in recent years, but Mr. Patton said in his Jan. 4 State of the State Address that he would seek to expand and strengthen elements of it.
The Democrat, who started his second term this month, is proposing funding for family-resource centers, improved professional development for teachers, and dropout-prevention programs. He promises at least a 2.4 percent increase for education in the state budget.
In his first term, Mr. Patton said, his administration fully funded the transportation requirements in the landmark 1990 reform law and guaranteed teachers annual cost-of-living increases.
Another of the governor's priorities in the biennial legislative session will be to ensure that public employees, including teachers, have the right to collective bargaining.
—David J. Hoff
New York: Pataki Offers Incentives To Teacher- Candidates
Gov. George E. Pataki spotlighted a new plan for attracting teachers to New York schools in a Jan. 5 State of the State Address that put elementary and secondary education at center stage.
The governor's proposal would provide full tuition for students in state colleges who promised to teach critical subjects in disadvantaged schools after they graduated. He estimated the program would bring 50,000 teachers into the state's classrooms in the next decade, when twice that many teachers will be eligible to retire.
Mr. Pataki, a Republican first elected in 1994, said he would also like to make it easier for individuals with "valuable life experience" to teach at the elementary or secondary level.
The governor put in a plug for charter schools, which have a toehold in the state, and urged a change in how the state's five largest school districts are governed. "This year, let's put the authority, and the responsibility, for the success of our Big Five city school districts where it belongs—in the hands of the mayors and city councils," he said.
Pointing to safety and values as the cornerstones of school improvement, Mr. Pataki said he favored giving teachers the power to eject disruptive students. In addition, he said he would ask schools to develop curricula to teach values such as "common decency" and compassion.
Vermont: Accountability Measures Are Working, Dean Says
Vermont's education funding system is fairer and more equitable than it was a few years ago, but more work needs to be done in setting priorities for school spending, Gov. Howard Dean said in his State of the State Address.
Mr. Dean, a Democrat who is now in his fourth full, two-year term, praised the state's districts for improving results in mathematics, reading, and writing in the elementary and middle grades. The results came as part of the controversial 1997 law known as Act 60, which restructured the school finance system and created new accountability requirements for students and schools.
"High schools still need improvement, but we have developed a road map to achievement—and we know it works," Gov. Dean said in his Jan. 4 address. "We're demanding accountability in the classroom, accountability from administrators, and accountability from school boards."
While Vermont's population is likely to remain more homogeneous than that of many other states, Gov. Dean also called on the legislature to support education-related initiatives that help recruit more minority students and teachers.
—Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 19, Issue 19, Page 22