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Published in Print: January 26, 2000, as Locke Proposals Would Shrink Classes, Ease Crowding

Locke Proposals Would Shrink Classes, Ease Crowding

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In his fourth State of the State Address, Gov. Gary Locke of Washington weighed improving children's education against the competing priorities of state highway projects and tax cuts—and pronounced education to be most vital to the state's future.

"Education is the sword of democracy, the Excalibur of opportunity, and yes, the great equalizer. Our children deserve the best," the Democratic governor told state legislators in his Jan. 11 speech.

But the state's children need smaller classes and more individual attention to reach high standards, he said. Although the state has been prosperous in recent years, it also has classrooms that are among the most crowded in the nation, he said.

Mr. Locke proposed that the state make a "down payment" toward eliminating crowded classrooms by "using savings in the state education budget to hire 1,000 teachers" in the 2000-01 school year. Overcrowding also could be addressed by school and weekend programs for children who need extra time or attention, he said. He called for local school boards to be allowed to retain more of the taxes that are generated in their communities, suggesting that localities would use the money to address the overcrowding problem.

State spending on new school construction would continue, he said, noting that since he took office in 1997, efforts by the state bureaucracy to streamline its operations have yielded $143 million in savings, which have been spent on building new schools.

Teacher Testing Urged

Mr. Locke suggested that the need to hire more teachers should not slow efforts to improve their quality. To that end, he renewed his call for requiring new teachers to pass a test of their knowledge of the subject areas they would teach, prior to their initial certification. Washington is one of only seven states that don't require new teachers to take tests to prove their mastery, his aides said.

"This is simply unacceptable, and it must end now," he said. Testing new teachers would complement existing efforts to upgrade training and professional standards for current teachers, he added.

Mr. Locke also supports establishment of a professional-educator-standards board, which would govern certification rules and other professional benchmarks for teachers and principals, an idea opposed by the state board of education, which holds that job now.

He plans to ask legislators to budget $5.2 million to support professional- development activities that will take place during three new learning improvement days for teachers that the legislature enacted last year, aides said.

The governor told legislators that he has heard "loud and clear" the anti-tax message of voters who in November wiped out the state's vehicle tax by passing Initiative 695, stripping about $1 billion from the state transportation budget. That comes on top of a 1993 referendum that tightly limited increases in the state budget.

Responding to Initiative 695 will require "sacrifices and tough decisions," he said, but not at the expense of education. "On my watch I will not see education sacrificed," he said.

Instead, Mr. Locke called on legislators to sacrifice for education, a theme he underscored by recognizing several "heroes" who had made sacrifices in the military or other public service. "The choices these heroes made carved out our destiny," he said. "What kind of a destiny do we want to carve out for our children? That will depend on the choices we make—in the next 60 days."


ALASKA

Knowles' Bonding Plan Would Upgrade Facilities

Calling on the legislature to ensure that the state's children don't have to go to classrooms with leaky roofs or use "honey buckets" for restrooms, Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles proposed a $550 million school bond package in his Jan. 12 State of the State Address.

The proposal would be paid for in part through the state's share of the mammoth settlement between the states and the nation's tobacco companies.

It follows a September decision by a state superior court judge who ruled that the conditions in some of Alaska's rural schools were so inadequate as to be unconstitutional. The judge also agreed that the state's practices were discriminatory, given that most of the students in rural areas are Native Americans.

The Democratic governor also urged lawmakers to allot $7.6 million for summer school, tutoring, and lower class sizes to help the state's students meet new, higher standards.

"Let's also put more dollars into the classroom by challenging our 53 school districts to streamline their administrative practices," Mr. Knowles said.

—Jessica L. Sandham


INDIANA

O'Bannon Seeks Help From Retired Teachers

Creating a database of retired teachers to help children learn to read was among the proposals Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon made for improving Indiana's schools in this year's State of the State Address.

The governor, a Democrat, said such a project could help strengthen his goal of "making sure every student can read by 3rd grade." He said he planned to work with the Indiana Professional Standards Board to set up a database of retired teachers who could serve as mentors for children who need special help with reading.

Mr. O'Bannon also encouraged schools to place more emphasis on character education in 2000, saying he would direct the professional-standards board to make sure teachers were trained in "teaching character and life skills."

He reiterated his intent to support teacher training and to gain the backing of the legislature for establishing full-day kindergartens across the state. Lawmakers failed to pass legislation to support that proposal last year.

—Mary Ann Zehr


NEBRASKA

Johanns Wants To Close Holes in District Budgets

In a State of the State Address stressing his desire to keep a firm lid on taxes, Gov. Mike Johanns outlined a smattering of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of children.

Noting in his Jan. 12 speech that Nebraska districts would soon face a tighter state cap on school property taxes, the governor, a Republican, called for using excess funds from the state's education coffers to make up the difference.

He also announced a new effort by the state's education and health and human service agencies to collaborate on issues surrounding child care and early-childhood education; asked the legislature to pass a bill that would provide assistance for families who adopt wards of the state; and vowed to earmark money for more staff members to monitor children in foster care.

On the career education front, the governor pledged to have the state start underwriting an existing school-to-work program that is slated to lose its federal funding.

—John Gehring


NEW JERSEY

Whitman Seeks Mentoring for Rookie Teachers

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told New Jersey legislators Jan. 11 that the Garden State should help ensure top-notch teachers for every child.

In her seventh State of the State Address, the governor announced the development of a mentoring program that will be required of all rookie teachers. Under the program, a joint effort by the state and the New Jersey Education Association—an affiliate of the National Education Association and the state's largest teachers' union—experienced teachers will act as mentors for first- and second-year teachers and will be paid out of state funds, she said.

In her speech, Gov. Whitman, a Republican, also urged the legislature to devise a school construction funding plan before the courts impose one. "We can do this," she declared. "The clock is ticking away, and too many schools are crumbling."

Finally, Mrs.Whitman proposed the formation of a New Jersey Character Education Partnership to help districts teach about respect and responsibility along with reading and arithmetic. "With help from colleges, corporations, and community groups, let's choose the best character education programs in the country and make them available to every New Jersey school district," she said.

—Bess Keller


SOUTH DAKOTA

Janklow's Speech Targets Teacher Quality and Hiring

Hoping to prepare for an impending teacher shortage, Gov. William J. Janklow outlined a plan to recruit new teachers and address teacher quality in his recent State of the State Address.

The Republican announced in his Jan. 11 speech that he would form a task force of school administrators, classroom teachers, and citizens to look at teacher training, certification, retention, and recruitment.

Mr. Janklow, now in his fourth term, also proposed employing former state "teachers of the year" to speak to college students, civic groups, and other classroom teachers to promote teaching as a career choice. And he stressed the importance of "world-class educator education" in South Dakota's public colleges and universities.

Expanding his proposal last year to give the parent of each newborn in the state a compact disc of music composed by Mozart, Mr. Janklow said he would add a children's book, information on the importance of reading, a library card, and book of parenting tips to a package the state plans to distribute to all new parents.

—Michelle Galley


VIRGINIA

Steer Lottery Revenue to Schools, Gilmore Says

In what he termed a time of "unparalleled prosperity" driven by a booming state economy, Gov. James S. Gilmore III pledged to significantly increase education funding while also cutting taxes.

In his Jan. 12 State of the Commonwealth Address, the governor asked lawmakers to approve a measure that would dedicate all of Virginia's lottery profits over the next two years—an estimated $245 million—to the public schools.

The governor, a Republican, also called on the legislature to approve more revenue to hire an additional 3,400 new teachers in an effort to reduce class sizes in the earliest grades. "We must target our efforts and resources to raise the achievement of our students, and ensure that no child is left behind," he said.

Mr. Gilmore also proposed a plan to speed up the timetable for administering the state's recently implemented standards-based tests. Responding to complaints from teachers and principals who say the tests are given too early in the school year, he promised $3 million to process the exams more quickly so that they could be administered closer to the end of the year.

The rigorous, high-stakes tests are held in early spring in order to get the results to parents by summer. Teachers have complained that they lack the time to teach the material to students before the exams are administered.

—Jessica Portner


WEST VIRGINIA

Underwood Proposes Environmental Curriculum

Gov. Cecil H. Underwood of West Virginia did the unusual: Unlike his colleagues in other states, Mr. Underwood paid scant attention to education in his Jan. 12 State of the State Address. He put forth just one new education plan—the creation of an environmental science curriculum that would "reflect the positions of all parties" and help West Virginia move toward "sustainable development."

Otherwise, the governor called for the expansion of programs already under way, such as the one-stop "Starting Point" centers designed to help parents and other caregivers find the services they need for children. He also recommended a third year of $756 annual pay increases for teachers, and a $7.6 million boost—to $20 million—for a program that pays the in-state college tuition of needy students. With the increase, Mr. Underwood said, "100 percent of the eligible applicants will receive three-quarters of their college costs."

The 78-year-old governor, a Republican who is in the final year of his term, focused most of his speech on economic development and governmental efficiency.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 19, Issue 20, Pages 16-17

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