Ala. Gov. Wants To Hike Teacher Pay, Overhaul Tenure
Education topped Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman's agenda last week as he unveiled plans to raise teacher salaries and streamline the process for dismissing poorly performing teachers and principals during his second State of the State Address.
"Tonight I have a message for the families of Alabama: I remain committed to changing education in Alabama forever," Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat, declared at the opening of his Feb. 1 speech to lawmakers.
The speech came several months after a major setback for the governor: voters' rejection of an education lottery plan in a statewide referendum in October—a proposal in which the governor had invested considerable political capital.
Saying that his ultimate goal is to raise the salaries of Alabama's teaching force to the national average, Mr. Siegelman proposed pay increases for teachers ranging from 1 percent to 5.5 percent, with progressively higher raises for those with more seniority. He explained that while beginning salaries in Alabama exceed the national average, those of classroom veterans fall short.
"I think it's the right approach," said Sen. Hank Sanders, the Democrat who chairs the Senate finance and taxation committee, which oversees the education budget. "It's just a matter of fairness," he said, to provide the highest increases for those who lag furthest behind the national average.
Rep. Howard Hawk, who chairs the House committee that oversees education spending, said he supports higher teacher pay but worries about the trade-offs.
"I'm concerned about balancing all of the cost with all the other needs in education," Mr. Hawk, a Democrat, said.
A study released last fall by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, an independent research group, undergirded the teacher-salary proposal. It cited data showing that starting salaries in the state exceed the national average for new teachers by more than $1,650, but that overall teacher salaries fall short by nearly $5,000. Using National Education Association statistics, the report said the nationwide teacher-salary average was $40,462 in the 1998-99 school year, compared with $35,820 in Alabama.
Besides increasing teachers' salaries, Gov. Siegelman also wants to streamline the process for removing ineffective educators.
"Right now, it takes as much as three years to get a bad teacher out of the classroom or to remove a principal from a school," he said.
Under his plan, the firing process could be completed in as little as 90 days, he said. The governor also proposes to abolish tenure for newly hired principals.
John C. Draper, the executive director of the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, which represents principals and other school administrators, said that, overall, he considered Mr. Siegelman's plan a "fairly good bill." One notable change to current law, he said, is that it would allow tenured teachers to be dismissed for failing to perform their jobs satisfactorily.
"I feel that that is a dramatic improvement over having to prove incompetence," as current law requires, he said. "This will open the door for dismissing weak teachers."
Mr. Draper also said he generally supported the plan to abolish tenure for principals, though he would like to see additional language providing incentives for current principals to relinquish their tenure in favor of a contract.
Paul R. Hubbert, the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA, said in a statement that his organization had questions about whether the tenure bill would ensure fair employee hearings and due process, and that the group had not made a final decision on whether to support the proposal.
Gov. Siegelman also outlined several other education proposals during his speech, including a plan to send school accountability report cards to parents—rather than simply making them publicly available—and to provide financial rewards to schools that met the state's new accountability standards.
—Erik W. Robelen
Barnes Wants To Get Rid of Tenure for Teachers
Using almost his entire State of the State Address to drive home his point, Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia spoke frankly last week about one of his top education priorities this year: ending teacher tenure.
"Good teachers don't need tenure, and bad teachers don't deserve it," the governor, a first-term Democrat, told state legislators. "Those few bad teachers don't deserve the right to stain the honor of good teachers everywhere."
The governor used his Feb. 3 speech to share examples of teachers who he said should not be in the classroom, such as one who left school—with his class unattended—because he was angry over a new policy.
Mr. Barnes also introduced two award-winning educators who, he said, support his plan.
The governor said that the public and many educators agree with most pieces of his broad school improvement bill, such as creating a system of accountability, requiring teachers to have a basic knowledge of technology, and giving parents and teachers more control over education through local school councils.
But, he contended, some myths about tenure remain. Ending it, he said, would not give principals "absolute power" to fire teachers for arbitrary reasons.
"Like the rest of us, principals don't work in a vacuum. Superintendents, school boards, and school councils will be looking over their shoulders—especially on hiring and firing decisions," Mr. Barnes said.
And in elementary and secondary schools, he said, tenure isn't needed to protect educators from "intellectual persecution" as it might be at the college level.
"Georgia's great teachers know all this," Mr. Barnes said. "You can stand with the bureaucrats who say our schools are good enough, or you can join us in making them better."
Ryan Urges Big IncreaseIn Education Spending
Calling education his No. 1 budget priority, Gov. George H. Ryan used his Feb. 2 State of the State Address to propose a $5.9 billion budget for Illinois' K-12 schools—an increase of $528 million over last year's budget.
Mr. Ryan, a Republican, said the increase reflects his continued commitment to devoting 51 percent of all new state revenues to schools and job-training programs—a campaign pledge he made in 1998 and kept when he took office in 1999.
In addition to fully funding all state "categorical" programs and continuing to phase in the higher per-pupil spending levels that lawmakers agreed on in 1997, Mr. Ryan said he wants to increase state spending on early childhood education, summer school, and professional-development programs for teachers.
"If we expect our students to do well in the classroom, we must provide the resources for their teachers to stay at the top of their game," Mr. Ryan said.
In addition, Mr. Ryan called for offering $1,000 "career scholarships" to pay for vocational training for high school graduates who decide not to go to college.
"These grants would be designed to give a helping hand to young people when they need it most at the start of their adult lives," Mr. Ryan said.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Shafer Calls for Training Teachers in Technology
In his seventh and final State of the State Address before the North Dakota legislature, Gov. Edward T. Shafer called for new programs to help teachers embrace technology and to ensure that students gain high-tech skills and opportunities.
"Putting computers in classrooms and connecting our schools is meaningless if the technology is just a tool for typing assignments or surfing the Net," said the governor, a Republican who is serving the final year of his second term.
"The real urgency," he added, "is training teachers to maximize these computer resources and totally rethink the classroom approach."
While he did not outline any specific education proposals, Mr. Shafer called on his "quality schools" committee to craft initiatives to raise academic standards, increase teachers' technology training, and raise salaries.
The governor asked the committee, headed by Lt. Gov. Rosemarie Myrdal, a former high school teacher, to help break the stalemate with the legislature that led to the rejection of several education initiatives last year.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Pay Raise for Teachers Favored by Sundquist In his Jan. 31 State of the State Address, Gov. Don Sundquist presented lawmakers and his fellow Tennesseans with a choice: Invest or regress.
The governor proposed an $88 million increase in last year's $2.4 billion state education budget for K-12 schools, including an increase of $27 million for the state's basic aid formula. Last year, the state spent $3 million to set up preschool programs in public schools; this year, the governor asked for an additional $12 million to create more such programs.
Mr. Sundquist also favors a 3 percent pay raise for teachers as well as $5 million for a new program to help relieve school districts that are facing extraordinary growth.
"It is a budget that is both fiscally and morally responsible, one that meets the baseline needs of state government and invests in the kinds of forward-looking initiatives that I believe are necessary to keep Tennessee competitive," Mr. Sundquist said. "It is a budget that invests in our most valuable asset, our children."
—Adrienne D. Coles
Thompson Wants Bonuses Linked to Achievement
Gov. Tommy G. Thompson laid out an education agenda featuring bonuses for Wisconsin educators and other school staff members, an expansion of the charter school system, and initiatives to improve reading instruction and child care during his State of the State Address on Jan. 26.
Under the bonus plan, all school employees could earn cash awards of up to $3,000 each, if student performance in their schools improved, Mr. Thompson said. A school's students would have to show year-to-year gains on standardized tests, attendance, and dropout rates for its staff to receive the money.
The governor, a Republican now in his fourth term, also proposed that the state expand its charter school program by allowing any state university or technical college to set up its own school. Currently, the Milwaukee Common Council, the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, or the Milwaukee Area Technical College can start charter schools.
Mr. Thompson suggested spending $1 million to open reading academies around the state as part of a new initiative called Excellence in Reading. He also called for allocating $350,000 to place "best practices" in reading on the Internet.
The governor also proposed creating five child-care centers for infants and toddlers that would provide instruction in foreign languages, classical music, drama, and reading.
Vol. 19, Issue 22, Pages 20-21