Rowland Proposing Tuition Tax Credits For Connecticut
When Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland used his State of the State Address to call for tax breaks for parents with children in private schools, a coalition of education groups issued a quick response: Them's fightin' words!
The second-term Republican proposed giving families credits of up to $500 on their state income taxes for the cost of tuition at private or religious schools in his speech to the legislature last week.
"School choice increases competition and raises expectations," Mr. Rowland said. "But we need to do more to provide working families the same kind of choices others have."
Critics immediately called the proposal a voucher plan in disguise. Mr. Rowland had supported vouchers in previous years, but said last fall that he would not likely propose such a plan this year—a statement that contributed to the Connecticut Education Association's decision to remain neutral in last fall's gubernatorial election.
"This is a voucher scheme camouflaged with the T-word," Daria M. Plummer, the president of the CEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association and the state's largest teachers' union, said of the tax- credit idea. "We're surprised and taken aback that the governor would propose this."
Observers say the plan faces an uphill battle. A voucher bill proposed in 1994 failed to pass the state House by just one vote, never reaching the Senate. Both chambers of the legislature remain under Democratic control—as they were at that time. And a coalition of school groups—including the CEA and the state school boards' association—that had formed in opposition to the voucher proposal now has vowed to fight the tax- credit plan.
"There are some pretty significant players in the legislature who are dead-set against tuition tax credits," said Michael P. Meotti, the president of the nonpartisan Connecticut Policy and Economic Council. "Rowland's going to have to get his Republican caucuses unanimously behind this and find a handful of Democrats to go along. But it's possible."
Calling for expansions to the state's existing school choice programs, Mr. Rowland also proposed increasing state funding for charter schools and magnet schools in his Feb. 9 speech. He further pledged more money to districts adding after-school and summer programs—a crucial part of the state's push to end social promotion.
Aside from the tax-credit plan, the only other major new education initiative Mr. Rowland proposed was for a $34 million "intranet" that would electronically link Connecticut schools to one another and to colleges, libraries, and businesses. He also recommended spending $30 million in new money annually over the next three years to make sure schools have the needed wiring to take advantage of the network.
"Today we are number one in the three R's," he said. "Tomorrow, let's be number one in computer skills."
Carper Asks Legislators To Stand by Standards
Gov. Thomas R. Carper issued a renewed call for Delaware lawmakers to approve his educator- accountability bill, and to stand firm in the face of mounting criticism of the state's system of standards and assessment, in his recent State of the State Address.
The accountability bill would restructure teacher certification and link teachers' and administrators' evaluations to student performance. The measure failed to pass in a special session last fall but cleared the Senate early this year and is likely to be considered by the House this spring.
If the legislature passes the proposal, the second-term Democrat said in his Jan. 27 speech, "we will have put in place one of the most comprehensive, promising, and fairest education systems in America."
The governor defended the system of standards and accountability put in place during his seven years in office. Some legislators are calling for alternatives for students who fail to pass new assessments linked to the standards, instead of having them face mandatory summer school and retention. Moreover, an amendment to the educator-accountability bill in the Senate would allow students to receive a lower-level high school diploma without passing the state assessments, which they otherwise will be required to pass in order to graduate, starting this spring.
Gov. Carper is running for the U.S. Senate this year against incumbent Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a five-term Republican, and hopes to use his education accountability plan and record on education as strong selling points to voters.
"Finishing our work on Delaware's schools is the most important task before us," the governor said.
—Joetta L. Sack
Catch Up With Neighbors,Musgrove Tells Legislators
The Mississippi legislature should raise teachers' pay to the Southeastern average, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove declared in his first State of the State Address.
Mississippi teachers earned an average annual salary of $30,743 in 1998-99; the average for teachers in Southeastern states that year was $37,065.
"Our very future sits today in classrooms across this state listening to Mississippi's teachers," Mr. Musgrove, a Democrat, said in the Feb. 9 speech. "Those teachers deserve recognition for their efforts; they deserve a fair and living wage for their labors of the heart and mind."
To reach that goal over four years, he said, the state must spend $22 million this year and commit to "staggering increases" over the next three years. But such an investment would be affordable, Mr. Musgrove argued, with 5 percent annual growth in the state's economy. If the economy grows more slowly, he vowed to "reprioritize the budget."
The governor also pledged to continue Mississippi's commitment to incentive pay for teachers who become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The state, with 354 board-certified teachers, now ranks fourth nationally in the number of such teachers.
Finally, the governor called for making all Mississippi superintendents appointed rather than elected, and to make all school boards elected rather than appointed; pledged to create a reading-incentive program through his office; and called for a state law requiring students to address school officials with respect.
"What's wrong with saying 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir,'? '' Mr. Musgrove asked.
Shaheen Wants Smokers To Make Up Funding Gap
In an effort to raise more money for education, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen proposed a 10-cent-per-pack increase in New Hampshire's cigarette tax in her State of the State Address this month.
Citing a shortfall of $30 million to $40 million in the state's education budget, the Democrat said in her Feb. 3 speech that the state would have to cut services if lawmakers failed to fill the gap.
Gov. Shaheen, who is midway through her second, two-year term, also urged the Senate to pass pending legislation that would require districts to craft local school improvement plans aligned to the state's system of standards and accountability. She said a school leadership institute that she launched last year was already helping communities meet that proposal's intent, by bringing together educators, parents, business leaders, and others to chart goals for improving local schools.
She also stressed the need for statewide access to public kindergarten, citing a program she introduced that provides state funds to districts establishing kindergarten programs. Nearly 10 percent of districts in New Hampshire do not offer kindergarten.
Addressing preschool education, Gov. Shaheen said she would bring members of the business community together with early- childhood educators to "increase the availability of affordable, high- quality child care."
Cut Overhead, Raise Pay in Schools, Keating Says
Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma offered a raft of education proposals in last week's State of the State Address, including calls for higher teacher pay and lower administrative overhead.
The second-term Republican proposed giving teachers a raise of at least $2,000 this year, a move projected to cost the state $100 million annually. He also reiterated his call for a merit-pay system to reward the best teachers, and cited examples of district-level administrative "bloat" that he said keeps school dollars from reaching the classroom.
"The highest-paid person in any school after the superintendent and the principal should be a master teacher," he said. He said Oklahoma ranks third highest nationally in the percentage of school dollars spent on district administration, adding that reducing that figure to the national average would produce enough savings to give every teacher a $1,300 annual pay raise.
He also proposed selling state bonds to pay for capital improvements to schools. Among other purposes, the money would connect all Oklahoma schools to high-speed Internet services, allowing them to use fiber-optic technology to share teachers in specialties that are in short supply in the state.
The governor reiterated his proposals from last November to strengthen the middle school curriculum, eliminate remedial classes for freshmen in four-year public colleges, and broadly deregulate schools.
— Andrew Trotter
Ridge's Plan Would Help Districts Deemed Failing
Eleven failing school districts in Pennsylvania would receive new tools to improve, including greater funding and freedom from some state rules on employment and contracting, under a $20 million plan proposed last week by Gov. Tom Ridge in his annual address to the legislature.
The measure includes many of the same provisions that Mr. Ridge, a Republican serving his second term, pitched last year in a proposal that would also have provided students in the low-performing districts with vouchers to attend private or religious schools. The earlier bill failed to pass the legislature last spring. This year, Mr. Ridge's proposal does not include state-funded vouchers.
"We'll continue to debate school choice," Mr. Ridge told lawmakers in his annual budget address on Feb. 8. "But we can't allow these children to wait another day for help. The 250,000 students trapped in those districts are still there, and they still need and deserve a quality education— now."
Mr. Ridge also proposed changes in special education funding to direct more aid to poorer districts. The governor's budget proposal would also expand a program that provides financial rewards to schools that significantly improve their state test scores and attendance rates from one year to the next.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Almond Wants Incentives for All-Day Kindergarten
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln C. Almond used his State of the State Address to make another plea for expanding kindergarten, eliminating residency requirements for teachers, and instituting new competency tests for beginning educators—all proposals he has made in the past, but which have yet to become law.
The Republican said in his Feb 3. speech that the budget he was due to unveil late last week would include financial incentives for more districts to offer full- day kindergarten. Currently, most Ocean State school systems provide kindergarten only for half a day.
Requiring novice teachers to pass new tests before entering the profession would help "attract the best and the brightest into the classroom," he said. Last year, the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, passed a teacher- competency-test law. But Mr. Almond vetoed the measure, saying that it did not set the bar high enough.
Prohibiting local governments from requiring teachers to live where they work, he added, would give communities broader pools of applicants. The cities of Providence and Pawtucket both have such rules, which some argue restricts their ability to hire the best-qualified educators.
Mr. Almond also proposed $1 million in new money to help the Rhode Island education department provide assistance to schools that fail to measure up on state assessments.
Further, he promised a "fair solution" to Rhode Island's ongoing school funding debate. Last fall, 12 suburban and rural municipalities sued the state, arguing that attempts to equalize school funding between rich and poor districts had left them shouldering an unfair tax burden.
While providing few details, the second-term governor also said the state should turn its attention toward improving students' math skills, now that its 4th graders have shown significant improvement in reading. "Education reform is not only in motion, it's working," he said.
Vol. 19, Issue 23, Pages 19-20