Published Online:
Published in Print: January 17, 2001, as State of the States

State of the States

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

California | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | Idaho | Iowa | Kansas | New Jersey
North Dakota | South Dakota | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | Wyoming |

California: Longer Middle School Year Proposed

Gov. Gray Davis of California called last week for adding six weeks to the school year for middle school students, saying the extra time for academics would help students more successfully bridge the years between elementary and high school.

In his third State of the State Address, the Democratic governor emphasized that the program—which would cost an estimated $1.45 billion over three years— comes in response to data showing that while elementary students are making rapid gains on state tests, achievement among middle school students has stagnated.

"Educators tell me that, for all the new investments we've made, the main thing they need is more time to teach," Mr. Davis said in the Jan. 8 address. "So tonight, I propose extending the school year in California by 30 days, starting where our need is greatest—in our middle schools."

Education officials responded to the proposal with more skepticism than praise, questioning how it would work in schools already operating on year-round schedules, and whether the additional time might result in teacher and student burnout.

"At some point, you have to say that these kids and teachers need to rest," said Wayne Johnson, the president of the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "You reach a point in anything, as I learned in economics, of the law of diminishing return."

Implementation of the longer school calendar for middle schools would be phased in over a three-year period under the governor's plan. In his total budget proposal for fiscal 2002, Gov. Davis last week proposed devoting $100 million—roughly $770 per student—to cover a longer school year for some 130,000 middle school students. The program would pay for the extended year in three grades in each school system putting it in place, either grades 6-8 or 7- 9, depending on district policy.

Funding for the voluntary program would be increased to $450 million in the second year, and $900 million in the third year, which would be roughly enough to accommodate a longer year for each of the state's approximately 1.3 million middle school students.

Kevin Gordon, the executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials, said the governor's recommendation underestimates the likely cost of the program, which he says would amount to roughly $805 per student. "It risks not taking into account that there's a good deal more than just teacher compensation that we have to take into consideration in running the schools an extra six weeks," Mr. Gordon said. "You have to have school transportation, maintenance people there, and school nutrition programs."

But Kerry Mazzoni, Mr. Davis' education secretary, said that all of those necessities were folded into the funding level proposed in the governor's budget. "We think this is a fair amount, and we think this pays for it," Ms. Mazzoni said.

Approach Called Costly

Some education experts questioned whether adding more time to the school calendar, without improving the quality of instruction, could prove to be a costly misstep. Nancy L. Ames, a facilitator of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, said that lengthening the school year "won't work on its own."

"It's a very costly approach to solving the problem of poor student achievement at the middle level," Ms. Ames argued. "I don't think it will work on its own. We need to focus on the kinds of curricula these students are receiving, and whether the instruction is designed to meet the needs of these diverse learners."

But Ms. Mazzoni emphasized that the extended-year program should be viewed alongside Gov. Davis' other education proposals, including an initiative that would provide all 200,000 mathematics and science teachers in the state with intensive training—40 hours outside the classroom and 80 hours of follow-up training—over three years. The governor proposed $335 million for the program in his fiscal 2002 budget.

The training and the extra time would enable teachers to better help students meet the state's new learning standards, Ms. Mazzoni said. The longer school year would also significantly improve teacher pay, she added.

"We can wring our hands over teachers' salaries all we want," Ms. Mazzoni said. "But we'll never be able to afford to pay them what the private sector can pay them unless we move to more of a 12-month calendar. This is a step in that direction."

—Jessica L. Sandham

Alaska: Knowles Presses for Delay in State Testing Timeline

Gov. Tony Knowles reiterated his call last week for Alaska lawmakers to push back the date for requiring high school students to pass a graduation examination.

Citing students' high failure rates on the test last spring and fall, the second-term Democratic governor urged the legislature to accept the unanimous recommendation of the state board of education to delay the high- stakes exams for four years. ("Delay High-Stakes Graduation Exam, Alaska Board Says," Jan. 10, 2001.)

"By kicking in too soon," he said in the Jan. 10 State of the State Address, "the existing law traps too many students—requiring them to know material they haven't necessarily been taught."

Rather than administer the tests to students with special needs, the governor said, the state should craft individualized education plans to help them earn diplomas. The failure rates for the special education students who are currently required to take the tests were particularly high, with just 8 percent passing the reading and mathematics sections.

"Let's agree that we won't retreat from higher standards, but we will give every child the opportunity and time to master them," Mr. Knowles said.

Under current law, all students, beginning with the class of 2002, must take the exam to graduate. The test covers math, reading, and writing.

As a start toward addressing the state's achievement problems, the governor asked lawmakers to approve spending $16 million more for K-12 education and early- childhood development. His budget proposal for fiscal 2002 calls for a total of $2.4 billion in state general-fund spending, including $654.7 million for K-12 education.

—Ann Bradley

Arizona: Hull Hails Passage of Plan To Raise School Spending

With a hard-fought victory for her plan to increase state spending on education barely two months behind her, Gov. Jane D. Hull used this year's State of the State Address to pat the state on the back.

At the start of her Jan. 8 speech to the legislature, Ms. Hull praised the state's voters for passing Proposition 301. That measure, prepared by the governor and state schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, will funnel new money into K-12 schools and higher education by raising the state's 5 percent sales tax by six-tenths of 1 percent. The new rate will remain in effect for 20 years.

"Our schools now have a dedicated revenue stream to improve learning," Ms. Hull said. "And even better, 85 percent of it will go directly to the K-12 system for teachers, smaller classrooms, fewer dropouts, and improved classroom safety—and not one dime to administration."

The governor, who took office in 1997, also gave an update on the state's progress in a court-ordered upgrading of public school buildings across Arizona. Under the program, "seven new schools are built and filled with students, and another 125 new schools have been approved," she said.

Looking to the future, Gov. Hull called for a change in a state law that prohibits using public schools to advertise such efforts as Arizona's program for children who lack health-care coverage. Enrollment for the Kidscare program was below projections last year, she said, leaving more than $70 million in federal aid unused.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Arkansas: Huckabee Wants To Give Teachers Raises of $3,000

Brandishing a shiny red apple, a bottle of glue, and other contents of a typical 1st grader's school bag, Gov. Mike Huckabee exhorted state lawmakers last week to make increasing teacher pay the overriding priority of their new legislative session.

Citing Arkansas' teacher shortage, the Republican governor told legislators in his State of the State Address that their "highest priority" should be to endorse his proposal for a $3,000, across-the-board raise for teachers over the next two fiscal years.

"[I]t's not the finish line, but it's a good starting point," Mr. Huckabee said of the plan in his Jan. 9 speech. "If we don't raise those salaries at least by that kind of money, we are going to be further and further behind not only in our region, but in our nation, as it comes to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent to go into our classrooms."

The governor, who has served since 1996, is calling for allocating $40.3 million in the 2002 fiscal year to give each teacher a $1,000 raise, and another $81.7 million the next year to increase salaries by an extra $2,000. A spokesman for the governor said the money would come from expected revenue increases stemming from economic growth.

The governor used school supplies as props as he reminisced about his upbringing in President Clinton's hometown of Hope, Ark., by parents of modest means. He recalled that he, like many of his schoolmates, looked up to his teachers as college-educated professionals who enjoyed a comfortable standard of living.

"You know what breaks my heart today? Go to the typical campus and notice that the kids are driving better cars than the teachers," the governor said. "[I]f there's one thing we ought to do in this state, it's to determine that the next generation of kids growing up will look at their teachers and say, 'Now there's somebody I'd like to be like.'"

—Caroline Hendrie

Idaho: Kempthorne Says Scores On State Tests Must Rise

Though the state has taken many steps to strengthen public education in Idaho, more needs to be done, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said last week in his State of the State Address.

Recent test scores show that only 50 percent of the state's 3rd graders are reading at grade level, and the Republican governor said he wants to increase that to 90 percent by 2004. But he said the state was making progress in its reading initiative because "we have defined a benchmark, we've taken a measurement, [and] we have outstanding teachers involved."

Urging a similar emphasis on mathematics, he said low scores on a recent math assessment should serve as a "call for action" to get 90 percent of the state's 8th graders achieving at least a "satisfactory" rating on state tests by 2004.

Addressing the Gem State's growing teacher shortage, the first- term governor noted that he was dedicating $6 million in his proposed budget for fiscal 2002 for a teacher-quality initiative that would include signing bonuses to help attract and retain teachers in selected fields.

In addition, the governor called on the legislature to allocate money for the first time to a scholarship program established last year to provide $500 for students with solid academic records who choose to attend college in Idaho.

"Now that's an incentive for our kids to do well in school," Mr. Kempthorne said.

—Michelle Galley

Iowa: Vilsack Wants To Tie Pay To Teachers' Performance

Gov. Tom Vilsack urged Iowa lawmakers in his Condition of the State Address Jan. 8 to endorse a wide-ranging initiative he unveiled to increase teacher pay and raise student achievement.

The proposal includes a statewide pay-for- performance compensation plan for teachers, administrators, and other certified staff members. ("Iowa Ready To Weigh Statewide Teacher-Performance Pay," Jan. 10, 2001.)

Under the plan, salary increases would be tied to locally set goals for improving student achievement and continued professional development. The first-term Democratic governor is calling for $40 million in additional spending in the coming fiscal year to pay for the first installment of the multiyear initiative that includes the pay-for- performance plan.

"If Iowa is to lead the new economy, our children must be high achievers taught by the best teachers," he said.

Mr. Vilsack stressed that retaining current Iowa teachers and attracting more to the profession wouldn't come cheap. Noting that Iowa's average teacher salary ranks 35th in the nation, he proposed linking teacher-pay scales in the state to national averages. The state-mandated minimum salary for beginning teachers is $23,000.

"We can no longer take quality teachers for granted," the governor said. "In a world of opportunity, quality comes at a price."

Beyond raising teachers' salaries, the plan includes proposals to better prepare incoming teachers and to provide them with support once they get to the classroom. The plan would require more rigorous college coursework for aspiring teachers. Rookie teachers would participate in a multiyear induction or mentoring program.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Kansas: Time Has Come To Raise School Aid, Graves Says

While schools in the Sunflower State generally deserve high marks, the state does not provide enough money for them, Gov. Bill Graves said in his State of the State Address.

"The legislature needs to spend a significant portion of the 90-day session reviewing and understanding where we are and where existing resources will take us," the Republican chief executive said in his speech to lawmakers Jan. 8. "I believe your review will demonstrate that available resources leave us short of acceptably financing K-12 education."

In addition to the question of adequate funding levels, the state needs to conduct a study of the school finance formula to determine whether it is equitable, he said.

The governor, who is midway through his second term, also proposed that lawmakers renew the state lottery, which is due to expire this year unless the legislature extends the law authorizing it. The lottery has provided some $510 million for economic development and education since its inception five years ago, Mr. Graves said.

He also suggested increasing the state's per-pupil aid to districts to keep up with inflation, increasing aid for special education, and spending more to expand programs that serve at-risk children and their families.

Mr. Graves also called for spending more to help schools build a technology infrastructure.

—Julie Blair

New Jersey: Whitman Reviews Legacy She Leaves State's Schools

In what is likely to be her final State of the State Address, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman merely alluded last week to the myriad struggles that will be part of her education legacy, which began when she took over in 1994 as New Jersey's first female chief executive.

The Republican governor's Jan. 9 speech came one week before a scheduled hearing on her confirmation as President-elect Bush's choice to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the few proposals in a 28-minute speech steeped in reminiscence was a request that lawmakers expand the state's insurance program for needy children so that it is available to all New Jersey families with children, regardless of income.

"I'm also proud that our program has been recognized as one of the most generous in America," she said. "Now it's time to reach every child."

Throughout the governor's tenure, her administration has been embroiled in legal and policy battles linked to the Abbott v. Burke litigation over state funding for 30 mostly urban school districts.

She made only passing reference, however, to those struggles, which led to tougher academic expectations and a program to spend billions of dollars on school facilities in the so-called "Abbott districts" and statewide.

"We've made our schools stronger, with more rigorous tests and standards, a greater commitment to teacher excellence, and a school construction plan unrivaled by any other state," she said.

Mrs. Whitman pledged that more plans would be forthcoming in an address later this month on her proposed budget. While offering no details on specific proposals, she said that "chief among them will be a teacher-quality initiative that will complement all we have already done to give our children the outstanding education they deserve."

—Robert C. Johnston

North Dakota: Hoeven Has Plan To Ease State's Teacher Shortage

Newly elected North Dakota Gov. John H. Hoeven has set out a plan to combat the state's growing teacher shortage with a $50 million proposal to raise salaries over the next two years.

The Republican governor's plan, which he outlined last week in his first State of the State Address, would provide a $3,500 increase in pay for each of the state's 9,100 full-time teachers over the 2001- 03 biennium. North Dakota has the lowest teacher salaries in the country— averaging just over $20,000 for beginning teachers and prompting many to leave the state for higher pay.

"The plan ... is vital for retaining our good teachers and keeping the high quality of our schools," Mr. Hoeven said in the Jan. 9 address. The proposal would raise K-12 spending from $604.4 million over the 1999-2001 biennium to $651.4 million; the money would come from expected economic growth in the state.

"It represents a bold new approach for education, fully paid for within our budget," the governor told state lawmakers. "It takes the pressure off local property taxes, and gives school boards the flexibility they need." Mr. Hoeven also called for completion of a statewide network for providing Internet access for distance-learning and workforce-development programs.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

South Dakota: Janklow Proposes Tuition Aid for High Achievers

Gov. William J. Janklow focused much of his State of the State Address last week on education, but he proposed few new programs or initiatives.

An exception was his proposal for new college scholarships for students who complete the state's Regent Scholar Program in addition to the regular requirements for a high school diploma. The scholarships would provide $9,500 per student over four years for South Dakotans to attend a public college or university in the state.

"This will give kids a reason to want to focus," he said in his Jan. 10 speech. One requirement of the scholarship would be that students refrain from smoking or chewing tobacco.

The governor also proposed that teachers who teach in more than one district be "compensated accordingly." Those teachers are helping the state cope with decreasing student enrollment and the resulting reduction in district budgets, noted Mr. Janklow, who returned to the governorship in 1995 after previously holding the job for eight years.

Pointing out that many of South Dakota's high school graduates have to take remedial courses in college, the governor called on parents, teachers, and administrators to put the same emphasis on academics as they do on athletics. "If we do, South Dakota is going to blossom like nothing we have ever seen," he said.

—Michelle Galley

Vermont: Dean Sees Change Ahead For School Finance Law

Gov. Howard Dean hinted in his State of the State Address that legislators may still have some finishing touches to put on Act 60, the controversial overhaul of the school finance law that they passed in 1997.

"We will spend a lot of our energy in this session on reforming our achievements," including Act 60, the governor said in his Jan. 4 speech.

The newly re-elected governor, in his fifth full two-year term as chief executive of the Green Mountain State, offered no details of what adjustments may be needed to the finance system, and spent the bulk of his address on health-care and economic issues. But education, the Democratic governor promised his audience, is also on his mind.

"I am a father with two children in the public schools who is dedicated to stronger public education," he said.

Act 60, passed three months after the state supreme court found the school finance system unconstitutional, replaced local property taxes with a statewide taxing plan and set up a new education accountability system.

The law prompted an uproar from residents in communities that saw their taxes climb dramatically, and Mr. Dean's opponent in the 1998 and 2000 elections vowed to see it overturned.

—Joetta L. Sack

Virginia: Gilmore Proposes Hiring More Algebra Teachers

Vowing to strengthen the "weak points" of Virginia's education system, Gov. James S. Gilmore III called last week for bolstering the state's teaching ranks to help prepare students for the state's new high-stakes tests.

Specifically, the Republican governor urged legislators in his State of the Commonwealth Address to provide funding to hire 100 new algebra teachers in the coming fiscal year, with the goal of making every student proficient in that subject by the end of the 9th grade.

While noting that scores on the state's standards-based tests improved last year—with 22 percent of Virginia schools meeting the accreditation standard—he called on the legislature to expand aid to help more schools meet the mark.

"We still have too many schools and too many students struggling to reach a high level of academic achievement," Mr. Gilmore said in his Jan. 11 address.

Noting the slowdown in the economy and his commitment to enacting a $1 billion tax cut, the governor proposed a modest increase in education funding as part of the second year of the state's $48 billion biennial budget.

Mr. Gilmore, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term this year, also called on local governments, which will enjoy a windfall of $100 million over the next two years because of adjustments in the state retirement system, to devote that money to raising teacher salaries.

—Jessica Portner

Washington: Locke Calls for Changing Teacher-Licensing Laws

Washington state has reached the brink of educational excellence, but needs to strengthen its teaching corps and encourage local districts to surpass the state's academic expectations, Gov. Gary Locke told state legislators last week.

The state formula for teacher salaries, which all school districts use, still doesn't pay teachers enough to attract and retain the best of them, Mr. Locke said. "Exceptional teachers deserve exceptional compensation," he said. A new teacher-compensation system "based on knowledge, skill, and performance" should be designed with the help of selected school districts, he said. ("State Journal: Paying a Problem," Jan. 17, 2001.)

As part of his call for an overhaul of the state's education laws by 2004, Mr. Locke said state policy should be changed to allow well-qualified individuals who lack teaching certificates to become school principals. Current law requires principals to have such certification.

Individuals should also be able to become teachers in just a few months through alternative certification, he said. "If a Microsoft retiree wants to teach math, she should be able to do so without going back to college for a teaching degree," he said.

He would also "waive regulations for schools that want to set even higher achievement standards" than those set by the state, "and to reward schools for meeting those goals."

The Democratic governor, who cruised to re-election to a second term in November, reminded lawmakers that when they failed to pass his class-size-reduction proposals last year, he helped put that plan on the fall ballot as Initiative 728, which passed with "more votes than any other initiative in our history."

—Andrew Trotter

Wyoming: Teachers' Pay and Quality Top Geringer's Agenda

In a year in which Wyoming is enjoying a $695 million budget surplus, Gov. Jim Geringer last week asked the legislature to approve his plan to raise education spending by nearly $100 million.

In a Jan. 10 State of the State Address that emphasized the need to enhance education in the state, the second-term Republican governor said improving teacher quality should take top billing.

"The most important issue facing education is teacher quality," Gov. Geringer said. "It is more important than class size, increased standards, and increased per-student spending. Quality teaching is the essential element for having better schools and achieving the high standards that are key to our success."

Mr. Geringer said the state should encourage professional development for teachers, as well as access to technology and the training to use it. He called for higher salaries for teachers in such hard-to-staff subjects as mathematics and science, and he stressed the need for salary flexibility in district pay plans.

The state also needs to devise plans for teacher career advancement and for mentoring programs to help keep young teachers, the governor said.

He also urged lawmakers to approve legislation that would revise the state's charter school law.

"As Wyoming parents have tried to exercise their right to form charter schools within our public school system, they have found the current law unworkable and subject to obstacles and vague interpretations," Mr. Geringer said.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 18, Pages 18,20-21

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories