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Published in Print: May 23, 2001, as Capitol Recap

Capitol Recap

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The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2000 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.


MARYLAND

Improving Pre-K-3 Is Aim
Of New State Initiative

Despite fears about too much spending in a weakening economy, Maryland lawmakers approved all but a thin slice of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed precollegiate education budget, including new money for early-childhood efforts.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening

Democrat
Senate:
33 Democrats
14 Republicans
House:
106 Democrats
35 Republicans
Enrollment:
853,000

The state's overall $21.2 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year devotes $3.4 billion to schools. That's nearly a 5 percent increase over the current year, though most of the hike goes to continuing current programs.

The governor's only major new initiative came in early-childhood spending. Of that additional $30 million, a little less than two-thirds will go to school districts for improvements in preschool through 3rd grade, such as class-size reduction. The rest of the increase is earmarked for early-childhood programs and family support aimed at getting children ready for school.

"We need to make it happen early for kids," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the chairwoman of the Senate budget committee. "If kids haven't gotten [reading] by 8, it's going to be much harder."

In one of the few cuts made to Mr. Glendening's budget, the legislature reduced funding for the second year of a controversial program that pays for textbooks used in private schools. Lawmakers earmarked $5 million for the program for fiscal 2002, $1 million less than in the current fiscal year and $3 million less than the governor proposed. Under the law, money can go only to schools that charge tuition that is at or below the average annual cost of educating a child in a Maryland public school, about $7,000.

The budget goes into effect, without the governor's signature being required, on July 1.

In their deliberations, both Mr. Glendening and members of the legislature declined to follow recommendations for an additional $133 million in education funding made by a state government commission studying broad changes in the way Maryland pays for its schools. Lawmakers said they would prefer to consider the increases—which include additional money for special education—when the commission makes its final recommendations this coming fall.

Among the relatively few bills aimed this year at education statewide, the legislature passed the nation's first law requiring all public school systems to teach gun safety throughout students' school careers. Gov. Glendening vetoed that bill last week. ("Md. Governor Vetoes Bill Requiring Schools To Teach Gun Safety," May 23, 2001.)

Bills that failed included two that would have created state-recognized charter schools and a third that would have mandated all-day kindergarten by the 2006-07 school year.

—Bess Keller


MISSISSIPPI

State Scales Back Plans For Big Teacher Raises

Mississippi's economic slowdown stalled the state's work on education this year and prompted a political battle between legislators and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Teacher-pay raises were at the heart of this year's debate. In 2000, lawmakers approved an ambitious five-year plan to boost Mississippi teacher salaries to the Southeastern average—no small potatoes in a state that lagged $7,000 behind that average two years ago.

But 2001 was different. State revenue took a downturn, and the best that lawmakers could muster this year was a $500 raise with no promise that it would happen again next year.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove

Democrat
Senate:
34 Democrats
18 Republicans
House:
87 Democrats
33 Republicans
Enrollment:
499,000

Teachers with at least 25 years' experience qualified for a $1,000 raise, under lawmakers' budget. Classroom aides got $250.

Gov. Musgrove vetoed a package of budget bills in late March, including the one containing the teacher-pay raises, in part because he favored more lasting changes in the pay scale.

He also had broader objections to the appropriations bills, saying the legislature— controlled by his fellow Democrats—had used unrealistically high projections for state revenue growth, said Steve Williams, the special assistant to the state superintendent of education.

But legislators overrode the governor's veto on the same day he issued it.

Under the resulting budget for fiscal 2001-02, spending on K-12 education will increase by 2.5 percent, to nearly $1.48 billion. The legislature did vote to extend several small programs that are important to educators.

Lawmakers preserved a program that offers interest-free housing loans for teachers in needy communities, for example, and another that forgives teachers' student loans in exchange for working in such districts. The legislature also voted to keep a program that allows future school administrators to take a one-year paid sabbatical for graduate school, said Michael D. Ellis, the director of parent relations and a legislative- support aide for the state education department.

Legislators also extended to 2004 the state law that authorizes the creation of charter schools, although only one exists in the state.

Under other legislation passed during this session, each school district will be required to draw up a more detailed school safety plan. Politicians argued over language in the law that was designed to grant teachers greater power to remove disruptive students from their classrooms. The state attorney general is reviewing the law at the governor's request.

The legislature cut into teachers' classroom-supply budgets to help school districts handle deficits. Classroom-supply allotments were cut from $500 to $125, allowing districts to use the extra money for their local budgets, Mr. Ellis said.

And in one of the most unusual laws passed in any state this year, schools in Mississippi face another new requirement approved as part of a moment-of-silence law. ("Miss. Requires Schools To Post 'In God We Trust' Motto," April 4, 2001.)

Schools must post the national motto, "In God We Trust," in every school cafeteria, auditorium, and classroom—and it must be framed, 11 by 14 inches.

—Alan Richard


NEW MEXICO

After Reform Bill's Veto,
Supporters Look to 2002

The centerpiece of school improvement efforts in New Mexico's legislature this year ultimately went down to defeat, as Gov. Gary E. Johnson vetoed the wide-ranging package approved by state lawmakers. He said it was too expensive and would not produce change that was profound enough.

Gov. Gary E. Johnson

Republican
Senate:
24 Democrats
18 Republicans
House:
42 Democrats
28 Republicans
Enrollment:
317,000

The proposal was two years in the making and represented a compromise reached by legislators and three groups whose input had helped craft it: the nonprofit, Sante Fe-based advocacy group Think New Mexico, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and a legislatively appointed, 64-member task force of lawmakers and citizens. Among its proposals were a three-tiered pay and licensure system that would have raised teacher salaries; a pilot merit-pay system for teachers; and governance changes that would have given school boards more authority over budgetary and personnel matters.

But Mr. Johnson objected to the bill's price tag—more than $300 million through 2005—and said in his veto message April 5 that "questions about how to pay for it have gone unanswered." A firm advocate of private school vouchers—which the legislature has repeatedly rejected—Mr. Johnson criticized the measure for being "silent on increasing school choice." ("New Mexico's Gov. Johnson Vetoes Omnibus Education Package," April 18, 2001.)

Advocates of the measure vowed to press for similar provisions in new legislation next year. "For the sake of students, parents, and educational employees, we will not allow this issue to go away," said a statement released by the New Mexico Federation of Educational Employees, a 6,500-member union of teachers, bus drivers, and other school employees.

Still, the pre-K-12 education budget of $1.8 billion that was signed by the governor means $149 million in new education money—a 9 percent increase over last year—and includes enough for an 8 percent pay raise for teachers. Mr. Johnson had favored only a 5 percent, merit-based raise.

He also added $4.3 million to a previous $17 million allocation to accelerate implementation of all-day kindergarten and signed a bill providing mentorships for beginning teachers.

Mr. Johnson also signed a bill funneling $400 million to schools for repair or renovation. The measure was prompted by a judge's order to hammer out a fairer system of distributing capital-improvement money in the wake of a lawsuit by three poor, rural districts.

—Catherine Gewertz


NORTH DAKOTA

Teachers Finally in Line
For Long-Sought Raises

North Dakota teachers chalked up a hard-fought victory in the state's biennial budget for the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years, winning $35 million in additional compensation over the two-year period.

Gov. John H. Hoeven

Republican
Senate:
17 Democrats
32 Republicans
House:
29 Democrats
69 Republicans
Enrollment:
106,000

The appropriation will allow districts to raise teacher salaries by $1,000 during the coming school year, and another $2,000 the following year.

Educators in the Peace Garden State have been lobbying state lawmakers for years for additional money to raise teacher pay. The state has historically ranked at the bottom among states on average teacher salaries. The average teacher salary during the 1999-2000 school year was $29,863, according to a survey by the National Education Association released last week.

Perhaps more important, observers say, the legislature set a minimum for teachers' salaries for the first time. During the next school year, the state's 219 districts must pay teachers at least $18,500. The minimum salary will rise to $20,000 the following school year. In many of the state's tiny school districts, teachers earn well below those levels, according to Max Laird, the president of the North Dakota Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

"We had a long ways to go toward improving salaries," Mr. Laird said. "This is a very positive step for a very historically conservative state."

While districts will have to prove they are using the additional money for teacher compensation, the legislature allows flexibility in how it is categorized. Districts could, for example, issue the money as bonuses instead of raising the salary scale.

"The jury's out as to the way it plays in the field," Mr. Laird said. "At least it looks good on paper."

The salary appropriation helped increase the precollegiate education budget for the biennium by 6.9 percent over the current one, to $855 million. Foundation aid will rise 6.5 percent, to $2,287 per student in the next school year. The total allotment of $479 million over the biennium represents a slight decrease, however, owing to enrollment declines of an estimated 2.5 percent each year.

Districts will gain other funding in the biennial budget as well, with $67.2 million from the state's common schools trust fund. The allotment represents a $14 million increase over the current budget, thanks to the state's decision to put nearly half the money from the settlement of a multistate lawsuit against the nation's tobacco companies into the fund. Districts will gain an additional $80 per student annually out of the state's common schools trust fund.

State officials are hoping technology will help districts deal with declining enrollments. The budget targets the state's funding from the federal E-rate program to continue wiring facilities for high- speed Internet access throughout the state to include all high schools and libraries. Some $2.5 million is directed toward professional development and training in educational technology for the coming two years, a 6 percent increase.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo


UTAH

Amid Fight With Unions,
State Ups Schools Budget

A one-day statewide walkout last December by public school teachers concerned over funding for education set the stage for this year's legislative session in Utah.

The job action was organized by the Utah Education Association and was meant to protest the state's lack of long-term funding plans for public schools. Gov. Michael O. Leavitt responded with a budget proposal that called for a major spending increase for public education, including a 6 percent raise for teachers and one-time increases for purchases of textbooks and classroom supplies.

The legislature went along with those increases and raised state K- 12 education spending by 5.2 percent, to $1.71 billion, for fiscal 2002.

Gov. Michael O. Levitt

Republican
Senate:
9 Democrats
20 Republicans
House:
24 Democrats
51 Republicans
Enrollment:
475,000

The budget includes $24 million in one-time spending to buy textbooks and $5 million in one-time money to reimburse teachers for supplies. That will translate to about $225 each for teachers in grades K-6 and $175 for those in grades 7-12, according to the UEA.

Besides the budget, the legislature passed and the governor signed a measure—called the Teacher Quality Amendments—that enacts a comprehensive state policy on teacher recruitment, licensure, professional development, and evaluation.

But the funding boost and the teacher-quality measure, which the UEA supported, by no means put an end to the tension between state lawmakers and teachers.

Late last month, a coalition of seven unions, including the UEA and the Utah School Employees Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a bill signed by the governor that prohibits deductions of money for political contributions from the paychecks of teachers and other public employees. Such automatic payroll deductions are used by many public-employee unions, including teachers' unions, to collect money for their political action committees.

Days later, a state court judge temporarily halted implementation of the law, which had been due to take effect on April 30. A July 16 hearing is scheduled in the case.

Supporters of the bill have said it is needed to get the government out of the business of collecting money from special interests. But the teachers' unions viewed it in part as retaliation for the December walkout. ("Utah Eyes Ban on Payroll Deductions For Political Giving," Feb. 7, 2001.)

In addition to the payroll- deduction measure, one legislator proposed a bill, later withdrawn, that would have docked teachers two days' pay for every day spent on strike.

Another bill, which the legislature passed and Gov. Leavitt signed into law, removes the pilot status of the state's charter school program, expands the number of authorized charter schools, and allows local school boards to sponsor the independent public schools.

The legislature also tinkered slightly with the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students, or U-PASS. But lawmakers stopped short of adding letter grades to school performance reports, an idea that was debated but not recommended by a state accountability task force.

—Mark Walsh


WEST VIRGINIA

Video-Gambling Proceeds To Be Used for Education

The West Virginia legislature wrapped up an extended legislative session in late April by adopting a proposal by Gov. Bob Wise to tax, restrict, and regulate video-gambling machines, a move that supporters say could be a jackpot for education.

The bill fulfills one of the freshman governor's main campaign promises last year by providing the state's first-ever appropriation for a merit-based college-scholarship program, which the legislature authorized several years ago. It also increases funding for school infrastructure projects, and provides money for pay raises for teachers and other school staff members, among other public employees.

Under the measure, the 13,500 video- gambling machines known as "gray machines" in the state will be replaced by 9,000 new machines that will be doled out to certain establishments that currently have Class A liquor licenses. The rest would be given out in a state- run bidding process.

Gov. Bob Wise

Democrat
Senate:
28 Democrats
6 Republicans
House:
75 Democrats
25 Republicans
Enrollment:
285,000

The bill passed the House on a 60-36 vote, and the Senate on a vote of 17-15. When a 10-member House-Senate conference committee failed to reconcile differences in the two versions before the 60-day legislative session ended on April 14, the governor called a special session to let lawmakers continue. That resulted in a measure that Gov. Wise signed earlier this month.

"I think it's a big accomplishment," said Howard O'Cull, the executive director of the West Virginia School Boards Association. "The money from the gray boxes will go a long way toward providing new revenue for schools."

Under another measure passed during the session, prospective teachers who apply for a license in West Virginia will be required to have background checks by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, starting in January of next year. The measure was designed to prevent problem teachers from other states from pursuing careers in West Virginia. The applicants will have to pay for the background checks, which cost $34.

The legislature also passed a bill that gave an incentive for teachers who are not planning to return to their school districts the following school year to give written notice of their plans by the end of the school year. Those teachers would get a $500 payment. The legislation also establishes a statewide job bank to help recruit and re-employ experienced teachers who lose their jobs because of layoffs. It also allows retired teachers to work an unlimited number of days as substitute teachers without losing retirement benefits.

In the $2.8 billion general-revenue budget for fiscal 2001-02, the legislature held funding for K-12 schools steady at $1.47 billion, dedicating about 52 percent of the overall budget for public education. In addition, the legislature approved $18 million for needs-based college scholarships, $5.5 million for the merit-based Promise Scholarship program, and $25 million for the state School Building Authority, which must get legislative approval to finance bonds.

The budget calls for raises of between $750 and $2,000 for teachers and other school staff members.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 37, Pages 22-23

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