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.
Fights Over Teacher Pay,
LEP Aid, Left Unresolved
The 2001 legislative session closed in the Grand Canyon state last month with several education-related dilemmas left unresolved, but it appeared unlikely Gov. Jane D. Hull would call a special session before September.
Legislators convened in January with much of the policy groundwork for K-12 education laid.
In November, voters had approved Proposition 301, the governor's proposal for a 20-year increase of six-tenths of 1 percent in the state's 5 percent sales tax earmarked for education.
The same law also calls for an automatic 2 percent annual increase for Arizona schools that left lawmakers with no choice but to provide an additional $66 million for education in each of the next two fiscal years.
Precollegiate education's share of the $18.7 billion biennial budget is $6.95 billion, with $3.37 billion in the 2001-02 fiscal year and $3.58 billion in 2002-03, according to figures from the governor's office. Those amounts include two categories of funding not appropriated by the legislature: new money from the 5.6 percent sales tax, and revenue doled out by the governor's School Facilities Board for building repairs and construction.
Still, lawmakers ended the session deadlocked on how to fix problems in the law that authorized the referendum on Proposition 301, including a funding formula that gives high school teachers bigger pay raises than elementary teachers.
Teachers were angered by another piece of the law that allows districts to choose how to spend a portion of the tax-increase money from a menu of options. Thousands of teachers staged sickouts across the state last month, demanding the money be dedicated to pay increases and bonuses.
Teachers and administrators also clashed over a provision of the law that sets aside money for performance-based salary increases for teachers. Teachers say the law needs clarifying.
"Performance-based pay is a new thing for most of our districts, and teachers won't see that money until they have met whatever performance standards are set by districts," said Penny Kotterman, the president of the Arizona Education Association. "We need clarity from the legislature."
Yet Rep. Linda Lopez, a Democrat and the president of the Arizona School Boards Association, said last month that teachers should give local school officials time to work out plans for allocating Proposition 301 money.
"If the legislature gets involved, we might not have the outcome we'd prefer," Ms. Lopez warned.
Another issue left unresolved was a federal judge's order for the state to increase funding for students with limited proficiency in English. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, state officials, and other interested parties met late last month to discuss the problem, but no date was set for formal legislative action.
Meanwhile, the lawyer who represented Arizona's limited-English-proficient students in the class action that led to the ruling has asked the court to withhold federal money from the state unless the legislature submits an acceptable funding plan by Aug. 1.
One timeline legislators did take a keen interest in this session concerned the schedule for implementing a requirement that students pass a state test to graduate from high school.
The state board of education voted unanimously in March to launch a process of changing the existing timeline for using the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, as a graduation test for public high school students. The board has yet to make any formal recommendation on a date change.
Days after the state board voted to consider delaying the requirement, the Arizona Senate passed a bill to push it back in all subjects until 2004. Under the current schedule, the requirement for reading and writing kicks in next year with this year's high school juniors, and in 2004 for math with this year's freshmen.
The bill died in the House when it became clear the governor would veto it in favor of letting the state board make the call. The state schools superintendent, Jaime Molera, said last month that bigger questions surrounding AIMS would need to be settled along with the schedule for the graduation requirement.
"In my mind, the timeline is somewhat arbitrary," he said. "You can set it at 2005, 2010, or 2020, but you still have some questions to answer about what happens when a kid fails."
Other action taken by the legislature included adopting a statewide hazing-prevention policy that all public schools must post and enforce; passing a law to include home-schooled students under the state's definition of private school students so they are eligible for federal special education funding; eliminating rolling contracts for school administrators that require large buyouts of contracts; and passing legislation to set up a fund managed by the state School Facilities Board for emergency repairs to school buildings, and a second bill that allows the board to contract and oversee capital projects for school districts.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
State Alters Ratings Plan,
Increases Schools Budget
Many Colorado educators are giving lawmakers an A for their performance on education issues this year. Actually, change that from a letter grade to a "verbal descriptor" such as excellent.
One of the last bills passed by the 2001 Colorado legislature tinkers with a major accountability plan for public schools. Under a law passed last year, schools were to receive report cards and letter grades based on test scores and other factors. Education groups fought the plan and lamented the labeling of poorly performing schools with failing grades.
"We thought that labeling schools, and therefore kids, with D's and F's was pretty unconscionable," said Deborah Fallin, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association. "It was like saying to them, 'You are the weakest link.' "
Late in its session, the legislature passed a bill that changes the school report cards to "accountability reports" and drops letter grades in favor of five descriptions: excellent, high, average, low, and unsatisfactory.
Although they would prefer no such reports at all, education lobbyists viewed the bill as a victory and as a sign that Gov. Bill Owens, who strongly favored the earlier version of report cards, was willing to compromise.
"We don't think labeling is the right approach," Ms. Fallin added. "But changing the letter grades to descriptive phrases is a small step in making things better."
Throughout the session, there was a spirit of compromise on education issues.
"It's been a wonderful year to be a lobbyist," said Phil Fox, the chief lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Executives. "It was probably the best session that Colorado education has had in 15 to 20 years."
That was thanks in part to voter approval last fall of a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing greater public spending on education over the next 10 years. The measure, known as Amendment 23, requires the state to increase funding for public schools at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent over each of the next 10 years. The initiative also establishes a state education fund separate from the general fund, with dedicated state income-tax revenues. The fund is expected to accumulate more than $4.5 billion over 10 years.
Lawmakers came together fairly easily on bills that would implement Amendment 23, as well as on the $3.8 billion school spending bill, which provides a 6 percent increase in general-fund appropriations for public education. The state has a $5.39 billion overall general-fund budget.
Among other fiscal measures, the legislature provided districts with $20 per student in the next fiscal year and $21 per student in 2002-03 to buy new textbooks. It approved more than $5 million for charter school construction and a guarantee that charter schools can participate in the bond issues of their local districts.
Other enacted measures provide funding for full-day kindergarten in low-performing schools and a college-loan-forgiveness program for teachers.
Colorado legislators got national attention for a bill that requires districts to develop policies against bullying.
While some legislators expressed fears about state involvement in what is seen as a matter for local concern, and others questioned whether it would do any good, the bill passed overwhelmingly amid references to the 1999 slayings by two students at Columbine High School in the state's largest school district, Jefferson County.
Teacher-Pay Proposal Dies
As Pre-K Funding Rises
Plans for a comprehensive teacher-compensation package stalled in the legislature this spring, as Nebraska approached next month's start of the first year of the biennial budget cycle.
Strongly supported by the state teachers' union, the $49 million pay plan would have given any teacher who had not yet hit the four-year mark in teaching experience a $2,000 salary increase next year. The following year, districts would have received $100 per pupil to raise teacher salaries.
"But the measure faltered after Gov. Mike Johanns said he would veto it, on the grounds that it would require increasing the state sales tax by a quarter of a percentage point.
The bill, which can be reconsidered during next year's legislative session, never made it to a final vote in the unicameral legislature.
A plan to provide $2,500 annual salary bonuses for teachers who earn National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification also did not reach a final vote.
Still, the governor did support an allocation of $5.4 million over two years to finance a program authorized by the legislature last year that would give loans to education students who agree to work in Nebraska's public or private schools.
Duane Obermier, the president of the Nebraska State Education Association, said that although the loan-forgiveness program will help young teachers, it does little to improve current teachers' salaries.
"We need to have salaries that can compete with other states," he said.
In response, Mr. Obermier said the NSEA is considering whether to file a lawsuit contending that the state is failing to provide students with "equal access to a quality education."
As the local property-tax contribution to precollegiate education funding continues to shrink—a change resulting from legislation passed in 1996 that decreased the maximum local levy—the governor backed an increase in state aid to schools by $185 million over the next two fiscal years to help make up the shortfall in local dollars. That brings the state's K-12 budget for the coming fiscal year to $821 million, an increase of 10 percent.
The legislature also approved the governor's proposal for a $3 million increase over two years to expand early-childhood projects overseen by the state education department and the state's health and human services system. The budget for the state's early-childhood programs last year was $560,000.
The state's early-childhood efforts started as a piecemeal pilot program financed by state grants in 1993. Now federal and local funding will be pulled together to institute a coordinated program that expands some current projects. New regulations affecting preschool programs will be created as well.
To provide a broader and more in-depth examination of school issues, lawmakers supported Mr. Johanns' plan to form an "education roundtable."
The 36-member panel, which will be co-chaired by the governor and Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen, will be made up of people representing business, local communities, higher education, the legislature, state education associations, the state board of education, educational service units, and the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.
The roundtable will provide recommendations annually to the legislature, the state board, and the governor's policy-research office.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Vol. 20, Issue 40, Page 19