News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Neb. School Aid Called Fair Game for Cuts
State aid to public schools will not be exempt from possible cuts
when lawmakers reconvene this month to respond to deteriorating fiscal
conditions, according to the Nebraska attorney general's office.
State aid is not an entitlement, so the legislature is not obligated to deliver the full $635 million that it promised schools for the current fiscal year, concludes a legal opinion issued Oct. 1 by Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Koranda. Sen. Pam Brown requested the opinion.
A weakened economy has meant the state may lose an estimated $160 million in revenue needed to finance its $5.5 billion biennial budget. Nebraska lawmakers are to meet in a special session late this month to trim the budget or increase taxes.
Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, is expected to unveil his budget recommendations after the state economic-forecasting advisory board releases revised revenue projections on Oct. 19, said Chris Peterson, a spokesman for the governor.
The projected cuts worry educators, who say their schools are already financially strapped.
"They're scared to death what this may mean down the road," said Douglas D. Christensen, the state's commissioner of education.
—Rhea R. Borja
W.Va. Teachers Eligible for Low-Interest Mortgages
Educators in West Virginia will be able to get low-interest home loans under a program recently announced by Gov. Bob Wise.
In an attempt to make the state a more appealing—and affordable—place for teachers to live, the Democratic governor announced the creation of the Teacher and Educational Employee Loan Assistance Program late last month.
School administrators in the state have complained that they have trouble luring and keeping teachers because of low salaries.
Under the program, borrowers can get loans without down payments and receive lower-than-market interest rates. The buyers' closing costs are limited, and they are subject to more lenient credit qualifications than those of standard lenders.
To be eligible for the program, at least one borrower must be a state-certified classroom teacher, administrator, or service worker employed full time by a West Virginia public school, private school, college, university, or educational agency within the state.
Pa. Religious Leaders Urge School Finance Changes
More than 50 religious leaders from throughout Pennsylvania gathered at the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg last week, as a part of a church-led campaign for changing how the state pays for schools.
The gathering was put together by Good Schools Pennsylvania, a nonprofit coalition of religious, civic, and community groups pushing for changes in the state's educational system. The "interfaith vigil" took place Oct. 10, as church leaders signed a statement of principle calling for a more adequate and equitable school funding system. They also offered prayers for the state's children.
It was the third such gathering since June, and a spokeswoman for Good Schools Pennsylvania said the group intends to make the vigils a monthly event.
"Previously, education reform has been framed in an educational, political, or legal context," said Sheila Ballen, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia-based group. "What our faith- based partnership brings to this is a moral voice. It is actually immoral if we don't give every child an equal chance of succeeding."
—Jessica L. Sandham
Vol. 21, Issue 7, Page 20