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Published in Print: November 21, 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.


New Jersey Budget Spotlights Teaching

In wrapping up the second year of a two-year legislative session, New Jersey lawmakers felt the pressure of the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding case.

A big challenge is hiring certified preschool teachers for court-mandated preschool in the 30 districts covered by the lawsuit.

In a measure pushed by acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco, the legislature approved $5 million for an incentive program to lure preschool teachers to programs that need them. The money pays for signing bonuses of up to $6,000, laptop computers and forgiveness of student loans.

"We feel this is a concept that should be extended, but it is going to be difficult in tough economic times," said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco

15 Democrats
25 Republicans
35 Democrats
45 Republicans
1.3 million

The state's $22.9 billion budget for fiscal 2002 raised education spending to $7.4 billion, or $604 million over a year ago. The hikes included $52 million in new aid for school construction, also tied to the Abbott case, and $136 million more for special education.

But the state's economy has since slipped, particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City.

As revenue fell below estimates, Mr. DiFrancesco froze $350 million in spending$10 million from education.

In other efforts to beef up the size and quality of the state's teacher corps, lawmakers passed $8 million to expand a mentoring program for new teachers.

And $7 million was approved as incentive funding for colleges of education to prepare more teachers, particularly in shortage areas.

Ronald Butcher, the vice president of the state board of education, added that the board has begun an 18-month study of teacher licensing and training. "This will have a big impact on the industry," he said.

In other developments, the state supreme court last month ordered New Jersey to take a more aggressive role in expanding the Abbott preschool programs.

On Nov. 6, voters elected Democrat James E. McGreevey, the mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., to succeed Mr. DiFrancesco, who has served on an acting basis since former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman joined the Bush administration earlier this year.

Mr. DiFrancesco, a Republican who dropped out of the race for governor last spring, won $13 million in the 2002 budget to expand the state's KidsNeeds program for improving health-care and support services for children.

—Robert C. Johnston


Governor Vetoes Finance Proposal

Wisconsin lawmakers re-examined long-established precollegiate programs in light of a declining economy, and aimed to overhaul the state's system of school finance. Minor changes in the finance system were eventually zeroed out by the governor.

"The legislature worked on protecting the commitments that we made in previous legislative sessions," said Sen. Richard A. Grobschmidt, the Democratic chairman of the Senate education committee.

This was a major task. Legislators project a budget deficit of $1 billion over the next two years. To save money, Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican, used his line-item veto 316 times to downsize the $46.9 billion biennial budget, through 2003. Of that, $10 billion is for K-12 education—7.3 percent above last year.

Despite the economic troubles, the legislature provided the state's 426 school districts with two-thirds of their total funding, as required by law. Some had asked if the state could afford to continue with the full payments.

Gov. Scott McCallum

18 Democrats
15 Republicans
43 Democrats
56 Republicans

Financial concerns also led the lawmakers to debate Wisconsin's prekindergarten program. The Assembly, the legislature's lower house, voted to eliminate funding for the program altogether, saying the move could save $14 million over two years. The Senate, however, agreed to provide the money needed to proceed.

The governor restored the full $31.6 million for the program. Some 13,000 children participate in the voluntary program, which is 17 years old. It is offered by one-third of Wisconsin districts.

Meanwhile, public anger over the school aid system pushed legislators to study an overhaul.

After much debate, the legislature tried to lift the 8-year-old, state-imposed spending caps on local schools by .78 percent, as long as two-thirds of the local school board approved. Mr. McCallum vetoed the provision, citing the estimated $45 million additional expense to the state. State aid to the districts would have to rise to maintain the state's share of school funding.

Some officials say the spending limits strangle schools and don't account for rising costs. The policy "forces impossible choices on local communities," Elizabeth Burmaster, the state schools chief, said in a statement.

Gov. McCallum also ordered the state education department to go ahead with the development and implementation of Wisconsin's controversial high school graduation test without securing funding. He expects pending federal education legislation to result in aid from Washington for test development. The test is to receive a pilot run in the 10th grade next spring. State administrators worry that the federal money will never appear.

—Julie Blair

Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 15

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