State of the States
Barnes Wants Easier Going For Charter Schools
In his drive to increase the number of charter schools in Georgia, Gov. Roy E. Barnes said in his State of the State Address last week that he wants to make it easier for parents and communities to get through the application process.
"Charter schools are not a silver bullet that will solve all our education problems, but they are a tool that can give parents and the community more control, and we need to help those who are willing to do the hard work to establish them," the first-term Democrat said.
The governor is supporting legislation already introduced in the legislature that attempts to clarify some of the language in the state's original charter school law, passed in 1993.
But charter school advocates are concerned over the fact that the bill eliminates the 11 requirements for a charter school petition and leaves the job of establishing those requirements to the members of the state board, who are appointed by the governor.
"What happens when we get a governor who is fundamentally opposed to charter schools?" asked Philip S. Andrews, the executive director of the Georgia Charter School Association.
The bill also includes a provision regarding the funding of charter schools whose applications were originally denied by local school boards, but later approved by the state board as "state-chartered special schools." The proposed legislation clears up the question of how the school would receive funding, stating that money would come from the state—not local districts.
Still, cases could arise in which the state requires a referendum in a district to determine whether local funding should also go to a school. And the bill does not state how funding would actually flow to the schools at that point.
Representatives of some education organizations in Georgia say they want to improve the bill before the end of the session. "It's not an uncomplicated issue," said Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.
Mr. Andrews said the bill is a "good-faith effort to provide fair funding to charter schools," but legislators need to design a new funding formula that takes charter schools into account.
The governor also used his speech to explain his plan for borrowing money for school construction projects—a plan, he said, that will add 5,000 new classrooms and create 25,000 new jobs.
"Like a family, we know it is sometimes smart to borrow money for long-term investments, especially when interest rates are low and we enjoy a great credit rating," he said. "To those who complain that we would mortgage the future by building these classrooms for our children, I say: 'No, we are investing in the future.' "
Gov. Barnes also highlighted the fact that while other states are struggling to balance their budgets, Georgia's economy remains relatively strong. He proposed additional tax cuts as part of his fiscal 2003 budget, which was released in January, including a "sales tax holiday," and said his proposal of a 3.5 percent raise for teachers will allow Georgia to continue to "hire good, experienced teachers from other states" and "attract people from other professions."
Finally, the governor reviewed where the state stands on implementing the education policy changes he pushed through since he was elected in 1998—such as smaller classes in the early grades, a system of accountability, and local school councils. "Our education plan is beginning to work," he said. "We are starting to see improvement in reading skills, the most important building block of a good education."
Schools Are Priority, McGreevey Says
Improving schools is New Jersey's top priority, Gov. James E. McGreevey declared in his inaugural address to a joint session of the state legislature.
"It is intolerable that 30 percent of 3rd grade students in hundreds of grammar schools across New Jersey are not reading at grade level," Mr. McGreevey, a Democrat, said in his Jan. 15 speech.
"It is intolerable that certain schools fail to establish basic standards, basic discipline, and clear levels of accountability."
Mr. McGreevey, who was elected last November, did not include specifics of what he would propose for the state's schools, however.
Along with education, the governor listed strengthening state security in the wake of Sept. 11 and living within the state's budgetary means as his chief areas of focus.
Due to a constitutional loophole, three different lawmakers held the post of acting governor during the week before McGreevey's Jan. 15 inauguration. For that reason, the Republican president of the state Senate, John O. Bennett, delivered the State of the State Address when he was acting governor on Jan. 8, a duty usually reserved for a governor at the start of the term.
In his State of the State Address, Mr. Bennett praised New Jersey's education accomplishments of the last decade, including establishment of core academic standards and a new state-testing program. He urged lawmakers to keep school funding a high priority in the coming year.
Fiscal Security, Jobs Taft's Main Concerns
Ohio is poised to embark on an ambitious "Third Frontier Project" to bolster economic development and create more jobs in the Buckeye State.
The $1.6 billion plan, unveiled in Gov. Bob Taft's fourth State of the State Address, would combine federal and private dollars to reinvent the state's economy to focus on technology and biomedical research in the next decade.
"Our goals are simple: We'll invest in our strengths. We'll build dynamic new businesses. And, we'll create an explosion of high-paying jobs in Ohio," the Republican governor said in his Feb. 5 address.
While Gov. Taft's speech focused primarily on the state's financial future, he emphasized the importance of continuing its existing education initiatives, including the implementation of recommendations outlined by the Governor's Commission for Student Success, which called for the development of state academic standards.
Ohio is nearly halfway through its current two-year budget cycle.
The governor, whose address last year emphasized education, also made a single passing reference to the state's long-running school funding lawsuit, which could require a significant increase in state aid for education: "... [W]e're working with the mediator to resolve the last remaining issues ..."
The Ohio Supreme Court ordered that the case go to mediation in November. A report updating the court about any progress is due later this month.
Still, the governor stressed the role of education in restoring Ohio's financial foundation.
"Education will guarantee our economic security tomorrow, but far too many Ohioans are hurting today," Gov. Taft said, referring to laid-off workers and others pulled down by the nation's slumping economy.
The Third Frontier Project would set aside $500 million for technology and biomedical research funds to develop new products. Another $500 million would be devoted to buildings and equipment for research centers. Both of these expenditures would be spread over a 10-year period.
Gov. Taft also would ask voters to approve a $500 million bond issue to create a program to recruit "world-class" researchers to Ohio universities, endow professorial chairs, and produce new products. Another $100 million will be set aside to finance selected companies with potential for high growth.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Keating Wants Tests, More Core Classes
In Gov. Frank R. Keating's final State of the State Address, he charged the Oklahoma legislature to follow the Congress' footsteps and pass a four-part education initiative this session.
First, he said the state must administer exams in grades 3-8, and that students should be required to pass them in order to be promoted to the next grade. Currently, the state tests students in the 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 9th grades.
He also said the state must implement a stronger remedial education program "to help those who lag behind catch up and succeed." However, Gov. Keating, a Republican, did not offer any details about this program.
The governor also promoted a plan for high school course requirements that he called "Four by Four Flex," in which students would be required to take four years of four core subjects— English/language arts, mathematics, science, and history—and two years of fine arts and a foreign language.
Gov. Keating has succeeded in getting legislative approval for three years of science, history, and math, and four years of English. But he wants the legislature to approve the remaining pieces of his plan this year.
Finally, the governor, whose fiscal 2003 budget plan released earlier this year would hold the line on K-12 spending, urged the legislature to strengthen the state's vocational education program. Some educators in the state, however, argue that the popular program would be weakened if each high school senior had to take the core courses the governor is suggesting.
In response to those concerns, Gov. Keating said the state needs Career Tech, or vocational education, to make his four-by-four program work, and has added a provision for students to opt out of the core coursework if their parents, principals, and superintendents all agree that he or she cannot do the work required in the course.
Sundquist's Tax Would Cover Shortfalls, Teachers
In his eighth and final State of the State Address, and amid a major state budget crisis, Gov. Don Sundquist focused on children.
Even though the state is facing an estimated $1.2 billion revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year, the Republican governor said he would present a balanced budget for fiscal 2003 that provides new funding for education at all levels. However, he did not commit to the idea of taxes in his State of the State Address, late last week.
He released a fiscal 2003 budget blueprint that proposed a flat, 3.25 percent income tax. That would pay for, among other budget initiatives, an early childhood initiative that has already been approved and a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers.
For the second consecutive year, he asked the legislature to allot funds to his reading plan, which would provide early education services for 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds deemed at risk of failing in school. The plan was signed into law last year but did not receive funding in the face of a severe budget shortfall. It was estimated to cost about $60 million a year. "My budget ... reflects the needs of Tennessee's children," he said in the Feb. 4 speech. "It puts children and their education first."
He also unveiled plans to improve the state's higher education system, which he said badly needed upgrades in laboratories and other facilities, and more incentives to retain faculty.
In addition, Gov. Sundquist also asked the legislature to adopt his plan to keep afloat Tennessee's troubled public health-care system, TennCare, which he said has helped countless families and children receive services they otherwise could not have accessed.
He has proposed revamping the program to become a leaner, more efficient system.
—Joetta L. Sack
High-Tech Charters Are A Must, Leavitt Says
Michael O. Leavitt, preparing to welcome the world to Salt Lake City this month for the Winter Olympics, said last week that the games would be a springboard for "one thousand days of progress" for education and the economy in Utah.
"Used well, the Olympic experience can be a catapult to world economic prominence" for Utah, the Republican governor said in his 10th State of the State Address.
Political observers in the state speculate that the three-term governor won't seek re-election in 2004, so the 1,000-day plan would carry him to the end of his term.
Education will be the fuel for the state's economic strategy of further developing its biotechnology, computer graphics, and other high-tech industries, Gov. Leavitt said in his Jan. 28 speech. Toward that goal, he proposed a system of high-tech charter high schools.
"There will be six of these high-tech high schools, and within a thousand days the first four will be operational," he said.
A school in Salt Lake City would focus on biotechnology. One in Weber County would revolve around engineering and medical devices, while one in Utah County would specialize in digital media. A fourth, in Logan, would focus on plant and animal genetics, the governor said. Students could earn both a high school diploma and an associate of science degree in the schools.
"By day one thousand, approximately 1,250 students will be fast-tracking their way into careers that will lift our entire economy," Gov. Leavitt promised.
Despite reduced revenues and several rounds of belt-tightening in state government, the governor's proposed fiscal 2003 budget essentially would hold the line on K-12 education spending.
Vol. 21, Issue 22, Pages 23,28-29