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Published in Print: May 8, 2002, 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, the most recent available, 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.

INDIANA

Indiana Schools Lose
Nearly $500 Million

A state budget deficit of some $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year has forced Indiana to seriously pare back the biennial budget for education that the legislature approved last spring.

The $7.64 billion budget for K-12 education in fiscal 2001-02 and 2002-03 has been reduced by $481.5 million, or 6 percent, in cuts and delayed payments to schools.

Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon

Democrat
Senate:
18 Democrats
32 Republicans
House:
53 Democrats
47 Republicans
Enrollment:
989,000

More reductions in the precollegiate budget through delayed payments to schools in fiscal 2002-03 are also expected to be announced later this year.

The cuts and delays to the education budget were announced by Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon on March 28, after the legislature had met for a short session. During the session, the legislature did not approve any bills that had been placed on the table that attempted to address the budget deficit by raising taxes or through tax restructuring.

Lawmakers did, however, pass a measure that permits schools to make a one-time transfer of money from capital-projects, transportation, or debt-service funds to general-operating funds to fill holes created by the cuts.

The legislation is intended to help schools offset a loss of $115 million in general operating support that had been provided in the budget but has since been eliminated, said Terry Spradlin, the legislative liaison for the state department of education.

In the budget, schools had been promised a 3 percent increase in general operating support for the current school year over the previous school year. The cut of $115 million means that, in the end, schools received no increase at all.

Additional cuts include $40 million for computer hardware and $35 million for programs deemed as noncore, such as summer school, full-day kindergarten, and education of gifted and talented students.

The legislature will convene May 14 through June 28 for a special session to address the budget deficit. But no cuts or delays in payments in the K-12 budget that have already been announced are expected to be reversed, according to the governor's press secretary.

"What I'm fearful of is, ultimately, that they'll have to find another $100 million, and there will be no way to handle that," said Frank Bush, the president of the Indiana School Boards Association.

—Mary Ann Zehr

SOUTH DAKOTA

Lean Finances Stall
Education-Related Bills

A recessionary economy took the fizz out of most education-related legislation in South Dakota's 2002 session, which ended March 12.

Only 17 out of 60 education bills that were introduced actually passed the legislature to be signed by Gov. William J. Janklow, whose tenure ends next January. Many bills that didn't make the cut were deemed unaffordable this year.

Lawmakers did raise by 3 percent the per-student allocation to school districts for general state aid and special education in the fiscal 2003 spending plan, but most districts will see no increase, because of declining state enrollments. Accordingly, the state's K-12 education spending for fiscal 2003 will be unchanged at $267 million for general education and $37 million for special education.

Gov. William J. Janklow

Republican
Senate:
11 Democrats
24 Republicans
House:
20 Democrats
50 Republicans
Enrollment:
129,000

In addition, the legislators level-funded the South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs at $12 million for 2003.

As a result of those decisions, any major increases in school funding will have to be decided on locally.

Because of a statewide cap on property-tax increases, passed in 1996, most of the state's 176 school districts cannot raise revenues from property taxes by more than 3 percent annually. But voters in 21 districts have passed "opt out" measures to allow higher tax rates for school spending. More such votes are pending, notably a hotly contested proposal in Sioux Falls, already the state's largest district and growing larger.

In one of the state's few statewide attempts to improve schools this year, the South Dakota lawmakers approved a voluntary teacher-mentoring program that would give beginning teachers guidance by matching them up with veteran or retired teachers. The state board of education must set the rules for the duties and qualifications of mentor teachers. School districts, however, will have to use local money to pay them, as the state did not earmark new aid for the program.

The mentor plan was suggested by two panels—one of educators, the other of noneducators—that Mr. Janklow created in 2001 and charged with finding ways to improve the state education system.

Most other proposals by the noneducators' panel were not put into legislation. Likewise, bills that reflected recommendations from the educators' panel stalled, including one that would have given cash bonuses to small school districts that consolidated with others.

A bill to reward top teachers with $5,000 bonuses foundered on disagreements with education groups over the funding method and control of the criteria for determining who should qualify.

The legislature did put $48,000 into a program to reward teachers who become nationally certified—a small sum, but one that could be increased if there is sufficient response.

—Andrew Trotter

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia Teachers
Get Record Pay Raise

West Virginia legislators managed to take steps that they hope will improve education, despite working in a fiscal year when state budgets around the nation are tight.

In the state's $2.9 billion budget for fiscal 2003, K-12 education will receive $1.5 billion, or about 52 percent of the budget. That represents a 2 percent increase in school spending over the current K-12 state budget of $1.47 billion.

Some of that increased funding will go toward a record-high pay raise for teachers, construction and renovation of schools, and a $5 million increase in spending for the merit-based Promise scholarship program.

Gov. Bob Wise

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

The scholarships are offered to students on the basis of their academic achievement, not financial need. Students who meet certain requirements get full-tuition scholarships to West Virginia colleges or universities.

"Education is the key to our economic development," Gov. Bob Wise said. "Our students deserve the best opportunities possible."

Under the pay plan, West Virginia teachers will receive a 4.2 percent increase, which means the average raise that teachers will see is about $1,465. The raise builds on the $1,000 raises teachers got last year. West Virginia traditionally has ranked low in teacher salaries compared with those offered in other states—a situation that has made it hard to recruit teachers to the state.

On another front, the legislature passed a law this year to extend the school year to 180 days in all West Virginia school systems. Currently, not all districts meet that standard.

Borrowing an idea that has become popular elsewhere, the lawmakers also approved a statewide tax holiday. Consumers will be allowed to buy back-to-school supplies and clothing tax-free for the first weekend in August as long as each individual item costs less than $100.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 21, Issue 34, Page 16

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