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Published in Print: August 7, 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 2001 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.


Alaska

Bitter Session Yields
School Bond Measure

Alaska legislators have completed one of their most acrimonious sessions in recent memory, one that was undermined by constant budget squabbling but yielded an agreement by lawmakers to put a proposal for school construction funding on November's statewide ballot.

Gov. Tony Knowles

Democrat
Senate:
6 Democrats
14 Republicans
House:
13 Democrats
27 Republicans
Enrollment:
134,000

After deadlocks over spending and other issues forced them to come back for a second session in June, the members wound up passing a $2.4 billion overall budget for fiscal 2003, making up for a $859 million shortfall by drawing from the state's budget reserve.

Gov. Tony Knowles blasted the Republican- controlled legislature for passing a spending plan he said neglected essential state services and failed to address Alaska's long-term budget needs, which some revenue experts say will worsen.

Meanwhile, the state's budget for K-12 education went from $722.7 million to roughly $729 million, not including capital projects, according to the Department of Education and Early Development.

Earlier this year, Gov. Knowles, who is not allowed to run for re-election because of term limits, proposed implementing a state income tax. That idea failed to garner support from the legislature.

"Dealing with the long-range budget problems is going to be a major challenge for whoever the next governor is," said Bob King, a spokesman for Mr. Knowles.

But the governor applauded lawmakers for approving a $236 million general obligation bond package, which includes $170 million in school construction projects, mostly in rural Alaska. The measure will go before voters in November.

The legislature approved an additional $10.9 in Learning Opportunity Grants, an ongoing program aimed at supporting schools' efforts improve standardized-test scores. The program received about $12 million last year, said Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the department of education.

But the lawmakers also agreed to delay until 2004 implementation of a system that would rank the state's schools, partly based on such test scores, in four categories: "distinguished," "successful," "deficient," or "in crisis." Those measurements originally were slated to take effect this fall, but state officials said they did not have enough data to grade the schools fairly. "The test scores wouldn't have been comparable with anything," Gamble said. "We wanted something we could build on."

—Sean Cavanagh


Colorado

K-12 Aid Shielded;
Higher Ed. Not So Lucky

Colorado lawmakers were able to shield schools from major budget cuts this year, thanks to the continuing effect of a 2000 constitutional amendment that guaranteed greater public spending on education for 10 years.

Gov. Bill Owens

Republican
Senate:
18 Democrats
17 Republicans
House:
27 Democrats
38 Republicans
Enrollment:
742,500

"We feel blessed we have Amendment 23, when many other states are hemorrhaging," said Phil Fox, the chief lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The state budget for fiscal 2003 includes a 5.7 percent increase in per-pupil funding for K-12 education over the previous year. That is largely because 2002 is the second effective year of Amendment 23, which requires Colorado to increase funding for public schools at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent for each of 10 years.

The state approved a $4.13 billion K-12 budget that increases per-pupil spending by $330, to $5,783. Gov. Bill Owens exempted schools from the major cuts he made to the state's overall $13.8 billion budget after the legislative session ended in May.

State colleges and universities were not so fortunate. The governor vetoed a 7.7 percent tuition increase and froze much capital funding for building projects on college campuses.

The budget includes some $9 million for charter schools to spend on capital costs. Charter backers lobbied hard for the aid, arguing that the independent public schools are at a disadvantage when they have to spend some of their per-pupil operating funds on the costs associated with securing a building.

Lawmakers killed a proposal to allow a state income-tax credit for anyone who contributes to a scholarship fund for students from low- income families to attend private schools.

The session brought no dramatic changes to Colorado's school accountability initiatives. But the legislature did approve a bill requiring the state department of education to work on making state tests that are part of the Colorado Student Assessment Program better diagnostic tools for helping individual students.

Members of the legislature spent much time and effort weighing a new investigation into the 1999 slayings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County. Because of dissatisfaction over earlier probes and lingering questions about the law- enforcement response, some wanted a panel of legislators with subpoena power to take a fresh look. The Senate judiciary committee rejected the bill late in the session, with some members saying they doubted that anything new could be learned.

—Mark Walsh


Connecticut

Magnets, Charters Gain
In K-12 State Spending

It could be worse. That's how many Connecticut education leaders feel about the state's new spending plan for schools.

Gov. John G. Rowland

Republican
Senate:
21 Democrats
15 Republicans
House:
100 Democrats
51 Republicans
Enrollment:
570,000

Faced with projections of revenue shortfalls that topped $800 million by the end of their legislative session, state lawmakers approved a fiscal 2003 budget that includes $2.01 billion for pre-K-12 education—nearly $20 million less than had been planned for the year in the biennial budget they approved in 2001. Even with the revisions, though, spending on schools grew 3.8 percent above the $1.93 million figure for fiscal 2002.

To the relief of school leaders, the new spending plan for 2003 does not cut the main grant through which local districts get the bulk of their state aid, known as the educational-cost- sharing program. Early in the year, Gov. John G. Rowland had proposed trimming $46 million from the previously planned 2003 cost-sharing budget of $1.52 billion.

Lawmakers also gave magnet schools $45.7 million for 2003, up from $32.6 million in 2002, and charter school funding rose from $14.2 million to $16.2 million. Both school choice initiatives are key to the state's response to a long-running desegregation lawsuit.

Last month, both sides in the case, known as Sheff v. O'Neill, pledged to begin meeting to try to reach a settlement.

The legislature, which went into special session before reaching an agreement on spending, trimmed money for special education, however. Eliminated entirely was $7.5 million that had been planned for fiscal 2003 to reimburse districts for excess special education costs incurred during the previous year. Lawmakers also capped at $66 million a fund that helps districts cover current-year expenses related to special education students who need especially high-cost services. For 2002, the state spent $66.9 million on the fund.

"There's always something to grouse about, but I think it turned out that education did fairly well in this budget," said Michael P. Meotti, the president of the Connecticut Policy and Economic Council, a nonpartisan public- policy research group in Hartford. "But the future is very much in doubt with public funding in Connecticut because of what appears to be a long-term weakening on the state revenue side."

Among the few education measures approved is a mandate that schools enact new policies to monitor and respond to bullying, and a law requiring that schools allow time each day for the Pledge of Allegiance.

—Jeff Archer


Hawaii

Budget Leaves Schools
In 'Cost-Conscious Mode'

After protecting the precollegiate budget from cuts in recent years, the Hawaii legislature and Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano could no longer spare the state department of education from reductions during this year's session.

Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano

Democrat
Senate:
22 Democrats
3 Republicans
House:
32 Democrats
19 Republicans
Enrollment:
185,000

The department, which manages the Hawaii's single, statewide school district, ended up with a $1.34 billion budget for fiscal 2003. That total is roughly $77 million less than department officials originally projected that they needed to cover expenses, but $25 million above the fiscal 2002 level.

"We knew that difficult cuts would be made," said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the department. "We haven't grown in a long time. We're in a very cost-conscious mode."

Lawmakers cut $3.5 million in supplemental funding for computer purchases that was included for the first time in last year's budget. While lawmakers trimmed $3.5 million from the state's A-Plus after-school program, the governor eventually restored that funding. Mr. Knudsen added that the state school board was planning to meet to discuss adjustments that will be needed to keep spending in line with the current budget. In addition, the governor is calling for additional cuts from the fiscal 2003 budget.

Also in this year's session, some legislators failed in their attempt to give voters an opportunity to vote on a ballot measure in November to reorganize the state's education system. Decentralizing the single system has been a goal of some lawmakers for a long time.

A plan in the Senate would have replaced the state board with seven locally elected district boards. But the plan lacked enough support to get out of committee, and missed the deadline for proposed constitutional amendments. A similar and likewise unsuccessful House plan would have given the governor the authority to appoint the state superintendent.

—Linda Jacobson


Oklahoma

Teachers Get More Help
Paying for Insurance

Despite a projected $350 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2003, legislators in Oklahoma were still able to cut less from the education budget than they did from those of other areas. The final pre-K-12 education appropriation wound up totaling $2 billion, a 1.6 percent decrease from last year.

Gov. Frank Keating

Republican
Senate:
30 Democrats
18 Republicans
House:
53 Democrats
48 Republicans
Enrollment:
620,000

The legislature also cut the fiscal 2002 education budget by 4.3 percent as part of an overall effort to compensate for a $100 million revenue shortfall from the state's general funds.

But teacher salaries, teacher benefits, the school lunch program, early intervention, adult education, and bonuses for nationally certified teachers were all "held harmless" and spared from the cuts.

Budget cuts were kept to a minimum thanks in part to a failed effort to cut taxes—a move that would have cost the state $84 million—said Carolyn Crowder, the president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

But even in the environment of cutbacks, Gov. Frank Keating signed into law legislation that requires the state to put more money toward insurance premiums for teachers and school support employees.

Under the new law, the state will pay for 75 percent of teachers' individual health-insurance premiums, starting last month. Next year, the state will cover the entire cost of the premiums for teachers. The state is also covering 100 percent of the premiums for support personnel.

The change in the law puts teachers and support employees on a par with other state workers in Oklahoma, said Ms. Crowder. She added that she hoped the initiative would keep some teachers from leaving the state for higher-paying jobs.

"To us, that increase was a huge victory in a year of budget crunches," she said.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 21, Issue 43, Page 25

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