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Published in Print: May 28, 2003, 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 2002 data reported by state officials 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.


Despite Budget Shortfall,
School Aid Inches Upward

Education funding in Idaho was spared the proverbial ax, even though the legislature had to reconcile a $200 million shortfall in the $2 billion budget for fiscal 2004.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne

7 Democrats
28 Republicans
16 Democrats
54 Republicans

During the longest legislative session in state history—it lasted from Jan. 6 to May 3—lawmakers approved a 1.3 percent hike in education spending, bringing the total K-12 budget to $999 million for fiscal 2004.

Last year, the state allocated $986 million to K-12 education.

"Do I wish it was more?" Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said in a statement. "Absolutely, but in these times I think education fared very well."

In an unusual stance for a Republican governor, Mr. Kempthorne advocated a temporary sales-tax increase of 1.5 percent in his budget proposal.

In the end, the lawmakers passed a penny increase, bringing the sales tax to 6 percent. They also significantly raised the cigarette tax, from 28 cents per pack to $1. Nearly $5 million of the revenue generated from that increase must be used to pay for substance-abuse-prevention programs in public schools, according to the legislation.

Still, it wasn't all good news for education in Idaho.

Lawmakers froze the amount of money the state allocates to districts for teacher salaries—thus leaving potential raises up to local districts—and rescinded an option allowing administrators to retire early.

The Republican-controlled legislature also eliminated the $2 million in funding for state-mandated teacher mentoring, though districts will still be required under state law to carry out that policy.

And in a move some have decried as a political jab at the Idaho Education Association, union members can no longer have political donations deducted from their paychecks.

—Michelle Galley


School Districts Get Boost
In Operating Funds

The Indiana legislature has passed a two-year budget that will slightly increase school districts' general operating funds from the current fiscal year to the next, which begins July 1.

Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon

18 Democrats
32 Republicans
51 Democrats
49 Republicans
1 million

"We're breathing a sigh of relief that they came close to funding [districts] at the level we need," said Terry Spradlin, the legislative liaison for the Indiana Department of Education.

The budget for the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years restores to the base of the school funding formula $119 million that had been cut in March 2002 to address a budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

At a minimum, each district will receive an increase of 1 percent in state general operating funds from this fiscal year to the next.

In addition, the legislature has agreed for the first time to let school districts raise money locally through taxes in order to cover property and casualty insurance and utilities.

The per-pupil amount provided by the state will increase from $5,182 to $5,218, a boost of less than 1 percent. But a district can receive up to $5,868 per student in fiscal 2004 if it has a growing enrollment or participates in certain state programs.

Responding to economic troubles, Indiana trimmed its K-12 education budget for the current fiscal year by $481 million, or 6 percent, in cuts or delayed payments.

Altogether, the K-12 education budget for Indiana for fiscal 2004 is $5.6 billion, a 15.9 percent increase over the revised 2003 education budget of $4.8 billion. In fiscal 2005, the K-12 budget will be $5.7 billion. The state's total two-year budget is $22.8 billion.

In other action, the legislature revised the way the state finances charter schools. The lawmakers responded to complaints both from those schools and from districts that have lost students and state funding since passage of the state's first charter law in 2001.

The legislation aims to ease cash-flow problems for charter schools and standardize their per-pupil funding by pegging it to the amounts spent in the districts in which the schools are located, rather than to spending in the districts from which individual students come.

The legislature also tightened the caps on new charters temporarily, by limiting the mayor of Indianapolis to chartering five schools a year through 2005, and holding all the state's public universities combined to the same annual limit over the next two years.

—Mary Ann Zehr


Lawmakers Approve Budget
To Match Ambitious Plans

Mississippi lawmakers have made good on their promise to raise education funding by $236 million this year.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove

29 Democrats
23 Republicans
81 Democrats
38 Republicans
3 Independents

The Democratic-controlled legislature backed the push for more school aid championed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat. The lawmakers approved a $3.7 billion overall state budget that includes about $142 million in new money for K-12 schools. The rest of the increase for education is for state colleges and universities.

The total K-12 education budget for fiscal 2004 is about $2 billion. Last year's state aid to schools ended up at $1.8 billion.

In enacting the budget, the lawmakers backed an education package that passed in the opening weeks of the legislative session, before any other major bills. The budget includes the third consecutive year of a substantial teacher-pay raise. Teachers will see a 6 percent raise in the coming year.

Under a five-year plan to raise teacher salaries, Mississippi eventually would raise starting pay to $30,000 statewide. To do that, the legislature must approve an 8 percent raise in each of the next two years.

Lawmakers this spring also approved $1 million to underwrite a newly appointed task force to study whether the state might begin preschool for all 4-year-olds—and how such a plan would be implemented. Currently, Mississippi's only public preschools are financed by federal or local money.

State officials estimate that 20,000 children a year do not enroll in any type of preschool in Mississippi.

—Alan Richard


Lawmakers Steady on K-12 Aid;
Teachers May Get Raises in 2004

Virginia lawmakers guided their state through another tough budget year, holding the line on education spending and indicating that pay raises will return for teachers and other government employees.

Gov. Mark R. Warner

17 Democrats
23 Republicans
34 Democrats
64 Republicans
2 Independents
1.2 million

Legislators adjusted the $24.4 billion budget for the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years slightly, saving schools from further budget cuts. They added $25.5 million for the coming year to their planned two-year, $255 million spending increase for schools.

The change adds only a small fraction to the two-year, $8.4 billion budget for K-12 education. Members of the Republican-controlled legislature then backed Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's amendment that pays for a 2.25 percent raise for teachers and other public employees at the end of this calendar year.

There was no state-funded teacher raise last year.

In Virginia, local school districts and counties determine salaries on their own; local education leaders usually add to state aid to pay for raises as they're able.

The budget forecast in Virginia may be looking up. But after more than $1 billion in cuts to state agencies and for county-level programs in the previous legislative session, this year's budget adjustments do little more than keep spending steady.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 22, Issue 38, Page 15

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