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Published in Print: September 17, 2003, as Capitol Recap

Capitol Recap

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The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Enrollment figures are based on fall 2002 data reported by state officials for pre-K to 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow- through funds, unless noted.

Illinois

Per-Pupil Aid Goes Up;
Other Areas Targeted

Illinois schools emerged from the state’s dire financial predicament having absorbed cuts in grant programs and other services, but with increases in per-pupil spending.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich

Democrat
Senate:
32 Democrats
26 Republicans
1 Independent
House:
66 Democrats
52 Republicans
Enrollment:
2 million (K-12)

Overall, the Illinois legislature and first-term Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved a fiscal 2004 general-fund budget for education of roughly $5.5 billion, an increase of $320 million, or 6.2 percent over fiscal 2003.

The spending plan included a $250 increase in the state’s per-pupil spending formula, from $4,560 to $4,810, a move proposed by Gov. Blagojevich, who was elected last year as the first Democrat to hold Illinois’ top office in three decades. That new money was significant, given the overall condition of the state economy. Illinois officials began this calendar year with a deficit of $5 billion out of a total budget of $22.3 billion, according to some estimates.

"When you look at what has happened to our overall budget, we certainly have to feel fortunate," said Ben Schwarm, the associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. An analysis by the Illinois state board of education showed that 77 percent of Illinois’ 888 school districts will see their funding increase under the 2004 budget, as opposed to only 5.5 percent with funding decreases. The remainder of districts saw their state funding remain stable.

Even with the per-pupil spending boost, several areas of education spending will either be eliminated or reduced in fiscal 2004. For example, funding for education of gifted students, which received $19 million last year, was zeroed out. Several block grants, along with career and technical education and technology money flowing to local districts, were reduced, some of them significantly.

Spending on regional offices will fall from $22.8 million in fiscal 2003 to $11 million this fiscal year. The number of the offices, which provide General Educational Development programs, professional-development for teachers, and other services, is being reduced from 45 to 22.

Other state education programs fared better. Special education funding increased from $905 million to more than $1 billion, an increase of 13.4 percent, according to state board figures.

One of the organizations touched by spending reductions was the state board of education itself. In July, the agency announced it would eliminate about 55 of its jobs as a result of budget cuts. Coupled with a retirement program implemented earlier this year, and a budget-driven decision not to fill those positions, the board has seen its staff reduced from about 640 employees to 490, according to David L. Wood, its director of operations. "You’ve lost a lot of institutional knowledge," he said.

—Sean Cavanagh

Iowa

Teacher Training Cut;
Per-Pupil Funds Rise

Despite having to contend with another year of declining state revenues, Iowa lawmakers managed to give per-student funding a modest boost.

Gov. Tom Vilsack

Democrat
Senate:
21 Democrats
29 Republicans
House:
46 Democrats
56 Republicans
Enrollment:
476,000 (K-12)

School systems saw per-pupil funding climb by $73 million, or 4 percent, from $1.75 billion to $1.83 billion out of the total $2 billion K-12 budget for fiscal 2004. That gave school districts an increase from $4,557 per student to $4,648, or $91.

The legislature also guaranteed a per-student funding increase of 2 percent for fiscal 2005.

Additional money was earmarked to help improve Iowa’s school buildings. A new effort, the $503 million Grow Iowa Values Fund, which aims to help attract businesses to the state and increase the number of college graduates, includes $150 million over the next decade for school repairs and renovations.

Other survivors included the $30 million annual allocation for class-size reduction and reading programs, and another $44.3 million to maintain the state’s teacher-quality initiative. Still, much of the teacher-quality effort, which included a plan to tie teacher pay to a new job-evaluation system and student performance, will likely be eliminated because of the state’s grim financial future. ("Iowa's Move Toward Pay-for-Performance on Verge of Collapse," Sept. 10, 2003.)

Faced with a $300 million shortfall in state revenues, legislators could not hold all areas of the K-12 budget harmless. Technology funding for elementary and secondary schools, completely wiped out in fiscal 2003, was not restored. The state had appropriated $30 million for K-12 technology in 2001.

This year’s main victim of education cuts was professional development. Area education agencies, the state’s primary providers of teacher professional development, saw their state allocation cut by $20 million, to $146.4 million, in addition to a roughly $7 million decrease in funding the previous year. Another $10 million earmarked for teacher training as part of a 1989 education reform bill also was eliminated.

Lawmakers need to consider new avenues to generate money to support education, said Margaret Buckton, the government-relations director for the Iowa Association of School Boards. As revenues shrink, she said the Hawkeye State has supported more than a decade of tax cuts.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Maine

School Funding Plan
Placed on Nov. Ballot

After passing a biennial state budget in March, the Maine legislature returned for a special session last month and approved a ballot initiative for Nov. 4 that would restructure the state’s education finance system.

Gov. John Baldacci

Democrat
Senate:
18 Democrats
17 Republicans
House:
80 Democrats
67 Republicans
4 Independent
Enrollment:
210,000 (K-12)

First-year Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, said he called the session because he wants the state to chip in a greater share of education funding, and out of concern that many towns have seen large property-tax increases in recent years to pay for education costs.

Gov. Baldacci’s controversial proposal would raise the state’s share of education spending from 42 percent, the current percentage, to 55 percent by 2010.

The state would also pay all the costs of state-approved school construction projects.

The Maine Municipal Association has offered a competing proposal for the Nov. 4 ballot that would reach the 55 percent goal in one year and require the state to pay all special education costs.

Maine has allotted $729.6 million for pre-K-12 education for fiscal 2004, a 2.3 percent increase over the fiscal 2003 total of $713.5 million. Last year, declining revenues forced the state to trim its original fiscal 2003 budget of $730.8 million. The state is forecasting that its enrollment will decline by more than 3,000 students for the current school year.

Legislators this year passed a new funding formula for schools. Instead of basing the funding on schools’ reported expenditures, the state will project schools’ spending, beginning in the 2005-06 school year. The state will consider each district’s capacity to educate students and then fund them based on predetermined amounts.

The state is also converting technical colleges into community colleges in the hope of giving more students access to higher education near their homes. The budget includes $1 million as a down payment for a seven-year conversion plan that will cost a total of $18 million.

—Joetta L. Sack

New Hampshire

K-12 Spending to Fall
By Almost 5 Percent

Two months after the fiscal year began, New Hampshire Gov. Craig R. Benson signed into law a $2.6 billion spending plan to carry the state through the next two years. Despite the delay, the final budget was not much different from the version that the Republican governor vetoed in June. The main difference was roughly $50 million in hoped-for savings slated to go to the state’s "rainy day" fund.

Gov. Craig R. Benson

Republican
Senate:
6 Democrats
18 Republicans
House:
116 Democrats
278 Republicans
Enrollment:
206,000 (K-12)

Though education was not an issue in the budget debates, the legislature earlier in the year approved a new spending formula that dramatically changes how the state pays for its K-12 schools.

Until now, the state distributed school funding equally to communities on a per-pupil basis. Under the new spending plan, $20 million of the money will be targeted to poorer communities, beginning this fiscal year. By fiscal 2005, all of the money will be distributed to communities according to need.

The new formula also limits any increases in state funding to the rate of inflation. In addition, the formula reduces an unpopular, statewide local property tax that is currently used to pay for schools. Under the new measure, the rate will drop from $5.80 per $1,000 of property value to $3.24 in 2005.

The budget also cut $3.7 million that had been set aside to analyze the last round of results from the state testing program. Keith Herman, an aide to Mr. Benson, said the state education department would have to try to recoup those costs from the federal funds it expects to receive as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Earlier in their session, lawmakers approved a plan that now allows charter school applicants to bypass local communities and seek approval from the state board of education. The state’s first two charters were approved by the board last week. State officials hope to establish up to 20 such independent public schools over the next four years.

In all, the state plans to spend $1.84 billion for K-12 education over the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years, a 4.8 percent decrease from the previous biennium.

—Debra Viadero

Vol. 23, Issue 3, Page 20

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