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Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as Capitol Recap

Capitol Recap

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Arizona | Maryland | Vermont

The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.

Arizona

All-Day Kindergarten
Takes Root in Budget

Gov. Janet Napolitano

Democrat
Senate:
13 Democrats
17 Republicans
House:
20 Democrats
39 Republicans
Enrollment:
972,000 (K-12)

When Arizona legislators sent their fiscal 2005 budget to Gov. Janet Napolitano, she readily signed the bill.

Not only does the plan increase state spending by $1 billion, to $9.5 billion, it also invests heavily in education, and pays for most of the major K-12 initiatives the governor laid out at the start of the legislative session.

Overall, the fiscal 2005 budget funds K-12 education at $3.9 billion, a 14.7 percent increase from fiscal 2004.

The Democratic governor’s plans for improving early child care and education were ambitious. They included costly proposals, such as full-day kindergarten.

But regardless of their price tags, such proposals are hard to vote against. So, the omnibus budget bill includes $25.5 million to begin phasing in full-day kindergarten. Under the plan, all children in the state will have that educational opportunity by 2010.

The program will take root in 150 of the state’s poorest schools starting this coming fall. How and where the program is to be implemented after that will be debated in a legislative study committee that will make recommendations to the full legislature next year.

Although it is not funded as part of the education budget, the omnibus spending plan also includes $24 million for another of Gov. Napolitano’s priorities: early child care. The budget preserves child-care subsidies for low-income working families and adds enough money to halve an 8,000-child waiting list for day care.

—Darcia Harris Bowman


Maryland

Lawmakers Keep Promise
To Raise K-12 School Aid

Despite a tight budget and no new revenue sources, Maryland lawmakers kept their promise to increase K-12 funding by a record amount.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr

Republican
Senate:
33 Democrats
14 Republicans
House:
98 Democrats
43 Republicans
Enrollment:
860,000 (K-12)

The legislature passed a $3.6 billion K-12 budget for fiscal 2005, up 9 percent from this year. The $326 million increase was the highest ever, according to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Almost all of the increase will go directly to the state’s 24 school districts. It is the third installment in a six-year effort to raise precollegiate spending by $1.3 billion. A blue-ribbon panel known as the Thornton Commission recommended the increases, and the legislature adopted them in 2002. ( "Md. Schools Get Big Hike in Funding," April 17, 2002.)

"Without question, the greatest accomplishment [of the session] was the increased funding," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich. "It benefits every school in every county."

This year’s funding increase was especially difficult to deliver. Gov. Ehrlich’s plan to raise K-12 money in the state’s fiscal 2005 budget by allowing slot machines at horse-racing tracks failed for the second straight year.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, is committed to meeting the fourth-year obligation for school aid even if the Democratic majority in the legislature balks at his gambling plan, Mr. Fawell said.

Other than the funding news, lawmakers didn’t enact any significant education laws.

In February, the governor and the legislature considered loans to cover the operating deficit in the Baltimore city schools. But negotiations ended when the city decided to finance the loans itself.

—David J. Hoff


Vermont

New Funding Formula
Kicks In for Schools

With a new way of paying for schools put on the books in last year’s legislative session, Vermont lawmakers this year quietly approved a $1.1 billion education budget for fiscal 2005, the first under the new plan.

The school finance law, which goes into effect July 1, raises the state’s share of the cost of local schools to about 90 percent. That proportion is up from the previous level of about 60 percent. As a result, basic per-pupil state aid increases by 37 percent overall compared with fiscal 2004, though the actual amount districts will have available remains roughly the same.

Gov. Jim Douglas

Republican
Senate:
19 Democrats
11 Republicans
House:
69 Democrats
75 Republicans
Enrollment:
99,000 (K-12)

In addition, the law sets a statewide property-tax rate on commercial and vacation property. Along with a penny increase in the current 5 cent sales tax, the non-residential rate is expected to bring in enough money to lower residential-property taxes for many Vermonters.

The fiscal 2005 budget includes about a 6.5 percent increase in special education aid to districts, and a slight decrease in the allocation for the state department of education.

"It was a very quiet year" for fiscal matters, said William Talbott, the assistant state education commissioner for finance.

In other areas the session, which adjourned May 20, was more remarkable for education proposals that failed than for those that passed. Enacted were measures to help school systems quash student bullying and harassment and to combat childhood obesity.

A bill favored by Gov. Jim Douglas that would have given parents broad public school choice did not make it out of committee. Another bill, which would have set statewide standards for public preschool programs run by private contractors, was defeated because of fears it would have closed good programs.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 26

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