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.
Budget Includes Raises,
Funds for Construction
A tumultuous 30-day legislative session ended in a balanced $4.4 billion budget for New Mexico and a long list of new education initiatives and funding.
The budget includes nearly 6 percent in new money for public education, according to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration’s office of education accountability. The fiscal 2005 education budget is $2 billion, an increase of $112.8 million from the current year.
About $120 million in education aid was allotted for several new education expenses. Those additions include: $70 million for a 2 percent raise for teachers and other school education employees; $5 million to help raise the minimum base salaries of teacher aides; and $10 million for early-childhood programs.
On top of that spending, another $120 million was set aside in a contingency fund for implementing and maintaining education reform efforts.
Capital improvements were on the agenda as well. Gov. Bill Richardson signed several key capital-outlay bills that provide for educational technology, new facilities, and other school infrastructure.
Lawmakers gave school officials, law enforcement, and courts new tools to tackle truancy. Courts can now suspend the drivers’ licenses of students with 10 or more unexcused absences in a school year. If the absences are the fault of a parent, the adult can face criminal charges.
Another new law requires New Mexico’s students to prepare “Next-Step” plans each year, starting in 8th grade. The idea is for students to create plans to stay on track for graduation, with an emphasis on encouraging students to continue on to college.
—Michelle R. Davis
Despite Increased Aid,
No Raises for Teachers
Precollegiate education emerged a relative winner in West Virginia’s skin- tight budget. With a $1.7 billion chunk of the $3.7 billion total budget for fiscal 2005, education’s allotment represents a 6 percent increase over last year.
“Education was spared reductions ... despite a $120 million deficit, which is very significant for West Virginia,” said Steven L. Paine, the deputy state schools superintendent.
Teachers and other school employees, however, received no raises. Per-pupil state aid to school districts also remained the same.
During the session, lawmakers passed legislation giving additional powers to the state schools chief aimed at boosting student achievement in some of West Virginia’s lowest- performing schools.
Under the law, the state chief may pick up to three elementary or middle schools in districts with minority enrollments of at least 5 percent for a five-year pilot project that will be overseen by state officials. The superintendent may also craft job descriptions for those districts without regard to state personnel laws.
Other new laws streamline the standards for school accreditation, grant teachers with certification in other states automatic certification in West Virginia, and consolidate K-12 and higher education planning for educational technology.
In the student realm, a bill permitting students to give themselves their asthma medicine in schools passed. The state school board also approved a policy recently that allows students to self-administer certain over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.