The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2000 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.
After Two-Week Strike, State Raises Teacher Pay
This year’s legislative session in Hawaii was overshadowed by a high-profile contract dispute between the state and the teachers’ union. Despite months of talks between Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano’s administration and the Hawaii State Teachers’ Union, the two sides could not reach agreement over salaries, and teachers walked off the job in early April.
The strike lasted 14 days before the two parties reached a deal bringing teachers a 20 percent pay increase over the next two years. The NEA affiliate had originally demanded a 22 percent increase over that period.
Gov. Cayetano called the agreement “fiscally responsible,” but said that the “state government will still need to streamline and make cuts in order to pay for the combined cost of all the public-union contracts, including HSTA.”
The state will spend $111.7 million to cover the teachers’ raises in fiscal 2002 and 2003. Those funds, however, are not part of the education budget.
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For the 2001-02 fiscal year, the legislature approved $1.32 billion for K-12 education—about $30 million less than the governor had requested but still far higher than the $1.01 billion in the current fiscal year’s budget. The jump is not as large as it looks, because the state has been gradually transferring some costs from other government agencies to the education budget. Hawaii is the only state with a single, statewide school system.
Lawmakers did come through with the amount the governor wanted for improvements in mental-health services for children with special needs. About $43 million will be spent in the next fiscal year to comply with a consent decree the state reached with plaintiffs in a class action, known as Felix v. Cayetano, brought on behalf of children needing special education. But some in the state question whether that will be enough to meet the federal court order, which requires that children’s needs be identified quickly, and then addressed with services in the schools and community.
In fact, $43 million is about $20 million short of what education department officials had asked the governor to request, which they said would provide appropriate services to special education students under the terms of the consent decree. “We will certainly be able to put that amount to good use,” said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Education, “but it is less than we were looking for.”
Education officials are hoping, though, that they will be able to use about $20 million saved during the strike for those Felix costs.
Mr. Cayetano did not get the $290 million over two years he had requested for capital improvements, but for fiscal 2002, the legislature allocated $53.5 million for new classroom construction and $15 million for school building improvements. The second figure, however, is part of the Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Services’ budget.
The legislature turned down the governor’s request to spend $21 million on 18,000 computers, which would have been used to lower the student-to-computer ratio from an average of 6-to-1 to 4-to-1.
The governor’s call for a new merit-based college-scholarship program—similar to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships—also did not go anywhere during this session. He wanted to transfer $175 million from the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund into a “rainy day” fund and then use the interest on that money for the scholarships.
Legislature Tussles Over Aid as Enrollment Drops
Legislators approved a handful of changes this year that will affect the financing of South Dakota’s public schools. But they rejected or put off major decisions on a range of other education proposals, including those involving teacher compensation, college scholarships, and the consolidation of school districts.
Amid complaints from educators that many districts squeezed by falling enrollment are cutting back on important services, the legislature increased state spending for K-12 education by 4.8 percent, to nearly $314 million, for the 2001-02 fiscal year.
Lawmakers also set up two new trust funds for education, one with $50 million from the recent sale of a state cement plant, and the other with $230 million from South Dakota’s share of the national tobacco settlement.
Although many legislators see consolidation as one solution to the problem of declining enrollment—along with the expansion of long-distance learning—a bill offering incentives for districts to merge was soundly rejected.
“Consolidation is like death,” said Rep. Mel Olson, a Democrat who is the House minority leader. “You want to put it off as long as possible and meet it on your own terms.”
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Gov. William Janklow had sought to make education a centerpiece of this legislative session, citing the challenges presented by dwindling student enrollments in his mostly rural state.
A key element of his agenda was a plan to build on the state’s extensive investment in school technology to create a new center, housed at Northern State University in Aberdeen, for long- distance learning. The mission of the Center for Statewide E-Learning, which the legislature approved funding for this session, will include providing courses via videoconferencing.
The center intends to start this coming fall with advanced-level courses in such subjects as chemistry, physics, and calculus, as well as elementary-level music classes and mathematics and science enrichment. The center also plans to offer schools mentors to help them maximize distance-learning opportunities.
“We’re trying to equalize educational opportunity as best we can, given the size of the school districts we’re dealing with and the distances between them,” explained Bob Mercer, a spokesman for the fourth-term governor.
The governor had also called for legislation mandating that teachers who provide instruction for students in more than one district be “compensated accordingly.” But the plan was rejected by lawmakers, many of whom view employee compensation as a local issue. Still, the lawmakers did appoint a study committee to examine ideas for rewarding teachers based on performance, and to consider an alternative teacher- certification program aimed at helping people switch careers to enter teaching. The panel will report its findings to next year’s legislature.
Gov. Janklow has also proposed a program of college scholarships for students who complete the state’s recommended college-preparatory curriculum. In the end, though, he wound up vetoing the bill that emerged from the legislature because it would have extended his plan to assist students attending state-run colleges and universities to those enrolled at private colleges, including those with religious affiliations. The governor viewed the final bill as crossing the constitutional line between church and state, and argued that public money should not support private institutions at a time when the public higher education system is in financial straits.
Reading and Teacher Pay Getting More State Money
School salaries and an early-childhood reading initiative were among the issues that topped the Wyoming legislature’s agenda this year.
Gov. Jim Geringer recently signed a bill that requires each school district to design and implement a program to identify 1st and 2nd graders who are having difficulty learning to read, and then provide them with extra help.
Children who are having trouble will be given individualized plans, under the legislation. School districts will then have to report to the state department of education on those students’ progress, with the expectation that at least 85 percent of identified students will become proficient in reading. Districts that don’t meet that goal will have to explain to the state what went wrong and what corrective steps they will take.
The $3.4 million provided under the legislation will be distributed to districts based on average daily attendance in kindergarten through 2nd grade.
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In other action, the legislature approved a boost of more than 9 percent in state funding for salaries for teachers and school support-staff members. Educators in the state applauded the pay hike.
“The primary education focus of this session was clearly on staff salaries,” said Gary McDowell, the president of the 6,000-member Wyoming Education Association. “That was a hot topic throughout the legislative session.”
Between the 2000-01 and 2001-02 school years, Wyoming will increase overall funding for public schools by more than $124 million. The K-12 education budget is climbing from $692.6 million to $816.9 million, according to the education department.
Rising capital- construction and operations funding were the two primary areas responsible for the 18 percent increase. The legislature authorized increased capital- construction grants to districts of more than $57 million, for example.
Other increases approved by the legislature included a $17 million increase in aid for major maintenance of buildings and $4.3 million for teacher training to support integrating technology into the classroom.
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap