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.
South Carolina | Texas | Virginia | Washington
Bolstering Teaching Corps Commands Center Stage
Florida lawmakers appeared to have no shortage of ideas on how to address the state’s shortage of teachers during their recent legislative session. Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a budget that includes one-time, $850 “retention” bonuses for teachers, along with a variety of other measures designed to keep current teachers in the classroom and lure new recruits.
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In addition to earmarking a total of $152 million in new money for teacher recruitment and retention, the legislature approved a measure that would give retirement-age teachers more flexibility to teach for additional years, and another that would require school boards to include teachers’ out-of-state and out-of-county teaching experience when calculating their pay. The legislature also authorized the creation of a program of “adjunct” teaching certificates designed to make it easier for professionals or retirees to teach part time in school districts on a contractual basis.
But while Gov. Bush and Republican lawmakers said such actions would help meet the state’s need to retain or recruit a projected 160,000 teachers over the next 10 years, some educators contended that the legislature had limited administrators’ ability to address their own district- specific needs when it dedicated the bulk of the new recruitment and retention aid to bonuses.
In addition, the Florida Education Association objected to the legislature’s decision to offer additional teacher compensation in the form of bonuses, rather than appropriating money that could be used as a more permanent part of a teacher salary schedule.
“It’s insulting,” said David Clark, a spokesman for the FEA. “Our teachers were betrayed by a budget that does not allow them to get the professional wages they deserve.”
But Rep. Evelyn J. Lynn, a Republican who chairs the House education appropriations committee, said that requiring bonuses is the only way lawmakers can be assured that the state money will end up in teachers’ pockets. By law, the legislature is not permitted to earmark money for direct inclusion in teacher salary schedules.
“This is the only way we know that money is going directly to the teachers,” Ms. Lynn argued. “When we give the districts the dollars, we never know what’s going to happen with that money.”
Still, overall spending on precollegiate education did increase to $12.5 billion, a 6.3 percent increase over last year.
Lawmakers also took several steps to expand school choice in the Sunshine State. Under a program authorized earlier this spring, companies will be able to receive annual tax credits of up to $3,000 for contributions made to foundations that provide scholarships for low-income students to attend religious or other private schools. Opponents of the plan say that the tax credits will deplete state revenues that could otherwise go to shoring up public school funding. But its supporters maintain that the plan will cost the state little, while expanding the choices available to parents who currently can’t afford to send their children to private schools.
In addition, legislators voted to expand a pilot program that provides vouchers ranging from $4,300 to $20,200 to parents of children with physical or learning disabilities who wish to enroll them in a different public or private school. Roughly 1,000 students received such vouchers last year through the program, which will now be open to all qualified students with special needs.
“The bottom line must be finding the best situation and best learning environment for students to succeed academically,” Ms. Lynn said.
—Jessica L. Sandham
All 7th Graders To Receive
Laptops Under New Law
After considering the idea since early last year, the Maine legislature has passed a law that will guarantee putting a portable computer in the hands of each 7th grader in the state starting in fall 2002.
But lawmakers challenged Gov. Angus S. King Jr., who proposed the program, to raise the money needed to ensure those students will continue to have a laptop with them in school until they graduate.
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“We’re really excited to hit the ground running,” said Yellow Light Breen, the director of special projects for the Maine Department of Education. “This will make Maine the first state to move toward one-to-one access.”
In the biggest education legislation of their session, the lawmakers passed a version of Gov. King’s proposal to provide laptops for all schoolchildren, an idea he put forward more than a year ago.
They appropriated $30 million for the project—instead of the $50 million Mr. King had requested—and challenged the governor to raise $15 million in private money to create an endowment so the program will be self- sustaining. They also declared that schools will own the laptops, not students, as Mr. King had proposed.
“It’s not their own,” said Sen. Betty Lou Mitchell, a Republican and a co-chairwoman of the legislature’s joint committee on education and cultural affairs. “If they need to take it home for homework, they sign it out with a library card.”
In addition to buying new computers, the laptop fund will pay for training to help show teachers how best to use the wealth of new technology at their disposal.
Mr. Breen estimates that the state will buy almost 20,000 computers annually for the program. It has enough money to last five years without additional funds from private donors, he said.
The education department is still determining how the program will operate in future years. It hasn’t decided, for example, whether the 7th graders will keep using the laptops purchased for them as they move through middle school and high school, or will get new ones every year while students in the earlier grades use the old machines, Mr. Breen said. The state may leave the decision to local officials, he added.
On the budget front, legislators appropriated $701 million in general-purpose K-12 aid for the 2001-02 school year, a 5.6 increase. They also added $5.2 million to protect districts from severe losses under the state’s funding formula. Schools fared relatively well this year, compared with other state spending areas, but lawmakers are warning that future years may be leaner because of slowing tax revenues.
In other education legislation:
- Gov. King signed a bill that requires school districts to produce high school exit exams in the core subjects by the spring of 2007. The exams must be linked to Maine’s Learning Results standards and must include a mix of standardized tests, performance assessments, and portfolios of work.
- The governor vetoed a bill that would have repealed a 4-year-old law requiring all school employees to be fingerprinted as a condition of employment. Employees must submit to fingerprinting to be recertified as a teacher or administrator. Some teachers in Maine have threatened to resign rather than to submit to fingerprinting.
—David J. Hoff
State Assumes Most Costs
Of Running Public Schools
A triumphant Gov. Jesse Ventura finally signed his “tax revolution” plan into law on June 30, signaling an end to a protracted legislative session and effectively overhauling Minnesota’s system of financing K-12 schools.
After six weeks of deadlock, a weary legislature met the governor’s long-standing demand for a tax overhaul and passed a budget in the waning hours of the 2001 fiscal year—narrowly avoiding a government shutdown.
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The omnibus tax bill includes rate cuts for homeowners and businesses, but the most dramatic provision is a shifting of most basic costs of precollegiate education to the state. Before the passage of the new law, the state paid about 60 percent of the general costs of K-12 education, and the rest was financed through property taxes.
The new law includes an equalization formula that gives extra aid to school districts in property-poor areas. Beginning in fiscal 2003, those districts that don’t have voter-supported levies for excess costs such as capital expenses will receive an additional $415 per student, and districts that now raise less than $415 per student from local taxpayers would get the difference from the state.
“Two years ago, when we first started to develop a policy agenda, I knew I didn’t like the fundamental tax structure in Minnesota, and I set out to change it,” Mr. Ventura said in the bill-signing ceremony. “I knew enough about our total tax system that I had strong feelings that it was not only unfair and susceptible to political manipulation, but in need of updating to be more efficient in the new economy.”
But Judy Schaubach, the president of Education Minnesota, questioned whether the state can raise enough money through sales and income taxes to support education—particularly in the event of an economic downturn.
“We’re all very concerned about what this will mean in the long term for the stability of K-12 funding,” said the leader of the union, which is an affiliate both of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Until the breakthrough on June 30, Mr. Ventura had refused to sign any spending bills unless the legislature sent him tax-reform legislation. (“Dispute Over Taxes, Education Threatens Shutdown in Minn.,” June 20, 2001.)But common ground proved hard to find in the divided Statehouse, and the governor twice brokered agreements aimed at ending a standoff between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, who wanted more money for schools.
With the clock running on fiscal 2001 and a government shutdown looming, Senate Democrats relented after securing modest increases for education. The $8.7 billion allocated for precollegiate education over the biennium is up by 8.7 percent, or $710 million, from the previous two- year budget, according to the governor’s office.
“I thought it was the best deal we could get, but I think it’s inadequate, and that’s why I voted against two out of three education [spending] bills,” Senate Majority Leader Roger D. Moe said last week.
The concession won by Democrats was included in a compromise offered by the Ventura administration on June 22. Under the deal, the Democrats won a statewide business property tax expected to bring in $592 million a year to help raise school spending.
Gov. Ventura and House Republicans insisted on a requirement for districts to maintain balanced budgets. School boards must show that any new, two-year labor agreements fit with district budgets during the biennium.
Also included in the K-12 budget bill was a measure setting aside $8 million for a pilot program to encourage districts to base teacher pay on qualifications other than education credentials and seniority; $2.5 million in fiscal 2003 for an Internet-based system of providing district comparisons of school finances and student performance; and a provision barring employees of for-profit management companies from serving on charter school boards.
An early effort to do away with the state’s academic-standards system, called the Profile of Learning, died before passage of the budget. The Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning is instead expected to outline proposed changes for consideration in the 2002 legislative session.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Partial Reprieve Granted
On Social-Promotion Ban
During a legislative session that yielded a relatively modest crop of education policy changes, Gov. Bob Holden signed into law a measure that scales back a state ban on promoting students to the next grade who are reading significantly below grade level.
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The measure repealed a law that was to have required schools to hold back all students who were reading more than one year below grade level. That social-promotion ban was to take effect this year. But no students have been held back under the old law because local districts had still been seeking clarification about how to put it into place when the new measure was approved, said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Education.
Under the new law, schools will be required to retain only pupils in the 4th through 6th grades who are still reading at least a year below grade level even after completing summer school and a two-year reading improvement plan. The new reading-related retention requirements do not apply to students below the 4th grade or those above 6th grade. A student can be held back only once as a result of the reading-related provisions.
Students in special education, and for whom English is a second language, are exempted from the mandate, and individual districts will determine if such students are reading at a appropriate level.
“We are pleased because retention isn’t the answer for everyone,” said Brant Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association. “This bill gives students the help in reading, which is what they really need. Holding them back a year might not do anything to help them.”
Missouri lawmakers wrapped up their session by approving a $19 billion state budget that included $4.4 billion for K-12 public schools, an increase of 4.5 percent, despite a bleak overall revenue picture in the state.
Gov. Holden signed the budget bill June 23. Even with the funding boost, the legislature did not focus heavily on education during the session.
The legislature did pass a measure that requires schools to issue “report cards” providing information on demographics, teacher salaries, and student performance on state tests. That information is currently provided for school districts as a whole, but not for individual schools.
Lawmakers also approved a resolution setting up a committee to study school finance issues, including the state-aid formula, teacher salaries, and facilities. The way Missouri distributes money to schools has been riddled with problems for years, and questions over the system’s legality have arisen recently. Eight years ago, a Cole County judge ordered the legislature to revamp the system of financing schools through a “foundation formula,” on the grounds that it produced funding disparities.
The system was subsequently revised, but last year, the Missouri School Boards Association released a report questioning its legality. The association reported that some districts spent up to three times more than others, because property-rich suburban districts still have the advantage in a system that relies heavily on local property taxes.
On other fronts, Gov. Holden failed to make headway on some of his proposals during the session. His proposal to give teachers a bonus for earning certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, for example, was passed in the House by a voice vote, but rejected by the Senate budget committee by a 5-2 vote.
Meanwhile, some measures that ignited particularly spirited debate during the session failed. A bill that would have allowed for the immediate takeover of the Kansas City school district, for instance, did not pass. And a hard-fought bill that would have provided money earmarked for oversight of charter schools, while expanding the number of charter school sponsors, also did not win approval. The bill won preliminary approval in the Senate on a voice vote, but died before reaching a final vote.
Pay Raises, Signing Bonuses
On Tap for State’s Teachers
One of the big struggles in Nevada’s 2001 legislative session was how to pay for teacher-salary increases at a time the state was confronted with a downturn in revenue. But in the end, lawmakers cobbled together—and the governor signed—a series of measures that made teacher raises possible for both years of the fiscal 2002- 2003 biennial budget.
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Teachers will get a 3 percent bonus this summer and a 2 percent raise next summer, with the possibility of an additional 2 percent the second year if state revenues allow.
An assortment of measures was approved to help finance the raises. One redirects to the state a portion of the taxes that car-rental agencies collect from customers, and allows rental agencies to charge customers an additional 3.5 percent to recoup that loss. The measure was expected to generate $23.5 million over two years. An increase in various corporate filing fees was projected to deliver another $29 million.
The outcome was a compromise. The largest state teachers’ union, the Nevada State Education Association, had pushed for 5 percent raises in each year of the two- year budget, and Gov. Kenny C. Guinn had favored a one-time, 5 percent bonus this year.
Originally, the NSEA proposed a 4 percent tax on business profits above $50,000, a measure whose projected $250 million annual net would have been targeted to educational improvements, which could have included teacher raises or bonuses. That proposal was declared unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court because of a provision that required the state to spend half its state tax revenue on education. A revised proposal was circulated, but never was drafted into bill form.
The same, mounting concern about teacher quality and retention that drove the agreements on pay raises resulted in a measure that sets aside $10 million to be used for $2,000 signing bonuses for new teachers during the 2001-02 school year and $2,500 signing bonuses the following year.
Another education measure that won approval was the authorization of $192 million to extend the state’s class-size-reduction initiative for two more years. The law requires pupil-teacher ratios of 19-to-1 in grade 3 and 16-to-1 in grades 1 and 2. Lawmakers proposed this year to allow all districts greater flexibility in using the class-size funds, as a pilot program in one district is already doing, but that provision did not pass.
The $1.63 billion pre-K-12 education budget for the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years represents an 11 percent increase over the previous biennium. It includes money to train teachers in literacy techniques for pupils in grades K- 3 and for remedial help for students failing the high school proficiency exam.
In other action, Gov. Guinn signed legislation that explicitly prohibits harassment or intimidation in the public schools. The bill’s stated goals are to ensure schools provide “a safe and respectful learning environment,” in which all school personnel treat others, including students, “with civility and respect” and refuse to tolerate highly offensive behavior. At the same time, the bill states that “the legislature is not advocating or requiring the acceptance of differing beliefs in a manner that would inhibit the freedom of expression, but is requiring that pupils with differing beliefs be free from abuse and harassment.”
More Aid Allotted To Help
Schools Meet Standards
Legislative battles over proposed spending cuts that had threatened to restrict public schools’ budgets and send college tuition soaring finally ended in South Carolina with more money for education, smaller tuition hikes, and decisions on how the state’s new lottery will work.
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The state education budget—made final during a special session, since lawmakers failed to pass a budget during their regular session—rose about 3 percent, to $2.49 billion. The increase came after education groups fought off attempts by Gov. Jim Hodges and legislators to divert some basic education funding to help schools meet new accountability measures.
“We played a lot of defense this year,” said Scott Price, the general counsel for the South Carolina School Boards Association.
Most of the education budget increase will go to a 3.8 percent pay raise for teachers, putting the state average at an estimated $39,166—about $600 above the Southeast average, officials said, but below what Gov. Hodges wanted.
Mr. Hodges did successfully lobby for a slight budget increase for his First Steps early-childhood program: from $30 million to $33 million.
The state’s Education Accountability Act of 1998, which takes fuller effect this November when school and district report cards are to be released, also commanded lawmakers’ attention.
About $50 million was earmarked for implementation of the law. Legislators designated money for the state to hire 170 teacher specialists—teacher-leaders to work in schools labeled “unsatisfactory” under the new accountability system.
State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat midway through her elected four-year term, wanted to hire twice that many teacher specialists, but a shortage of candidates forced her to cut the number. Some low-performing schools will also receive the services of “lead principals” and “curriculum specialists” to help their staffs with leadership and training, said Molly Spearman, a deputy state superintendent. Gov. Hodges vetoed an elimination of the state sales tax on food, restoring about $5 million to the education department’s budget and allowing the University of South Carolina and Clemson University to reverse large tuition increases that had been approved by the state universities’ trustees but not yet implemented. The veto also restored millions of dollars for the state-owned school bus system, which is in dire need of repair.
Lawmakers, in another special session, also agreed on many of the final details of the lottery, which will begin this fall. Mr. Hodges saw the legislature approve many of his ideas for how the voter-approved lottery will work.
The governor’s office expects $125 million to be raised in the first year of the lottery for use on college scholarships, and the governor has pushed for any money beyond that amount to be spent on school technology. But since it will take months for any lottery profits to become available for spending by the state, legislators decided to wait until next year before they determine how to spend any extra proceeds.
Mr. Hodges proclaimed that the legislature “had finally listened to the will of the people of South Carolina,” according to a spokeswoman. He touted the lottery’s other benefits: free master’s degrees for educators, and free tuition for many students at the state’s network of two-year technical colleges, which offer college-transfer courses and job training.
On other issues, lawmakers failed to revise the state’s charter school law—one year after a state trial-level court ruled it unconstitutional because of the law’s strict racial-balance requirements. A fledgling few charter schools exist in the state, and one major charter school closed this year.
The legislature killed a plan to require educators to administer medication to students with diabetes; education groups fought the plan and hope to reach a compromise next year that could lead to state funding earmarked for more school nurses.
State Provides Health Plan
For School Employees
Despite Medicaid costs that were rising faster than expected and warnings from the state comptroller about future revenue slowdowns, Texas lawmakers forged ahead with a record two-year, $113.8 billion budget that includes a new big-ticket item for schools.
Delivering on what many called the highest priority for education this session, the legislature designed, and Gov. Rick Perry approved, the state’s first health-insurance program for school employees. It is projected to cost $1.2 billion in its first year of operation, 2002-03.
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The insurance program sets up a mandatory plan for the smallest districts and subsidizes both district and individual costs throughout the state. Lawmakers said it was needed to help stem the state’s growing teacher shortage.
Health insurance “was something that most everybody agreed we were trying to do,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Democrat who chairs the education subcommittee of the House appropriations committee. “But it was a difficult problem.”
By the time legislators finished with health insurance, not much was left for increases in aid to the districts over those dictated by rising enrollment, Mr. Hochberg said. The new education budget sets aside $24.7 billion for the coming two fiscal years, a 2.9 percent hike over the current biennium.
The budget also earmarks $40 million in new money to enhance students’ mathematics skills through teacher training and intensive remedial programs, along with an additional $100 million to improve reading instruction. Mr. Perry favored both moves.
Over the governor’s objections, the legislature tightened control over charter schools, and for the first time set limits on their growth, capping the number of non-university-run schools at 215, or about two dozen more than the current number.
The Senate declined to go along with a House proposal to postpone by a year the ban on social promotion of students approved by the legislature in 1999. As a result, starting as originally scheduled in 2003, Texas 3rd graders will have to pass a new state reading test to advance to 4th grade.
Following a legislative investigation that concluded that the state board of education had mishandled the management of a $22 billion fund that provides money for textbooks and other school needs, lawmakers approved a bill that would have set up an expert panel to help. Mr. Perry vetoed the measure, however, saying it would have eroded the constitutional power of the board, which is dominated by social conservatives.
The legislature and governor also agreed to:
- Allow immigrants who have lived in Texas at least three years to pay in-state tuition if they enroll in a state university, a policy that represents a national first;
- Force school districts to start their year no earlier than the week of Aug. 21, unless they receive waivers from the state;
- Establish a voluntary character education program; and
- Require daily exercise for public school students in kindergarten through 6th grade.
Legislative leaders said they would spend next year trying to come up with a way of financing Texas schools that is better than the current 8-year-old system, now under legal challenge from scores of wealthy districts though defended by poor ones. The legislature meets again in 2003.
Impasse Over Budget Plan Disappoints Educators
More than a month after the Virginia legislature closed up shop in Richmond after failing to agree on proposed changes to the state budget, some lawmakers are already looking to soften the blow to school districts.
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The breakdown in negotiations to adjust the second half of the current biennial budget centered on disputes over Gov. James S. Gilmore III’s plan to cut the state’s car tax by 70 percent in fiscal 2001-02 and 100 percent in 2002-03. That impasse freed up the governor to trim the spending plan for 2001-02 as necessary to pay for the car-tax cut while avoiding deficit spending.
As a result of the budget deadlock, teachers—along with other state employees—will not receive the salary increases they had anticipated, unless they are paid for by local districts. The legislature had debated appropriating a minimum of $48 million to finance salary increases of 3 percent for teachers.
Sen. Edd Houck, a Democrat who serves on the Senate’s education and health committee, said that some legislators would seek to use state money to “backfill” district budgets when the legislature reconvenes in January.
“In the interim, it causes hardship,” Mr. Houck said. “It’s created real hardship in the localities that do not have the local funding capacity to make up the difference of the loss of state revenue.”
Robley S. Jones, a lobbyist for the Virginia Education Association, estimates that the bottom line of the budgetary impasse for schools will be a decrease in the state’s share of per-pupil funding of about $7 per pupil in fiscal 2001-02.
But, in underscoring the $570 million worth of tax savings that will result from the 70 percent cut in car taxes this year, Gov. Gilmore noted that state spending on K- 12 education had risen by 35 percent since he took office in 1998.
“I have put priorities such as education first, and then returned a small portion of the state’s revenue growth back to the people who earned it,” the governor said last month.
Meanwhile, lawmakers remain divided over how to use the state’s Standards of Learning tests in determining schools’ accreditation status and issuing student diplomas. Under current state law, students scheduled to graduate in 2004 must pass six out of 12 SOL tests in order to earn diplomas. Schools must have 70 percent of their students passing the SOL tests by 2007 to receive accreditation.
The state House of Delegates approved measures that would have expanded the criteria used to determine accreditation, adding such factors as a school’s improvement on state tests and its dropout rate. It also passed legislation that would have made grades a factor in determining whether diplomas should be granted to students who fall just short of the mark required to pass SOL exams.
The Senate ultimately rejected such measures, but it did ask the state board of education to consider adding new criteria to the state accountability system.
“It just seems like a logical thing to do,” said Delegate James H. Dillard II, who sponsored some of the legislation tied to multiple criteria. “There are some students who just freeze on multiple-choice tests and don’t do well on them.”
—Jessica L. Sandham
Ballot Initiatives Bolster State Funding for Schools
“This is a budget that is good for Washington,” declared Gov. Gary Locke as he signed the state’s budget for the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years, which includes $5.06 billion for K-12 education in 2002, up by 5 percent from 2001.
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That increase for education is largely the fruit of Initiative 728, passed resoundingly by voters last November, which directs back to local school districts property-tax revenues that had gone into the state’s general-purpose revenue pool. School districts may use money from I-728 for reducing class sizes and instituting educational programs that extend the time available for learning.
The budget also makes available $212 million for school construction, which districts must match, over the next two years, and holds spending on the state education department nearly steady at $29.6 million, or $100,000 below the previous fiscal year.
But although I-728 will provide $184 million in new money to schools in the 2001-02 school year, it nearly was negated by legislative budget maneuvers, as some legislators from both parties—faced with a slowing state economy and other budgetary needs—considered using the money to offset other spending on education.
Mr. Locke and legislative allies prevailed in defending the I-728 funds, however, to the delight of education groups in the state.
But credit that the governor earned in defending one voter initiative was burned on another: I-732.
Initiative 732, also approved by voters last fall, is intended to provide annual cost-of-living raises to teachers. But the Washington Education Association now blames Mr. Locke for accepting a budget that it says omits state funding for salary increases for thousands of teachers.
Everyone agrees that Initiative 732, which won approval from 62 percent of voters, requires that all public school teachers receive a pay increase matching the annual increase in consumer prices, which would be a 3.7 percent increase in 2002.
The disagreement is over whether the state is responsible for paying for the raises for teachers whose salaries are covered by local and federal funds. Mr. Locke joined legislators from both parties in interpreting I-732 as obliging the state to pay only for the raises for employees whose salaries are currently covered by the state.
The WEA, which represents about 70,000 school and university employees, maintains that districts will have to find their own money to give raises to 25,000 public school employees, at a cost of more than $100 million.
Four voters—two parents and two teachers—have since sued the state in a county court, arguing that I-732 clearly requires the state to provide cost-of-living increases for all public school employees, and that the lawmakers’ narrow interpretation will shift more than $100 million in costs onto local district taxpayers.
The state teachers’ union does praise other achievements of the 2001 legislature, such as a new $2 million program that makes it easier for highly qualified citizens to teach in public school classrooms. School districts and universities will coordinate teacher-preparation programs that allow would-be teachers to work toward a teaching certificate while learning from a skilled mentor-teacher in the classroom.
A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap