Capitol Recap

January 09, 2002 10 min read
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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.

Massachusetts | New York | Ohio | Pennsylvania


Late State Budget Smiles
On Education Programs

Gov. Jane Swift

32 Democrats
6 Republicans
136 Democrats
22 Republicans

Massachusetts’ legislators completed a budget five months late, as lawmakers and acting Gov. Jane Swift clashed over many spending proposals. Ultimately, they protected most K-12 funding.

Despite a sagging economy, the budget provided $3.2 billion for K-12 spending, an increase of $280 million, or about 10 percent, from last year.

The state was the last in the nation to ratify a budget for the current fiscal year.

Gov. Swift filed her own budget in December after lawmakers failed to provide aid for a number of programs she deemed critical.

In return, the legislature overrode many of the governor’s vetoes to restore such funding as $3 million to pay for the expansion of all-day kindergarten, and money for doubling state spending for school breakfasts.

Another winner was the remedial program that helps students prepare for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which received $50 million, a $10 million increase from last year. Beginning with the class of 2003, all students will have to pass the English and mathematics sections of the state accountability exams to graduate.

Meanwhile, a 1-year-old office designed to hold school districts accountable for students’ MCAS performance, which had expected a $3.5 million budget, received only $2.5 million.

S. Paul Reville, who leads the Pew Forum on Standards-Based Reform at Harvard University and as a state school board member helped write the law creating the MCAS, said those cuts send “exactly the wrong message” to school officials working on a strong accountability system.

While state education officials were generally pleased with how K-12 programs fared in a difficult economic climate that led to cuts in many social programs, some school leaders in districts such as Cambridge and Framingham said critical state aid to help with desegregation efforts had been reduced, and made planning difficult.

In other developments, a state superior court judge ruled in May that the state board of education acted legally when it adopted rules requiring middle and high school math teachers to be tested if more than 30 percent of their schools’ students failed the mathematics portion of state tests.

Proponents of the state’s controversial MCAS exams pointed last fall to vastly improved scores on the latest test as evidence that the state’s efforts were moving schools in the right direction.

Released just days before a national report called the state’s system of academic standards and assessments a national model, the results showed that 82 percent of 10th grade test-takers had passed the English/language arts exams, up from 66 percent the previous year. Seventy-five percent of 10th graders passed the mathematics exam, compared with 55 percent the previous year.

—John Gehring


State Comes Up Short
On Budget Promises

Gov. George E. Pataki

25 Democrats
36 Republicans
99 Democrats
51 Republicans
2.9 million

Budgetary uncertainty was a constant theme at the Statehouse in Albany in 2001. After months of wrangling over proposed increases for K-12 schools, the New York legislature passed a “baseline” budget in August—four months past the deadline—to raise school aid by $382 million.

The increase reflected the school spending hike proposed earlier in the year by Gov. George E. Pataki, but fell far short of the $925 million increase and $1.7 billion hike called for by the Senate and the Assembly, respectively. Still, legislators said the baseline budget was a starting point—and promised more aid in the fall.

Then the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City drastically changed the state’s fiscal outlook. State revenues dropped by almost 15 percent in the second quarter of the fiscal year compared with the same quarter last year.

In the end, lawmakers cobbled together a supplemental-aid package that included $200 million in additional money for schools, far less than the increases debated just months earlier. That package, which was approved by Gov. Pataki in November, brought the total state budget for K-12 schools up to $16.6 billion, a 9 percent increase over the past fiscal year.

A number of districts that had anticipated more aid from the state were forced to make midyear budget cuts or tap budget reserves to fill budget gaps.

One of the hardest hit was the 47,000-student Buffalo district, which was in financial peril even before Sept. 11. The district has already laid off more than 200 teachers, and additional cuts were slated for this month.

The state’s fiscal struggles played out against the backdrop of a court battle over school funding equity. A state judge ruled a year ago that the state’s method of paying for schools was unconstitutional and provided inadequate aid for the 1.1 million-student New York City schools. The governor appealed the ruling, even as he urged lawmakers to make state aid to schools more flexible. The case is currently pending in a state appeals court.

School finance likely will be a major issue when the legislature reconvenes this month, said Timothy G. Kremer, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

“Hopefully, coming out of this lawsuit, there will be improvements that will mean we have a much more predictable funding system,” Mr. Kremer said. “It’s a very, very confusing system.”

—Jessica L. Sandham


Ohio Moves Toward
New Testing System

12 Democrats
21 Republicans
40 Democrats
59 Republicans
1.9 million

Schools stole the spotlight the Ohio legislature in 2001, as lawmakers worked through the spring and summer to make court-ordered changes to the state’s education funding method and to overhaul the testing and accountability system.

As lawmakers reached the midpoint of their biennial session last month, standards-based improvement and the finance case still dominated the headlines.

In December, the Ohio Supreme Court called for an outside mediator to help negotiate a settlement in a decade-old lawsuit over how the state pays for its schools, a case known as DeRolph v. State of Ohio. That move was the latest development in a shifting landscape in the case.

In September, the court had upheld legislative changes to the funding system, in what many believed was the state high court’s last word on the matter.

Then, in October, the same court decided to reconsider its own ruling at the request of Gov. Bob Taft. The governor argued that increasing education spending to the level required by the court ruling would prove burdensome to the state, especially after the events of Sept. 11 exacerbated Ohio’s fiscal troubles.

The mediation process should be completed in February. In a year in which Ohio faced a fiscal crunch, its schools nevertheless received a 7 percent boost in state aid, pushing the education budget from $6.9 billion in fiscal 2001 to $7.4 billion in fiscal 2002.

Policymakers also began implementing the changes to the state’s standards and accountability system ratified last summer.

The state board of education unanimously approved the first statewide standards for English and mathematics last month, laying the foundation for new standards-aligned achievement tests that will replace the current proficiency tests, beginning in the 2003-04 school year.

The new standards are more comprehensive and specific than the general academic guidelines Ohio has used since 1983.

“We backed into standards with proficiency tests in the ‘80s,” said Paul Marshall, the director of budget and government relations for the state education department. “We’re doing it the right way now. We’re doing the standards first, then developing tests to match the standards.”

Lawmakers backed off a requirement—passed in 1997 and set to be implemented this spring—that students who fail the state’s 4th grade reading tests can’t be promoted to the 5th grade without a teacher’s or principal’s intervention. School officials now can determine if students who don’t make the grade should be retained or promoted and given remediation in 5th grade.

State officials also set up a schedule for a multiyear phase-in for the new state tests.

Ohio’s legislature also tried to ease teacher shortages by making it easier for midcareer professionals to teach. Under a new policy, college graduates can obtain a one-year teaching permit by completing a basic-skills test and six semester hours of coursework in education. Additional requirements would be completed to stay in the classroom.

—Jessica L. Sandham


Special Education Wins
In Pennsylvania Budget

Gov. Mark S. Schweiker

21 Democrats
29 Republicans
98 Democrats
104 Republicans
1.8 million

Halfway through its two-year session, Pennsylvania lawmakers can point to a stack of new school policies to show for their efforts. But one of their most difficult issues—a state takeover of the Philadelphia schools—is still unfolding.

Several final actions in 2001 were pet projects of former Gov. Tom Ridge, who stepped down last fall to join the Bush administration in a new job as homeland-security director. A fellow Republican, Lt. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, moved up to replace him.

A longtime proponent of school choice options for public school students, Mr. Ridge signed legislation last spring that grants tax credits to corporations for their donations to groups that help students pay tuition at private schools or at public schools outside their districts. Another credit was adopted for corporations that finance innovative programs in public schools. The programs will cost an estimated $30 million this fiscal year.

A separate program championed by Mr. Ridge gives state grants of up to $500 to parents of 3rd through 6th graders who score poorly on state exams to help pay for after-school tutoring.

“These tax credits will leverage funds for innovative new programs for our public schools,” Mr. Ridge told business leaders last spring. “And they will leverage dynamic public and private school scholarships for our parents and children.”

While Pennsylvania is sharing the same economic uncertainty that all states are facing, the $8 billion education budget for 2002 provides a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Special education received one of the largest boosts—a 10 percent jump, to $78 million.

But, one legislator argued that the state must solve larger funding issues. “Pennsylvania has not tackled broader questions of funding equity and adequacy,” said Sen. Allyson Y. Schwartz, a Democrat. “We’ve not tackled this the way other states have. We rely too heavily on property taxes.”

In other areas, Pennsylvania adopted what appears to be a one-of-a-kind testing program for teachers. This past fall, elementary and secondary teachers began taking online tests to gauge their knowledge of the mathematics and reading skills they are expected to teach.

The tests are supposed to help state and local officials target professional development. All Pennsylvania teachers are expected to take the exams in the next five years.

On the local front, the legislature ended policies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that required teachers to live in the city school districts in order to work in them. They were the lone cities in the state with the residency policy.

That was not the last action, however, involving the City of Brotherly Love.

Months of failed negotiations and a controversial review of schools there resulted in a state takeover of the 200,000-student system.

Under the terms of a state takeover law enacted in December, Gov. Schweiker will name three members to a five-person committee that will oversee the district. Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street will name two members.

The takeover itself did not require legislative action, but lawmakers are likely to consider sending more school aid to Philadelphia.

—Robert C. Johnston

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2002 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap


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