Education

Capitol Recap

July 10, 2002 8 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 2001 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.

Kansas | Kentucky | Missouri | Vermont

Kansas

Schools Ride Out Storm,
But Fear Worse Weather

Although this year’s fiscal crisis ripped through the Kansas Statehouse like a tornado, lawmakers protected funding for pre-K-12 education at the cost of many other programs. Still, Gov. Bill Graves warned there might not be enough money in state coffers to make good on the legislature’s promises when it’s time to pay the schools.

Gov. Bill Graves

Republican
Senate:
10 Democrats
30 Republicans

House:
46 Democrats
79 Republicans

Enrollment:
468,000

According to the current financial forecast for Kansas, the education department will receive $2.38 billion in fiscal 2003, part of a $9.15 billion state budget. That is a 4 percent hike from the 2002 fiscal year, in which the department received $2.37 billion.

The new budget provides a $20-per-pupil spending increaseup from $3,870. Analysts say that won’t even cover inflation.

“That’s a very, very small increase as a percentage comparable to the consumer price index,” said Mark Desetti, a governmental-relations specialist with the Kansas National Education Association. “As a result, a lot of district budgets are in trouble.”

After years of thin budgets, schools are now being forced to cut student programs, busing, and teaching positions, he said.

And Gov. Graves has warned the situation may get worse. If revenues fall short, aid payments to schools may be delayed.

Meanwhile, school employees in 14 of the state’s 303 districts continue to have no health insurance, as their employers can’t afford it, Mr. Desetti noted. Although it was discussed by lawmakers, no bills were introduced on the subject.

—Julie Blair

Kentucky

Patton Sets K-12 Budget
After Legislative Deadlock

The 2002 session of the Kentucky legislature will be remembered by educators more for what it didn’t do than what it did do.

Gov. Paul E. Patton

Democrat
Senate:
18 Democrats
20 Republicans

House:
66 Democrats
34 Republicans

Enrollment:
630,000

Legislators adjourned in April without adopting a two-year budget slated to pass this year. The state budget usually accounts for about 60 percent of total K-12 spending in the Bluegrass State.

But, just before the fiscal year began July 1, Gov. Paul E. Patton used his executive power to establish a $2.4 billion K-12 budget in the 2002-03 school year.

The level-funded plan is enough to give teachers a 2.7 percent salary increase. Meanwhile, Gov. Patton urged districts to use local funding to give the same raise to janitors, bus drivers, and other employees who are not state-certified. Most school boards are adopting spending plans that give the 2.7 percent raise to all employees, according to Brad Hughes, the spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

The overall state spending plan is similar to the one the governor sent to the legislature at the start of its session.

Budget talks, however, broke down between Mr. Patton, the Democratic-led House, and the Republican Senate majority over the future of state financing of the next gubernatorial election. Mr. Patton and other Democrats are proposing that state dollars continue to supplement candidates’ private spending, but Republicans are trying to eliminate public money from the 2003 campaign.

With Mr. Patton’s budget, many districts are going to have enough money to retain school employees that they had slated for layoffs in worst-case budget scenarios, Mr. Hughes said.

But the governor’s budget actions are based on his interpretation of law, not legal precedent, Mr. Hughes added. The governor’s invocation of executive power may be challenged in court, which could put school officials in a lurch if funding is cut. “We’re walking into a dark room with sunglasses on,” he said.

Lawmakers passed few laws that will impact school policy.

In one new law, six districts will be allowed to experiment with differentiated pay scales for teachers. The districts will be allowed to abandon traditional salary schedules—based on experience and education levels—and reward teachers for performance or pay extra to lure candidates for high-need positions, such as in mathematics.

The new law also promises teachers pay raises that are equivalent to those of state employees.

A separate law will require every district to craft a plan to address the achievement gap between minority and white students. If schools fail to meet their targets, local officials will be required to allocate professional-development aid in ways designed to reduce the gap.

—David J. Hoff

Missouri

Accountability Plan,
Aid Formula Adopted

Reflecting the difficult economic climate of most states, Gov. Bob Holden signed a budget for the coming fiscal year that is leaner than Missouri’s previous spending plan.

Gov. Bob Holden

Democrat
Senate:
16 Democrats
18 Republicans

House:
87 Democrats
75 Republicans

Enrollment:
893,000

The $18.9 billion budget for fiscal 2003 is $372.9 million smaller than the 2002 budget, a drop of 2 percent, but still offers an increase for public schools. It falls short, however, of meeting the full funding levels called for by the state formula for determining each school’s base funding.

Lawmakers also passed a new accountability program, as well as a measure to help balance the state budget and finance schools.

The law revises the formula that determines the base funding for elementary and secondary schools. Instead of annual reviews of local tax valuations and other factors that determine per- pupil state aid, the new formula will average those amounts over two years. That means there will no longer be yearly state funding spikes that, in the past, have been necessary to reflect shifting tax values.

Although lawmakers provided a $135 million increase in the basic school aid formula, bringing total K-12 funding to $4.2 billion next year, that total will fall short of “fully funding” the formula, which would have required another $175 million, said Chris Kelly, a spokeswoman for Gov. Holden.

A new keno lottery game is expected to raise nearly $21 million for schools. Overall K-12 funding for the new fiscal year will rise by $135 million, or nearly 6 percent, above last year’s amount.

Mr. Holden scored a big win with the passage of his accountability plan, which will hold low-performing schools to higher expectations on state exams and in other areas of student achievement. The law will exempt high-achieving schools from some rules.

Under the plan, teachers and administrators at the low-performing schools could be required to receive more training. The poorly performing schools will have to submit improvement plans. They also will have to draft plans for helping the students with low test scores.

—Lisa Fine

Vermont

Heated School Aid Debate
Yields No Compromise

For the second year, Vermont’s Democratic Senate and Republican House tussled over the state’s school finance law but failed to reach a compromise on a change.

Gov. Howard Dean

Democrat
Senate:
16 Democrats
14 Republicans

House:
63 Democrats
82 Republicans
5 Independents

Enrollment:
100,000

Representatives of wealthy towns want to substantially ease the effects on their schools of the 1997 law that abolished local property taxes and set up a statewide property tax as part of a plan to equalize K-12 education funding. As a result, prosperous resort communities saw their property taxes increase, but had less to spend on their schools.

At issue has been the “sharing pool” set up by the finance law, known as Act 60, which requires towns that have raised additional money through local taxes or voluntary contributions to share the proceeds with poorer districts. The Senate insisted on a bill that would have scaled back or done away with the pool, but the House was willing to provide only short-term relief.

The legislature made a concession for school construction, allowing districts to raise bond money through tax increases that would not be subject to the sharing pool for the coming three years. That measure became law just before the legislators adjourned June 13.

Another Republican House measure that failed in the Senate would have greatly expanded public school choice by allowing K-8 students to attend any school in the state. “The state grant would follow the student to the new school,” said Rep. Richard C. Marron, who backed the idea.

Vermont has a limited program that allows high schoolers in some areas to select among schools and programs regionally. State aid doesn’t directly follow a student, though.

Finally, an attempt by Commissioner of Education Raymond McNulty to require that children be at least 5 before they start kindergarten stalled in the face of opposition from one local superintendent who argued that, with few early-childhood programs in his area, allowing 4-year-olds to attend kindergarten was better than failing to give them any classroom experience.

Andrew J. Snyder, the chief lobbyist for the Vermont education department, predicted the bill will be back next year as part of an early-childhood measure.

In spite of a declining economy and Gov. Howard Dean’s bid to keep the state’s per-pupil allotment at the previous level, legislators increased that amount by 2.4 percent, to $5,566.

All told, the state budgeted $601.2 million from its education fund and $255 million from its general fund for education. Revenue shortfalls could mean cuts. Lawmakers gave Mr. Dean the authority to make emergency cuts if a July 15 forecast predicts state revenue drops.

—Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2002 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap

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