Capitol Recap

September 04, 2002 12 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.

Delaware | Florida | Rhode Island | South Carolina | Tennessee | Wisconsin


Rare Budget Surplus
Leads to Boon for Schools

As one of the few states to wind up with surpluses on their books this year, Delaware saw its education budget rise instead of remaining flat or falling.

When the legislature closed in late June, the overall state education budget for fiscal 2003 was set at $795 million. That was an increase of 2.8 percent from $773 million in 2002.

Aside from the positive fiscal status in shaky economic times, several significant bills passed both the House and the Senate and were signed into law by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner

13 Democrats
8 Republicans

15 Democrats
26 Republicans


Ms. Minner, a former state senator who was elected in 2000, set out an aggressive education agenda, said Jennifer Davis, Delaware’s deputy education secretary.

“We had a very productive year,” Ms. Davis said. “The governor and the General Assembly worked well together.”

State lawmakers passed charter school legislation that officials hope will prevent schools from getting into trouble or failing, as one state charter school did at midyear, leaving students in the lurch. (“Parents’ Efforts Fail to Save Delaware Charter,” April 24, 2002.) The legislation requires charter schools to operate within Delaware’s financial system, giving charters guidance on how to deal with finances and allowing state officials to access charter financial information. The law also requires schools experiencing financial problems to notify education officials.

In other action, an existing program, called Partners in Technology, was expanded this session. The program gives donated computers to the state department of corrections, for refurbishing by inmates before the machines are shipped to classrooms. The expansion calls for state agency computers to be refurbished through the technology program as well.

Other legislation will help solve existing problems, Ms. Davis said. Both the House and the Senate have passed a proposal that helps lay out the process for determining where alternative schools for students with discipline problems will be located. Some communities had objected to the placement of alternative schools in their areas, Ms. Davis said.

Under the new plan, community notification and input will take place upfront to help smooth the process.

Other measures that made it through the legislature this session include new regulations on drug and alcohol policies and testing procedures for school bus drivers and a school financial- flexibility measure that aims to help minimize paperwork.

—Michelle R. Davis


School Aid Up Slightly;
K-20 Changes Take Form

It was another year of changes for education in the Florida legislature.

Lawmakers passed a full rewrite of the state’s education codes and managed to raise spending on education even after making the biggest midyear budget cuts in state history.

After revising its original fiscal 2003 state budget, the Republican-controlled legislature approved $13.1 billion in spending for K-12 education—a 6 percent increase over the initial budget and $600 million more than last year. The state suffered through a more than $1 billion shortfall in sales-tax revenue when tourism slumped in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

No state teacher-salary increase was included in the budget, although school districts can take advantage of new flexibility granted them this year to use state aid to provide raises. As a result, many teachers will see hikes after all this school year.

Gov. Jeb Bush

15 Democrats
25 Republicans

43 Democrats
77 Republicans

2.5 million

The rewrite of the state’s education codes gives teeth to Florida’s new K-20 system of schooling. The revision details the restructured higher education system and allows for the retooling of the state education board, the establishment of an appointed education secretary, and a new mission at the state education department. (“Florida Breaking Down Walls Between K-12, Higher Ed.,” Feb. 13, 2002.)

Changes to the state’s higher education system, however, are under fire: Voters will have the chance to overturn some of those modifications through a statewide referendum in November.

Plenty of other action took place this year on education. Lawmakers ended their second special session by squelching plans to allow hunting rifles on school campuses, and by agreeing to provide clearer guidelines on religious expression in schools.

They voted as well to eliminate attendance requirements as part of the state education funding formula. To help schools weather difficult fiscal times, lawmakers gave districts a full year’s leeway with some state monies normally allotted for transportation, teacher training, and other uses.

The state also created a stir among school administrator groups by eliminating requirements for principals to be fully certified as administrators. The move is aimed at finding more nontraditional school leaders.

Lawmakers created a new charter school appeal commission; half its members are to include charter school advocates.

They also created “school safety zones,” requiring that only people with immediate business at a school be allowed within 500 feet of a campus. In addition, lawmakers passed legislation requiring students to recite the Declaration of Independence at least once during the school year.

— Alan Richard

Rhode Island

Charter Schools Get
Funding Increase

A steep slide in state revenue led to a series of trade-offs for Rhode Island education in this year’s legislative session.

The legislature enacted a budget for fiscal 2003 that includes $739.4 million for K-12 education—a 4.6 percent increase from the $707.1 million for the previous year.

State funding for charter schools also grew, from $6.4 million to $10 million, reflecting an expansion from six schools in 2002 to nine projected for next year.

Gov. Lincoln Almond

44 Democrats
6 Republicans

85 Democrats
14 Republicans
1 House


At the same time, though, two of the state’s major school accountability initiatives were together cut from $2.8 million in the 2002 fiscal year to $900,000 for fiscal 2003. As a result, the state education department will have to scale back efforts to evaluate school progress and intervene in cases of persistent failure.

“The question is: Are we going to have the horsepower to keep moving forward?” said Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s state schools chief.

Lawmakers did, however, give the education agency greater authority in directing district improvement efforts by attaching new strings to the money the state sends to local schools. Now, elementary schools must use state aid for professional development to pay for staff training specifically aimed at improving student literacy in the early grades. Districts also must set aside some of the money that the state doles out to meet the needs of students in poverty until Mr. McWalters approves their plans for spending it.

To fill the holes in the overall state budget, lawmakers “securitized” Rhode Island’s share of the 1998 settlement in the multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

The complicated procedure allowed for tapping more of the tobacco funds upfront by essentially selling future proceeds from the settlement to investors.

Although Gov. Lincoln Almond vetoed the budget, which he said digs too deeply into the settlement to cover immediate shortfalls, the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature easily overrode his action.

—Jeff Archer

South Carolina

Schools Endure Series
Of Financial Cutbacks

Budget troubles hit South Carolina schools hard this legislative year.

The Palmetto State began fiscal 2002 with a $2.49 billion budget for K-12 schools and some preschool programs. But two midyear budget cuts scaled back that amount by $160 million, forcing the state education department and the state’s 85 school districts to trim budgets for travel, summer school, and academic programs and to lay off some staff members.

Gov. Jim Hodges

21 Democrats
25 Republicans

52 Democrats
71 Republicans


The new budget for fiscal 2003 doesn’t help much. The legislature actually cut general education funding, but supplemented the budget by borrowing from other state agencies and by adding an estimated $86 million from the state’s first-ever lottery revenue. The result is $2.63 billion for precollegiate education—about a 3.5 percent increase over last year’s amount.

The lawmakers could have done worse from educators’ standpoint. But the small increase, school leaders say, will do nothing to help South Carolina’s oft-struggling rural and urban districts meet the state’s demands for improvement. Nor will it help fast-growing suburban districts deal with the need for new schools and additional remedial help now required by state law.

Considering the midyear cuts and the austere new budget, some South Carolina districts “do not have a prayer” of substantial improvement as required by state law, said James O. Ray, the superintendent of 3,300-student Spartanburg County School District 3 and a former deputy state superintendent.

Besides the budget battles, the legislative year was relatively uneventful for education.

Legislators decided against Gov. Jim Hodges’ plan to spend most lottery proceeds on college scholarships, including free training for teachers. Instead, the lawmakers earmarked the money for specific education programs: K-5 state academic grants; new school buses—a dire, long-standing need; and additional money for state assistance to low-performing school systems.

Lawmakers did put about half the state’s lottery proceeds toward college scholarships by boosting the amount of individual scholarships to about $4,700—up from about $3,000—for students with a B average and an 1100 score on the SAT.

They took no action on bills that would have required that all local school board members be elected—some are appointed—and that all school boards have the power to pass their own budgets and raise taxes without county-level oversight.

Lawmakers passed a new charter school law, two years after the state’s former charter school law was struck down in court. The old law required charter schools to have similar racial demographics to their local school districts’, which in some cases prevented the opening of charter schools; the new law allows more flexibility.

—Alan Richard


Contentious Session Ends
With Tax Increase

Desperate attempts to stave off new taxes led to a three-day government shutdown in Tennessee and enactment of the largest tax increase in state history.

Lawmakers chose to raise the state sales tax by 1 percentage point— from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents—and to increase some business taxes at the end of a session marked by a severe budget crisis and intense debate over how to solve the state’s fiscal woes and pay for education.

The new sales-tax revenue, part of a budget bill signed by Gov. Don Sundquist on July 4, allowed the legislators to forgo a new income tax, a plan that was supported by the governor and many educators, and avoid slashing huge portions of the budget, including education spending.

Lawmakers passed the budget bill on the 101st day of their two-year session. Though the state constitution allots 90 working days for the session, lawmakers extended that period by convening a special session for which they were not paid. The final spending plan for fiscal 2003 keeps most programs’ funding levels at last year’s levels, with about $2.7 billion in K-12 aid, compared with $2.6 billion in fiscal 2002.

18 Democrats
15 Republicans

57 Democrats
42 Republicans


Teachers and higher education officials will receive 2 percent raises in January. The budget also restored funding for some programs that were cut through the year, including the popular Governor’s School, which is a summer enrichment program for gifted and talented students. Funding for public television, a Holocaust education project, and supplemental pay for teachers who take on extra work, such as tutoring students, was also restored.

In other activity, the legislature passed a controversial bill pushed by the state’s main teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, that adds teachers’ working conditions and environment as factors that can be negotiated in collective bargaining.

The state also made several technical clarifications to comply with the new federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, including giving the state education commissioner more power to intervene in low-performing schools.

But overall, it was not a landmark year for education. Educators were disappointed that the legislature failed to pass a $70 million comprehensive reading program proposed by Gov. Sundquist, a goal many had hoped for if new revenue sources were created. And many observers questioned whether the increased sales tax would provide enough stable revenue to avoid another budget crisis in the near future.

—Joetta L. Sack


Despite Tough Times,
Education Gets New Aid

Wisconsin lawmakers concentrated their efforts this session on plugging a $1.1 billion budget deficit, and ultimately spared K-12 schools from funding cuts.

The state, now in its second year of a biennial budget, plans to spend $5.26 billion on its schools in fiscal 2003, part of an $11 billion state budget, said Debbie Monterrey-Millett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Scott McCallum. That’s an increase of $173 million, or 3 percent, over the previous year, she said.

Per-pupil spending was increased by $232, to $8,800, for fiscal 2003, and spending was maintained at previous levels for all other areas of education funding, Ms. Monterrey-Millet said.

Gov. Scott McCallum

18 Democrats
15 Republicans

43 Democrats
56 Republicans


Education advocates were pleased with the outcome, according to Barb Brady, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers’ union, an affiliate of the National Education Association. It was the best that could be expected, she said, given the tough economic times. Many had worried that legislators would slash money for already strapped school districts, she said.

The budget-repair bill, the only vehicle for acting on education legislation this term, also included a change to the state’s accountability program.

Lawmakers agreed to delay the implementation of a controversial high school graduation test until April 2004 and to delete $2.37 million in funding for the assessment in light of revenue shortfalls. The exam, initially scheduled to be piloted this past April, will be used to gauge sophomores’ grasp of English, mathematics, social studies, and science.

—Julie Blair


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