Capitol Recap

January 08, 2003 5 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.

Massachusetts | New Jersey | Pennsylvania


Bilingual Education A Top Legislative Issue

After Massachusetts became the last state to pass its budget in 2002, the legislature passed, and the acting governor signed, a $22.6 billion fiscal 2003 state budget on time.

Gov. Jane Swift

36 Democrats
6 Republicans

134 Democrats
22 Republicans

1 million

The budget provided $3.2 billion for K-12 education, an increase of $45 million in aid going to school districts over the previous year’s amount.

Several issues in addition to the budget, however, generated school news in Massachusetts. At the top of that list was a battle over bilingual education.

Lawmakers passed a bilingual education bill that would have made such instruction optional for school districts. The bill was seen as a way to head off a controversial anti-bilingual-education initiative that was on the November ballot. In the end, that measure, known as Question 2, passed by a ratio of 2-to-1.

Acting Gov. Jane Swift, who decided against seeking election to the governorship in her own right, did not support the initiative. Her successor and fellow Republican, Gov-elect Mitt Romney, who was the president of the 2002 Winter Olympics organizing committee, supported the anti-bilingual-education measure.

In other action, legislators helped save a popular “master teacher” program. The program, which gives educators bonuses of up to $50,000 over 10 years for mentoring new teachers, was suspended last June because of plunging returns on interest from a $70 million endowment.

But lawmakers approved legislation in October that amended the rules of the endowment to allow the department of education to spend $3.6 million annually to support the bonus program.

No action was taken on bills to revise the state’s controversial graduation exam.

—John Gehring

New Jersey

Reading Program Grows
Under Tight 2003 Budget

As soon as he became governor a year ago, James E. McGreevey had to grapple with a $6 billion shortfall in designing a state budget for fiscal 2003. But he avoided cutting precollegiate school aid by raising taxes and instituting new fees.

The $23.4 billion spending plan, signed by the New Jersey governor last July, gives $6 billion to schools, the same amount as in fiscal 2002. The governor kept a promise not to raise sales and personal- income taxes, balancing the budget instead with higher corporate and cigarette taxes and a host of new fees, including one on rental cars.

20 Democrats
20 Republicans

45 Democrats
35 Republicans

1.4 million

The spending plan included $10 million for the first year of a four-year program that places reading coaches in elementary schools where students’ reading test scores are lagging. That program, which saw 80 coaches begin working with teachers this school year, is a cornerstone of Gov. McGreevey’s campaign to ensure literacy by 3rd grade.

But teachers were disappointed that the tight budget eliminated funding for a mentoring program required of first-year educators. That cut means the new teachers must pay for the training unless their districts foot the bill.

In addition, Mr. McGreevey signed one of the nation’s most inclusive anti-harassment and anti-bullying laws for schools. The law requires districts to implement policies to stop harassment of students because of minority status, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The governor also formed panels to coordinate court-mandated improvements in the state’s 30 poorest districts, to streamline school construction, and to study ways of improving teacher quality.

A $175 million state-financed revitalization package for the embattled city of Camden sparked legal fighting because of the power it gives the governor to control the city’s school board. Camden school leaders are fighting the school governance portion of the law.

Meanwhile, New Jersey is revising its eight core curriculum standards to add more detail on what students should know and be able to do. And it is beginning an overhaul of its student-assessment system, moving from exclusive use of standardized tests to a blended system of standardized and performance-based assessments.

—Catherine Gewertz


New Cigarette Taxes
Support Aid Hikes

Facing a tight fiscal year in 2003, Gov. Mark S. Schweiker proposed giving public schools only a 1 percent increase in basic aid. But lawmakers, angry that their districts would get so little when Philadelphia schools secured $75 million in extra aid, won a $4.1 billion K-12 budget—3.2 percent more than in fiscal 2002.

Spending cuts in other areas, money from the state’s rainy-day fund, higher cigarette taxes, and fees charged to trash haulers helped balance the state budget.

Gov. Mark S. Schweiker

21 Democrats
29 Republicans

98 Democrats
105 Republicans

1.8 million

Included in the budget for the first time was a state funding source to reimburse local districts for 30 percent of the costs of charter schools, and language that moves oversight for charter schools from districts to the state.

The budget also included money to continue high-profile programs, including the Education Empowerment Initiative, which provides extra money and oversight to districts in which half or more of the students score below basic in mathematics and reading; tax credits for corporations that donate to scholarship programs; and Classroom Plus, which gives cash grants for tutoring to parents whose children are falling behind in math and reading.

Gov. Schweiker signed a bill requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem each morning, and vetoed a bill that would have abolished a new state program to test teachers’ reading and math skills via the Internet.

The state board of education approved new academic standards in seven areas, bringing the total number to 11. Two more are in the works. The board also rescinded a decision to place seals on the diplomas of seniors who scored well on state tests. The board decided instead to award certificates for such performance.

Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat and a former mayor of Philadelphia, was elected governor in November. Mr. Schweiker, a Republican who had filled out the term of former Gov. Tom Ridge, did not seek election in his own right.

Mr. Rendell and state lawmakers have made overhauling the school funding system a priority for 2003.

—Catherine Gewertz


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