Education

Capitol Recap

May 21, 2003 7 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 2002 data reported by state officials 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.

Kentucky | New Mexico | South Dakota | Wyoming

KENTUCKY

Despite Rise in Spending,
Reform Effort Takes Hits

Kentucky lawmakers managed to eke out a spending boost for K-12 schools, but supporters of the state’s school improvement strategy fear that the increase may come at the expense of the innovative projects that have put the state on the education map for the past 13 years.

Democrat
Senate:
16 Democrats
22 Republicans

House:
65 Democrats
35 Republicans

Enrollment:
647,000

In a short legislative session dominated by budget issues, the legislature passed a $3 billion K-12 education budget for fiscal 2004, a 2 percent increase over the current year’s amount. Formula-based grants to school districts will rise by $80 million, a 3.6 percent increase over the 2002-03 school year.

To make room for that increase, legislators scrapped a $21 million bonus pool for high-achieving schools, the $4 million regional service centers that have helped schools operate the state’s improvement programs, and a $1 million effort to help financially struggling schools manage their money. Lawmakers also delayed for one year a scheduled $22 million purchase of mathematics textbooks.

“They made some decisions that were helpful in the short term,” said Alicia J. Sells, the director of government relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association. But, she added, the changes “will have significant policy implications ... if [legislators] don’t restore funding for them.”

Supporters of the school improvement efforts may face an uphill battle, said Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens’ group that supports the state’s strategy for improving education. The state’s fiscal crunch shows no signs of ending, and opponents of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act will be able use the budget situation, he said, as a roadblock to putting money back into the state initiatives.

Legislators spent most of their session resolving the budget dilemma, and they made no significant changes to education policy.

Last year, the legislature and Gov. Paul E. Patton failed to agree to a two- year budget. Mr. Patton used his executive authority to continue government services, and this spring’s deal will fund the state budget for the rest of the current fiscal year and fiscal 2004.

Next year, the Kentucky legislature will be faced with passing a biennial budget for fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

—David J. Hoff

NEW MEXICO

Governor Oversees
Productive Session

New Mexico’s productive 2003 legislative session ended in sharp contrast to the previous two, which finished in budget standoffs between the Democratic- controlled legislature and then-Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican.

Democrat
Senate:
24 Democrats
18 Republicans

House:
43 Democrats
27 Republicans

Enrollment:
312,000

Now, a Democrat holds the governorship as well. The session wrapped up in late March with Gov. Bill Richardson’s signature on a $4.1 billion state budget, and with a news conference at which the governor praised lawmakers of both parties for their cooperation.

New Mexico, one of the few states not facing deficits, increased K-12 school spending by 4.2 percent, to $1.9 billion.

At the end of the first 60-day legislative session under his governorship, Mr. Richardson saw many of his proposals for education come to fruition.

The legislature approved a 6 percent pay raise for teachers. The average teacher salary in the state is currently $33,785, according to the National Education Association’s 2000-01 rankings. The lawmakers also gave the green light to a plan to create a three-tiered licensure system for teachers, setting minimum pay at $30,000, $40,000, and $50,000, depending on experience.

In one of the most controversial measures, the legislature agreed to put to the voters the idea of replacing the state schools superintendent and elected school board with a governor-appointed education secretary. The board would be abolished.

Voters will see the ballot item in a special election held in the fall.

Also, the legislature approved a bill geared toward improving Native American education. The Indian Education Act carves out a new division within the state department of education that would oversee lessons in native languages and history for Indian students.

Gov. Richardson also approved a bill that lets state employees, including public education employees, bargain collectively. The state’s previous collective bargaining law expired in 1999. Then-Gov. Johnson vetoed efforts to extend the law. (“Collecting Bargaining Gets New Life in New Mexico,” March 19, 2003.)

—Lisa Goldstein

SOUTH DAKOTA

School Accountability
Moves to Ed. Department

Lawmakers handed South Dakota’s school districts a big drink of policy—and a little sip of money—before they went home from the Capitol in late March.

Republican
Senate:
9 Democrats
26 Republicans

House:
21 Democrats
49 Republicans

Enrollment:
124,000

The biggest gulp was the new law giving the South Dakota Department of Education the authority to administer a statewide school accountability system, the details of which are still being honed by state officials. The system, which the federal government must approve, would tether the public schools to a harness of incentives and penalties similar to those being imposed on districts in other states under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

Another law pushes the state-testing program into conformity with the federal education law by introducing testing in grades 3-8 and in grade 11. The new tests were administered at those grade levels for the first time this spring.

The legislature also went along with the first-term governor’s plan to give $15.1 million more to the public schools in fiscal 2004—a 4.8 percent increase over fiscal 2003, for a total of $320.6 million.

Other bills lived or died depending on whether they required state money.

Legislators rejected Gov. Mike Rounds’ pet scholarship project from last year’s election campaign, which would repay the college tuition of students who remained in the state after graduation and who worked in high- need specialty areas—including some teaching jobs—or in low-income communities.

Bills that sought to reorganize school districts, which have been gripped by declining enrollments over the past few years, failed for lack of money.

And while a program of merit-based college scholarships for high school graduates passed the legislature, it was not funded.

—Andrew Trotter

WYOMING

Funding for Education
Gets Second-Year Boost

Wyoming schools got a financial boost when the legislature approved several education bills, including a $121 million supplemental budget bill. The passage of House Bill 1 injected another $15 million into the $718 million already earmarked for education in the final year of the state’s two-year budget.

Democrat
Senate:
10 Democrats
20 Republicans

House:
15 Democrats
45 Republicans

Enrollment:
86,000

That $15 million equals a 2 percent increase for schools in 2003-04. HB 1 includes a $9.4 million increase to account for inflation, $3.6 million to maintain and repair school buildings, $1.5 million to connect more schools to the Internet, and $1 million to develop a statewide computer system to track student grades and demographics.

The passage of two vocational education and “hold harmless” school bills brought another $5 million to schools. The hold-harmless provision compensates schools that would lose funding under the current K-12 aid formula.

The additional funding follows last year’s 4.7 percent, or $33 million, increase in school funds for the 2003-04 biennium, despite a continuing drop in student enrollment.

Also in its 37-day session, the Wyoming legislature approved a $2.2 million bill that underwrites studies on improving special education and small schools, and establishes a task force to change the state’s standardized testing program to comply with the federal “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001.

The bill also provides $743,000 for student reading assessments and intervention, and makes it easier to create charter schools by changing their funding formula.

Gov. David D. Freudenthal vetoed a school construction bill, however. House Bill 134 would have imposed a capital-financing commission to oversee school construction and leasing, and would have given the state additional bonding authority.

Gov. Freudenthal said in a statement that there was no reason to create such a panel because the state building commission and other agencies already perform those duties.

“In a time of tightening state budgets, I cannot condone the needless expenditure of scarce public resources,” he wrote in his veto message.

—Rhea R. Borja

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