Capitol Recap

August 06, 2003 9 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.

Arizona | Delaware | Hawaii | Missouri| Tennessee


Enrollment Growth
Spurs K-12 Spending

It took Arizona legislators 150 days in special session this year to reach a compromise on spending for fiscal 2004.

13 Democrats
7 Republicans

20 Democrats
35 Republicans
1 Independent


And the process still may not be complete, because of lingering anger over a series of line-item vetoes made by Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Budget writing in Arizona was largely weighed down by a $1 billion spending gap that needed closing, as well as the traditional divides between Democrats and Republicans on issues of spending and taxation.

The legislature passed a $6.4 billion deal on June 11 that financed precollegiate education at $3 billion, a 13 percent increase from the previous year’s allocation in that area.

The extra aid, according to state education department officials, reflects the steady climb in student enrollment statewide.

That spending plan, brokered by moderate lawmakers, trumped a more conservative version passed earlier in the session by the Republican-controlled House that would have slashed $19 million in early-childhood-education grants, among other cuts to the budget for schools.

Despite Gov. Napolitano’s support for the compromise spending deal, the Democrat raised the ire of Republican lawmakers when she used her veto authority to restore $65 million the legislature had eliminated during months of budget balancing.

Of the amount restored by those vetoes, $2.4 million went to the state education department.

Some Republican legislators say they are researching a possible legal challenge to those vetoes, which included killing a 6-year-old abstinence education program for teenagers that was funded under the state’s health services department

Despite that controversy, state officials say K-12 education appears settled and is widely viewed as the biggest winner of the budget battle.

—Darcia Harris Bowman


Kindergarten Expansion
Eyed by Lawmakers

Delaware is one of the few states that have been able to struggle through the nationwide budget crisis without slashing services, laying off staff members, or cutting basic education services.

13 Democrats
8 Republicans

12 Democrats
29 Republicans


“We have not imperiled education by closing schools part time or laying off teachers,” said Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, whose state has been cited by USA Today and Governing magazine for its fiscal responsibility.

But that doesn’t mean everything has been smooth sailing for Delaware’s schools.

The $2.4 billion state budget for fiscal 2004 includes $817,000 for K-12 education, which is a 2.7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

The new budget, however, does not provide pay raises that teachers had hoped for.

Meanwhile, a popular mentoring program for new teachers, which currently doesn’t contain enough money to cover all new teachers, was not expanded, said Pamela Nichols, a spokeswoman for the Delaware State Education Association.

Teachers were pleased, though, that the legislature, whose session ended June 30, did renew the state’s professional-standards board for another two years.

The board, appointed by the governor and including teachers, helps decide such issues as how teachers are certified and recertified.

The legislature also passed binding-arbitration legislation, which “is not very sexy, but very important to teachers,” Ms. Nichols said. Under the law, teachers whose contracts do not include binding arbitration will automatically have it the next time their contracts expire.

The law allows teachers to take grievances to an independent arbitrator for binding decisions, instead of having to go to their local school board with concerns.

Lawmakers also established a task force to work on ways of offering full-day kindergarten to all the state’s children. Currently, 70 percent of the state’s kindergartners get half-day classes because school districts don’t have the money to pay for longer classes. The task force, which could number up to 40 members and will begin meeting this month, also will work toward finding ways to provide pre-school for all Delaware 4-year-olds.

—Michelle R. Davis


Education Department
Plans Belt-Tightening

Hawaii education officials are looking for ways to cut anywhere from $12 million to $20 million from the fiscal 2004 budget—the first year of a two-year budget—to help reduce a projected state budget shortfall of $152 million over the next two years.

So far, the hiring of school safety managers—which would have brought the number of those positions from 23 to 70—has been put on hold.

The state education department is also considering raising fees—at least for parents who can afford them—for its A-Plus after-school program, said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the department.

20 Democrats
5 Republicans

36 Democrats
15 Republicans


He predicted that positions also would have to be cut, especially if Gov. Linda Lingle pushes for the full $20 million in reductions that the legislature set as the upper target for reductions.

“We’ve gone through so many cuts,” Mr. Knudsen said. “There’s not much left to cut.”

The K-12 budget for fiscal 2004 is $1.36 billion, almost the same as last year’s $1.34 billion. Funding for school repair and maintenance has been set at $35 million, but will drop all the way to $7 million in the following year. Mr. Knudsen estimates that it takes roughly $50 million “just to keep up with needs.”

In signing the budget June 24, Gov. Lingle said that she had reservations because the state is still facing a shortfall.

“Although the two-year budget is not balanced, it is prudent for me to sign the budget so we can take the necessary steps to manage our resources effectively and responsibly,” she said.

The state’s budget and finance director, Georgina Kawamura, added that state agencies “understand the need for tighter fiscal management.”

The 2003 legislative session saw another failed attempt to break up the single statewide school district.

But Ms. Lingle, a Republican who has made decentralization of the system a top priority for her administration, plans try again to bring the issue to voters in a referendum next year.

In other areas, lawmakers set up a new funding formula for charter schools. Charter school administrators had argued in the past that they weren’t receiving the same amount of funding per student as regular public schools.

The law also creates a charter school administrative office, which will be separate from the education department.

—Linda Jacobson


Last-Minute Posturing
Yields Education Cuts

14 Democrats
20 Republicans

74 Democrats
89 Republicans


The showdown between Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, and Missouri’s Republican- controlled legislature over the K-12 education budget for fiscal 2004 came down to the last minute.

After twice vetoing the education budget bill, Gov. Holden approved the measure just in time to start the new fiscal year. Even though lawmakers presented him virtually the same plan a third time, he chose to sign it to avoid a government shutdown.

His signature brought to a close a difficult process, which resulted in a $19.1 billion state budget for 2004. Republican lawmakers contended the budget was balanced, but Mr. Holden said it was $240 million short.

Though he signed the bill, the governor still used his constitutional power to withhold $240 million from the budget, of which $190 million will come from state aid for K-12 education.

No specific cuts have yet been identified, however.

“If we have a revenue upturn, the governor could release those funds or some of the funds during the fiscal year,” said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri education department. “At least for now, the prospects are not good.”

The total budget for K-12 education in the current fiscal year is $4.55 billion, compared with $4.65 billion last year.

The legislative session, dominated by the budget, featured no major education initiatives. A few voucher proposals died at the committee level.

When educators return to school, they will feel the cuts, Greg Jung, the president of the Missouri National Education Association.

“The budget does not have any footing in reality,” said Mr. Jung, a 5th grade teacher. “Our members are very concerned about it. When people go back to school, it will really hit home.”

—Lisa Goldstein


Rural Teachers Get Raise;
Lottery Plans Advance

18 Democrats
15 Republicans

54 Democrats
45 Republicans


Applauding a “responsible” budget that “doesn’t rely on gimmicks or short-term revenues,” Gov. Phil Bredesen signed a state budget that avoids cuts in K-12 education.

The budget, which totals $21.5 billion, makes 9 percent cuts in most areas, including higher education. Those cuts would help patch a shortfall estimated at $600 million for the 2004 fiscal year. But the Democratic governor has named education and health care as his top priorities, and he asked the legislature to protect those areas from further cuts.

Overall, K-12 education will receive $2.8 billion from the state for fiscal 2004, about a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2003. That amount includes an additional $65 million going toward the state’s basic education grants to districts.

Teachers in Tennessee’s rural areas will see pay increases, thanks to a new, $26.7 million appropriation to comply with a recent state supreme court order. The court found that teachers in impoverished rural areas were being shortchanged, and it ordered the state to remedy the situation. The governor has appointed a task force to make recommendations on future funding for teacher salaries.

The legislature spent much of its session this spring working on details of a new lottery, the proceeds of which must go toward college scholarships for all state high school graduates. Voters amended the state constitution last November to allow a lottery, and Gov. Bredesen has signed legislation that forms a scholarship commission that will set up the program and iron out details.

Lottery supporters estimate that the move will provide about $175 million a year for scholarships for high school students who meet the required 3.0 grade point average and score at least 19 out of a possible 36 on the ACT college-entrance test.

Eligible students will receive $3,000 annually for a four-year college, $1,500 for a two-year college, or $1,250 for a trade school. A student must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to keep the scholarship.

Tennessee lawmakers have raided the state’s reserve funds and tobacco-revenue settlement to balance budgets in years past, and Gov. Bredesen has said he will use part of the forthcoming federal contribution to state governments that was part of President Bush’s tax-cut plan to replenish the reserve funds.

In addition, the governor plans to spend the next year working on solutions to the troubles that are plaguing the state’s TennCare system, which provides health-care coverage for low-income and uninsured residents.

—Joetta L. Sack


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