The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Enrollment figures are based on fall 2002 data reported by state officials for pre-K-12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for pre-collegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
State Voters Will Get Say
On School Takeover Plan
Louisiana voters will have the final say Oct. 4 on a plan that would grant the state authority to take over failing schools.
The measure is just one of many education-related items debated during Louisiana’s legislative session this year.
The takeover bill was pushed hard by Gov. Mike Foster during the session, which ended in July. Ultimately, the Republican won strong, bipartisan support from lawmakers, though the proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, has divided the state’s education community.
While that measure succeeded, efforts by Gov. Foster and others to push various school voucher bills died in committee.
Overall state spending on K-12 education declined by 3 percent for the new fiscal year, from $2.69 billion to $2.59 billion this year, under the new budget.
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Still, some education efforts will see extra money. For instance, the package includes an extra $30 million to increase teacher pay; $5 million in new reward money for schools that show the most academic growth; and an additional $1 million, for a total of nearly $4.5 million, for the state’s “distinguished educators” program, which sends teachers to aid academically troubled schools.
The state takeover plan, called Amendment 4, would establish a “recovery school district,” to be run by the state board of elementary and secondary education. The board would temporarily operate eligible failed schools directly, or would work with another organization, such as a university or nonprofit group to do so through a charter agreement.
Schools that were identified by the state as “academically unacceptable” for at least four years and that had failed to improve under the state’s school accountability program could be subject to takeover.
“We’re not talking about below-average schools,” Mr. Foster wrote recently in a column on the governor’s web site. “We’re talking about the worst of the worst. ... Chronically failing schools can change, but it will take more than just extra resources—it will take a change in management.”
The Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one of the state’s teacher unions, are among those who oppose the plan.
“This amendment is an unnecessary intrusion by the state on local authority,” Frederick F. Skelton, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a press release.
However, the state’s other teachers’ union and National Education Association affiliate, the Louisiana Association of Educators, backs it, as does the Council for a Better Louisiana, a statewide group that’s long been involved in efforts to improve public education.
—Erik W. Robelen
New Funding Setback
For K-12 Schools
South Carolina lawmakers cut funding this year for schools that already had suffered through a series of budget setbacks in recent years. But the result could have been much worse.
Earlier this year, many legislators were ready to cut far more than the $206.5 million, or roughly 8.7 percent, that was taken from K-12 schools and some preschool programs in the final budget for fiscal 2004.
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An injection of federal budget-relief money helped avoid even deeper cuts. South Carolina in the past three years has lowered its public school spending by about $418.5 million, although the legislature has made up about 15 percent of those cuts with one budget increase last year.
This year’s budget includes $2.4 billion for public schools, compared with $2.6 billion in fiscal 2003.
Revenue shortages in South Carolina have led legislators to cut from most state agencies, in turn forcing layoffs and many vacancies in positions. The state department of education has about 80 openings that it hasn’t filled, out of 500 workers at its headquarters and school bus shops.
South Carolina’s 85 school districts—some of which have sued the state demanding more money—have been hit hard. Some poorer districts have cut music and art, and even eliminated jobs.
“The battle that we’re fighting here is that there’s a perception that education has been protected. Really, it is that we’ve been treated less bad than our other state agencies,” said John Cooley, the state education department’s director of budget development.
Teachers received a 0.6 percent pay raise for the current school year. Districts were given more flexibility by lawmakers this year in how they use some state money.
Gov. Mark Sanford saw little of his education platform given serious consideration by the legislature, which is controlled by his fellow Republicans. Among his priorities, Mr. Sanford had wanted a pilot program of school choice, and he had sought to eliminate rules that discourage the creation of small schools.