The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Schools Win Slim Hike
In State Funding
In his State of the State Address earlier this year, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne urged restraint among Idaho state legislators. And restraint is what they showed.
The state’s overall budget rose by $78 million, to $2.82 billion. The K-12 education budget received an increase of a mere $13 million, bringing it to $956 million for fiscal year 2005—an increase of roughly 1 percent.
Even though the increases were smaller than in previous years, legislators still managed to find $5 million to raise starting teacher salaries to $27,500, from $25,000.
But the lawmakers did not approve a $5 million program proposed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard, which would have provided special education training to general education teachers and remedial help for students who fail portions of the state’s mandatory assessments.
And in a move that had local newspaper editorials crying “bailout,” the legislature earmarked $2 million to help pay for the public online charter school called the Idaho Virtual Academy, which is run by the McLean, Va.-based company called K-12 Inc.
Also on the charter school front, legislators approved a new, seven-member commission, to be appointed by the governor, that will be responsible for approving new charter schools. The commission will operate under the auspices of the state board of education.
The legislature cut a program that would have provided mentoring and peer assistance to teachers. “Instead, they gave money to K-12 [Inc.],” said Kathy Phelan, the president of the Idaho Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.
Aid to Schools Drops
For Second Year
Meeting in the middle of a two-year budget cycle that covers fiscal years 2004 and 2005, Nebraska legislators grappled with a continuing budget shortfall and cut K-12 funding by 15 percent—from $753 million to $633 million— for the second year of the biennial budget.
49 Unicameral Legislature
That action followed a school funding cut in fiscal 2004 from $722 million to $641 million.
Lawmakers slashed a total of $201 million in state aid to schools in the 2004-05 biennium.
They softened that blow by extending for the next three years a temporary local property-tax hike to aid schools. Under that plan, the tax rate goes from $1 to $1.05 for every $100 of valuation on residential property. But the lawmakers rejected proposals that would have increased the cap on local property-tax levies or made the $1.05 rate permanent.
Besides cuts to education, the legislature made other budgetary adjustments. It reduced state agencies’ operating budgets by up to 1 percent and cut general-fund appropriations by $56.7 million. Still, the Cornhusker State’s budget of approximately $5 billion is $304 million in the red.
In other action, the legislature approved an incentive for small schools districts to merge. Funded in part by lottery proceeds, the $4 million, two- year program will financially reward districts of fewer than 390 students that merge with similar districts between May 31 of next year and June 1, 2007.
Lawmakers also passed bills that prohibit students under 18 from dropping out of school without parental consent and require children to attend kindergarten before age 7.
—Rhea R. Borja
Top Legislative Agenda
Following a decade of debate on charter schools, Washington lawmakers passed the state’s first charter school law as part of a bipartisan compromise on a package of education bills.
1 million (K-12)
The law authorizes the opening of as many as 45 of the publicly financed but largely independent schools over the next six years, primarily to give more opportunities to educationally disadvantaged students. (“Wash. Charter Backers Near Finish Line, Finally,” March 17, 2004.)
School districts will be the chartering authorities, but the state will hear appeals of district decisions. The law does not limit the number of charter schools that may be converted from public schools, but a converting school must have failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” for three years or be operating under a state school improvement plan.
The legislature also approved new graduation requirements, beginning with the class of 2008. To graduate, students will have to pass an assessment reflecting state standards in reading, writing, and mathematics. A science requirement will be added for the class of 2010.
Students will have four opportunities to retake the assessments.
Special education students who do not pass the new assessment will be able to graduate with a “certificate of individual achievement.”
The lawmakers finished their 2004 session by adding $100 million for elementary and secondary education in the state’s two-year budget for fiscal years 2004 and 2005.
That hike raises K-12 state aid for the biennium to about $10.6 billion.
But the extra money falls far short of what teachers and school districts say they are due from a pair of voter initiatives passed in 2000 for teacher raises and supplementary school programs.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2004 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap