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.
Is Top Story in 2004
School spending fared well in Connecticut’s 2004 legislative session, but educators there must still wait to see how they might be affected by the state’s biggest political story of the year: the resignation this month of Gov. John G. Rowland.
The new governor, M. Jodi Rell, who succeeded Mr. Rowland after serving as lieutenant governor nearly a decade, has been a proponent of educational technology and school readiness programs.
Mr. Rowland, a third-term Republican, stepped down July 1 amid charges that he had accepted gifts from people who do business with the state. The allegations, the subject of an ongoing federal probe, had prompted impeachment hearings in the legislature.
During his tenure, Mr. Rowland backed magnet schools and efforts to improve students’ reading skills. He also supported the idea of education vouchers.
In a speech after being sworn in, Gov. Rell, pledged to unveil soon a series of new education proposals, though she gave no details. “We should view our opportunity to lead as a gift,” she said, “a gift holding unlimited potential and promise for addressing long unmet needs and long-standing policy problems.”
One of Mr. Rowland’s last acts of governor was to approve a revised $13.2 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2005 that includes $2.1 billion for precollegiate education. That’s up 4 percent from $2.02 billion for fiscal 2004, and reflects an increase over the $2.04 billion that had initially been proposed for fiscal 2005 when state lawmakers first passed a biennial budget for the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years in the 2003 session.
Much of the increase is for literacy and early-childhood-education programs that aim to help children from low-income families. An improved economy was credited for the spending increase.
Hawaii Legislature Adopts
New Funding Formula
The Hawaii Department of Education has begun designing a new “weighted” student funding formula to comply with an omnibus education bill that went into effect July 1.
A “committee on weights” is being formed, and will work over the next year to devise the plan. The plan will determine per-pupil funding for a regular student, and additional amounts for students with disabilities, those deemed gifted and talented, English-language learners, and students in other categories.
The omnibus bill, called the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, also requires all schools to have school-community councils by the 2005-06 school year. They will function somewhat similarly to the former system of school community-based management, though with more say in setting school priorities.
In addition, the new law establishes a principals’ academy to provide training for principals.
Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, spent much of this year’s legislative session pushing her plan to break up the statewide school system into smaller districts with locally elected boards. She wanted voters to decide on the issue in a referendum this November, but the Democratic-controlled House and Senate rejected the idea, as they have in past years.
Gov. Lingle also wanted legislation requiring that 90 percent of all education funding be spent at the local school level. A compromise with Democrats will direct 70 percent of the aid to local schools. The education department will study the possibility of raising that percentage.
In this second year of a two-year budget, the legislature approved $1.47 billion for K- 12 schools, an 8 percent increase over fiscal 2004. That was still $52 million less than what the education department requested. And some budget restrictions have been imposed, meaning that the money cannot be spent unless state revenues increase.
School Funding Dilemma
Kansas’ school funding system, which was declared unconstitutional by a state district court in December, remains unchanged after the legislature failed to pass a new funding plan this year.
Legislators moved quickly to pass a bill that successfully called for an expedited injunction against the Shawnee County court ruling to shut down the public schools. (“Court Says Kansas School Aid System Needs Fixing,” Dec. 10, 2003.) But they were unable to compromise on a long-term fix—even though Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the Senate, and the House each put forth funding proposals.
The legislative session did yield an overall state budget, which allots $2.34 billion for education–up 7.8 percent from last year. Despite the seemingly large increase, the actual hike is much smaller, owing to a property-tax accelerator that the legislature enacted last year, saving the state $158 million in education spending, which was then added to the fiscal 2005 budget.
In other action, the legislature passed a measure allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, provided they attend a Kansas high school for three or more years, graduate, and are on track to become U.S. citizens.
Gov. Sebelius, a Democrat, also signed legislation calling for local school boards to enact policies that would allow asthmatic students in the 6th grade and older to medicate themselves, provided they meet certain criteria, which are to be determined by the local boards.
—Catherine A. Carroll
Missouri ‘Halfway Home’
On Funding, Holden Says
With Missouri’s economic fortunes beginning to look up, Gov. Bob Holden last month signed a $18.9 billion state budget for fiscal 2005 that avoids cutting education.
Instead, the budget contains a $107 million increase in state spending for schools—a marked change after two years of deep budget cuts in education.
The state’s financial prospects picked up early in the year after revenues from income and sales taxes came in at higher-than-forecast levels. In response, the governor released $240 million that he had been withholding—most of it from schools—to hedge against the state revenue drops that he had been expecting.
The total budget for K-12 education in fiscal 2005 is $2.18 billion, up 5 percent from $2.07 billion the previous year.
Despite the increase, Mr. Holden, a Democrat, said Missouri was just “halfway home” in its quest to fully fund education. “We have a long way to go if we are to prepare our children and our state to be competitive in the future,” he said in his June 16 budget-signing message.
Nearly 300 school districts, in fact, filed a lawsuit in January charging that the state’s school funding system is both unfair and inadequate to meet the needs of its schools. No date has yet been scheduled for a trial.
Missouri’s continuing and often partisan debate over school funding was the most contentious education issue in the legislature this year.
With little disagreement, meanwhile, the legislature voted to align the state’s testing system with the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which state educators consider to be easier than their own.
The lawmakers also voted to require all school employees who come into contact with children to undergo criminal- background checks. Previously, such checks were conducted only for teachers.
A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap