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.
K-12 Education a Winner
In Fiscal 2005 Budget
Although lawmakers rejected Gov. Frank H. Murkowski’s proposal to tap state oil revenues to close the state’s periodic budget shortfalls, they joined him in finding more money for education in the new state budget.
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The second-year governor teamed up with the GOP-controlled legislature to increase funding for K-12 education by more than 9 percent in fiscal 2005, to $806 million.
That budget plan includes a net increase of $75 million in the state’s base per-pupil allocation—from $4,169 to $4,576. Alaska’s overall state budget, meanwhile, is expected to increase by 10 percent, from $6.9 billion to $7.6 billion even as state officials allocated funding to close a $361 million budget deficit in fiscal 2005.
“The legislature stopped digging the hole that we’ve been creating for education,” said Rich Kronberg, the president of the Anchorage Education Association, a affiliate of the National Education Association. “They didn’t backfill the hole … but at least they didn’t make it worse.”
The governor recognizes that school districts across Alaska have coped with significant financial shortfalls in recent years, as their retirement, insurance, and other costs have risen, said his spokeswoman, Becky Hultberg.
In June, the governor called legislators back to the state Capitol in Juneau for a special session on his plan to use the state’s Permanent Fund to close state budget shortfalls. The Permanent Fund, a pool of money that comes from the state mineral-resource fees, provides state residents with yearly checks from those revenues.
The governor wanted voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to allow a portion of the fund’s proceeds to be used to close the budget gap and provide more money for basic government services. Legislators rejected that proposal.
Governor Stays Course
On Education Policy
The first legislative session under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco brought no dramatic changes to Louisiana’s education policy. She signed a budget that offers a slight increase in education spending and ongoing funding for key programs.
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Ms. Blanco made clear that she’s not interested in shifting course from the state’s aggressive, multipronged accountability system. Several bills seeking changes to the state’s system of high-stakes testing were introduced in the legislature, but none made headway.
In her inaugural address in January, Ms. Blanco said: “One of the important legacies of the outgoing administration is public education, and we will build upon the commitment that has brought us wide acclaim for our achievements.”
State spending for K-12 education rose to $2.8 billion, an increase of about $25 million, or less than 1 percent. The new budget will pay for a raise for teachers of about $300 a year, on average, said Steven G. Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Louisiana’s average teacher salaries are among the lowest nationwide, he noted.
A new law limits the authority of local school boards—and enhances that of superintendents—when school systems are deemed to be in academic crisis. Currently, it applies only to the 70,000-student New Orleans district. Gov. Blanco was a strong backer of the bill. (“Power Play Over New Orleans Schools Involved Large Cast,” July 14, 2004.)
Another new law will create a pilot initiative in eight districts to provide at least one class of extended kindergarten for the two months before the 2005-06 school year begins. Children from low-income families will be eligible.
Several voucher bills also died in the legislature.
—Erik W. Robelen
A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Capitol Recap