Celeste Calls for Tax Hikes To Fund Reform Projects

January 18, 1989 10 min read

Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio has proposed raising the state’s income and corporate taxes by 1 percent and earmarking the revenues for a trust fund that would bankroll education-reform projects.

“We must carve educational excellence into stone,” Governor Celeste told lawmakers during his State of the State Message last week. “Not just raise more money. But make certain that the money we raise does the job we intend it to do.”

The Education Commission 2000, a study group appointed by the Governor last year, recently issued a report calling for a 1 percent increase in the income tax. The panel estimated that the additional tax would generate $649 million for reforms in its first year. It is unclear how much more money would be raised by increasing the corporate tax by a similar percentage.

In any event, Mr. Celeste’s plan would significantly boost state support for education. Ohio is spending $3.1 billion in general aid to school districts in the biennium that ends this June.

Mr. Celeste’s proposed Educational Excellence Trust Fund would be controlled by an independent board of trustees appointed by the governor, the legislature, and the state board of education.

One-third of the trust fund’s revenues would be allocated to districts, and the remaining two-thirds would finance reform projects in precollegiate and higher education selected by the trustees.

The Governor urged the legislature to act quickly on a constitutional amendment authorizing the panel’s creation so the measure could be put before voters during a special election this spring. The bill also would ask voters to endorse the higher taxes.

Voter approval of the tax increases is far from certain. In 1988 an unprecedented number of local school-tax measures were defeated at the polls.

A new Gallup Poll of state residents commissioned by the Governor’s office, however, found that 59 percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for education.

In his address, Mr. Celeste also endorsed several recommendations included in the Commission 2000’s report, which he described as “the most comprehensive document I’ve ever seen on the future of education” and “a timely road map for Ohio’s drive for leadership in the 1990’s.’'

The proposals include:

Allowing parents to enroll their children in any district in the state.

Rewards for districts that demonstrate improvements, combined with state authority to take over substandard systems.

“Deregulating” education “to allow teachers to get back to teaching.”

The creation of a task force to study whether to lift state limits on property-tax rates.--lj

New York

Teacher-Standards Board Being Sought by Cuomo

Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York used his State of the State Message to propose the creation of a professional-oversight board for teaching, the majority of whose members would be teachers.

The board would set entrance standards for the profession, determine requirements for continuing education, and supervise the disciplining of teachers, according to Daniel Kinley, an aide to Mr. Cuomo.

It would be structured along the lines of existing professional boards for nursing, medicine, physical therapy, and accounting, he added.

In his address, the Governor said fighting drug abuse would be his main emphasis in the second year of the “Decade of the Child” he proclaimed in 1988.

“Every day more chidren surrender their bodies and souls to crack, driven to madness, robbed of their childhood, left desperate and broken and dangerous,” he said.

The Governor asked the state board of regents to mandate that drug education be included in the curriculum for all grades.

He also asked for the creation of a program to identify children whose parents abuse drugs, and for stiffer criminal penalties for adults who use children in drug transactions.

Mr. Cuomo also recommended the expansion of existing preschool and day-care programs; incentives for college students to perform community service; and allowing parents to purchase state bonds to save for their children’s college education.

He proposed increasing the basic welfare grant--the majority of whose recipients are children--by 15 percent.

The Governor has not as yet endorsed any of the 40 recommendations made last month by the Salerno Commission, a blue-ribbon panel convened to examine inequities in the state’s school-finance system.

Among the panel’s more controversial recommendations was a proposal to amend the school-aid formula to use enrollment, rather than attendance, in calculating per-pupil aid to districts.

New York is facing a $2 billion shortfall in its budget next year under current projections. Governor Cuomo has not said publicly whether education programs would be affected by the austerity measures he will propose in his budget this week.--ws


Accountability Plan Could Force District Mergers

Arkansas school districts whose students fail to achieve state-mandated performance levels on standardized tests would be forced to merge under a proposal by Gov. Bill Clinton.

The plan was one of the few surprises in the Governor’s State of the State Message. He had laid out the main elements of his education agenda for this year’s legislative session in an address several weeks ago.

In that speech, Mr. Clinton recommended higher teacher salaries, incentive grants for experiments in school restructuring, expansion of preschool programs, and a pilot parental-choice program. (See Education Week, Oct. 19, 1988.)

The new proposal outlined by the Governor would strengthen a school-accreditation program that was a key facet of the state’s 1983 school-reform law.

Mr. Clinton’s proposed legislation would mandate the “dissolution and merger” of districts in which fewer than 85 percent of students pass the state’s Minimum Performance Test. Districts would have two years in which to show “reasonable progress” toward improvement.

Under current law, the state board of education may suspend the accreditation of districts that do not meet a similar requirement, but cannot force them to consolidate. Governor Clinton’s proposal also would direct the state education department to set a minimum level of achievement for students taking a norm-referenced test, and require the merger of districts that fail to meet that standard.

Linda White, the department’s coordinator of curriculum and assessment, said 171 of the state’s 329 districts currently fall below the 85-percent pass rate on the state test. But because sub-par performance is often limited to a particular school or grade, she said, meeting the requirement is “not insurmountable.”

She added, however, that the proposal’s “stronger language” on consolidation and the new provision on norm-referenced tests means that “schools are going to have to become more accountable."--d.g.


Students Failing Drug Test Would Lose Licenses

Gov. Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma has proposed that students be required to pass a drug test in order to obtain a driver’s license, and that driving privileges be revoked for those who drop out of school.

In addition, the Governor used his State of the State Message to announce that Oklahoma is once again on sound financial footing following a prolonged battle to restore its faltering, oil-dependent economy.

Education, he said, will receive $35 million of the $137 million in new spending he will propose in his fiscal 1990 budget, reflecting his desire that it be given the “highest priority.”

In his speech to the Democratic-controlled legislature, the Republican Governor called for legislation that would make it easier for parents to transfer their children to other school districts. Under his plan, only the new district would have to agree to the change; current state law requires both the sending and the receiving district to agree to such transfers.

Mr. Bellmon also proposed substantial budget increases for prenatal and infant care, early-intervention services for disabled children, school-based health programs, and child immunization. In addition, he asked lawmakers to extend welfare payments to two-parent households to prevent the breakup of families, and to create a pilot day-care program for state employees.

Democratic lawmakers said the Governor’s legislative agenda reflected “motherhood and apple pie” issues.

They also criticized his announcement last month that he would recommend voter rejection of a constitutional amendment on the March ballot intended to correct inequalities in the state’s property-tax system. Lawmakers said Mr. Bellmon did not indicate his stance on the proposal when they approved it last year.

The Senate approved a measure last week that would remove the amendment from the ballot. The4House is expected to consider the bill this week.--nm


Branstad Seeks Unity On New Finance Formula

Gov. Terry Branstad urged Iowa lawmakers last week to set aside their local concerns in order to achieve a consensus on a new formula for distributing state school aid.

In his State of the State Message, the Governor told legislators that they “must work throughout the session to approve the very best plan that will benefit every child in Iowa.”

He implored them to think about their responsibilities to the entire state, rather than “how my district is going to gain or lose next year.”

Because the current funding formula expires in 1991, lawmakers must either change the method, which they admit is inequitable, or extend it and continue the inequities.

The formula favors some districts--mainly rural systems with declining enrollments--by allowing them to continue using their 1978 enrollment levels. House Speaker Don Avenson has predicted a bitter legislative battle divided along geographic, rather than partisan, lines.--nm

South Dakota

Sales Tax Would Be Earmarked for Education

Gov. George Michelson of South Dakota has asked lawmakers to earmark more than half of the state sales tax for schools and to approve a two-year moratorium on property-tax increases.

“Over this last century, our goal of building a better South Dakota remains unchanged, but along the path we have used new tools to accomplish the task,” Mr. Michelson said in his State of the State Message. “In this next month we will develop even more tools to aid this task.”

Those tools, he said, should include the creation of a “rock solid” financial base for education by dedicating 2.25 cents of the 4-cent state sales tax to schools. The change would generate $11.8 million in new education revenues.

Mr. Michelson added that his proposal to freeze property-tax rates for two years would “encourage cost-cutting economies in government” and give taxpayers “a much needed respite from ever-increasing property taxes."--nm

New Jersey

Kean Urges Passage of Choice Bill This Year

Gov. Thomas H. Kean asked the New Jersey legislature last week to approve a “responsible, workable” parental-choice program by the end of the year.

In addition, the Governor said in his State of the State Message that he hopes 1989 will be the year the state adopts guidelines for character education. “Our people need to read and write, but to truly prosper, they need to be reminded of the value of tolerance, hard work, and honesty,” he said.

Mr. Kean called for studies of the choice and character-education issues in his address to lawmakers last year. Reports on the topics being prepared under the direction of the commissioner of education are expected to lay the groundwork for legislation.

In his speech last week, Governor Kean also called for the establishment of 50 new “urban schools of excellence,” which would implement reforms developed by pilot projects. The new program, he said, would focus on the problems of potential dropouts.

The Governor also suggested that the state drop its physical-education requirement for high-school graduation. “We require as much phys. ed. as English, and more than math, science, art, and history,” he said.--lj


Gardner Seeks Expansion Of Restructuring Effort

Gov. W. Booth Gardner of Washington State has recommended that state spending for early-childhood education and a pilot school-restructuring program be doubled in the coming fiscal year.

In his annual address to lawmakers last week, Governor Gardner argued that expanding existing programs for at-risk preschoolers would help give them “a fighting chance for success.”

In addition, he called the two-year-old restructuring project, known as Schools for the 21st Century, an “innovative program of experimentation and discovery” that “tests fresh ideas on how to develop a student’s skills and talents.”

Earlier in the week, a task force created by Mr. Gardner to study the state’s dropout problem issued a report stating that the situation has reached “crisis proportions.”

The group issued several controversial recommendations, including a new grading system based on the demonstration of competencies rather than the attainment of Carnegie units; more freedom for parents to select their children’s schools; and the publication of tests scores and other data for all schools.

A spokesman for the Governor said Mr. Gardner would review the task force’s report more thoroughly before issuing a response.--lj

A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 1989 edition of Education Week as Celeste Calls for Tax Hikes To Fund Reform Projects