Engler Proposes Takeover Plan for State’s Urban Districts

By Robert C. Johnston — February 03, 1999 12 min read

Gov. John Engler of Michigan urged lawmakers last week to give urban mayors the power to disband their local school boards and name new leadership in ailing school systems.

Newly elected to a third term as governor, Mr. Engler also called in his State of the State Address for state-funded college scholarships and expanded K-12 reading programs. He also projected that Michigan would spend $13 billion on K-12 schools next year, a record for the state.

“The state with the best schools wins,” he said during his Jan. 28 speech. “Ladies and gentlemen, Michigan must have the best schools.”

Mr. Engler first floated the idea of state takeovers of troubled districts two years ago, but the plan failed in the legislature, where lawmakers feared a threat to districts’ local control.

This time, the Republican governor hopes his proposal will get a more receptive airing by putting the takeover duties in local hands. Under his plan, urban mayors could replace elected boards with five-member panels appointed by the mayor that would hire an administrator to oversee the system.

Another change the governor hopes will secure victory for the plan is that Republicans control both chambers of the legislature this year, rather than just the Senate, which was the case two years ago.

“This is not a political issue. It is not a racial issue. It is a children’s issue,” Mr. Engler declared to a mix of applause and catcalls from the joint session of the state legislature. “We, the government and the people of Michigan have a moral obligation to act. The time to act is now.”

A primary target of the plan is Detroit, where Mayor Dennis Archer has long maintained that he is not interested in running the 180,000-student district. In recent weeks, however, the mayor has challenged the school board to improve or expect to be replaced.

Anticipating the governor’s proposal, which mirrors a plan that was implemented in Chicago four years ago, the Detroit school board held a rally earlier in the week to highlight improvements on state test scores and to denounce the takeover proposal.

Mr. Engler also called on lawmakers to expand the state’s reading-readiness efforts from the regular school year to include summer school. “Making education the No. 1 priority doesn’t matter if students can’t read,” he added.

Under his scholarship plan, Michigan students--both public and private--who pass the state’s high school proficiency test will qualify for a $2,500 scholarship to study at any college or university in the state. His proposal would set up a trust fund for the project with revenue from an $8 billion tobacco settlement last fall.

Mr. Engler, who has cut adult education funds in the past, proposed creating a new cabinet-level position for the director of the office of workforce development to lead job-training and career-development programs. He also proposed establishing 100 one-stop career-development centers statewide to enhance services at the local level.

Alaska Knowles Moves To Close State’s Budget Gap

Alaska lawmakers must act quickly to keep the low oil prices that have created a $1 billion gap in the state’s $2.3 billion budget from harming schools and other public services, Gov. Tony Knowles said in his State of the State Address.

“Today, the state of our state is the state of our budget,” the Democratic governor declared Jan. 20 in unveiling his plan to fill the budget gap. “The consequences of failing to act quickly and responsibly in the small window open to us this sessions are severe,” Mr. Knowles told the legislature.

“Without action,” he added, “we will deplete our savings account, place heavy burdens on local taxpayers, abandon our commitment to secondary and university education excellence, threaten public safety, transportation, and economic development.”

Mr. Knowles, who was elected to a second term in November, emphasized that the $27 million in education spending increases that legislators passed last year would not be jeopardized by the budget gap. To deal with the shortfall, he proposed two key steps: implementing a limited state income tax, and holding a special election to allow voters to approve his plan to transfer $4 billion from the state’s $25 billion permanent fund--set up in 1976 with oil revenues--into budget reserves.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Hawaii Accountability Leads List of Cayetano’s Priorities

For years, Hawaii has tried to improve student performance by providing schools with more money. But now it’s time shift the focus toward holding schools and teachers accountable for results, Democratic Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano told the legislature during his Jan. 25 State of the State Address.

With Paul LeMahieu, an expert in the area of educational accountability, as the state’s new schools superintendent, Hawaii is already on its way toward developing “a system of performance measures which is fair, simple, and based on common sense,” Mr. Cayetano said.

Under the governor’s plan, each school would be expected to set goals that were an improvement over past performance in such areas as student attendance, test scores, and dropout rates.

Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano

Gov. Cayetano, who recently began his second term, also proposed a pilot program to give schools more freedom in budgeting, hiring, and curriculum decisions. The first two “New Century Schools,” as such schools would be called, would be Kapolei Middle School and Kapolei High School, both of which are not yet built.

Although the governor said the state--which has been in the midst of a financial crisis in recent years--cannot afford to reduce class sizes, there are other ways to help teachers in the classroom, he suggested.

For instance, he said, administrators should have greater authority to discipline unruly students, and the state education department should set up alternative schools to serve students who have been expelled from regular schools.

--Linda Jacobson

Nevada Guinn Proposes School Aid Financed by Tobacco Deal

Nevada students who graduated from high school with at least a B average would receive $2,500 annually for four years to help pay for college, under a plan proposed by the state’s new governor.

The state would pay for the program with money it expects to receive from a multistate settlement with tobacco companies, Republican Kenny Guinn said in his Jan. 18 State of the State Address.

The “Millennium Scholarship” would also provide community college students with $1,250 a year for two years. The program would begin with students in the high school class of 2000.

The state expects to receive $48 million during that fiscal year, and more than $40 million the next, from the tobacco deal. While the money is not guaranteed, Gov. Guinn said, he believes the settlement “can give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide Nevada’s children with the means to advance their education in a way never thought possible.”

The governor also outlined other education priorities, including revisions to state law to simplify the process of forming a charter school. He also wants to remove the cap--now 21--on the number of such publicly financed but largely independent schools.

In addition, Mr. Guinn said, his education accountability plan will focus on basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills at the elementary level. And he’s proposing to spend $12 million for remediation programs in schools that don’t meet state standards.

Mr. Guinn also stressed that while the state is facing a tight budget year, and he’s recommending cuts in other areas, his budget would preserve K-12 funding.

--Linda Jacobson

South Dakota Janklow’s Plan Eases Way for Larger Districts

Districts shouldn’t have to pay a price if they join together to form larger systems that better serve their students, according to Gov. William J. Janklow of South Dakota.

The Republican governor asked lawmakers in his State of the State Address to consider passing legislation that would make it easier for small districts to consolidate without losing state money.

Currently, districts that want to merge in order to provide greater opportunities for students face a reduction in aid under the state’s education funding formula.

The formula provides more money per child to smaller districts and less money per child to larger districts. The governor’s proposal would allow consolidated districts to retain between $140,000 and $170,000 that they would otherwise lose.

Gov. Janklow also asked the legislature in the Jan. 13 speech to consider providing preschool for all South Dakota children. And, pointing to emerging research that suggests music has beneficial effects on children’s learning, Mr. Janklow said he wants to give a classical-music compact disc to every parent of a newborn child in the state.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

South Carolina Lottery Would Provide School Aid in S.C.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges made education the centerpiece of his first State of the State Address, pledging to cut the student-to-teacher ratio and improve reading skills and SAT scores.

His proposal focuses on using money from a state lottery, a concept pitched during his campaign that would require a constitutional amendment, to pay for education initiatives.

The Democratic governor, who was elected in November, asked the legislature to allocate $2.4 billion from the projected fiscal 2000 budget to ensure a 17-1 pupil-teacher ratio in grades K-3 and to give teachers a $300 pay raise above the Southeastern average.

He will also work to change the state’s retirement law to make retiring teachers’ return to the classroom easier.

Some $25 million of the $2.4 billion pot would be used to buy laptop computers and SAT exam software-review programs in hopes of raising students’ scores on the college-entrance exam.

In his Jan. 20 speech, Mr. Hodges also asked that some $150 million from the proceeds of the proposed lottery be used to build classrooms, homework centers, and alternative schools.

An undetermined amount would also be allocated for merit and need-based scholarships for college students.

In addition, the governor asked that $20 million be allocated from the state budget for South Carolina First Steps, a community-based cooperative program that asks business leaders, state and local agencies, churches, teachers, and parents to identify and address children’s needs.

--Julie Blair

Texas Bush Offers Voucher Plan, End to Social Promotion

Holding up Texas as a national model for school improvement, Gov. George W. Bush urged lawmakers to end social promotion, raise school spending, and pass a pilot voucher program in his State of the State Address.

Mr. Bush, a Republican who is starting his second term, delivered the Jan. 5 address to a joint session of the legislature, which meets for only 140 days every other year.

“We are already leading the nation in improving our schools by insisting on local control, high standards, and strong accountability,” he said. But more must be done, he added.

Mr. Bush challenged lawmakers to make it harder for students to be passed to the next grade without meeting academic requirements, the practice known as social promotion.

He had earlier unveiled a plan that would require 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders to pass the state’s academic tests in order to be promoted. Struggling students would get remedial aid, as well as three chances to pass the exams. The program would be phased in between 2003 and 2008.

Mr. Bush also wants legislators to expand the Advanced Placement program, with a goal of 10,000 Texas students passing the test by 2002. “I want every child to soar,” he said.

Mr. Bush wants to spend $2 billion to cut property taxes. The governor also asked the legislature to dedicate $1 billion in new spending for local school efforts to raise teacher salaries or hire teachers to reduce class sizes.

He added, “I urge you to fund teacher training so our teachers learn to reach reading with the most up-to-date science: phonics.”

In what promises to be a lively debate in the legislature, Mr. Bush argued that the time was right for a limited voucher experiment that would let students in low-performing schools transfer to private or parochial schools.

--Robert C. Johnston

Utah Leavitt’s Plan Focuses on Reading Improvement

Gov. Michael O. Leavitt has proposed a plan to ensure that every Utah student is reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

“By the end of the 1999 school year, I propose that every 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grader be tested,” the Republican governor said during his State of the State Address Jan. 18. “If students are not reading at grade level, this state should provide them with an additional 30 days of school in summer classes no larger than seven students.”

The governor, who is midway through his second term, said he was alarmed by 4th and 5th grade reading scores that were below national averages. He argued that 80 percent of all children who do not reach the appropriate reading level by the end of 3rd grade never catch up.

Gov. Leavitt’s budget includes $10.5 million for the reading initiative, including $8 million for the summer classes and $500,000 for professional development in reading instruction for teachers.

The governor also proposed a new state assessment program in which every 10th grader would be given a basic-skills exam in reading, writing, mathematics, and technology.

Students who failed could take the exam again in 11th or 12th grade, but they would have to pass it to receive a high school diploma.

Mr. Leavitt also proposed a New Century Scholarship program, under which high school students who earned a two-year associate’s degree at the same time they completed their high school requirements would receive a scholarship for two more years at a four-year state college or university.

--Mark Walsh

West Virginia Underwood Pushes Ahead on Education Tax Reform

Calling tax reform inevitable, Gov. Cecil H. Underwood asked for the West Virginia legislature’s cooperation in moving forward with levy changes in his State of the State Address.

Gov. Cecil H. Underwood

Mr. Underwood noted that the courts have taken the state to task for inequitable education spending, a situation likely to be remedied only by an additional statewide tax.

“We are not in a financial crisis, and I feel this is the time to look at the whole [tax] system,” he said in the Jan. 13 speech.

The governor, a Republican who is in the second year of a four-year term, also used his speech to highlight improvements in school technology and safety. His budget includes $16 million for additional equipment and training for technology in K-12 classrooms, part of a decade-long effort. In addition, he has directed the state police to help schools detect and deal with drugs and guns in the schools.

Mr. Underwood touted programs that expand educational opportunity for teenagers and adults.

One has aided more than 1,000 high school seniors at risk of dropping out, he said. Another gives students access to college courses across the region through their computers at home.

To boost the state’s below-average college-going rate, Mr. Underwood proposed spending $6 million in the upcoming fiscal year on a program that would cover 70 percent of college-tuition costs for qualifying students.

“Along with the prepaid-tuition plan, this effort should encourage more of our young people to be ready for the 21st-century job market,” he told the legislators.

--Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 1999 edition of Education Week as Engler Proposes Takeover Plan for State’s Urban Districts