Lawmakers Continue Action on Education Reform

May 02, 1984 13 min read

State Lawmakers in Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Vermont concluded their legislative sessions this month. The following summaries of their actions on education matters were reported by Susan G. Foster, Sheppard Ranbom, and Susan Walton.


The Hawaii legislature, in an election year, did not want to “rock the boat” or develop new programs that would exceed spending levels set last year, according to Lionel M. Aono, budget director for the Hawaii Department of Education.

To deal with enrollment increases that were not expected when the state’s biennial budget was passed last year, the legislature agreed to provide funds to add 65 teachers, 14 counselors for intermediate schools, 5 vice principals for high schools, 6 more teachers for special education, and an additional $60,000 for computer education, according to Mr. Aono. The lawmakers also passed a measure to provide $10 million for repairs and maintenance for school buildings.

To offset the increased cost of these programs, the legislature made cuts in other areas to keep the state’s education budget at $400 million, according to Mr. Aono.

He said the state will save money through the retirements of senior staff members and teachers and a general reduction in basic operating expenses, such as for travel and printing.

The state will also benefit from additional federal funds--$4.5 million for impact aid and $500,000 for school lunches, according to Mr. Aono.

In nonfiscal activities, a bill to make the board of education an appointed rather than an elected body passed in the House but died in the Senate education committee, Mr. Aono said.


Awaiting the recommendations of a legislative task force on education before enacting major reforms, the Iowa legislature passed one major education bill this session, which ended April 17.

The bill sets up a new certification system for teachers, while leaving in place the existing certification system for administrative and special-services personnel.

The bill--which still faces a possible veto from Gov. Terry Branstad--establishes a new board of educational examiners, appointed by the governor, to approve teacher-education programs and award certification to teachers.

Basic-Skills Test

Under the law, prospective teachers must pass a test of basic skills, as well as professional and subject-matter tests, before receiving a certificate. Prospective teachers may take the basic-skills test as early as their sophomore year in college, but a passing grade on the test is not required for admission to teacher-training programs.

The new board, which will begin to function on July 1, will issue rules requiring school boards to provide a one-year internship program for teachers. During that year, the teachers will be evaluated before receiving a professional certificate. The examining board will also issue rules governing the evaluation process and will consider whether to increase the importance of classroom performance as a factor in evaluation.

The new law also changes the recertification period from 10 years to five.

The Iowa Department of Public Instruction was against the new certification law, but the state’s major teachers’ organization supported it.

“Our agency’s position was in opposition [to the new law],” said Carol Bradley, administrative consultant and legislative liaison to the state education department. “It really is an extremely complex issue, and we have two [task force] subcommittees focusing on it.” Department officials believed the committees should complete their work and propose legislation based on a consensus of those involved, she said.

But the Iowa State Education Association argues that the new board will be able to incorporate recommendations from the task force, according to Jan Reinicke, a lobbyist for the 30,000-member group.

The teachers’ association views the new law as “a major step forward,” Ms. Reinicke said. The group supports the idea of the basic-skills test because it will offer an additional screening device for those who train teachers, she explained. Teacher trainers can use the results of those tests as the basis of remedial work, if necessary, or to “counsel out” those who are unsuitable to become teachers.

The association also supports the new five-year certification period. “What thisimplies is that there will be greater upgrading of skills among teachers,” Ms. Reinicke said.

Teaching-Coaching Distinction

Another bill enacted by the legislature provides teachers with separate contracts for teaching and coaching duties. That measure--similar to those now in place in a number of other states--was necessary, the association contends, because school boards are prone to consider the quality of the coaching staff before the quality of instruction in deciding where cuts should be made.

The legislature also enacted an educational excellence program, which authorizes school districts to develop education-improvement programs and apply to the state education department for the authorization to level additional property taxes. That program also includes a $150,000 appropriation for incentive awards for school districts that are trying to improve their curriculum and instructional programs, expand educational programs, or provide better staff development. The $5,000 grants will go to up to 30 districts.

Although the amount is modest, Ms. Bradley said, state officials view the measure as laying the groundwork for further improvement and more funding.

‘Trigger Clause’

Faced with an unusually bleak economic picture, the legislators nevertheless tried to avoid cutting funds for education, Ms. Bradley said. The appropriation for the state foundation program will be $707 million, but an amendment added to an appropriations bill provides a “trigger clause” that may reduce funding if the receipts from general revenues do not reach the level originally anticipated.

The legislative task force, initially scheduled to complete its work by Sept. 30, 1983, requested and was granted an extension of June 1984. Those recommendations are expected to influence the 1985 legislative session, Ms. Bradley said.


During a session expected to end April 29, the Kansas legislature approved a school-finance bill that provides a $50.3-million increase in state aid according to Dale M. Dennis, legislative liaison for the Kansas State Department of Education.

Basic aid to schools will increase by $36million (rising from $377 million to $413million) and an income-tax rebate to districts will provide an additional $14.3 million over what they received last year, Mr. Dennis said. (Under the rebate, 20 percent of state-income-tax revenues go back to local districts, and 85 percent of that amount is deducted when state aid for schools is computed.)

According to Mr. Dennis, teachers’ salaries will be increased by an average of about 10 percent if local districts raise property taxes by 9.2 percent to gain an additional $49.8 million.

Testing Program

Lawmakers approved requirements for minimum-competency tests in reading and mathematics for students in grades 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, according to Mr. Dennis.

Although a bill requiring that school districts develop and submit inservice-education plans to the state department of education was passed by the legislature, no funding will be provided to implement the program for the coming year. Funding is likely to begin in 1986, with legislative action next year, Mr. Dennis said. He said that under various proposals, the cost to the state could range from $1 million to $2.7million. The school-finance bill will provide an additional $8 million for special-education programs. It also stipulates that districts with low expenditures could increase their budgets between 6 and 10 percent next year, while high-expenditure districts will be limited to a 6-percent increase in state funds.

“This will help districts with low expenditures come closer to meeting the spending levels of other districts; it will also keep affluent districts from spending a lot of money,” Mr. Dennis said.

Certification Exam

Lawmakers approved a $150,000 appropriation for validating a teacher-certification test. A bill to implement the exam, which would be required for certification by May 1, 1986, was expected to pass before the legislature adjourned, Mr. Dennis said.

The legislature was not called on to require a one-year internship for all new teachers. That proposal, still being considered by the state board of education, has the support of Gov. John Carlin.

“There will be funding needed to begin the internship program, but the legislature will wait until the certification and inservice programs are in place, holding off on any action until the 1985 or 1986 session,” Mr. Dennis said.

A bill to establish a state forgiveable-loan program for prospective teachers did not pass in the House Ways and Means Committee; a bill to provide as much as $2.1 million for summer programs to help students in grades 1 through 4 who are behind in reading and mathematics “had a lot of support but failed because of lack of money,” Mr. Dennis said.


The Minnesota legislature, which concluded its business last week, approved an 8.9-percent increase in funding for schools 0.

The legislature approved expenditures of more than $748 million in direct state aid, raising annual per-pupil expenditures from $1,475 to $1,585 for the next two years, according to Daniel B. Loritz, director of government relations for the Minnesota Department of Education.

All school aid, including local levies, will total $1.69 billion next year. The state budget for education for the biennium is $102 million above the amount recommended by Gov. Rudy Perpich, Mr. Loritz said. The funding plan will provide more new aid for the districts whose teaching staffs have comparatively more experience and more advanced degrees than those in other districts, according to Mr. Loritz.

The legislature also voted to lower the required local property-tax levy from 24 to 23.5 mills, he said.

‘Programs for Excellence’

Lawmakers voted to establish what they say is the only known statewide program in the United States that cites individual schools as “programs for excellence” and allows a small number of talented students from anywhere in the state to attend.

“Programs of Excellence will be like a foreign-exchange program within the state,” said Mr. Loritz. “Schools designated as having outstanding programs in science, arts, or foreign language, for example, will enroll about 100 gifted students and receive additional state subsidies for those students. The districts that formerly enrolled the students will continue to receive subsidies for them as an incentive to get involved in the program. If students have to travel a great distance, the excellence schools will find host families for them.”

The legislature provided $15,000 to cover administrative costs this year to start the program. Anticipated operating costs for 1985-86, which would have to be approved by next year’s legislature, are about $300,000 for 100 students.

Lawmakers also approved spending $148,000 for a study of arts education in the state. A governor’s task force will report to the 1985 legislature on the status of arts education in Minnesota, as well as the feasibility and benefits of funding a new state school for the arts.

Assessment Program

The legislature approved a $575,000 allocation to enhance a statewide assessment program similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The testing program will require each district to test students annually in any area of study it chooses. The state is currently developing a battery of diagnostic examinations, according to Mr. Loritz, who said that first tests are scheduled to be given next year.

In conjunction with the state assessment program, lawmakers set aside $320,000 to establish a “test-item bank” so that local districts that want to devise their own assessments in any subject area will be able to have a pool of test questions immediately available from the state department of education, Mr. Loritz said.

Improvement Programs

Adopting the ideas of John Goodlad, whose recent book, A Place Called School, indicated that the most successful school-improvement programs occur at the building level, the state legislature provided $900,000 to launch “grassroots” initiatives, Mr. Loritz said.

Under a new training program, state officials will be able to develop “building-level leadership teams.” Lawmakers allocated $330,000 to help train the teams; $250,000 to pay for substitute teachers while the training is taking place; $250,000 for the state commissioner to develop plans and models of effectiveness; and $70,000 for administration costs incurred by the state department of education.

In the school-aid package, lawmakers provided a continuation of funds for a program instituted last year that allows the state commissioner to award up to 20 grants to develop training sites for inservice programs in subject areas of need.

This year, of the $270,000 available in grants, $65,000 has been targeted to develop programs for mathematics teachers, $105,000 for science training, and $40,000 for training for social-studies teachers. An additional $60,000 was earmarked for “future needs.”

The legislature also agreed to provide more than $1 million to help districts pay for required curriculum planning, evaluation, and reporting, Mr. Loritz said. The state will provide its 434 school districts with a minimum of $1,500 each or $1 per average daily membership.

Lawmakers also agreed to allocate $150,000 to the Minnesota Council on Quality Education for research and development grants.

“The legislature did not want to implement any major new legislation without knowing the impact it would have; the research funds will help determine how potential new programs will affect schools,” according to Mr. Loritz.

The legislature also raised the tuition-deduction limits of its tax program that allows small write-offs for parents of students attending public and private schools. That program was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last fall in the case Mueller v. Allen.

A school voucher plan limited to families at the poverty level did not get out of the legislature’s education committees, Mr. Loritz said.


For the second time in as many years, the Vermont General Assembly rejected Governor Richard A. Snelling’s request for backing for an early-childhood education initiative and the money to fund such a proposal.

Governor Snelling, who has said he will not seek re-election, had requested about $10 million in additional state aid to support the K-3 program and to increase teachers’ salaries.

Although the legislature failed to authorize funds for either of the proposals in its 1984 session, it did approve a 5-percent increase in state aid to education for fiscal 1985.

This year, school districts received about $67.6 million in state aid; next year, as a result of the legislature’s action, local schools will receive about $71 million in aid from the state.

“They’re apparently not convinced of the need for an early-education initiative,” said David S. Dillon, spokesman for the Governor.

Despite the legislature’s rejection of the early-childhood education ini-tiative, Mr. Dillon said the Vermont Department of Education will continue to encourage schools to improve services through the school-approval plan recently proposed by the state board.

State-Approved Program

The legislature approved a bill that will require schools that do not offer kindergarten programs to pay tuition for children in the district to attend a state-approved program in a private school. The state department of education had sought a measure that would have required all schools to offer kindergarten programs, according to Joyce Wolkomir, the department’s spokesman.

In addition, the legislature enacted a vocational-education bill that will require school districts to improve regional delivery of vocational services; expand adult programs at area vocational centers; and require the state board to develop performance standards for students and evaluation standards for vocational centers.

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 1984 edition of Education Week as Lawmakers Continue Action on Education Reform