News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

February 19, 2003 4 min read

Midyear Budget Cuts To Hit S.C. Schools

In a move that will hit schools directly, South Carolina officials last week cut the state’s current-year budget by 3.7 percent—the fifth midyear cut in the past two years and the second this fiscal year.

The Budget and Control Board, a commission that oversees state finances and includes Gov. Mark Sanford and other elected officials, ordered the cuts Feb. 11 based on continued drops in revenue.

Overall, the cut amounts to $170 million for all state agencies, and $68.7 million for K-12 education. Almost all of the reduction in education funding is expected to be passed along to school districts.

Many districts reported last week that they would be freezing or eliminating teacher positions and other jobs. Several were planning to cancel summer school and after-school tutoring. One district is considering a four-day school week, despite being ranked among the lowest in the state academically.

Gov. Sanford, a Republican, called the budget crunch a “50-year phenomenon.”

—Alan Richard

Utah Senate Approves Tuition-Tax-Credit Bill

The Utah Senate has passed a bill that would institute tax credits to help offset the cost of private school tuition. But the measure faces opposition in the House of Representatives, and Gov. Michael O. Leavitt has come out against it.

The Senate’s 20-8 approval on Feb. 4 marks the farthest advance in Utah for tuition tax credits, which have been debated there in several recent legislative sessions. The bill would provide parents a state income-tax credit of up to $2,132 for private school tuition, including tuition at religious schools. Businesses and individuals who contributed to private school scholarship funds would also be eligible for the credit.

The measure passed with an amendment that provides $1 million for districts that lose students and state funding as a result of the program.

Gov. Leavitt, a Republican, said in his State of the State Address in January that tuition tax credits “create serious risks,” and that other school choice programs should be tried first.

Meanwhile, the House passed a measure last week that calls for a statewide advisory referendum on tuition tax credits in the 2004 general election.

—Mark Walsh

Dallas Wants Review Of New Texas Test

The Dallas school board has passed a resolution asking the state board of education this July to re-evaluate the passing scores for the newly developed Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Known as TAKS, the test replaced the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills—the standardized-testing program used in the state for 12 years—because the new test is more closely aligned with the Texas curriculum.

Concerns about the difficulty of the new test were raised by Mike Moses, the superintendent of the 166,000-student Dallas district and a former head of the state education agency, after results from field tests showed that students had performed worse than expected.

The resolution, which the district board approved on Jan. 30, also calls for both the state board of education and the Texas Education Agency to review, with the help of an outside evaluator, how test questions are developed, and asks that TAAS-equivalent scores be released at the same time as TAKS scores.

Many of the actions requested in the resolution, such as reviewing the way the test is being phased in and releasing TAAS-equivalent scores, were already being planned by the state board of education, said Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the state education agency.

“We would have to respectfully disagree that the questions are too hard,” Ms. Graves-Ratcliffe said.

—Michelle Galley

Ga. Governor Shakes Up State Board of Education

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has named Wanda Barrs, a former teacher and school board member, as his choice to lead the state school board.

The Republican governor’s announcement virtually assures that the board will vote to select Ms. Barrs as chairwoman at its March meeting.

Ms. Barrs is one of five new members the governor has appointed to the board as he continues the process of replacing members named by former Democratic Gov. Roy E. Barnes. While the five new members were present at this month’s meeting, held Feb. 13, six members from the previous administration still remain on the board. So far, Gov. Perdue, who was elected in November, has indicated that he wants two of them to continue serving.

In 1974, Ms. Barrs, who now works with her family’s forestry and real estate business, began her middle school and high school teaching career in the Cochran school district, located in the central part of the state.

She has also served on the Bleckley County school board since 1990, and on the board of the Heart of Georgia Technical College Foundation, a private-sector foundation based in Dublin, Ga., that raises money for the college.

“I can think of no stronger candidate to work on behalf of our state’s children than Wanda Barrs,” Mr. Perdue said when he announced his recommendation on Feb. 5.

—Linda Jacobson