Ga. Governor Targets
Education Accountability in Speech
Returning functions that were transferred to other agencies to the Georgia Department of Education, giving teachers more authority over their classrooms, and protecting funding for the state’s prekindergarten and hope Scholarship programs are among Gov. Sonny Perdue’s education priorities.
“The foundation of our education system is K-12. And that foundation does have some cracks we need to mend,” the new Republican governor told the legislature during his Jan. 27 State of the State Address. “To improve our educational performance, I will work in the areas of accountability, cooperation, and respect.”
The state’s Office of Education Accountability, which was created under Gov. Perdue’s Democratic predecessor, Roy E. Barnes, should be part of the education department, the governor said.
“We’ll also work to constitute other education functions back into the department of education so that local school officials no longer have to thumb through the Yellow Pages to know who to call for the answers they need,” he said.
Mr. Perdue added, however, that the accountability agency would report to the state board of education, an arrangement he described as “similar to a corporate audit function.”
Elaborating last week on his education plans, Mr. Perdue said that state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox would hire a new director for the accountability agency, which is currently housed separately from the education department.
He also announced that he has already moved the state’s Student Data Research Center into the department. The data center was created as a separate agency at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The center will collect and report information on state achievement, which will be used to “develop a meaningful academic scoreboard,” he said.
Describing Georgia, which is facing a $620 million shortfall in its $16.1 billion budget for the current fiscal year, as an airplane “that has always been dependable” but is in need of a tuneup, Gov. Perdue said in his State of the State Address that the state could not afford to give teachers an across-the-board salary increase in fiscal 2004.
“It is less than we want to do for our teachers,” he said. “But when our budget situation improves, we will give our teachers a raise.”
Last week, during a press conference at Centennial Elementary School in Atlanta, he said he wants to give local educators more freedom over their school district’s finances.
“No longer will districts have to fill out forms that document how many boxes of chalk are at each school,” the governor said.
His legislative package will recommend that funds meant for classroom instruction be used only for that purpose. But control over other expenditures, such as transportation or media, will be lifted.
“This flexibility will allow school systems to be laboratories so that we can identify our best practices,” he said.
Ms. Cox expressed her support for the governor’s agenda, saying “these moves show that Sonny understands that we need the department to be a one-stop agency for education in Georgia.”
Minner Sets Her Sights
On Character Education
Though Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is facing a projected $300 million budget gap for fiscal 2004, her recent State of the State Address was long on optimism.
Early in her speech Jan. 23, the Democratic governor pointed out that, despite difficult economic times, the state has not “raised taxes, drastically slashed services, laid off state workers, or raided our emergency-reserve funds in the last two years.” The total state budget for fiscal 2004 is $2.4 billion.
Gov. Minner, who took office in 2001, also presented an ambitious list of proposals for the upcoming year, including plans to hold polluters more accountable, draft campaign-finance reforms, and develop a character education program for the state’s schools. However, most of those plans would not require new state spending.
The governor instructed state Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff to draw up a program that would help instill values in Delaware’s K-12 students. The voluntary program would be offered to districts at little or no cost to them, she said.
“Those schools who take advantage of character education will find themselves producing better students and better citizens,” she said.
Ms. Minner also said the state was reaping the benefits of the standards and accountability program it began putting in place a decade ago. Specifically, she said, Delaware has seen improvement in the past two years in reading and mathematics scores in key grades.
—Michelle R. Davis
New Governor Cites
Bleak Fiscal Picture
Gov. Mitt Romney delivered a sobering message as he spoke to lawmakers recently about the state’s sour economy.
During his Jan 29. budget address, the newly inaugurated Republican governor called for reducing state aid to cities and towns by $114 million. But he vowed to protect aid to local schools by ensuring that reductions do not allow a community to fall below its foundation budget for school spending.
The governor, who won his seat largely on a business-minded platform of making state government more efficient, said that Massachusetts has about $650 million less to spend over the next five months than originally projected, and that the Bay State lost 100,000 jobs in December.
Gov. Romney will submit his budget proposal for the next fiscal year later this month as he tries to close an estimated budget shortfall of $3 billion without raising taxes.
“Raising taxes would not be fair to our working families,” he said in his address. “So many families are so close to the edge that a tax increase could push them over.”
Carcieri Pledges Money
For Educator Training
Despite a projected $200 million deficit in next year’s estimated state budget of $2.8 billion, Rhode Island Gov. Donald L. Carcieri promised in his first State of the State Address to find additional money for educator training and college scholarships. And without raising taxes.
“It’s all about choices,” said the businessman and political newcomer in his Feb. 4 speech. “We must be willing to redirect the money we are already spending.”
A detailed spending plan is expected later this month, but the Republican governor called for doubling state support for college aid. In addition, he said the state’s education department budget should hike spending on professional development for teachers and principals at the K-12 level.
To help pay for these and other increases he is proposing, Mr. Carcieri is launching what he’s called the “Big Audit.” Led by a committee of lawmakers, labor leaders, and government officials, the process aims to scour the state budget for possible savings.
In his speech, the governor also highlighted efforts to redesign Hope High School in Providence. Persistently poor student performance at the urban school has prompted state education officials to intervene to help craft an improvement strategy.
Mr. Carcieri said the turnaround effort at Hope High is a model for the rest of the state. Rhode Island policymakers recently required all districts in the state to find ways to create more “personalized” learning environments at the secondary level.
Budget Cuts Will Hit
Education, Doyle Says
Wisconsin lawmakers have been called back into session to slash $161 million from the current biennial budget, and education funding will be among the many casualties, Gov. Jim Doyle promised in his first State of the State Address.
“This crisis is too big, too deep, too firmly rooted for any one part of our state or segment of our society to shoulder the burden alone,” the Democrat said in his Jan. 30 speech.
No taxes will be raised, however, to cover a $452 million deficit, he said.
The combined budget for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 is $22.3 billion, and a budget deficit is expected for the budget cycle starting in July.
School funding should be overhauled, Mr. Doyle said before announcing the formation of a task force that will study the issue.
Under 1993 legislation, Wisconsin agreed to provide two-thirds of all school funding and put in place caps on the property tax rate. For the past several years, however, administrators, teachers, and parents have protested the caps and asked for more funding, citing decaying schools and the inability to pay for programming.
On another front, the governor pledged to treat teachers like professionals, citing lagging salaries, climbing health-care costs, and high turnover as problems he intended to tackle.
Those aren’t the only troubles, he said. The achievement gap is great in Wisconsin, he said. Only one-third of African-American 8th graders in the state go on to graduate from high school.
Middle school is a good place to intervene, Mr. Doyle added. That said, the governor unveiled a new Community Connections initiative, geared toward providing mentors to children in the middle grades as well as involving them in civic duties.