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Sebelius Readies for Legislative Fight With Call for Tax Hike
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius asked Kansans last week to invest in the future of the Sunflower State by paying substantially more—individually and as a state—over the next three years to finance pre-K-16 schooling. That proposal was part of an extensive education plan the governor unveiled in her State of the State Address, given Jan. 12.
Despite difficult economic conditions, taxpayers in Kansas should ante up $300 million in the next three years over and above the amount now allotted for education, channeling much of it into early-childhood education and other programs to help students at risk of academic failure, according to the first- term Democrat. The state now spends $3.5 billion on education from prekindergarten through the fourth year of college.
“Everyone in this chamber knows that we are not adequately funding our schools,” Gov. Sebelius said during her speech to the legislature. “It has been years since we provided districts with an adequate increase in base funding, and the cost of our neglect is beginning to show.”
Her plan, called “Education First,” was developed after the leader and her education policy team received advice from more than 2,000 citizens in town hall meetings held around the state last year. It also comes one month after a district judge deemed the state’s school finance formula unconstitutional and ordered officials to overhaul it by July 1 (“Court Says Kansas School Aid System Needs Fixing,” Dec. 10, 2003.)
The new initiative would be underwritten by a series of tax hikes, starting July 1 of this year and continuing through 2009.
While the governor’s plan was received favorably by many in the education community, some questioned whether it was politically viable, said Patricia E. Baker, the deputy executive director and general counsel for the Kansas Association of School Boards. Even if the tax-averse Republican-controlled legislature agrees to it, some educators also wonder whether such a strategy would fulfill the judge’s requirement that Kansas provide a fair and equitable education, she added.
“It is a courageous move to address ... not just K-12, but early- childhood education and higher education as well,” Ms. Baker said of the governor’s proposal. Still, Ms. Baker continued, “it begins to address some of the horrendous shortfalls we’ve had, but it doesn’t take us forward.”
Shawnee County Judge Terry L. Bullock, the judge in the finance case, estimated that the state might have to increase spending by $1 billion over current levels to finance K-12 schools alone appropriately—far more than is outlined in Ms. Sebelius’ plan, which covers all of pre-K-16 education.
One of the building blocks of the governor’s plan is that it aims to connect the entire educational experience of all students, starting at birth and continuing through college.
Some highlights of the initiative include:
- Adding $10 million to the Smart Start program, which provides state money to local community organizations that offer services for children from birth to age 5; li>Voluntary all-day kindergarten;
- Mentors for all first-year teachers of grades K-12;
- Creating a school district audit team that would aid K-12 officials who ask for help with their financial concerns; and
- Additional resources to pay for vocational schools and student-financial-aid programs.
“For too long, we have treated education and the economy as separate issues,” Gov. Sebelius said in her address. “Let me be clear: No plan to revitalize our economy and create jobs can be complete unless it strengthens our schools.”
Taxes will have to be imposed to maintain a balanced budget, officials wrote in a separate document disseminated to reporters. To finance the new education plan, the document says, lawmakers will have to:
- Raise the state sales tax from 5.3 percent to 5.5 percent, 5.6 percent, and 5.7 percent annually from July 1 of this year to July 1, 2006;
- Mandate a 5 percent surcharge on state income taxes for an unspecified amount of time;
- Increase the property tax by 2 mills by fiscal year 2009.
For New Revenue
Gov. Frank H. Murkowski, searching for new revenues for Alaska while vowing to maintain fiscal discipline, said last week he would open a discussion on whether to begin using his state’s long-standing Permanent Fund to help pay for basic government services, including education.
The Republican governor, in his second year in office, told lawmakers in his Jan. 13 State of the State Address that he would appoint a seven-member, nonpartisan panel to study whether to use the fund to help pay for state needs—a traditionally volatile political idea.
Established by law in 1976, the Permanent Fund is a pool of money the state has built up over time from oil and mineral-resource revenues. Qualified Alaska residents receive annual dividends from the $27 billion fund: About 594,000 residents collected $1,107 each in 2003, state officials estimate. The governor’s proposal does not mention ending those payments, however.
Gov. Murkowski said he wanted the panel’s recommendations to be sent to a referendum of Alaskans in November, along with a constitutional limit on government spending.
“There are two paths before us,” Mr. Murkowski said. “One is the easy road—avoid the issue, do nothing, and wait. The other is the course I propose.”
Alaska has continually faced budget deficits in recent years—they reached an estimated $896 million at the start of fiscal 2003—out of an overall budget of about $7.3 billion. State officials also have drawn from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve to make up for the deficit. While the state increased per-pupil spending last year, education department officials estimated their budget fell by 1.3 percent overall, to $729 million.
Governor Wants Broader
Now that Arizona’s economy is finally growing again, Gov. Janet Napolitano wants to spend more on its youngest learners and those who teach and care for them.
In her Jan. 12 State of the State Address, the first-term governor proposed a rating system for child-care and preschool programs. She also announced that a state advisory board would seek new public and private funding to help child-care providers afford better classroom space and curricula.
Ms. Napolitano, a Democrat who was elected in 2002, vowed as well to start a statewide scholarship program to help early-childhood teachers acquire a high-quality education, and she promised to include $24 million in her budget proposal to help low-income, working parents afford child care.
“Clearly the seeds of academic failure are sown very early in life. But so are the seeds of success,” she said.
The governor also insisted that “the time has now come for all parents in Arizona to have the option for their children to participate in full-day kindergarten.”
Her budget proposal, she said, will include first-year financing for voluntary full-day kindergarten, to be phased in over the next five years, beginning with schools in which at least 90 percent of the students participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.
The governor is also calling for improvements in the teacher- certification process that would require additional literacy training for educators.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
After Record Session,
Restraint Is Urged
Playing off last year’s record-setting, 181-day legislative session, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne began his 2004 State of the State Address by emphasizing that this year the “key word is restraint.”
Mr. Kemp-thorne, a Republican who is serving his second term as governor, was referring to the state’s budget, which he predicted would shrink as demands on state coffers grow.
Even so, Mr. Kempthorne proposed a general-fund budget of $961.8 million for K-12 education, which would be a 2 percent increase over the fiscal 2004 total of $943 million.
Under the proposed education budget for fiscal 2005, schools would receive $10 million in new money that could be used to increase teacher salaries, according to Mr. Kempthorne’s Jan. 12 speech.
Idaho’s graduating class of 2006 will be the first required to pass the state’s new Idaho Standards Achievement Tests; those students will have six opportunities to do so. In preparation for the exams, Idaho’s state superintendent for public instruction, Marilyn Howard, requested that $5 million be taken from other programs—such as training for special education teachers, the state’s reading initiative, and funds earmarked for helping districts implement state achievement standards—to finance remedial instruction for students who need help preparing for the new test.
In response, the governor proposed cutting the $5 million from the programs Ms. Howard suggested, but is not planning to fund the extra academic services sought by the schools chief, an elected Democrat, according to a spokeswoman for the state department of education.
Gov. Kernan Seeks
In his first State of the State Address, Indiana Gov. Joseph E. Kernan emphasized the need for more early-childhood education in the state.
Mr. Kernan, a Democrat, was formerly the lieutenant governor. He was sworn in as governor four months ago, after the death of Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon, also a Democrat.
Gov. Kernan asked the legislature in his Jan. 13 speech to support an initiative that would give every Hoosier child access to voluntary full-day kindergarten by 2007. He announced the proposed program this month.
Called the Early Learning Trust, the program would enable 20,000 children who aren’t in full-day kindergarten to benefit from such programs by this coming fall, according to the governor. Mr. Kernan also proposed that Indiana develop, also by the fall, pilot programs in early-childhood education that target children who are at risk of academic failure.
While Indiana currently pays for half-day kindergarten for any child who wants it, it provides only $8.5 million for full-day-kindergarten programs, which reach 6,000 children, according to Jonathan Swain, the deputy press secretary for the governor. Mr. O’Bannon had tried unsuccessfully to get the legislature to adopt a full-day-kindergarten initiative in 1999.
In his speech, Mr. Kernan referred to problems that Indiana has had in balancing its budgets in recent years because of low levels of state revenue.
He applauded the fact that Indiana didn’t shorten the school year to reduce budget deficits.
In addition, Mr. Kernan promised in his speech to support a new Indiana commission that has been established to prevent child abuse and neglect.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Tax Increase Proposed
To Boost School Funding
Challenging legislators to become education advocates despite a tight economy, Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa is proposing restructuring the Hawkeye State’s tax system to generate revenue to keep school funding on course.
Otherwise, the Democrat predicted a grim future for Iowa during his Condition of the State Address on Jan. 13 if legislators fail to back his ideas. He said under-funding education could risk Iowa’s “national standing” as a K-12 leader.
But far worse, he added, “we run the risk of extinguishing the passion for education, a return to declining student achievement and test scores, and a continuation of higher tuition, eliminating for some the dream and the opportunity of a higher education.”
Expanding the base of services that would be subject to the state sales tax would pump $131 million into the K- 12 education budget, restoring funds cut from the fiscal 2003 education budget, the governor said. The additional revenue also would allow for an expansion of the state’s teacher-compensation program, which some had believed would be a victim of budget cuts this year (“Iowa’s Move Toward Pay-for-Performance on Verge of Collapse,” Sept. 10, 2003.)
Gov. Vilsack also announced plans to introduce anti-bullying and anti- harassment legislation aimed at schools, because “every child deserves a safe haven at school to learn and grow.” The legislation would include protection for students who were harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
—Karla Scoon Reid
New Reading Initiative
Leads School Agenda
Kentucky’s recent improvements in student achievement have created a “firm foundation to build on” in the cash-strapped state, but they aren’t enough, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said in his first State of the State Address.
The Republican governor, who was elected in November, announced that he would launch a reading initiative that aims to ensure that every 3rd grader could read at grade level. He appointed first lady Glenna Fletcher to lead the project, which was the centerpiece of his education platform in last year’s campaign.
The reading program was a small section in the Jan. 13 speech, which focused primarily on fixing Kentucky’s budget woes and reorganizing state government.
In his most ambitious proposal, Mr. Fletcher urged legislators to pass a tax bill that would ensure that state tax collections grew at the same pace as the economy.
“This is comprehensive change in the way we do business to reflect the new economy, and to attract the human capital we need,” the former member of the U.S. House of Representatives said.
He acknowledged the tax overhaul will be difficult to pass in a year when legislators face re- election, but he said it was vital for the health of the state budget to come up with a new tax code.
The governor didn’t hint at how school funding would fare in his forthcoming budget plan or take a side on the state’s K-12 testing program, which is under fire because it doesn’t provide enough information about how students perform against national averages.
—David J. Hoff
Top Governor’s 2004 List
Establishing after-school programs in all New Jersey schools tops Gov. James E. McGreevey’s list of 2004 educational priorities.
In his State of the State Address, delivered Jan. 13, the Democratic governor asked for the legislature’s help in forming a partnership among the state, the private sector, and community groups to set up such programs. He hopes to enroll 20,000 of the state’s 1.4 million schoolchildren in the 2004-05 school year.
Mr. McGreevey also proposed consolidating school districts to ease the local property-tax burden and to spend education dollars more efficiently. He wants to eliminate 23 districts that have no schools and require 172 other districts that have only one school each to share services.
He would set limits on local administrative and noninstructional costs—a proposal that drew applause from lawmakers—and reward districts that lived within them, while penalizing those that did not.
Gov. McGreevey also proposed making New Jersey the first state to require employers to provide 16 paid hours of “kids time” to enable parents to deal with such responsibilities as attending parent-teacher conferences.
The governor was expected to outline how he would pay for his plans when he presents his budget next month.
Rounds Signals Push
For Education Spending
Gov. Mike Rounds says South Dakota is up to the task of meeting higher academic standards set forth in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
And to get there, he will do his part by getting more involved in education, such as by visiting schools and overseeing a reorganization of the state education department in the coming year, the Republican pledged in his Jan. 13 State of the State Address.
“We will make changes within the department, and I will be happy to report back to you once those changes have been made,” the first-term governor said.
Mr. Rounds also provided a glimpse of his budget plan due out later in the week.
On the K-12 front, he said he would seek a $5.1 million, or 1.5 percent, increase for inflation; a redistribution of $2.7 million in leftover funds from declining enrollment; and a $7.3 million supplement in per-student funds that had been expected from a state education trust, but that were unlikely to materialize because of low investment returns."With this combination of state aid, which amounts to $15.1 million, it will be one of the largest single increases ever in the state,” he declared.
He also warned that he would take a hard look at school consolidation in communities with declining enrollments.
“The saving of a school is not necessarily the saving of a small town,” he said. “We will save small towns by building their economies.”
—Robert C. Johnston
Locke Wants Lawmakers
To Do More for Schools
Gov. Gary Locke has told Washington state legislators they should do more to help classroom teachers.
“Class sizes must be smaller; teachers must be paid what they deserve; and professional-development opportunities must be plentiful,” he declared last week in his seventh State of the State Address. He delivered the speech at Olympia High School, in downtown Olympia, the state capital.
The Democrat said more help was needed for students struggling with reading, writing, mathematics, and science. He also called for intensified efforts to promote early learning of basic skills.
Providing teachers and schools with adequate resources and other assistance is “the only way every student will have a fair chance to meet today’s higher academic standards,” he said.
The Jan. 13 speech did not say where Gov. Locke would find funding for his proposals.
But last month, he proposed a supplemental budget for the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years, with $61.7 million in new spending on items such as helping school districts cope with enrollment increases, giving special help for underachieving students and scholarship incentives for high-achieving students, and improving the state’s student-assessment program.
The current two-year budget allocates $10.5 billion to K-12 education.
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2004 edition of Education Week as State of the States