Education Concerns in State Legislatures
The state's chief educational concern this year, according to the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees, is to establish a single board for vocational education and technical training.
To help speed passage, bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would consolidate all the governmental bodies that deal with vocational education in the state, which are now inefficiently splintered, according to State Senator Anne Lindeman, chairman of the Senate education committee.
Ms. Lindeman also said a bill to extend the attendance requirement through the first two years of high school--a bill that has failed before--will be introduced again this year. The state currently requires attendance through the eighth grade.
Representative James L. Cooper, the chairman of the House education committee who co-sponsored the vocational-education bill on the House side, has also been investigating a "scientific-creationism" bill for presentation to the legislature.
"We are about decided the only thing we can do is to say that evolution shall not be taught as an absolute science," he said. "We'll probably introduce something worded along those lines," he said.
Mr. Cooper also intends to introduce legislation that would raise the legal drinking age from 19 to 21. The same bill has failed in three previous sessions, he said.
Arizona's finance formula for education and other governmental functions now limits growth to 7 percent per year. That cap would be changed to correspond to the rate of economic growth under another bill expected to be introduced this term.
"This is a very tight money year," said Ms. Lindeman, who is opposing the bill. "And I don't think we could afford it."
A bill that has passed the State Senate would make it illegal to loiter near playgrounds without legitimate reason.
Introduced by State Senator Al Meiklejohn, chairman of the Senate education committee, it bars anyone from loitering near schoolyards with the intent of interfering with or disrupting the school program or with the intent to interfere with or endanger the schoolchildren.
Anyone found within 100 feet of school grounds would be subject to arrest if he failed to leave when asked by either a school administrator or a police officer.
The legislature is already considering numerous bills that relate to education, many of which are pending from the last session. One leftover from last year is a bill that mandates equal time for "scientific creationism."
Three bills dealing with the methods and procedures by which school facilities and facility improvements will be funded are under study by the school building and supplies subcommittee. The bills are intended to refine the highly technical features of a capital-outlay program passed in 1980.
Some legislators favor an across-the-board percentage raise in teachers' salaries, while others want to give teachers a flat amount. Another proposal could extend the salary scale beyond the 14th year of experience.
Gov. George Busbee has proposed a $7.2-million program in compensatory education, which would provide remedial instruction in mathematics and reading for more than 50,000 9th and 10th graders who were below par on the 8th-grade achievement tests.
The legislature probably will not deal with the school-finance question this session, according to legislative staff. The state's Supreme Court found that the state's current system is not unconstitutional (as had been charged), but should still be made more equitable. Currently, University of Georgia researchers are looking at various options; their research will be reported to the legislature's education committees. It is possible that legislators who do not serve on an education committee could introduce a finance bill, but if they do not, the issue probably will not reach the legislature this year.
In an effort to alleviate the state's cash-flow problems, Gov. James Thompson has proposed to change the payment schedule for state aid to schools for fiscal years 1982 and 1983. The state would pay 15-percent interest to the districts on the amount deferred.
Currently, the state makes a double payment in June and none in July, costing some $256 million and resulting in severe cash-flow problems. The Governor proposes delaying the double payment and making only single payments monthly. Local school officials oppose the plan, contending it would cause cash-flow problems for them since their fiscal year ends on June 30.
The Governor also proposed a change in calculating local property taxes that some local school administrators fear could cost them substantial amounts of revenue. The change involves a factor--called the "multiplier"--imposed by the state on taxing districts where property is underassessed. The multiplier effectively raises taxes in such districts, but Governor Thompson wants to soften the impact by rolling back the tax rates.
"School districts will fight this tooth and toenail," one school official said. "We'd just lose too many dollars."
To help make up for the loss, the Governor also has proposed an increased tax on liquor, but it has received little support.
Senate President Philip J. Rock, an influential Democrat from Chicago, termed the liquor tax "a bandage too small for the wound."
The legislature is in the middle of an emergency 30-day session and has a number of education-related measures before it.
The school budget was increased by 4 percent last year but because of declining enrollment, the percentage increase will be less this year, according to Paul W. Krohne, associate state superintendent.
Governor Robert Orr has introduced a bill that would establish a select advisory commission on secondary and elementary education. The commission, with a $150,000 budget, would study all aspects of the schools and teacher certification and preparation.
Apart from the Governor's bill, there is a measure that would prohibit the state teacher-licensing board from requiring that teachers complete their master's degrees before receiving a "professional license.''
Another bill to create the Indiana Institute for Science and Math, a boarding school for gifted students, is expected to provoke controversy because it was merged with a second bill that would allow for educational vouchers redeemable at eligible public or private schools.
A few Democratic members introduced a bill that would prevent the state budget agency from distributing federal block grants to local jurisdictions "without specific appropriation by the General Assembly." Mr. Krohne said the prognosis for the bill is not good because movement on it has been sluggish and the co-sponsors are minority-party members.
Of major concern in Massachusetts is additional state aid to local jurisdictions, which will face their second year of revenue reductions stemming from Proposition 2, the state's property-tax-limitation law. Although the governor recently signed legislation permitting localities to slow the reduction in property taxes provided that local voters approve the change, schools are not expected to benefit immediately.
The legislature also is expected to consider formulas for distributing any additional state aid to localities--taking into account, for example, the relative wealth or poverty of a community.
Michael J. Daly, executive deputy commissioner of education, said he expects education associations to press for guarantees that state aid to communities will be "earmarked" for the schools--something that is not provided for in existing law.
Money continues to be a major question in Michigan, a state hit particularly hard by unemployment and federal budget cuts. Gov. William G. Milliken is to outline his budget proposal this week.
One bill likely to be introduced would effectively take away the state's power to regulate religious private schools, except for enforcement of state health and fire codes.
One section of the package would remove references to "parochial" and "denominational" from a 1921 law that gives the state superintendent of public instruction the authority to require certain information from private schools as well as public schools.
More than 500 education bills that were introduced last year have been held over for the current session, according to Rosarita Hume of the state department of education.
These include measures requiring drug and alcohol education; instruction on labor and industrial relations; "peace and human kindness"; cardiopulmonary resuscitation; and child care.
But since the state must pay for any new required programs under the so-called "Headlee amendment" to the constitution, Ms. Hume said, chances that the measures will pass are slim.
"When you don't have any money for other things, I don't think the legislature is going to pass anything it would have to finance," she said.
The Mississippi legislature, which convened Jan. 5, will receive several key pieces of legislation this session that could, if enacted, result in substantial changes in the state's education system. So far, the State Senate has passed a bill that mandates equal time for "scientific creationism." The bill, which has been sent to the House, was passed by the Senate on the first day of the legislative session.
A group of proposed education reforms will be introduced by Gov. William Winter; many were also recommended in a 1981 report to the Governor by a "blue-ribbon panel." The expected legislation includes:
A proposal to begin a mandatory, state-sponsored kindergarten in the public schools. Currently, Mississippi is the only state with no state kindergartens.
A compulsory school-attendance law "with teeth." Currently, Mississippi law requires that students attend school until the age of 14, but there are no enforceable penalties for parents or students who fail to comply. As a result, Mississippi has large numbers of "non-starters'' in the first grade and dropouts among students younger than 14.
A change in school-finance law, proposed by Charles E. Holladay, state superintendent of education, that would equalize funding from district to district.
Increases in teachers' salaries. Currently, Mississippi's teachers have the lowest salaries, statewide, in the nation.
A change in the state's oil and gas severance tax that would bring in the revenues to finance some of the above proposals. Under the Governor's proposal, the legislature will be asked to raise the tax 3 percent--from 6 to 9 percent. The proceeds would be used to establish a trust fund, which would be used to pay for kindergartens and other reforms.
State regulation of private schools, the revamping of local school-board election procedures, tax equity for school finance, and a general statement of public schools' purpose have been addressed by bills recently introduced in the Nebraska state legislature.
According to Del Siefkes, a legislative research analyst, three bills on state regulation of private schools are expected to receive a great deal of attention.
Each of the bills would allow private or denominational schools to seek waivers from the state department of education that exempt them from regulations governing teacher certification, minimum curriculum requirements, and paperwork related to those issues, Mr. Siefkes said.
Another bill, directed primarily at the Lincoln Public Schools, would require that all local school-board members be elected by districts, rather than by an at-large process as they now are.
A "carry-over" bill from the legislature's most recent session would put into law for the first time a "role and mission statement" to ensure quality in the state's public schools. The bill, LB338, was defeated on its initial floor test by an 18-26 vote. According to Mr. Siefkes, the bill would add the words "thorough and efficient" to the section of the state constitution regarding public schools. Currently, the constitution only mandates that the state provide children with a "free education."
The legislature is also considering a bill that would designate a set percentage of the state's income and sales-tax revenues for support of public education. According to Mr. Siefkes, the bill's provisions would increase state aid to schools. The state now contributes only an average of 16 percent of school districts' budgets; by 1987, under the proposal, the state share would increase to about 40 percent.
Gov. Hugh Gallen has proposed a number of measures, which he has yet to introduce in the state legislature, that would provide aid to school districts as well as solve temporarily the state's cash-flow problem.
The Governor has proposed to give $10.5 million in state transportation funds to municipalities in need of financial assistance. The aid would replace the locality's share of state taxes on lottery receipts and business profits. Governor Gallen's plan also would permit the state to withhold certain payments to school districts until July 1 so that the state does not exceed the current year's appropriations, according to Paul B. Kilmister, consultant to the commissioner of education.
The legislature also is considering a bill that would clarify responsibility for educating handicapped students. Mr. Kilmister said this bill would give the financial responsibility to the school district in which the handicapped child lived at the time of placement in a group or foster home instead of to the district in which the child was placed.
The concerns of the Senate and Assembly education committees are not yet clear. New appointments to the committees, necessitated by a large turnover in the membership of the legislature after last November's elections, have not yet been made.
Senator Matthew Feldman, a Democrat, continues as chairman of the Senate education committee. However, the well-known chairman of the Assembly education committee, Albert Burstein, did not seek reelection and will be replaced.
A staff aide to both committees said that no major legislation was pending in the committees before the November election.
However, the newly inaugurated governor, Thomas H. Kean, has been highly critical of the state's 7-year-old "Thorough and Efficient" law--a statewide program that, among other things, combines school district accountability with an extensive remedial program. Mr. Kean has attacked the program as overly bureaucratic and has vowed to change it.
In addition, the program's primary architect, State Commissioner of Education Fred G. Burke, resigned recently. Mr. Kean has not yet named a replacement for Mr. Burke, nor will he announce until next month his education budget for the 1982-83 school year.
The major education battles in this session of the New York legislature will be over budgets and finance reform, according to members of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees and their staffs.
In his budget address last week, Gov. Hugh L. Carey called for a freeze on state education spending at the 1981-82 level. And next month, the Governor--who also announced last week that he will not seek re-election next fall--will present to the legislature a new system of state school taxes.
An aide to the Assembly education committee said the proposed freeze on spending "will go over like a lead balloon" in the legislature. The aide added that in proposing the cap, the Governor may have provoked a "major education debate" during the upcoming session.
The New York Board of Regents has proposed a 13-percent increase in state aid to public schools. The regents have also submitted a new formula for state aid to school districts, under which 191 districts in the state would lose a total of $48 million, while 488 districts would receive an additional $550 million.
Other major bills that will be considered by the legislature this session include one to allow school districts more flexibility in the way they serve the state's 200,000 students whose proficiency in English is limited.
A bill to be considered by the House education committee would give districts the choice of offering English-as-a-second-language classes, "other appropriate programs" including special tutoring, or bilingual instruction, which is now the only available alternative.
There are also bills pending that would provide state grants to school districts that conserve energy; allow public-school buses to be used by private schools when public schools are not in session; and provide diplomas to handicapped students who do not pass the state-mandated Regents' competency examinations, but who successfully complete individual education plans provided for them.
Money will also be a major item on the education agenda of the Pennsylvania legislature.
Under state law, all federal allocations to the state must be reappropriated by the legislature. As a result, the Senate and House edu-cation committees will work out a formula for distributing Pennsylvania's $21.6-million share of the new federal block grants.
Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh will submit his education budget within the next several weeks. Legislative sources predict an increase of 6 to 7 percent over this year's $2.54-billion state education budget. The Governor is said to be considering allocating education aid through state-operated block grants, an idea that seems to have little support in the legislature.
The Senate education committee will also consider a controversial House-passed bill that would revise the entire state school code.
The bill would reduce the terms of state board of education members from six to four years; allow teacher layoffs for any "economic" reason (districts can now furlough teachers only if enrollment declines reduce course offerings); and bar the secretary of education from withholding funds to districts until they have gone through an appeals process.
The House will also consider a controversial bill that would strip the Philadelphia school board of the authority to raise taxes and place fiscal responsibility in the hands of the mayor and the city council. The city's superintendent of schools would be made a member of the Mayor's cabinet under the bill.
The legislation is sponsored by 20 of the 34 members of the Philadelphia delegation, but sources in the legislature give it little chance of passage.
The education community in South Carolina is watching the appropriations process very carefully this year; the appropriations bill has, so far, been cited as the most significant piece of legislation affecting education.
The concern arises because the state has, over the past several years, enacted several key pieces of education-reform legislation affecting equal finance, changes in pupil-teacher ratio, and "basic-skills" requirements. But in the middle of this fiscal year, the state government imposed a 2.19-percent budget cut on all state agencies. Depending on the cuts the reforms may not stay on schedule.
A bill to raise the state sales tax by two cents to aid local school districts was defeated in a House vote, but the bill is currently being revised and will likely come up again.
Another measure would require the state to monitor the attendance records of students in Christian schools. The state's compulsory-attendance law requires students to be in school 175 days a year.
A companion bill, approved by the Senate education committee but not yet acted on by the House, would create a new registration category for Christian schools to be approved by the state. The schools would be required to file a "statement of purpose" with the state and to inform parents of their goals. Once the schools are registered, according to Scudder Parker, clerk of the Senate education committee, the state would have no further authority to intervene in their affairs except when a parent made an appeal to the state board.
Mr. Parker said the committee is also considering a bill that would define categories for special-education students in accordance with federal law, 94-142. Currently, students are eligible for special education if they are below their grade level by half a year or more.
The legislature, which will convene this week, is expected to begin consideration of a bill that would give fiscal autonomy to school districts whose finances are now governed by fiscal-control boards. Most school boards in Wisconsin are fiscally independent, but 41 school districts answer to regional boards composed of municipal officers.
The control boards were originally set up to ensure that city interests would not dominate the schools, said Raymond Heinzen of the department of public instruction.
But the control-board system has been questioned on constitutional grounds, he said, and has sparked "a number of mini-civil wars locally."
The legislature may also take up competency testing, tabled last session after months of debate.
State information was compiled by Anne Bridgman, Peggy Caldwell, Susan G. Foster, Alex Heard, Tom Mirga, Thomas Toch, Susan Walton, and Don Sevener.
Vol. 01, Issue 18