Education Related Issues On State Ballots This Fall: Midwest

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Midwestern gubernatorial races have been dominated by the dismal state of the region's economy--which has cost the region's public schools millions of dollars in state aid in the past few years.

Education has emerged as a key issue in the Illinois gubernatorial race, dividing the candidates on important questions and the state's two major teachers' unions on the candidates.

Adlai E. Stevenson III, the former Democratic U.S. Senator, has made education a fixture of his bid to unseat the two-term Republican governor, James R. Thompson. He has won the endorsement of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The Governor, who is backed by the Illinois Education Association, has responded by unveiling at a recent debate a five-point program he calls "Education for Employment."

As part of his major campaign platform, the economic revitalization of Illinois, Mr. Stevenson has faulted Mr. Thompson for underfunding education and has pledged to bolster state financing of public schools and universities.

"This is no time to cut back on education," Mr. Stevenson says. "Education is not a priority of the Thompson administration. The nation's resources are to be poured into weapons, the state's into welfare and penitentiaries. I intend to break the cycle of welfare, crime, and poverty. I will invest in education, human services, and jobs." The Democrat has been vague about where he will find the money to increase school funding, although he has stressed that removing certain state mandates, such as driver education, would free both state and local dollars for higher-priority programs.

Both candidates have virtually ruled out an income-tax increase to help fund education during the next year.

Mr. Thompson, who was unable to win legislative passage of a liquor-tax increase last spring to support education, contends that his administration has been generous to public schools; he says state funding per pupil has risen 61 percent in the last six years.

But critics had noted that during Mr. Thompson's five-and-a-half-year tenure, the state's share of total expenditures for public schools has dropped from 48.4 percent to 40.3 percent. Moreover, they charge, public schools' share of the state budget has declined 4 percent, under Mr. Thompson.

The Governor has said that his Tax Reform Commission will study alternatives to heavy reliance on the property tax to fund schools.

Beyond the finance issue, much attention has been focused on curriculum.

Mr. Stevenson says he will push for the repeal of state mandates for driver education and health and consumer education. He says schools must emphasize mathematics, science, reading, and foreign languages to prepare students for a changing job market.

Mr. Stevenson also has proposed a business-academic partnership for high-technology research.

Governor Thompson, who has generally left policy matters to the boards he appoints to oversee public schools and higher education, broke with that tradition recently in outlining an elaborate program to gear schooling to economic development.

His proposal includes summer math and science camps for 2,000 students next year for advanced training in mathematics, computer literacy, and foreign languages. He also wants to spend $3 million to help school districts buy computers.

Mr. Thompson also proposes linking companies with high schools and colleges for job training, expanding loans to college students, and beefing up engineering programs at universities.

Governor Thompson told the school-boards association he would favor mandatory collective bargaining for teachers. Mr. Stevenson backs collective bargaining for state workers, but says he opposes legislation requiring it "with unions representing employees of local units of government, because I believe local governments should retain the right to set policies on collective bargaining."

They are also split on the question of public support of private schools. The Governor says he has supported programs that "provide assistance to all students, such as the textbook-loan program." Mr. Stevenson says he opposes tuition tax credits because public finances are too strapped and the constitutionality of such credits is questionable.

Among the critical problems facing Michigan's new governor will be the state's nearly bankrupt school system, which serves 1.8 million students. State support for education has dropped sharply over the past three years as the auto industry declined, and voters have become increasingly reluctant to pay higher property taxes for education. The Democratic candidate, James Blanchard, and his Republican opponent, Richard Headlee, agree on the need to increase state funding for education, but disagree on specifics.

Mr. Blanchard, a U.S. Representative from suburban Detroit, says he will call for an audit of the entire state budget "to determine where waste exists." He says elimination of waste would create new capital for schools. He also endorses shifting most of the school-funding burden from local property taxes to the state income tax, which he says would eliminate inequities in the quality of education based on the affluence of school districts.

The Democrat has also called for streamlining public schools and colleges, saying, "the current system was designed during the post-World War II baby-boom period, and we just don't have enough students now to support that large a system."

Mr. Headlee, an insurance executive, says he would increase the percentage of the state budget earmarked for education by 1 percent each year for the next four years. He also favors tying the school-aid formula to property-tax increases so that the state would shoulder the same ineased burden as homeowners.

Mr. Blanchard opposes tuition tax credits for parents sending their children to private schools. Mr. Headlee supports the concept, which has been debated in the Michigan legislature.

The Republican nominee is the author of the controversial 1978 Headlee Amendment to the state constitution, which stipulates that local property-tax rates cannot increase faster than the national inflation rate. It prohibits the sale of taxpayer-backed bonds and the levying of new local taxes without voter approval, and it bars the state from requiring new programs for cities and school districts without providing the money for those programs. School officials opposed the amendment, fearing that it would decimate their budgets; they now say it is among the least of their fiscal problems.

The two gubernatorial candidates in Ohio have disagreed on almost every major issue affecting education.

Democrat Richard Celeste, a former Ohio lieutenant governor and Peace Corps director in the Carter Administration, has proposed a complete reorganization of the education bureaucracy--with the creation of a new cabinet-level department of education and the abolition of the independently elected Board of Education and Regents. He says the current system makes planning impossible and encourages unhealthy competition between the various interest groups in education.

Mr. Celeste, who has been endorsed by the Ohio Education Association, wants to create a separate education fund to finance the department's activities and a "human-development capital" trust fund to offer low-interest student loans by selling bonds.

The Republican candidate, U.S. Representative Clarence Brown, charges that by advocating centralizing the administration of the education bureaucracy, Mr. Celeste is trying to politicize what is properly a local concern. Mr. Brown says the biggest problem is not lack of organization but lack of money. He has pledged never to cut the state's contribution to education programs, something that has happened regularly in recent years under Gov. James Rhodes, who is retiring.

But localities, Mr. Brown says, must be encouraged to do their part as well. He says he will expand taxing authority so that localities do not have to depend solely on property taxes. Mr. Brown also has proposed abolishing an emergency loan fund for schools, which he says encourages districts to shed whatever burdens they can. His opponent says it would be irresponsible to abolish the loan fund.

Because of congressional redistricting, all 21 seats on the state board of education are also up for election. Normally, state board members serve staggered terms of six years. But Ohio bases its board districts on congressional districts, and there are two fewer congressional districts this time around, so everyone is up for election. The winners will draw straws to determine who will serve two-, four-, and six-year terms.

Missouri voters face a referendum on a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax, which would yield about $306 million--half for local property-tax relief and half for public schools. Nearly all the major education and parents' groups in the state have thrown their support behind the measure, which would add $153 million to the $733 million in state aid to education. Since it provides tax relief and comes on the heels of a cut of more than $50 million in state aid, teachers' groups believe the measure will be attractive to voters.

In Minnesota, the major education-related issue in the governor's race is taxation. Last year, the legislature enacted a "temporary" surcharge on the state income tax and a 1-cent increase in the sales tax. The proceeds from the tax increases, which are supposed to expire next June, have kept a very difficult financial situation from becoming worse, according to state teachers' groups.

The Republican candidate, Wheelock Whitney, has promised to remove the tax increases on schedule. The Democrat, former Gov. Rudy Perpich, has not pledged to remove either tax increase.

Both candidates agree that Minnesota's schools need more money and more financial stability, but they disagree on how to achieve those goals. Mr. Perpich favors increasing state aid while holding to the current levy limits on local property taxes; the Republican, while not explicitly advocating removal of the levy limits, has been "more receptive to letting property taxes float," according to Gene Mammenga of the Minnesota Education Association.

Also on the ballot is a measure that would allow parimutuel betting. That proposal, Mr. Mammenga said, would probably raise revenue for the schools, but education groups are not campaigning actively for it.

Vol. 02, Issue 08

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