States Education Issues

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In Delaware, the legislature has approved a 25-percent reduction in energy subsidies to schools for the current fiscal year, amounting to under $3.5 million. The budgets of all state agencies have been cut in an effort to eliminate an estimated $28.6-million deficit in the current $685-million state budget.

This week, joint legislative committees will begin meeting in the House and Senate to iron out funding proposals for fiscal 1984. Gov. Pierre S. du Pont 4th has proposed a 0.4-percent increase in education expenditures, and the state board of education is calling for a 1.7-percent increase.

The Governor's budget proposals would provide no pay raises for state employees, including teachers. The Governor has indicated that he will call for no tax increases or layoffs and that he intends to allocate special funds to introduce computer instruction in the public schools.

The proposed fiscal 1984 budget for education calls for no increases in funding to offset rising school transportation costs. Under the budget, school districts will have to pay the costs of any new education expenditures. For fiscal 1984, the Governor has proposed no increases in "equalization" funding, which was set at $7.9 million in fiscal 1983.

The legislature has passed a bill to create a review committee to explore possible changes in the state's collective-bargaining law. There is, however, no money available to fund the committee.

The Maryland legislature is now looking for ways to counter a $51.2-million shortfall in its current $6-billion budget. One proposal calls for a new lottery, moving corporate income-tax revenue back into the general fund (a change that would raise an additional $16 million), and raising the "sin tax" on tobacco, gasoline, and alcohol to generate an additional $22 million.

If these changes are not approved by the legislature, the state will cut back "contingency" programs in agencies that have been targeted by Gov. Harry Hughes. The state's program for gifted students may be affected if those cuts are made.

For fiscal 1984, which begins July 1, Governor Hughes has proposed a 2.8-percent increase in funding for education.

The legislature and the state department of education are waiting for a court ruling that could change the state's school-finance system. If the state court of appeals upholds a trial court's decision, the state would be forced to allocate more money to poorer school districts. Currently, the wealthiest community in Maryland spends $3 for every $2 spent for the education of students in the poorest areas.

Legislative bills now under consideration would provide "loan forgiveness" incentives to college students who become mathematics and science teachers in Maryland schools.

In New Jersey, Gov. Thomas H. Kean's fiscal 1984 budget proposal would provide $2.1 billion for school programs, an increase of $154.7 million, or 8 percent, over this year's $1.994-billion education budget.

Education expenditures make up 32 percent of the state's $6.8-billion budget, according to Dena R. Schorr, supervising research associate for both the General Assembly and the Senate education committees.

Under the state's aid formula, the fiscal 1984 budget should go up $300 million, but the Governor has not fully funded the program.

Revision of the education-funding formula is on the agenda of the chairmen of both education committees, as well as that of the speaker of the General Assembly. There has been discussion of including a personal-income factor in the formula, which would help equalize expenditures among districts. The state has been brought back to court over the current formula, which is calculated on the basis of equalized property values. (The case involves the Hillside school system.)

Preparing students for a high-technology economy is a "truly major concern" of the legislature, according to Ms. Schorr. A range of bills has been proposed, including ones that would: encourage business to be more involved with training students; increase the number of high-school and college mathematics and science courses that students must take; and provide inservice training for mathematics and science teachers.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo has proposed no new major taxes to deal with New York's projected $1.6-billion deficit in the fiscal 1984 budget of $18.53 billion.

The Governor has proposed so-called "nuisance taxes" on cigarettes, liquor, transportation, and the like, and massive state layoffs that will, for the most part, bypass education. The Governor's budget package includes about $4.8 billion for education programs, of which about $4.46 billion would be used as direct aid to school districts. Direct-aid payments totalled about $4.4 billion last year.

Although the Governor has stated his support for the consolidation of smaller schools, any proposals before the legislature, especially in this session, are not likely to pass, according to one education official.

Governor Cuomo's budget includes a $6-million line item to encourage the establishment of magnet schools for desegregation purposes.

The Governor has proposed a change in the school-finance formula that has been strongly attacked by the Republican majority leader of the Senate. The formula is similar to a proposal, presented by former Gov. Hugh L. Carey, that was easily defeated last year. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1982.)

The New York State Board of Regents has proposed four bills--costing $1.8 million in total--that would help alleviate the shortage of mathematics and science teachers in the state. The bills would: establish an inservice program that would retrain teachers from other disciplines; provide scholarships for prospective teachers; initiate "consultantships" that would allow "master teachers" to lecture at colleges; and establish part-time graduate fellowships for mathematics and science teachers.

Under the Pennsylvania constitution, the state is required to have a balanced budget. The state is currently facing a $200 million-to-$250 million deficit, which Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh plans to cut by a number of measures, including: closing several minor loopholes in the state sales tax; enactment of a minimum tax on capital assets of corporations; the creation of a new severence tax on oil and gas produced within the state; and the withholding of the personal-income tax from dividends and interest.

Governor Thornburgh's fiscal 1983-84 budget includes $1.7 billion in basic operating aid to the state's school systems. This is an increase of $78 million (6 percent) over the current budget. The 1982-83 budget contained $72 million in "new" money.

There are no noteworthy new spending initiatives for education in the state, says Helen E. Caffrey, executive director of the Senate education committee, who says that "you don't make changes unless you've got an extra pot of gold."

However, the budget includes a $300,000 allocation to fund the retraining of unemployed teachers to fill a gap in the state's mathematics and science teacher ranks, according to Ms. Caffrey.

The legislature is "just beginning to address these [teacher shortage] issues," including those that involve various incentive programs--such as differential pay and forgivable loans--to get teachers into these fields.

"All of our energy is focused on budget matters," Ms. Caffrey said. "There hasn't been much time for other things."

The Governor is proposing that school employees increase their contribution to the state's School Employee Retirement Fund from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. This would be accompanied by a decrease in the level of contribution by school systems from 8.53 percent to 7.53 percent. In addition, the interest accrued on an employee's share would be statutorily raised from 4 percent to 6 percent in an effort the discourage participants from withdrawing from the system. The Governor says these moves would save the Fund $36 million this year. "The issue will be hotly debated" in the legislature, Ms. Caffrey said.

The Governor is also proposing to fund model business-school cooperative projects.

Robert Wilburn, the newly appointed secretary of education, has not yet released any specific legislative proposals, although legislative sources say he will probably continue the efforts of his predecessor, Robert Scanlon, to introduce high technology into the state's schools.

The recently settled California, Pa., teachers' strike--the longest in Pennsylvania history--has generated interest within the legislature in the issue of collective bargaining, and a number of new proposals are being discussed. One calls for binding arbitration; another would further limit when teachers could strike by calling for a secret union vote in which at least 50 percent of the membership endorsed the strike action. Gregory A. White, executive director of the House education committee, says, however, that there is no real consensus within the legislature on what changes in collective-bargaining law should or should not be enacted.

There is also likely to be legislation introduced calling for a reduction in the state's contribution to the "excess cost" of educating special-eduation students.

The state's complex formula for reimbursing schools systems for student-transportation costs may also come up during this legislative session. A recent state study found that the school systems may have been overpaid by as much as $20 million during the past three years.

Legislative committees are investigating the possibility of introducing competency testing for students and teachers, but action is considered unlikely.

Vol. 02, Issue 24

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