States Education Issues

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Connecticut, which faces a $46.5-million deficit in its current $3.2-billion budget, as well as a projected $300-million deficit next year, will cut state programs by 5 percent this year.

For fiscal 1983-84, the state board of education has requested $706 million, up $151 million over the current education budget. Gov. William J. O'Neill is proposing $604.5 million. Under the Governor's proposal, the general-purpose education budget would be about $344 million for fiscal 1984 and $357 million for fiscal 1985.

The state government is responsible for approximately 36 percent of all education spending in Connecticut.

About $140 million of the state board's request, education officials say, is needed to cover the cost of implementing legislation passed last year by the legislature to equalize school aid. The Governor has already said he wants to simplify the aid formula.

In the legislature, "neither party is paying much attention to education, except for the state's education-aid formula," says Patricia Scully Belair, a spokesman for state department of education. The formula currently takes into account various factors that reflect the wealth and the "tax effort" of towns and is designed to give more state aid to poorer communities. The Governor, says Ms. Belair, wants to maintain the "equalization" philosophy of the formula.

One proposal being considered would change the data base used for determining education grants to local schools. The education department would use data from a three-year period, instead of the two-year period currently prescribed by law. The three-year data base is considered more reliable, because it offers more information--including census, school records, and property-value assessments--before the legislature determines appropriations, according to Scott Brohinsky, legislative assistant to the commissioner.

The Governor's proposal would fund 85 percent of the equalization program, but some legislators are considering raising that total to 90 percent of full funding, which would cost $33 million more than the Governor's requested budget increase.

The Governor is asking for a 0.5-percent decrease in the state sales tax, but some legislators have proposed the alternative of taxing personal income and cutting the sales tax from 7.5 percent to 3.5 percent. Connecticut does not have a personal income tax, and the issue of establishing one invariably comes up during legislative sessions.

State legislators will consider a bill to amend the state's compulsory-attendance law. The bill would lower the minimum age at which students are required to attend school from 7 to 5.

Another proposal would move proficiency testing of students from the 9th grade to the 8th grade. Public-school leaders and the state board of education argue that earlier testing would be a better indicator of achievement and would enable students to improve skills in which they are deficient before they enter high school. It would also help the state avoid a massive loss of students to private schools after the 9th grade, proponents say.

A state board proposal on science and mathematics would help train teachers who have been laid off so that they could become certified to teach science, mathematics, and industrial arts. In addition, a forgivable-loan program is being planned for graduate and undergraduate students who agree to teach in those fields in the state. The state board of higher education would use bond-authorization funds but the legislature would have to approve bonds to be used for that purpose.

The legislature would allocate $100,000 for the teacher-retraining effort, to provide competitive grants to local school districts. The districts would use the money to pay tuition costs for the retraining program.

Funding for vocational education that would help purchase equipment for local school districts is being considered by the legislature. Last year, the program received $1 million for the purchase of equipment for 17 schools, but the Governor's budget this year proposes no money for the program.

A bill that would have required teachers to pass a proficiency test in order to be certified was being considered by the legislature, but because the state board of education initiated its own study of the issue, legislators have delayed action on the bill.

In addition, a bill has been introduced that would make students who have been expelled for violent behavior ineligible for alternative education programs.

Maine currently has no deficit, and the state commissioner of education's proposal for an 8-percent increase in the general-purpose education fund has been approved by the legislature's appropriations committees. The education budget would be $240 million in fiscal 1984 and about $259 million in 1985, according to education department officials.

The Governor has proposed a 5-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would generate additional revenue for the state's general fund.

The state provides about 54 percent of education funding.

The aid formula for equitable distribution of funds has received some study by a legislative committee, which would like to simplify the formula, but no bills to change it have been introduced yet.

Several types of modification are under review. Currently, operating costs for elementary and secondary education are separated. One legislative proposal would create a single per-pupil rate for grades K-12. The legislature is also considering applying a straight percentage of program costs. The changes are expected to be consolidated into one legislative package that may receive some attention during the current session, department of education officials say.

The budget also would provide funds for new or expanded programs in mathematics and science, along with an allocation of $250,000 to provide incentives for local school systems to develop effective education programs.

In addition, the state is providing $120,000 in fiscal 1985 to encourage college students to become teachers and to upgrade the skills of current teachers. Maine requires only broad certification of teachers.

The legislature will consider five bills that would allow seniority to be a factor in teacher-contract negotiations. The Maine Supreme Court ruled last year that teacher tenure may be considered when layoffs are decided, but that it does not have to be a controlling factor.

Several pending bills would allow teachers to negotiate class size, length of school day, and number of class periods in collective-bargaining agreements. Current statutes require local boards to meet and to consult with teacher groups on these issues but not to include them in contract negotiations.

Another bill that has been introduced would allow school districts to extend teachers' probationary periods from two to three years.

Meanwhile, the state board is considering a complete revision of teacher-certification standards.

In Massachusetts, the legislature may consider bills to increase the cigarette tax by a few cents and to assure that the state gasoline tax does not fall below 11 percent, according to Soterios C. Zoulas of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The revenue from the two taxes would produce about $40 million to $50 million, the amount of the deficit projected by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Mr. Zoulas said the department of education is supporting three bills that would change the state-aid formula to local school districts. One would establish a ratio between local school budgets and local town budgets; another would establish a certain percentage of the state aid for education, raising the level of state aid to districts from 35 percent to 50 percent annually; and the third would eliminate the "guarantee" clause in the current state-aid formula.

The present formula is not working because it guarantees to all communities a certain amount of money regardless of declining enrollment, Mr. Zoulas said. Nor does the current method permit equalization, because funding is "guaranteed," Mr. Zoulas said. School districts are receiving the same amount of state aid they received in 1978, when the formula was last revised by the legislature.

The state has a surplus of mathematics and science teachers because of a previous layoff of about 300 mathematics and science teachers. Some 8,000 teachers have been furloughed in the state since the 1980 passage of Proposition 2.

The legislature is considering the authorization of about $1 million for a drug-abuse program that has the support of parent groups. It would be piloted in several schools, according to Mr. Zoulas.

Few attempts have been made by the legislature to establish a state-mandated curriculum because of a state law that requires the legislature to fund the programs it institutes.

The New Hampshire legislature has told the state education department to expect a 4-percent across-the-board cut in state funds for this year.

The cut, required by an expected deficit of approximately $35 million in the 1982-83 budget, would mean $1 million less in state aid for local districts, said Robert L. Brunelle, the commissioner of education.

The education department, which has already lost some 60 positions in the last year and a half, will also have to absorb the additional cut, Mr. Brunelle said.

Gov. John H. Sununu has proposed a $72.9-million education budget for fiscal 1984, down from $73.8 million allocated for 1983.

In 1982, the state allocated $70.9 million for education programs, according to Neal D. Andrews, deputy commissioner of education.

The increases enacted since 1982, he said, are the result of new outside revenue. The department of education received $7 million from outside sources this year and expects to receive $12 million in 1984.

The legislature is unlikely to change the state's school-aid formula in the current session, according to Donald F. Day, a consultant for administrative services to the state department of education.

Only about 35 of the so-called "property poor" districts in the state benefit from the state's foundation- and building-aid program, which will be reduced by 4 percent from the fiscal 1982 funding level. Under the Governor's proposals, the state would allocate $3.4 million for the program in fiscal 1984, compared to $3.6 million in 1983.

The state has a lottery program that generated funds the the foundation-aid program. That "sweepstake aid" is now being diverted to the general fund because of the state's cash-flow problems and is only indirectly being used to support education. Mr. Day said the legislature may act to return money from the lottery to the foundation program.

A special committee of the legislature recently approved the creation of a new land tax to support local education in the state. But the proposal, according to Mr. Andrews, is not likely to pass. It was developed specifically to address the outcome of a school-finance suit that is pending before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The state has dropped its "incentive-aid" program to encourage the consolidation of education programs or cooperative-education programs among districts. This program paid money to school districts for each student that crossed district lines for joint educational programs ($45 for elementary students, $60 for junior-high students and $75 for high-school students).

Another program cut in the Governor's budget was the "aid to superintendents" program. Each of the 53 superintendents previously received about $2,500 designated as salary.

Mr. Andrews said there has been some discussion of developing a differential pay scale for mathematics and science teachers and a cooperative program with industry. "But there's been no groundswell to move in that direction. There's considerable opposition to it," he said.

"Because of the fiscal crisis, there's been no truly significant legislation introduced," in Rhode Island according to Lorraine Webber of the state department of education.

Rhode Island is projecting a deficit and the legislature is considering a bill to raise the personal income tax a few percentage points.

Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy has recommended changes in the state-aid formula so that state-aid reimbursements to local districts would be smaller. Currently, state support for local districts is between 30 percent and 75 percent.

Under Governor Garrahy's proposal, the range of state aid for local education programs would be 28 percent to less than 75 percent. A second change in the state formula would reduce the reimbursement rate from 102 percent of the districts education expenses to 101 percent.

The Governor has also proposed a "hold harmless" clause which says that no community will get less than 90 percent of this year's aid. But because the median family income in the state has increased based on 1980 census figures, the share ratio would be reduced to below 75 percent for at least two communities.

The Governor has also recommended that the state defer the state's incentive funding program for one year. The $1.8-million entitlement program would have paid more money for every vocational-education student attending the state's regional centers.

Meanwhile, to cope with the immediate fiscal problems, the Governor has placed a freeze on hiring and has established a committee to review purchases of $250 or more.

Gov. Richard A. Snelling of Vermont, who works with one of the nation's smaller and healthier state budgets, has proposed raising spending by an average of 6.1 percent. He told legislators that his proposed $352-million general-fund budget would include an increase of 6 percent in state aid to school districts and higher education. Governor Snelling also proposed a 14-percent increase in the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation's loan program.

The Governor would raise allocations from $65 million this year to $68.9 million in 1984 and $73 million in fiscal 1985.

In its last session, the legislature called for a one-cent increase in the state sales tax. The tax hike raised about $22 million, which was used primarily to aid education.

A new state education-financing law takes into account income wealth, considered a measure of the towns' ability to provide for education, in addition to a $100-per-pupil allocation. Some legislators, however, are concerned that the factors used to determine wealth do not take into account people on welfare and pensions who do not file income taxes. They are seeking to have the aid formula revised to reflect that factor.

The legislature is considering a bill that would mandate increased hours of instruction on the problems of drug and alcohol abuse. The bill, which would not provide funding for the program, makes such subjects part of schools' driver-education curriculum.

Another bill would require a statewide school calendar to better coordinate days in school and holidays. Robert Luce, general counsel for the department of education, said that the bill would eliminate scheduling conflicts for students who are enrolled part-time in regional vocational- or special-education programs.

A third pending bill would require the state to pay all costs of transporting handicapped students. The bill is intended to correct what is called a disproportionate burden on certain communities, particularly rural communities, in providing transportation for special-education students.

The Governor proposed to begin an early-childhood-education program, funded at $320,000 for 1984. Education officials estimate the program will cost $1.5 million over the next few years.

The Vermont legislature will also consider three bills to amend the state law that entitles teachers to renew their contracts unless there is just cause for dismissal and to allow a school board to terminate a teacher during his or her first three years without explanation. The proposal has not come up in legislative committee.

Vol. 02, Issue 24

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