Ky. Governor Pushes for Reform, New Taxes

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Frankfort, Ky--Gov. Martha Layne Collins, a former schoolteacher who pledged during her campaign not to raise taxes, has asked Kentucky's General Assembly to approve a sweeping education-reform package and to pay for it with more than $200 million in new taxes.

The package, outlined in the Governor's Jan. 26 budget address, includes mandatory kindergarten attendance, grade-by-grade testing of students' basic skills and remedial help to improve them, a career ladder for teachers, and authority for the state to take over persistently substandard school districts.

Ms. Collins, currently the nation's only woman governor, told lawmakers earlier last month during the legislative session's opening days that there was little chance that "vast sums" of new money for education would be sought in her 1984-86 budget.

But after finding that new revenue would be necessary just to balance the two-year budget, she decided to proceed with the proposed school reform she had been expected to delay until a special legislative session next year.

Governor Collins, who was elected last November after a four-year term as lieutenant governor, may face an uphill battle to win legislative approval of her tax package, since all 100 members of the Kentucky House of Representatives are up for re-election next year. But some lawmakers argue that they would rather face the voters with a record of supporting improved schools than making excuses for inaction.

Governor Collins proposes to pay for her educational program by raising the state's personal income tax, by extending the 5-percent sales tax to services not currently covered, and by more than doubling the corporate license fee.

The tax increases would raise $324 million in new money, some $226 million of which would go to elementary and secondary education. The schools would receive another $71 million in new money generated by economic growth. Schools this year are receiving about $960 million under the state's aid program.

"The issue is whether we have the vision to see that improved schools are necessary to provide the jobs and other opportunities our people want and need," the Governor told legislators in her budget message. "The issue is whether we have the courage to do what is right for Kentucky."

Her package contains a variety of new programs emphasizing student achievement and increased accountability throughout a state school system that currently ranks near the bottom nationally on many measures.

For example, Kentucky ranks last in the nation in educational attainment. Only 53.1 percent of its residents 25 years of age or older are high-school graduates, according to the 1980 census. Fewer than half of the residents in 80 of the state's 120 counties have high-school diplomas.

The state also has one of the nation's highest dropout rates and ranks 42nd nationally in per-pupil expenditures, according to national statistics.

A recent U.S. Education Department survey also showed that Kentucky high-school seniors taking the American College Test do worse on the average than their counterparts in all but five of the other 27 states that make use of the act

Salaries a Priority

The largest single increase for education in the Governor's budget is an additional $95 million over the two years to provide 5-percent annual salary increases for teachers. The proposal also seeks another $40 million in 1985-86 for a career-ladder plan for teachers, to be developed in separate legislation.

The Governor also wants a $2.6-million appropriation to start a competency-testing program for new teachers, who would be required to serve a one-year internship before becoming certified.

The remedial program, which would cost $25.3 million, would be used primarily to train and pay 800 aides to assist teachers in the first three grades. An additional $108.6 million in federal Chapter 1 money will be used for remediation in other grades.

Over the two years, the program would earmark $12 million to employ teaching assistants in grades 7 through 12. The aides would work with English teachers to improve students' writing skills.

Expanding Kentucky's optional kindergarten program to mandatory attendance in 1985-86 would cost $19 million, Ms. Collins said. These funds would also reduce the maximum class size from 25 to 20 children.

The Governor also seeks $44.6 million for the state's "power-equalization" program, which supplements the revenues of school districts with low property-tax bases.

Ms. Collins is also asking the state's Cabinet for Human Resources and the Kentucky Department of Education to develop standards that would recognize day-care centers offering education programs of high quality.

In addition to the basic-skills testing and closer scrutiny by the state of the quality of local schools, the Governor proposes several other accountability measures.

These include additional management training for principals and instructional supervisors, upgrading education and training requirements for local school-board members, and requiring school districts to publish annual reports in their local newspapers outlining student retention rates and test scores by school and grade.

In addition, the state board of education would develop performance-evaluation systems for teachers and administrators and review standards for the certification of all school personnel. Prospective principals would also be required to serve one-year internships.

The Governor's package includes several proposals to promote innovative teaching and to attract better students to teacher-education programs. Among the items:

Grants totaling $500,000 for college and university faculty members who develop innovative programs to improve elementary and secondary education.

$500,000 to expand programs for gifted and talented students.

$1.5 million for scholarships for high-school students who are in the top 15 percent of their graduating classes or who have attained a 3.25 grade-point average and who want to become teachers.

$1.6 million for a five-week summer institute for mathematics and science teachers.

$700,000 to provide grants of up to $1,000 to teachers for creative or innovative teaching.

More than $2 million to help schools purchase computers and software and train teachers to use computerized instruction.

Some of the proposals would require little or no new money. One would strengthen the compulsory-attendance law by requiring parental permission for 16- and 17-year-olds to drop out of school. Local districts would also be required to develop student-conduct codes to comply with minimum state standards.

Ms. Collins asks the state board of education to develop a program for the use of noncertified professionals as teachers in high schools where there are shortages of qualified instructors.

Apparently anticipating criticism for her decision to seek new taxes contrary to her campaign pledge, Governor Collins defended her education-reform package by contending that Kentuckians want improved schools.

A statewide poll conducted recently by the University of Kentucky's Survey Research Center indicated that 49 percent of those surveyed were willing to pay more taxes for education reform. Forty-six percent said they were unwilling to pay more taxes.

"The people of Kentucky want change in education," Ms. Collins told reporters shortly before delivering her budget message. "And that's what they're going to get with this package--a much better educational system."

Independently of Ms. Collins's initiative, other bills are before the legislature that would:

Require that prospective teachers pass written tests in their subject area and in pedagogy before obtaining a license. They would also be required to complete a one-year internship under the supervision of a resource teacher, a university faculty member, and a school administrator. The measure has been reported by the Senate education committee to the floor of that chamber.

Make the position of state superintendent of public instruction appointive, rather than elective. The current superintendent, Alice McDonald, who was elected last fall, supports the change, as does Governor Collins.

The state Senate defeated a bill that would have included nonpublic-school students in the state's competency-testing program.

Vol. 03, Issue 20

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