Governors Propose School-Improvement Plans
The Governors of Connecticut, Illinois, and Pennsylvania proposed last week that their legislatures approve initiatives designed to produce substantial improvement in the performance of schools.
Gov. William A. O'Neill of Connecticut presented a $4-billion fiscal 1985 budget to the General Assembly that calls for a 10.8-percent increase in spending overall and an 11.8-percent increase in state support for education in grades K-12, according to Gordon Frassinelli, assistant state budget director.
Total expenditures for education would reach $693.1 million, up from $619.9 million in fiscal 1984.
"First and foremost is my concern for the education of our young people and my commitment to their future," Governor O'Neill said.
He said that the state's public schools "have a long and proud tradition of preparing students for higher education and the world of work," but that "there is still room for improvement."
To strengthen elementary and secondary education in Connecticut, the Governor included in his budget package a $44.6-million increase in state aid to local school districts and allocations totaling $5.5 million to establish new programs that would help move the state "along the path to educational excellence," Mr. O'Neill said.
The new initiatives would include $2 million to boost grants for compensatory education; $2 million to provide aid to poor "priority" school districts; $900,000 to develop proficiency tests for pupils in grades 4, 6, and 8; $115,000 to develop competency requirements for those entering teaching; $80,000 to provide incentive loans for those who choose teaching as a career; a $500,000 program for the professional development of teachers and administrators3through educational institutes; and $50,000 to study raising graduation requirements.
"To build on the program I have outlined, I will soon appoint a high-level citizens' commission to develop a plan of action to assure excellence in our schools. This plan will serve as the basis for administrative and legislative action in the future, including the question of compensation for teachers," Governor O'Neill said.
The Governor said that the Assembly's plan to equalize education funding between districts would reach 95 percent of full funding in 1985.
In Illinois, Gov. James R. Thompson asked legislators to consider a number of education initiatives, including expansion of a master-teacher program, and promised to unveil a three-year reform blueprint for Illinois schools next month.
In his state-of-the-state message, the Governor proposed:
Expanding a master-teacher program to reach every school building in the state, a plan similar to a program supported by Superintendent Donald G. Gill last month.
Creating a mathematics and science academy--a residential high school for the state's brightest students. The academy would be located in a high-technology growth area and be linked with business and industry.
Providing grants, totalling $4-million, for every school in the state for what the Governor called "discipline [and] school-climate improvements." The grants, an aide said, would be used to bring in consultants to work on curricular development and conduct training workshops for teachers.
Appointing a commission to examine ways that school districts can operate more efficiently.
Governor Thompson will not release his fiscal 1985 budget until early March; he pledged to offer more comprehensive measures for school reform at that time.
Most state education leaders were disappointed recently when Governor Thompson virtually doomed any substantive reform efforts for this year by opposing extension of an income-tax increase that was enacted last year and is due to expire on July 1.
Nelson Ashline, deputy state superintendent, said he was "heartened by the amount of time the Governor devoted to education in his speech," but added that "we remain concerned about how much money he intends to spend for education."
Reginald Weaver, president of the Illinois Education Association, voiced reservations about the Governor's priorities, saying the chief goal should be adequate support for basic education.
Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh's $15.5-billion budget package for fiscal 1985 includes significant increases in instructional support for public schools.
The Governor recommended a 7-percent increase--or an additional $124 million--next year for the basic instructional subsidy for local school districts. He also called for an additional $15.3 million for the state's special-education programs. The 7-percent increase for special education, he said, would "maintain Pennsylvania's standing as a national leader in this particular field."
To improve education in the state, Governor Thornburgh urged the legislature to approve an "agenda for excellence" that would cost the state an additional $48 million next year.
The plan calls for "$10 million to establish more rigorous high-school graduation requirements; $28 million for new statewide testing and remedial programs; and $10 million for financial and other incentives for outstanding work by teachers and students.
When fully implemented, the reform efforts "will call for a new state investment in education of more than $100 million annually," according to the Governor.
The Governor said the process of turning the so-called "rising tide of mediocrity" into one of quality "cannot be deferred while we debate other issues."
The philosophy underlying his proposals, he said, has been "tested time and time again by great Americans who have risen from poverty and obscurity to the pinnacle of their professions." He said that education has always been "the key to unlocking the shackles of despair" and "the best investment in the future of this commonwealth."
Increases in spending for all education programs, including higher education, amounts to $310 million; that accounts for 68 percent of the $458-million in new spending in the general-funds budget, the Governor said.
Mr. Thornburgh also proposed selling state liquor franchises to raise about $150 million for schools and colleges. The money would be used to purchase science, engineering, and other technical equipment.
In addition, Governor Thornburgh urged the legislature to authorize the state to use 1 percent of the funds from the state teachers' and employees' retirement programs--about $100 million--for "venture capital" to help new businesses get started and old ones enter new fields.
The Governor said that that use of the funds, which could be authorized through "careful legislation," is "an idea whose time has come.'' But he reassured state teachers, employees, and retirees that "I have opposed and I will always oppose any action that would threaten the security of these funds and the peace of mind of those Pennsylvanians whose retirement years they were created to protect."
The Governor said he would seek approval of a plan that would provide the $100 million to businesses "at the discretion of the fund managers themselves."
Correspondent Don Sevener contributed to this report.
Vol. 03, Issue 21