In the States and in Washington: The Season of Testing Priorities: Flood of Reforms Slowing; Continued Support Seen

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As state legislatures around the nation convened this month and governors began to outline their budget priorities, the push to reform the nation's schools appeared to be holding its own, despite uneven economic conditions and the press of other concerns.

But while education remains a top priority in the states and many are likely to raise spending for it despite generally tight budgets, the flood of costly reform measures that characterized the past few years has slowed to a trickle.

And much of the new spending by the states this year will be eaten up by enrollment increases and inflation, experts say.

Although some states seem likely to fund new programs, in many cases the programs were created by previous legislatures. Only a few states, such as Connecticut, appear poised to enact major new reform initiatives, while others that have yet to act find themselves constrained by fiscal pressures.

In states where omnibus reform measures have already been approved, lawmakers face large continuing financial commitments, while pressures mount to shift attention to other state services ignored in the recent rush to improve schools, experts say.

"I don't sense a disaffection with education among legislators. There's still strong interest in it," said William A. Harrison, senior program director for education with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "But I don't think anyone has a feel for how long that will hold up when they get into session. The real question is whether prisons, welfare, and roads are going to get more attention."

'Implementation Phase'

The reform movement, Mr. Harrison said, is now "very much in the implementation phase. Interest in education in the states is strong and continuing, but not at the fever pitch that prevailed when the reforms were being enacted."

"States are going to keep funding reform where they can and see if it works, and not a hell of a lot more," added Michael W. Kirst, professor of education at Stanford University. "But they're not going to walk away."

According to state officials, some of the leading reform states may try this year to move beyond mandates aimed at raising standards and experiment with new strategies to improve the teaching profession. Education-committee chairmen in 22 states said teacher education, certification, tenure, and testing would be leading issues in their states this year, according a recent N.C.S.L. survey.

The launching of a new education initiative this year by the National Governors’ Association also indicates that many governors intend to press ahead with new reform measures, Mr. Kirst said.

But the much-heralded "second wave of reform" appears to be years off, in part, experts say, because the states are not yet sure how to proceed, and because few states have developed reliable indicators of the progress they have made so far.

Most states realize that they've only been scratching the surface. They're going through a period of searching, but I don't see that they have a game plan yet," Mr. Kirst said. "They don't quite know where to go next."

Limits to Growth

Continued reform efforts are constrained by other factors, experts say, including slow economic growth, competing state interests, and federal initiatives that limit the state ' ability to tax and spend.

Several governors have already indicated that they will be paying more attention this year to service other than precollegiate education. For example:

  • ln Virginia, Gov. Gerald R. Baliles, the Democratic successor to Charles S. Robb, has announced that transportation will be his top priority this year. Mr. Robb, also a Democrat, was one of the nation's leading "education governors."
  • ln New Jersey, Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the Republican chairman of the Education Commission of the States, stressed issues other than education in his recent state-of-the-state address.
  • In several other states, including Massachusetts and Tennessee, governors are expected to put greater emphasis this year on funding higher education, while in New York, Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, has proposed a $300-million increase in precollegiate funding that the chairman of the state's Senate education committee describes as "inadequate."

Inflation and Enrollments

In other states where governors are proposing apparently significant spending increases for education, enrollment growth and inflation will erode the real rate of spending growth, experts say.

New enrollments alone will require a 5 percent revenue hike nationwide just to maintain current spending per pupil, according to Allan Odden, associate professor of education at the University of Southern California.

Thus, in California, where Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, has proposed a 9 percent-plus spending increase for education that he calls a "historic change in spending priorities," Mr. Odden said it would provide for "steady-state funding."

"It basically maintains our school reform initiative that's been going on for the last couple of years," said Susan Lange, a spokesman for the state education department.

"We don't mean to sound like we're unappreciative," she added, ''but it is a status quo budget."

In some states that have passed major reform bills, indications of possible backsliding have also begun to appear:

  • In Texas, where lawmakers passed a $2.8-billion, three-year reform plan in 1984, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, a Democrat, recently suggested that unless school districts demonstrate improved performance, "perhaps the state needs to reassess" its policies. Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, has not endorsed Mr. Hobby's remarks.
  • In Kentucky, Gov. Martha Layne Collins, a Democrat, has urged lawmakers to make good on their commitment to a $306-million reform package, following "discussion [among legislators] whether it all should be funded," said Roger C. Noe, the Democratic chairman of the House education committee.
  • And in South Carolina, which many experts consider the model reform state, there "could be a fight" this year over education funding, said Terry Peterson, the chief education aide to Gov. Richard W. Riley. Some lawmakers may seek to reduce general-fund education expenditures to offset spending on reforms, which is supported by a separate fund, Mr. Peterson said.

Predicting the likely level of education spending in the next fiscal year is further complicated by the variation in states' economic situations.

"You have a few good strong states and others that are struggling," said Karen Benker, a staff associate with the National Association of State Budget Officers.

New England and the mid-Atlantic states are generally in good fiscal health, with New York and Pennsylvania expected to cut taxes significantly this year.

Georgia, with a $400-million surplus, has taken steps to forward-fund its education-reform package I by some $230 million, according to state officials. Gov. Joe Frank Harris's 1987 budget proposal, in combination with a supplemental appropriation approved last week by the state's lower chamber, would raise I education spending in that state I next year by $528 million.

In other states, though, "nobody feels they can go after new money," said Bruce Hunter, the director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

As a result, few states are likely to approve costly new programs such as statewide career ladders, which many have been testing in selected districts, Mr. Kirst said.

Some states will probably raise revenues by increasing excise taxes, Ms. Benker said, but according to Corina Eckl, a tax expert for the N.C.S.L., tax hikes generally will be a "last resort."

Recession States

States that depend on agriculture, oil and gas, and timber and mining remain in economic turmoil, experts say. In such states, notably Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Louisiana, education will take its share of budget cuts, although it may be partly protected. "Most states will make a special effort not to cut education," Ms. Benker said. '1t doesn't make much sense to put the money in and then take it out."

States in which education faces an uncertain budget year include:

  • Illinois. Gov. James R. Thompson, a Republican, has pledged to raise education spending by $250-million new dollars this year, but that would mean "a no-growth budget for all other state agencies, and no one's happy with that," said Edward W. Keene, legislative analyst for education for the House Republican staff.
  • The state board of education has requested an increase of more than $360 million.

  • Oklahoma. The education department has asked districts to cut I their budgets by 4.5 percent this year and next, due to state-budget shortfalls.
  • "I doubt that we'll have any more reform measures put in place," said John M. Folks, state superintendent of public instruction. "Our efforts will be directed at trying to maintain what we've got."

  • Oregon. The education department has delayed a statewide testing program it has been piloting due to lack of funds, said Verne A. Duncan, the state superintendent.
  • Idaho. Gov. John V. Evans, a Democrat, has proposed lifting a 2.5 percent revenue holdback for education, but his budget would raise spending for education in 1987 by less than the state's overall rate of spending growth. e Wisconsin. By the end of fiscal 1987, Wisconsin, which operates on a fiscal biennium, faces a $336-million deficit, according to state officials. Gov. Anthony S. Earl, a Democrat, is expected to propose a budget adjusting bill that will reduce education funds.
  • Minnesota. The state faces a huge budget shortfall, which will "have to be met with cuts in services, which could include education," said Barry Sullivan, the assistant director of governmental relations for the state education department.
  • The states also face almost certain cuts in federal aid as a result of the new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction measures.

Gramm-Rudman-Hollings

"This is going to be an awful year and that's going to reverberate in I the states," said Mr. Hunter of the CCSSO.

In Vermont, Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin, a Democrat, has already I called for a "Gramm-Rudman contingency fund."

But according to NASBO'S Ms. Benker, "Most states aren't in a position where they can stash money in rainy-day accounts; they've already drawn them down."

She added that states generally are "more concerned with internal state problems, than with what's going on in Washington.' "We don't build our budget in anticipation of what the feds are going to do," said Perry McGinnis, the director of Missouri's budget office.

Inevitable Slowdown

Even without the downturn in state finances, experts say the slowing of the education-reform movement was inevitable, given the public's limited attention span, competing interests for state dollars, and the unprecedented level of funding that states have committed to education in the past few years.

"Is it continuing at the pace of 1983 and 1984? The answer is clearly no. You cannot continue that burst of innovation and funding," Mr. Kirst asserted.

"These reform bills are extraordinary things to get enacted and I don't think anyone should expect I them to happen year after year, and without pain," Mr. Harrison added.

The reform movement has "moved faster than any public-policy reform in recent history," Mr. Odden asserted in a recent article. A pause, Mr. Kirst suggested, "is not that bad an idea," given that states need to "sift through the reforms and see what they've done."

"The education community's feeling is that the platter is full," added South Carolina's Mr. Peterson. "There are not that many more programs we can move on."

Minor Panic

Mr. Kirst, noting that the reform movement grew out of a "minor panic" that poor schools were eroding the nation's international competitiveness, said the reform momentum has slowed in part because "people generally seem to feel that the system has been tightened up. There's a feeling that the negative slide may have been arrested and even turned around."

"The priority is still there," he asserted. "What's missing is the urgency."

More remarkable than the slowdown, Mr. Kirst said, is that opponents of the reform movement have been unable to roll it back.

"It's still going and It hasn't been blunted by counter philosophies or data that suggest we're on the wrong track. We don't see any counter-cyclical attempt to move against the goals, philosophies, and tactics of this movement," he said.

But according to Mr. Odden, few if any of the major reform states have spent enough money to ensure that the reforms will work. "I think it's going to be asking a lot of the education system to turn around and improve without substantially more money," he said.

Vol. 05, Issue 19, Pages 1, 10

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