Casey Seeks 'Fairer' System of Funding Pa. Schools
Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania last week called for a "fairer'' system of funding education that would narrow a gap of more than $5,000 between what the state's wealthiest and poorest school districts spend on average to educate a student.
"All our school districts have felt the increasing strain of trying to teach students coping with broken families, drug abuse, and other social and human challenges," Mr. Casey said in his State of the State Address. "But these burdens have fallen especially hard on the poorer school districts, many of which have the most expensive problems but the fewest resources to deal with them."
The Governor's announcement followed filing of a lawsuit against the state last month by 128 revenue-poor school districts. The districts have asked a state court to scrap the state's current school-funding formula because it is unfair to districts with limited tax bases.
In support of their claims, the plaintiffs point to a widening gap between what the state's wealthiest districts pay to educate an average student--about $8,660 in one district--and per-pupil spending in the state's poorest district, which amounts to about $3,279.
Mr. Casey's plan for narrowing that gap, however, would be based on the existing school-funding formula. He said he would recommend changes aimed at accounting more heavily for large numbers of young children, eliminating "arbitrary, inaccurate" measures of school-district wealth, and providing more funds to school districts with large numbers of poor children.
The full details of that proposal will be disclosed this week when the Governor presents his 1991-92 budget to the legislature.
Mr. Casey also pledged in his speech to overhaul the state's system for funding special education and endorsed a plan to create a statewide coalition to forge links between schools and businesses.
And, despite a projected shortfall of more than $700 million in the state's current budget, Mr. Casey vowed to guard education and other children's programs from potential budget cuts.
A spokesman for the state education department said Governor Casey planned to propose an increase in spending for education in his budget recommendation this week.
Schaefer Seeks To Shift Funds to Poorer Regions
Maryland should finance its education-reform efforts by shifting resources from wealthy districts in suburban Washington to poorer urban and rural regions, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said last month in his State of the State Address.
Even while the state faces a projected $423-million shortfall in this year's $11.5-billion budget, Governor Schaefer argued, a major overhaul of the state's tax system is a necessity.
Last year, a tax commission headed by R. Robert Linowes recommended $800 million in higher sales, income, and property taxes, with most of the increased revenues coming from wealthier jurisdictions around the nation's capital.
"I'm asking you to read the Linowes Report," the Governor urged lawmakers. "Look at the budget and decide if you're ready to turn your backs on those who need us most."
"Some have said Linowes is doa--Dead On Arrival," he continued. "And I say some areas of the state will be dilinp--Dead If Linowes Is Not Passed."
Governor Schaefer stressed that the state's counties, each of which comprises one school district, would end up sharing $462 million.
"Most of it would go to the kind of help the counties are asking for and that's in the area of education," he said.
Mr. Schaefer continued to push a package of reforms drafted by Superintendent of Schools Joseph L. Shilling last year, which the Governor called "the gutsiest approach on education I've ever seen by a state educational superintendent."
The package includes lengthening the school year, raising the required attendence age from 16 to 18, mandatory kindergarten, and an accountability program that would apply performance standards to all state schools.
The latter two proposals were submitted to the legislature last month, at an estimated cost of $25 million.
"Joe Shilling came up with some ideas that nobody has ever tried before, nobody has suggested before, and for the first time a change for the improvement of the school system can be made," Mr. Schaefer said.
The Governor also endorsed a proposed college-scholarship programel10lthat would replace existing state loans with "Free State" grants. The grants would be available to any student from a family with an income below the poverty line who had participated in a proposed early-intervention program for disadvantaged students.--jw
Ashcroft Urges Reforms Before Funding Increases
Arguing that increased state aid to education has not resolved a "continuing crisis in public education," Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri has called on legislators to seek specific change in the schools before spending more.
"[T]he days of adding substantial new money blindly without targeting specific reforms are better left behind us," Mr. Ashcroft said in his State of the State Address last month.
Although state education aid has increased by $425 million, or 60 percent, since 1982, Mr. Ashcroft argued, academic performance has yet to improve.
To spur educational innovation, the Governor proposed to establish a $1-million "venture-capital fund" to support districts that "choose the bold alternative of significant reforms."
He also presented lawmakers with a list of reforms that he said are ''essential" to statewide improvement.
The Governor urged school systems to encourage students to spend more "time on task"; develop school report cards for the community; adopt competency-based promotion and graduation measures; give teachers freedom to restructure within their classrooms; adopt parental-choice plans; and look at alternative methods of certification for teachers.
"If we can agree that these reforms will be enacted," he said, "I'll gladly talk with you about how to pay for them."
Mr. Ashcroft also noted that his proposed budget contains $44 million in new spending to support programs for handicapped students, remedial-mathematics and -reading programs, and other educational programs.
The Governor also announced that he has charged a special Cabinet Council to map the reorganization of the state's array of services to families and children into a single agency.--pw
Finney Outlines Plans For Property-Tax Curbs
Gov. Joan Finney of Kansas has used her first State of the State Address to lay out a plan for weaning the state from a reliance on property-tax receipts.
"I remain committed to the pursuit of tax reform that will provide relief and redress to the property taxpayer," she said last month.
Property-tax levels have been a burning issue in Kansas in recent years because of a state program of reclassification and reappraisal of property. Many political observers have attributed Ms. Finney's upset victory in November over the Republican incumbent, Mike Hayden, to voter unrest over the sharply higher tax bills that in many cases resulted from the program.
The legislature last year also debated curbs on property taxes, but failed to reach an agreement on alternative sources of funding.
Major changes in the property-tax system could have a significant impact on Kansas schools, which rely on local property levies for about half of their funding.
Ms. Finney said her proposed8overhaul of the state's tax structure would seek to reduce property taxes in the state by almost 30 percent, or approximately $500 million, by 1993.
The tax burden, she said, will be shifted by widening the base and "closing loopholes" in the existing sales-tax structure.
She cautioned, however, that the existing property-tax system "contains inherent structural inequities that can be addressed only by amending the constitutional classification system."
She also argued that although the state may provide remedies for an ''inequitable" tax system, "we must also provide a mechanism for trying to assure that local governments dedicate these funds to local property-tax relief."
She said that the state expects the localties to rein in spending, while dedicating new revenues to education and other local services.
Turning to the overall state budget, Ms. Finney painted a bleak picture, arguing that the state "is on a course of deficit spending."
In the last two years, Ms. Finney said, Kansas has spent $227 million more than it has raised in revenues, depleting its available fiscal cushion.
"The time has arrived when we must rethink, re-examine, and re-order our priorities and our concepts of what government should do ... and what government should be," she said.
Even so, the Governor's proposed budget contains an increase of $231 million in new state aid to elementary and secondary education.--pw
Vol. 10, Issue 20