Even as the Massachusetts House last week was beginning work on a comprehensive school-reform bill, Gov. William F. Weld released a fiscal 1994 budget proposal that withholds additional education funding.
The $15.1 billion budget excludes $361 million in new state aid that the Governor had promised the schools on the condition that the legislature pass a reform bill.
State lawmakers and members of the education and business communities have been working on reform legislation for two years. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)
But after taking up the reform legislation last week, the House immediately became bogged down in a slew of amendments.
One floor controversy focused on a previously little-noticed provision barring educators from discussing abortion as an alternative to pregnancy. It also would require health-education advisory councils to include representatives who "reflect traditional values.''
Another amendment would have eliminated a requirement that communities maintain previous levels of local school funding. The amendment, which critics said struck at the heart of reform efforts to equalize school funding, was defeated.
Even if the House can reach agreement, however, controversy is likely to envelope any legislation in the other chamber, where President of the Senate William M. Bulger appears bent on mandating universal school choice.
Gov. Walter J. Hickel of Alaska has proposed allocating $500 million over four years to rebuild schools, using petroleum revenues in the state's Permanent Fund.
The proposal to use some of the earnings reserve from the Permanent Fund for education could be controversial, since many Alaskans view the fund as politically untouchable.
The Governor's legislative package issued last month also calls for charter schools, a longer school year, and revising teacher tenure.
The Republicans who took control of the Iowa House in the November elections have flexed their muscle by trimming the Republican Governor's proposed spending increase for schools.
The House on a party-line, 51-to-49 vote last month approved an education-finance plan that would increase school spending by $50 million, rather than by $60 million as Gov. Terry E. Branstad had proposed.
Rep. Stephen E. Grubbs, a Republican who chairs the House education committee, last week said he and his G.O.P. colleagues had pared the proposed spending increase for schools because they are predicting a $408 million state deficit that belies the Governor's rosier projections for state revenue.
But Rep. Philip L. Wise, a Democrat, accused the Republican majority of engaging in "testosterone-based politics to prove who is tougher'' in cutting budgets. They "took an already inadequate proposal by the Governor and reduced it,'' he said.
Mr. Wise predicted that the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, this week will endorse an increase more in line with the Governor's plan.
Gov. Gaston Caperton of West Virginia has ordered state agencies to cut $48.2 million out of their budgets this fiscal year in the face of lower-than-expected tax revenues.
Elementary and secondary education, which consumes 58 percent of the state's $2 billion budget, will receive the largest reduction as a result of the Governor's announcement. To hold down the impact on schools, however, Mr. Caperton ordered budget cuts of only 1.5 percent for education, compared with 5 percent for other state programs.
Local school districts will have to cut an estimated $13 million from their budgets this year. The state education department is also expected to trim another $4 million from its annual budget, although no plans for specific cuts have yet been made.
Mr. Caperton noted that the shortfall was caused by lax collections of corporate taxes and a 10-year tax-abatement program that began in 1986.
The Wyoming Senate is considering legislation to force consolidation of some of the state's small school districts.
One bill, currently in floor debate, requires districts with fewer than 500 enrolled students over three consecutive years to merge with nearby districts. Consolidations would begin in 1996.
A more drastic measure, still under consideration by the education committee, would cut the number of districts in the state from 49 to 23, beginning in 1998.
More and more California school districts are making deficit spending business as usual, according to the state controller's annual report on school finances.
Expecting the trend to continue as the state's hard times roll on, officials said 529 of the state's 1,071 districts finished the year in the red during fiscal 1991. About 108 districts finished the year with little or no money in their reserve accounts.
Both numbers marked significant increases from the previous year, officials said.
The report concludes that the figures uncovered an "alarming pattern.'' It also points out, however, that in many cases the fiscal difficulties appeared to be the result of districts' stretching their resources to the breaking point, rather than failing to respond to the austere times.
The Colorado state board of education has called for an overhaul of the state's education laws and school-finance system, with the suggestion that voters be allowed to decide on a new system on the November 1994 ballot.
The system should include "new educational-finance structures and
funding recommendations for all levels,'' a resolution adopted by the
board last month urges.
Vol. 12, Issue 18