Bush Urges Increased Authority, Flexibility For All Texas Districts
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas acknowledged that he may be starting to sound like a broken record, but pledged to lawmakers in his State of the State address last week that he will continue to focus narrowly on four goals, including greater local control of schools.
"The other day a couple of Capitol reporters said they were tired of hearing about the same four goals," said the newly inaugurated Republican, who contended that much of the voter frustration that propelled him into office has been caused by politicians trying to do too much.
"People run for office saying one thing and then do another," Mr. Bush said. "I intend to keep my word."
For Texas lawmakers and school officials, Mr. Bush's word will mean an intense focus on ways to push decisionmaking authority to local schools. He promised to work with lawmakers to rewrite the state's education code and urged them to approve his idea for "home-rule education districts," which was a focus of his campaign last year.
The Governor's proposal would allow local school districts to vote themselves free from state mandates.
"So long as the district meets state standards," he said, "the local people should be free to chart the course to educational excellence."
Governor Bush urged lawmakers to focus on basic questions about how the state should pay for and govern its schools. He applauded early efforts by legislators to turn new state revenue into aid to schools, arguing that the state relies too heavily on local property taxes.
Too Many Goals
The Governor also urged a rethinking of the state assessment system. He said the state may be trying to monitor schools too closely.
"The state has a role, but it is not to micromanage local districts," said Mr. Bush. "Today, we have too many education goals. When you have too many goals, you have no goals."
He argued that the state should only measure student performance in the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and social studies.
In addition to his school agenda, the Governor said he will promote a stricter juvenile-justice system, including a new network of alternative schools, which he described during his remarks as "Tough Love Academies" staffed by teachers with motivational or military training.
Another goal is welfare reform. The Governor called for requiring teenage mothers receiving benefits to live with their parents or in some other supervised setting.
Mr. Bush's fourth goal will be reforming the state's civil-justice system, perhaps the one issue that has proved more vexing to Texas lawmakers than school-finance reforms in recent years.
Governor Bush--who must work with a legislature controlled by Democrats--said he was optimistic that the body's conservative bent will help him pass his agenda.
"Our philosophy tells us we must trust local people to make decisions for their communities and their schools. I fully understand that when we free people to make decisions, some will make the wrong decisions," he told lawmakers.
"But mistakes made closest to the people are those most easily corrected."
State Cannot Afford Magnet School, King Says
Plans to create a residential magnet school for Maine's most promising mathematics and science students must be discontinued in light of a projected $374 million deficit in the state budget, Gov. Angus S. King Jr. said this month.
"I have carefully weighed the case made by its proponents, but simply cannot justify the expenditure of $3.7 million for this purpose while we are holding increases in general school aid and assistance to higher education to relatively low levels," said Governor King, an independent who promised during last year's election campaign to wipe out the deficit without raising taxes.
He made the comments in his Feb. 1 budget address, which served as his State of the State speech.
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics was to be housed in a vacant wing of a school complex in the remote northern community of Limestone, where last year's closing of Loring Air Force Base hurt the local economy. Supporters received a $320,000 state grant last year to begin renovations.
"All I can say is that my feeling about this project would be no different were it located in southern Maine, or indeed in my own hometown," Mr. King said.
--Robert C. Johnston
Vol. 14, Issue 21