R.I. Governor Vows To Propose More Equitable Formula
Without setting a specific price, Gov. Lincoln Almond of Rhode Island is pledging to find more money to address inequities in the state's school funding system.
"The current funding formula has to change, no ifs, ands, or buts about it," the Republican governor said in his Jan. 30 State of the State Address. "I will propose a new formula to direct more state funding, next year and over time, to our urban areas. This is new money--not a redistribution of existing tax dollars."
At the same time, Mr. Almond told Rhode Island's House and Senate, both led by Democrats, he would propose a 10 percent cut in the state's personal-income tax over a five-year period along with increases in tax credits aimed at drawing more jobs.
The governor further pledged to support Rhode Island's ongoing school reform efforts by implementing new statewide assessments and making it easier for groups to start charter schools. He said he would propose that the state contribute start-up money to help charter schools get off the ground.
Schools, Not Teachers, Would Get More Money
Gov. Don Sundquist of Tennessee unveiled a $14.4 billion budget plan last week that would add $390 million in new spending for schools, juvenile justice, and health care in the coming fiscal year.
Total state spending would drop $110 million from current levels. Higher education funding would fall 4 percent, and 1,753 state jobs--including 40 education department positions--would be cut to save $50 million.
But Mr. Sundquist, a Republican, wants $192 million more for K-12 education, bringing that part of the budget to $2.5 billion--a 14 percent increase from this year.
"We can delay or defer our new investments in education ... but that would be shortsighted, and it would shortchange our children's future," he said.
The proposed K-12 spending represents a full and final installment on the "basic education program," a six-year legislative effort to equalize school spending across the state. The program came after the state supreme court found the old school finance system unconstitutional.
Districts now have broad discretion in how they use state aid, but Mr. Sundquist hopes schools will continue to buy new technology.
"By the time school lets out for the summer, our ConnecTen project will have linked every public school in the state to the Internet," he said.
School groups faulted the plan for not seeking a teacher pay raise and for trimming funds for vocational education and other state programs.
"I'm glad it's not worse, but it's small comfort at a time when we need significant improvements," said Al. C. Mance, the assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.
Mr. Sundquist also wants to spend $116 million on basic health insurance for uninsured children, and hopes to put $4 million toward juvenile-detention centers.
--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON
Teacher Retirement Fund Gets Governor's Attention
"Even in years of limited resources, education must remain our first and foremost priority," new Gov. Cecil H. Underwood of West Virginia proclaimed last week in his State of the State Address.
Mr. Underwood, a Republican who previously served a term as the state's governor in the late 1950s, underscored the state's fiscal limits by saying no to a pay raise for school employees this year in favor of new money to shore up the teacher-retirement system.
The governor included $32 million in his budget request, which includes no new taxes or fees, for that purpose.
"We cannot afford to fund this system and also provide a pay raise," he told members of the legislature, led by Democrats, in his speech.
Mr. Underwood also called for the state school board and the state's universities to work together to improve the preparation of teachers. Improvements should include tougher admissions standards and more subject-matter concentration, he said.