N.J. Governor Eyes Options for Interdistrict Choice, Tenure

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Guaranteeing lively debate in the coming months, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman took strong aim last week at principals' tenure and advocated a plan to let children attend school across district lines.

The Republican governor also devoted much of her State of the State Address to ideas for lowering local property taxes, a big issue in last fall's gubernatorial election that narrowly kept her in office for a second term. Among them was a proposed referendum on whether the state should have the power to force districts to merge if that would cut costs without sacrificing educational quality.

"We need to discuss whether we're willing to give up some degree of local control of our school districts for significantly lower property taxes," Gov. Whitman said in her Jan. 13 address.

Noting that school taxes make up the lion's share of most property-tax bills, the governor also proposed shifting annual school elections to November. She said the change would boost voter participation in that balloting, in which voters typically choose school board candidates and vote on the annual school budget.

On the issue of principals' tenure, Gov. Whitman said she favored reforming the system and possibly eliminating the job protection altogether.

"It's time we match the enormous responsibility of a principal's job with greater accountability," she said.

An administration statement released with the speech said it is "almost impossible to remove an ineffective principal." Reporting that New Jersey is one of 18 states to grant principals tenure, the statement suggested "limiting dismissal appeals, enabling districts to more easily dismiss principals for poor job performance, requiring contracts, or even abolishing principal tenure."

An education department spokesman said only five principals had been fired statewide in the past five years, and none based on job performance.

Debra J. Bradley, a spokesman for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said the 5,000-member organization favored streamlining the dismissal process. But she said tenure frees principals to make "tough educational decisions."

On the issue of school choice, Commissioner of Education Leo F. Klagholz plans to unveil a proposal next month for a pilot program to allow students to attend public schools outside their own districts.

Details have not been announced, but a spokesman for the commissioner said the plan would involve at least one host district in each of the state's 21 counties. Schools would receive state aid for transfers at the same rate as for youngsters in the district, he said.

Finally, Mrs. Whitman called for changing state regulations to require a school day of at least six hours instead of the current four. Most districts already well exceed that minimum. But the governor argued that the current requirement is incompatible with statewide academic standards adopted in 1996.


School Finance Will Be Governor's Priority

In her first State of the State Address since taking over as Arizona governor last September, Republican Jane Dee Hull made clear that education would take center stage in her administration.

More specifically, Gov. Hull pledged to resolve a school finance lawsuit that dates to 1991. The state is working against a court-imposed June deadline to enact a more equitable system of paying for school construction, maintenance, and repair. The state supreme court in 1994 ruled that the system was unconstitutional.

In her Jan. 12 speech, the governor reiterated her intent to address the finance issue before finishing other legislation, including the state budget. The state's legislative leaders have agreed to make school finance their top legislative priority.

"We have to solve the bricks-and-mortar problem ... not just because we have been ordered, but because it is the right thing to do," Ms. Hull said.

Her budget includes $125 million as a "starting point" to address the capital-finance inequities.

Although the finance issue has dominated education debate in Arizona, Governor Hull, a former teacher who served as secretary of state before replacing Gov. Fife Symington following his fraud convictions, pledged a $114 million increase for K-12 education. "Our education system isn't making the grade," she said.

At the same time, she announced her desire to grant taxpayers a $210 million tax-cut package--what she termed the largest single tax cut in state history. In addition to education, Ms. Hull outlined as priorities tax relief, health care, and the environment.



Romer Wants Dedication To School Performance

In the wake of "sobering" results last fall on Colorado's first statewide assessments in 4th grade reading and writing, Gov. Roy Romer has proposed rewarding schools that show improvement within three years and intervening in the management of those that do not.

"Let's dedicate ourselves to this goal: Every school in Colorado will improve its own performance by at least 25 percent in 4th grade reading and writing over the next three years," Gov. Romer said in his 12th and final State of the State Address on Jan. 8.

The first test of 4th graders showed that just 31 percent met state standards to be considered "advanced" or "proficient" in writing, while 57 percent met those standards in reading. ("Colo. Officials Couldn't Be Happier With Low Scores," Nov. 26, 1997.)

The Democratic governor is in the final year of his last term in office. Observers said his legislative address was among his most animated and intense as governor. For example, he said Colorado voters "didn't have a clue" when they adopted a tax-limitation amendment to the state constitution in 1992.

The amendment requires voter approval of any state spending beyond the inflation and growth rates. Now that Colorado is flush with surplus revenue, Mr. Romer would like to ask voters to let the state spend some of it on education and transportation.

But three legislative leaders who are seeking the Republican nomination for governor prefer tax cuts over seeking voter approval for more spending.

The governor proposed a 3 percent overall increase in spending on K-12 schools, but he called for an additional 0.5 percent increase for schools that craft improvement plans by June 30.

After three years, schools that failed to show improvements on the state assessments could have their management replaced under the governor's plan.



Batt Denounces Critics of Schools

Education is one of Idaho's highest priorities, but some of the state's school buildings are "woefully inadequate," Gov. Philip E. Batt said during his fourth and final State of the State Address on Jan. 12.

"We have a responsibility to protect the environment, enforce safety standards, and to extract enough tax money to meet educational and social needs," he said.

Mr. Batt, a Republican, said he was ''personally leading the campaign" for new school facilities in his hometown of Wilder, Idaho. He did not mention other areas.

The governor, who has opted not to run for reelection, also berated school critics during his speech. He said that the state's literacy rate is high, and that graduating students are prepared to compete in the world.

"Our schools are up to the challenge," he said. "Idaho ranks among the top 10 or 15 states in the number of computers per student in the classroom." And the fact that the state continues to have a large number of highly qualified applicants for teaching positions also speaks well for Idaho, he added.



Graves Foresees 1998 Investments

In a State of the State Address with an emphasis on investing to build a better Kansas, Gov. Bill Graves proposed several ways to spend on education this year.

"Educating our children has, is, and always will be a priority of this administration," Mr. Graves said in his Jan. 12 speech.

The governor's proposals for the next fiscal year include $84 million in new education funding--a 4.1 percent increase for K-12 education spending.

Gov. Graves asked lawmakers to increase the state's base per-pupil funding by $35, to $3,705; increase state spending on special education to cover 85 percent of districts' costs; increase by more than 20 percent support for programs for at-risk students; provide nearly $2 million to increase support for the state's parents-as-teachers program; and commit $5 million to expand early Head Start for children ages 3-5.

The Republican governor said the state is also providing $1 million to vocational-technical schools for capital improvements. He recommended that $12 million in state funds be added to $30.8 million in federal money to provide health insurance for the state's nearly 60,000 uninsured children. "Children who are not healthy cannot take advantage of these education initiatives," he said.



Broad-Based Plan Focuses on Children

In his Jan. 6 State of the State Address, Gov. Paul E. Patton asked lawmakers to join him in dedicating the upcoming 60-day legislative session "to the children of Kentucky."

Gov. Patton's 25-minute speech did not stray far from that theme. Children and children's issues, including education, juvenile justice, and domestic abuse, were featured most prominently.

"Not only are [children] the object of our affection, the reason we work from daylight to dark, the joy that makes life worth living, they're our future, the people who'll build the Kentucky of tomorrow, the ones we will depend on when we're old," the Democratic governor told the legislature.

Mr. Patton conceded that the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, or KERA, needed to be fine-tuned, but he urged lawmakers to stand by the reform measure.

"While the time has come to make improvements, which time and experience have made apparent, this is no time to retreat, and we will not retreat," he said.

He also asked lawmakers to support "a major new initiative" to help students and their families pay for college. Although he provided no details in his speech, analysts say the governor is considering a prefiled bill by two Democratic lawmakers that would siphon off up to $150 million a year in lottery revenues to provide scholarships to Kentucky high school students who graduate with at least a B average and plan to attend the state's public colleges and universities.

The governor said he would address several other child- and education-related topics this session, including safe schools, teacher salaries, and expanded health insurance for poor children, although specific plans were not included in his speech.



Dean Backs Choice, New Finance Law

Gov. Howard Dean wants Vermont legislators to help him draft a plan for statewide public school choice.

By allowing students to attend any public school in the state, parents would become more engaged in their children's educations, the Democratic governor said during his Jan. 6 State of the State Address.

"In three-quarters of the communities in Vermont, parents who are dissatisfied with their public school either have no option or have the option of private school only if they are financially able," he said.

Gov. Dean also proposed using a small surplus from this year's fiscal 1998 budget to help property-wealthy towns make the transition to Act 60, the hotly debated 1997 law that will restructure the school finance system and create a statewide property tax.

He used the address to again defend the law, saying it will also help implement the school choice plan. "Act 60 will remove the biggest barrier to public school choice, and that is lack of equity," he said.

In response to a widely publicized drunk-driving accident that left several Vermont teenagers dead or injured last fall, Gov. Dean also proposed tougher penalties for first-time offenders and for spending $200,000 on programs to discourage drug and alcohol use by teenagers.


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