State of the States
In his first State of the State Address, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas last week balanced his keen interest in higher education with almost equal attention to precollegiate education and child welfare, including a plan to bolster mathematics achievement in the middle grades.
But the new governor gave teachers only modest grounds to hope that their quest for state-sponsored health insurance would succeed.
The Republican chief executive, the former lieutenant governor who replaced President Bush at the helm of the Lone Star State last month, backed up his earlier declaration that education would be his first priority by devoting almost half his Jan. 24 speech to the subject. While praising "improved test scores and renewed confidence" in Texas schools, he pointed to the state's relatively low college- going rate and disappointing high school mathematics scores as signs that more needs to be done.
Specifically, he proposed tripling the money for college scholarships, to $300 million, as well as creating a grant program aimed at students enrolling in two-year colleges.
And he called for the state to both continue its work on early literacy and do more to enhance students' math skills. To that end, the governor's proposed biennial budget includes an additional $100 million over two years for an existing program to improve reading instruction and $40 million for a new effort to improve math teaching in grades 5-8. The proposed mathematics initiative would provide money to train teachers in research-proven techniques and to start intensive remedial programs.
"Now it is time to do for math what we have done for reading," Gov. Perry said. "Math skills are in high demand in the new economy, and yet too many students enter college and the workforce ill-prepared in the basics of math."
The chief executive also trained a spotlight on the children who live near his state's border with Mexico, saying that health and transportation problems too often stand in the way of their schooling. More children should be enrolled in the federal-state health-insurance program for low-income children and more should be immunized against disease, he said.
Mr. Perry encouraged the legislature to address the state's teacher shortage by tripling the scholarship money going to students who promise to teach in certain high-demand subject areas after graduation.
He also called for expanding alternative teacher-certification programs, citing specifically what he sees as the merit of easing restrictions for "technology professionals."
Responding to a united push from all four of the state's teacher groups for state-sponsored health insurance for teachers, the governor endorsed a recommendation from state Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander to allow close to $700 million in capital gains from an education trust fund to be used for teacher salaries or benefits. The change would require a constitutional amendment, which is subject to voter approval.
Teacher advocates said the proposal endorsed by the governor, while welcome, was not enough.
"I view it as one facet of a plan, but I think there are a lot of other sources of potential revenue that can and should be tapped this session," said Jeri Stone, the executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, an independent group representing 45,000 teachers.
A vast majority of Texas school districts offer health insurance to teachers, but costs to both the districts and to teachers have been rising sharply. Sixteen states pay for health-insurance plans for teachers, and others help with the cost. Texas leaves the matter entirely to local districts.
The issue looms large among lawmakers, though many have also been warning, as did Mr. Perry in his address, of a slowing economy. Speaker of the House James E. "Pete" Laney, a Democrat, recently appointed a special committee of legislators to look into possible health-insurance plans.
"The select committee ... shows that the House is serious about finding a way to do it," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Democrat on the lower chamber's education committee. "It would be up to the committee to see how far we can take it with the available resources."
Hawaii could become the next state with a college scholarship program that would pay full tuition for students who graduate from high school with a B average.
In his seventh State of the State Address, given Jan. 22, Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano said that he wants to transfer $175 million from the state's Hurricane Relief Fund into a state "rainy day" fund. The interest earned on that money would then be used for the scholarship program.
"This is not a new idea," Gov. Cayetano, a Democrat, said, referring to Georgia's popular HOPE Scholarship program, which is financed by a lottery. "Hawaii can do the same things without a lottery. All we need is bold and innovative thinking."
Mr. Cayetano also proposed a plan to offer "universal" access to preschool for the state's low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, an initiative he is calling "Pre-Plus."
Through partnerships with Head Start and other preschool providers, the state is now serving about 8,400 of the state's 16,400 low- income preschoolers, the governor said. With the use of federal, private, and other money—but no general funds—Mr. Cayetano is planning to reach another 8,000 children by 2004.
During his address, the governor also called for $290 million in capital improvements for schools, including $100 million for the renovation of older schools. And he asked for $21 million to buy 18,000 new computers, which, if approved, would bring the student-computer ratio from an average of 6-to-1 to 4-to-1 throughout the statewide school district.
"Hawaii's children must learn to use this technology because it will open doors of learning and knowledge ordinarily not available to them," he said.
Maine legislators have so far given a cool reception to Gov. Angus S. King's idea of equipping middle school students statewide with laptop computers. But the second-term governor made clear in his State of the State Address last week that he was far from giving up.
In the lengthiest and most impassioned part of his hour-long speech, Mr. King pressed for a scaled-down version of the laptop proposal he first laid out last year. Embracing the idea, the governor argued, is central to his vision of liberating Maine from its poor-state status through the creation of a cutting-edge economy that would give its young people a reason to stay.
"I do not want to be the governor of a state whose leading export is its kids," Mr. King, an Independent, said in his Jan. 23 address.
The governor endorsed a plan put forward this month by a task force set up to study how the state should use a $50 million school technology fund it set up last year. In recent months, some lawmakers have been publicly eyeing the fund as a means of balancing the state budget instead of buying more computers.
Initially, Mr. King had called for the state to provide laptop computers each year to all 7th graders, who would then keep the machines as they moved through their school careers. In last week's speech, however, the governor strongly endorsed the task force's proposal to buy a simpler, less expensive type of laptop and confine the program "in its first phase, at least," to 7th and 8th graders. Under that revised version of the plan, the machines would belong to schools, which would have discretion about when students could take them home.
"This will put us on the technology map, and it will signal to the world that we intend to invest boldly in the future of our children," Mr. King said. "Build the most technologically savvy workers in the world, and the jobs will come; oh yes, the high-paying jobs will surely come."
In a speech that turned on the theme of improving the well-being of children, Mr. King also sketched out a plan for increasing the number of adults who have formal mentoring relationships with children from the current 3,000 statewide to 30,000. The plan, which would require a state contribution of $250,000 annually, would link schools with religious organizations to match children needing mentors with adults available to fill that role.
Calling for a "back to the basics" approach to paying for education, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn has proposed a schools budget that concentrates on textbooks, literacy, and teacher training.
In his Jan. 22 State of the State Address, the Republican governor noted that the Silver State faces "a time of moderation and restraint," since its school population is soaring at three times the national average, while its revenues—which depend heavily on sales and casino taxes—are lagging.
Asserting that reading is "the basis for all education," Gov. Guinn offered a two-year budget that emphasizes providing the tools necessary to literacy: textbooks and technology, and teacher training in reading techniques. The governor, a former teacher and Clark County schools superintendent who is midway through his first four-year term, urged schools to aim to have all Nevada schoolchildren reading by the end of 3rd grade.
"With your help, our children will be better prepared, focused on the basics, and will achieve more," Mr. Guinn told the joint session of the legislature.
His budget also seeks to maintain reduced class sizes in the lower grades, with $20 million penciled in to preserve the lower ratios as enrollment grows.
Noting with concern the state's growing teacher shortage, Gov. Guinn also expressed support for a new state teachers' college in Henderson, including in his proposed budget the money to build and operate it. To attract and keep good educators, he also proposed one-time, 5 percent cash bonuses for teachers and school support-staff employees.
The legislature, which meets every other year, convenes Feb. 5 for its 2001 session.
Education was the overriding theme in Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State Address last week, as the Republican governor unveiled a five-pronged plan for improving Ohio schools.
Gov. Taft described his upcoming budget proposal as a "challenging" plan, drafted in the midst of an economic slowdown, that nonetheless includes more funding for schools. "Enabling every child to succeed is my number-one priority," he told the legislature on Jan. 24.
Four of the five education proposals outlined in the governor's speech stem from recommendations made last month by a gubernatorially appointed committee charged with suggesting improvements to the state education system. They include: the establishment of clear academic standards; a new focus on early- childhood education and health care; continued state support for school facilities; and new funding for professional development for educators.
In addition, the governor unveiled his proposal to address a court mandate to overhaul the state's school finance system, a plan that hinges on an incremental increase in per-pupil funding. ("Ohio Leaders Unveil Competing Finance Plans," Jan. 31, 2001.)
The plan's five parts "must stand together and not be pulled apart if we are to ensure that no child is left behind," Gov. Taft said. "The battle for student success must be fought on many fronts."
—Jessica L. Sandham
Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah is calling for a program of incentives to keep qualified teachers from leaving the field for more lucrative ones such as business and technology.
The Republican governor, in the first State of the State Address of his third four-year term, also proposed a nearly 15 percent increase in funding for K-12 public schools in fiscal 2002.
Mr. Leavitt proposed an incentive program for signing and retaining mathematics and technology teachers, to be administered by the state board of education, the state board of regents, and representatives of the business community.
"I meet qualified math and technology teachers all over the state," the governor said during his Jan. 16 address. "Unfortunately, I meet many of them at high- tech businesses, not in our schools. They simply could not afford to stay."
"Something has to be done to stop this drain," he added.
Gov. Leavitt proposed a one-time bonus of as much as $20,000 on top of existing salaries in exchange for a four-year teaching commitment in math and technology. The state would also pay for teachers of other subjects to get master's degrees in technology or a certificate in math in exchange for a teaching commitment.
Vol. 20, Issue 20, Pages 17-18Published in Print: January 31, 2001, as State of the States