State of the States
Heeding the call of President Bush, Gov. John Engler of Michigan urged state lawmakers last week to extend the state's new annual testing requirement to the middle grades.
The veteran Republican governor noted in his 10th State of the State Address that the legislature had enacted a plan to assess students' progress in core subjects in grades 1-5 starting this year, and he asked legislators to quickly add mathematics and reading tests in grades 6-8.
If the president's plan wins approval from Congress, states would be required to give such tests annually in grades 3-8 as a condition of receiving federal Title I aid for disadvantaged students. ("States Lagging Behind on Title I Rules, Ed. Dept. Says," Jan. 31, 2001.)
Michigan school leaders are signaling, however, that there hasn't been enough time to get ready for the tests for 1st through 5th graders, so a date for additional tests would need careful consideration.
The testing program that Gov. Engler, a staunch supporter of Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign, proposed in the Jan 31 speech is "probably appropriate," said Michael P. Flanagan, the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, which represents superintendents. "But," Mr. Flanagan added, "it needs to be done with enough time to develop a proper test."
The Michigan Association of School Boards went on record last month asking for a two-year postponement of the tests mandated by the legislature last year.
Gov. Engler also renewed his call for lifting the cap on the number of charter schools that can be sponsored by universities. He has been frustrated by lawmakers' refusal in the past two sessions to make way for more of the independent public schools. Michigan now has about 185 charter schools; the limit of 150 university-chartered schools has been reached. In addition, the governor said he wants to allow teachers' unions to operate charter schools.
Plaudits for Detroit
Mr. Engler used his speech to reach out publicly to school leaders in Detroit, commending Superintendent Kenneth Burnley for jumping on a new state program that puts laptop computers into the hands of teachers. "We haven't seen this kind of responsiveness in the Detroit schools in years," the governor said, in an apparent effort to bury the bitterness from the state-led shift in control of the Motor City's schools to its mayor in 1998.
But Mr. Engler blasted the 450 districts that recently sued the state for the third time over what they claim is inadequate special education funding.
"Motivated by greed and furthered by gullibility, [the lawsuit] is an assault on the informed decisions of the legislature and on Michigan taxpayers, who have been exceedingly generous in funding public education, including special education," he said.
But the Rochester, Mich., superintendent of schools, John Schultz, who chairs the liaison committee for the suit, said in a written response that the governor's remarks were unfair.
"Since the adoption of the Headlee Amendment [to the Michigan Constitution] in 1978, governors and legislatures have sought ways to avoid complying with the provision that requires the state to fund the programs that it mandates to local government," Mr. Schultz said. "The state has instead engaged in a series of budgetary games designed to avoid meeting this commitment. This is wrong, and the time for it to stop is now."
Minner Says Cost of Plan To End Busing
In her first State of the State Address, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware threw cold water on a legislative proposal to end a school desegregation plan that traces its roots to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Republican leaders in the state have put forward a school construction plan aimed at effectively ending the unpopular 1978 desegregation plan affecting students in Wilmington and four outlying counties. The plan grew out of a lawsuit that was among four U.S. Supreme Court cases included in what became known as the Brown decision, handed down in 1954.
But the Democratic governor suggested in her Jan. 25 speech that the state could not afford the new schools it would take to end the current busing of students. Citing surging Medicaid costs and sagging farm incomes, she said the state's economic outlook had "changed significantly."
Last month, GOP lawmakers called for spending $300 million to enable those students to attend neighborhood schools.
Gov. Minner has not taken a formal stance on the GOP bill, but she urged the legislature to put its priorities elsewhere.
"Gone are the days of $200 million or $400 million surpluses," Ms. Minner said of the state's budgets. Delaware, she cautioned, must already foot one huge education bill—$452 million worth of local school referendums approved by voters around the state last year.
In her speech to lawmakers, the governor called for one new education initiative: putting a reading tutor in every elementary school. That $5 million proposal was part of her platform in her successful gubernatorial bid.
Ms. Minner said the state should pay for "reading specialists" to spend extra time with young students. "Every child who leaves the early grades without good reading skills," she said, "is a child who will struggle through [his or her] remaining days—in school and in life."
Ms. Minner, the state's former lieutenant governor, was elected in November to succeed Gov. Thomas Carper, who won election to the U.S. Senate.
Ryan Calls for Reducing State
Ed. Dept. 'Red Tape'
Gov. George Ryan said last week it was time to "eliminate red tape" in the Illinois education department, arguing that the agency needs to be "more accountable to you and me."
The Republican chief executive did not say how he would reshape the seven-member state board of education, which is appointed by the governor. But he voiced strong disapproval of its job performance in his third State of the State Address.
"[A]s we strengthen accountability for students, teachers, and local schools, it is time that we take a good, hard look at the education bureaucracy of state government," the first-term governor said in his Jan. 31 speech.
The agency's bureaucracy, Gov. Ryan said, needs to be reduced and its red tape eliminated. He said he would unveil legislation toward those ends this month.
State schools Superintendent Glenn W. "Max" McGee, said in a prepared statement following the speech that his department aims to be a "high-performing agency" that responds quickly to school districts. He cited several recent steps it has taken to improve its responsiveness.
But Mr. McGee's statement did not directly address Gov. Ryan's remarks, and aides to the schools chief declined to comment on them. Aides to the governor, meanwhile, did not offer details of the forthcoming proposal.
Sen. Vince Demuzio, a Democrat, surmised that Mr. Ryan may wish to make the education agency a "co-department" under his control. He noted that Mr. McGee was hired by the state board only weeks before Mr. Ryan was elected governor in 1998.
George King, a spokesman for the Illinois branch of the National Education Association, called the state board of education a "well- known, cumbersome bureaucracy." The agency printed errors last year when issuing training materials to teachers, the union pointed out in a news release.
As for the three other education proposals Gov. Ryan announced last week, each was similarly short on specifics.
He appeared to endorse the idea of spending more money on students from state coffers. A state commission has proposed adding $135 per pupil in state funding, but Mr. Ryan's spokesman, Dennis Culloton, said he believes the governor will increase that amount even more.
Mr. Ryan also reiterated his call for appointment of a panel to design a plan to make preschool and full-day kindergarten available to all the state's children.
In addition, the governor called for annual testing of public school students in grades 3-11, a move that the state school board approved last October.
Holden Wants Incentives For
Facing the state's tightest budget in years and a slowing Missouri economy, Gov. Bob Holden said education funding would be at the top of his new administration's agenda.
"The first priority of this legislative session must be to tighten our belts and deliver a balanced budget," the Democratic governor said last week in his first State of the State Address. "I will not allow this difficult situation to weaken our investment in the top priority of my administration—education."
Gov. Holden said the critical elements of his plan to improve education include: adequate resources, well-qualified teachers, parental involvement, accountability, technology, and safe school environments. He also called for full funding of the state's foundation formula for schools.
Also, the new chief executive said Missouri should encourage more teachers to strengthen their skills by seeking certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which involves a rigorous one-year evaluation and examination period requiring teachers to demonstrate mastery of their subject areas.
Missouri has 44 teachers who have received national certification. Gov. Holden proposed a $5,000 salary supplement for any Missouri teacher who completes the program. Teachers who were already nationally certified and who agreed to help mentor other Missouri teachers seeking certification would receive a 10 percent salary supplement on top of the $5,000 bonuses.
On the accountability front, Mr. Holden proposed taking the state's district report-card program a step further to include report cards on individual schools. Parents would receive information on classroom conditions, the professional qualifications of their children's teachers, class sizes, graduation and dropout rates, school safety, and spending.
Mr. Holden also proposed measures to raise spending on school technology and to institute character education programs.
Issues of Teacher Supply Top Martz's
Gov. Judy Martz said in her State of the State address that she planned to emphasize teacher quality as part of her effort to make sure Montana schools "remain world-class."
The Republican governor, the former lieutenant governor who won election to the state's top office in November, observed in her Jan. 25 address that many school districts are having a hard time recruiting certified teachers, and she lamented that the state loses many of its certified teachers to other states that offer better pay and benefits.
In fact, she said, only about a third of the teachers certified in Montana actually enter the profession in the state.
She proposed improving the "recruiting, retaining, and rewarding" of teachers by starting a loan- forgiveness program for teachers certified by Montana colleges and universities who commit to teaching in the state for at least seven years.
The state should also create a program in which veteran teachers would be rewarded for completing performance goals set by the teachers and their administrators, she said. She promised to back up the program by giving districts more flexibility in making spending decisions to accommodate such rewards.
Gov. Martz pledged her support for mentoring programs for young people. And she called on churches to provide after-school programs that would provide character education as well as additional learning activities for children.
While Ms. Martz's proposed spending plan for K-12 education contains less money overall than the previous year's budget, she said in her speech that the money that would be spent on each pupil would actually increase. Montana is experiencing decreasing enrollment in its schools.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Before Leaving, Thompson Defends
Outgoing Gov. Tommy G. Thompson bid farewell to Wisconsin in his l4th annual State of the State Address last week, reinforcing his commitment to caps on school spending and calling for the elimination of illiteracy before handing the baton to incoming Gov. Scott McCallum.
The speech, given Jan. 31, was one of Mr. Thompson's last official tasks before leaving for Washington, where he was expected to be sworn in last Friday as President Bush's secretary of health and human services. Mr. McCallum, who served as lieutenant governor under Mr. Thompson, a fellow Republican, was sworn in as governor on Feb. 1.
Mr. Thompson praised the quality of teaching in Wisconsin and credited it as one of the reasons behind the state's economic turnaround over the past decade.
"No state is making a greater, more consistent investment in its public schools than Wisconsin," he said. "We now spend $7.8 billion each year on public schools—an increase of 141 percent [since 1987] ... and have made teachers among the best-paid in the Midwest and America."
The state will continue to pick up two-thirds of the cost of Wisconsin's schools, as was required by law in 1993, but should not consider lifting spending limits set that year in an effort to control property taxes, Mr. Thompson said.
"Without the cost controls we placed on local school spending, property taxes would be $2 billion higher right now," he said.
He also challenged Mr. McCallum, parents, teachers, employers, and churches to "make Wisconsin the first state where everyone can read."
In addition, Mr. Thompson cited the importance of preschool education and praised the state's Early Childhood Excellence Centers program, which aids at-risk children and their families at 18 sites throughout Wisconsin.
Vol. 20, Issue 21, Pages 14, 20Published in Print: February 7, 2001, as State of the States