Capitol Recap

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The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2000 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.


Social Promotion Bill Joins Facilities at Top of Agenda

Gov. Roy E. Barnes has said that education is his top priority, and he successfully shepherded several bills through the Georgia legislature this year that were designed to build on his year-old A-Plus Education Reform Act.

Attracting the most attention during the session was the governor's plan to end social promotion of students in five years, which the legislature approved despite opponents' concerns about the impact on minority students.

Under the new law, students in grades 3, 5, and 8 will have to pass the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test to progress to the next grade. Those who don't pass will receive additional help and be able to take the test again. An appeals process has been included in which the principal, one of the child's classroom teachers, and one of the child's parents would have to make a unanimous decision to hold back or promote any child who failed the test.

Gov. Roy E. Barnes

32 Democrats
24 Republicans
105 Democrats
74 Republicans
1 Independent
1.4 million

In remarks earlier this year, Mr. Barnes said he realized that five years offered little time to reach the goal of ending the practice of moving academically unready children to the next grade.

"But we will be able to do it because we put so many of the necessary measures in place," he said.

Some educators, though, are still hoping that more indicators of a student's performance will be considered before the child is held back.

"I think there is much more work to be done on the final process," said Gary Ashley, the executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association.

The budget signed by the governor increases spending for precollegiate education by 12 percent, for a total of $6.13 billion for fiscal 2002.

The spending plan includes an $82 million expansion of an initiative started last year, known as the Early Intervention Program, that provides small classes for students whose skills are below grade level. The program, which reduces the pupil-teacher ratio in such classes to 11-to-1, will be extended from grades K-3 through 5th grade.

In addition, the budget includes a $4 million increase for school improvement teams, bringing the total for fiscal 2002 to $11 million. Run by the state department of education, the teams work with low-performing schools to help them meet standards set by the new accountability system created under the A-Plus act. The increase will allow the department to serve up to 223 schools.

Lawmakers increased spending for reading programs by $7 million, raising the amount to $35 million. Schools must use the money for programs proven to be effective.

Another notable development this year was a special $468 million appropriation for school construction; the money actually came as a supplement to the fiscal 2001 budget and therefore was not part of the 12 percent pre-K-12 spending increase. The money is designed to address the need for new classrooms that was created by Gov. Barnes' class-size-reduction initiative.

The governor also requested and received $68.5 million to put one paraprofessional in each kindergarten classroom in the state. Last year's law eliminated funding for the assistants.

While teachers' groups this year supported many of the governor's education initiatives, they were disappointed with the 4.5 percent raise they received, which comes to $188 million statewide. The Georgia Association of Educators and state schools Superintendent Linda C. Schrenko, a Republican, called for a 10 percent raise, while the nonunion Professional Association of Georgia Educators was hoping for a 6 percent increase.

—Linda Jacobson


Panel on Teacher Pay Set To Revive Prickly Topic

This fiscal year is an "off year" in Kentucky's biennial budget cycle, and the legislature did little in its monthlong session to alter the landscape of education policy. But the lawmakers did take one step that may have set the stage for a resumption of last year's battle over teacher quality and compensation.

Holding their first regular session ever in an odd-numbered year, the legislators created a commission to study teacher compensation in the Bluegrass State—a precursor, observers say, to a fight over how much teachers ought to be paid and whether the state should abandon the current salary scale.

Gov. Paul E. Patton

18 Democrats
20 Republicans
66 Democrats
34 Republicans

Meanwhile, in the first of what will become biennial 30- day sessions in off years, the legislature didn't change the $2.7 billion school spending figure it set last year for the second year of its biennial budget.

During its full- length session next year, "salaries and teacher quality will dominate," predicted Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a Lexington-based citizens' group that champions the state's school improvement efforts. "The challenge for that session will be working out something on differentiated pay and bonuses."

Mr. Sexton recently published an editorial in the state's newspapers calling for a pay system that rewards teachers with higher wages if they have better skills and with bonuses based on student performance on state tests.

Passing such a plan won't be an easy task. In last year's session, the legislature stripped out many proposals made by Gov. Paul E. Patton that would have required middle school teachers to expand their subject-matter knowledge and would have overhauled teacher education. Several elements of that plan died after intense lobbying by the Kentucky Education Association.

The 31,000-member union is going to be a force to be reckoned with again for legislators hoping to experiment with pay plans that offer bonuses based on teacher performance, or salary enticements for teachers in high-need subject areas. The KEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association, will be working to defend the existing salary schedule that rewards teachers for years of experience and education level, but does not offer performance incentives. "The single salary schedule must be maintained and enhanced," said KEA President Judith L. Gambill, who was scheduled to testify this week before the legislature's teacher-compensation commission at its second meeting. "Once it's enhanced to the level that attracts teachers to the profession, then we can look at the other plans that are out there."

Teachers' hopes of sizable raises notwithstanding, any major increases in school spending next year appear unlikely. Tax receipts for this year are expected to fall $120 million short of what the two-year budget projected, according to a forecast released last week by a state panel of economists. The slowdown is bound to put pressure on spending in the budget to be adopted in next year's session.

—David J. Hoff


Shrinking Enrollments Prompt Plan for Study

Legislators had the problem of declining enrollments in Montana schools on their minds this spring in considering how to pay for schools over the next biennium.

The state formula for financing schools was established during a time of increasing student enrollments. That has created some problems since 1996, when Montana's student population peaked and then started a decline that has continued and is not projected to end for at least six more years. "Because schools are in a declining-enrollment mode, it becomes difficult for those schools to anticipate what their budgets will be, because they don't know what their enrollments are until school starts," explained Chuck Swysgood, the budget director for Gov. Judy Martz. "They don't have enough time to adjust for the hit that affects their budget."

Gov. Judy Martz

19 Democrats
42 Democrats
58 Republicans

The legislature kept the school funding formula as it is, but passed a law directing the state office of budget and program planning to conduct a two-year study of how the formula might be changed to better accommodate schools that have shrinking numbers of students.

Lawmakers increased funding from the general fund for K- 12 education in the upcoming biennium over the previous one by $25.6 million, or 2.73 percent. In fiscal 2002, K-12 education will receive $497 million from the general fund.

In addition, the legislature created a separate one-time flexible account with $5 million to be distributed to schools according to a formula over a two-year period. The legislature also passed a law that will permit schools to ask taxpayers to expand the size of local tax levies for special education funding.

Several education initiatives that Gov. Martz had proposed earlier this year—such as a loan-forgiveness program for teachers and money for implementing state standardized tests—did not make it into the budget.

In other action, the legislature overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have required all Montana students to wear school uniforms. Another bill that would have provided tax credits for private school tuition and home schooling expenses died in the House taxation committee. The bill would have allowed parents to deduct a portion of such costs from their state income taxes.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Editor's Note: This week marks the launch of Capitol Recap, a feature that replaces Legislative Update.

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Pages 20-21

Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as Capitol Recap
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