News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Democrats in Congress Cite States' Fiscal Gloom

Democratic leaders in Congress are highlighting recent state belt-tightening in their effort to win political support for greater federal spending on schools.

A report prepared by the Democratic staffs of the House and Senate education committees estimates that, nationwide, state education budgets are facing cuts of about $11.3 billion this fiscal year.

"The faltering economy is putting at risk the advancements that many states are making to improve the quality of their educational systems," said U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The report comes as Congress nears completion of an education bill that is expected to step up the demands on states and school districts to improve student achievement. Lawmakers are also close to completing the fiscal 2002 budget for the U.S. Department of Education.

The House plan would raise the department's budget by about
$7 billion; the increase in the Senate version would be $6.5 billion. Democratic leaders maintain that those increases aren't enough.

"Unless the federal government steps in quickly to fill the gaps, our children will fall through them," the Democrats' report says.

David Schnittger, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who chairs the House education committee, said that the spending bills already have big raises for schools and that "there is not an unlimited supply of money in the federal treasury."

Besides, he added, the pending education bill would give states and districts more flexibility in using federal dollars. "That will be a powerful tool," he said.

—Erik W. Robelen

Calif. Education Budget Cuts Eyed

Gov. Gray Davis of California has proposed cutting the state's 2001-02 education budget by $843 million to help make up for a shortfall in the state budget caused by a decline in revenue.

The Democratic governor has called for a special legislative session to consider the proposal in January, to be held concurrently with the legislature's regular session that begins that month. Cuts would occur only with legislative approval.

The most serious of the proposed education cuts is a recommended one-year delay in a $200 million grant program that would provide money to help the state's lowest-performing schools make improvements, said Douglas Stone, the director of communications for the California Department of Education.

"The governor has made some serious attempts to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," Mr. Stone added.

"It's not going to be an easy exercise for school districts," said Kevin Gordon, the executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. "But, at the same time, a lot of us in the education community recognize the governor didn't have a lot of options."

—Mary Ann Zehr

Md. to Aid Terror Victims' Children

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed an executive order on Nov. 13 that creates a committee to help raise money for a college-scholarship program for the children of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The committee hopes to raise $500,000 in private donations by the end of the year for the Maryland Survivors Scholarship Fund. The aid would first be given to Maryland students currently enrolled in college to help pay this year's tuition.

Students at the University of Maryland College Park who are from other states and lost a parent in the attacks would be eligible as well.

The rest of the money would go to buy trusts in the Maryland Prepaid College Trust Funds.

Qualified families would be able to tap the state fund to pay for college wherever their children are enrolled. The amount of funding they could get, however, could only be as high as the tuition at the University of Maryland College Park.

Fifty-three Maryland families suffered losses of loved ones because of the attacks. It is estimated that between 20 and 30 of them have children who would be eligible for the scholarships, said Walinda West, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the state agency that will run the program.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 21, Issue 13, Page 19

Published in Print: November 28, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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