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Off the A-List

School boosters, lulled by numerous polls showing keen interest in the subject among voters, might be surprised to find it absent from the latest list of likely hot topics in state legislatures this year. After all, education has been a staple of the list since the National Conference of State Legislatures began the compilation in 1998.

But for the 2002 sessions, circumstances changed. Namely, said Gene Rose, the public-affairs director for the Denver-based group NCSL and the list's author, the nation declared a war on terrorism and the economy turned shaky.

"The events of September 11 dramatically changed the landscape of issues that legislatures will be dealing with this year," said Mr. Rose, who has climbed out on a limb with his crystal ball each year.

Thus, teacher quality, state academic standards, and school safety are bumped from the 2002 list by fiscal shortfalls, privacy, and public safety.

It's not that legislators will ignore education, Mr. Rose hastened to add. Funding for K-12 schools takes the biggest single bite out of state revenues, and constituents perennially want new things from their schools, he acknowledged.

Moreover, Mr. Rose said, the list would have included at least one education item if he had been able to prepare it last week—after President Bush signed the new federal education act—rather than more than a month ago. "How states will be reacting to the new federal education bill—that's one I would have added, but the bill hadn't passed yet," he said.

William J. Wyatt, Mr. Rose's counterpart in the NCSL's Washington office, agreed that the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will be on lawmakers' minds.

"But now on top of maintenance of [education] effort, legislators have to fund implementation of new ESEA rules," he noted.

So, while education doesn't rule this year, it's a good bet that it will make the list again—and soon.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 18, Page 16

Published in Print: January 16, 2002, as State Journal

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