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, the most recent available, 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.


Teachers Get Pay Raise
Despite Gloomy Finances

Tight fiscal times continue in Alabama, as Gov. Donald Siegelman recently signed off on a budget that gives teachers a modest raise of 3 percent, but essentially flat-lines other K-12 accounts.

Gov. Donald Siegelman

24 Democrats
11 Republicans
67 Democrats
38 Republicans

Total state spending for K-12 education will rise from $2.95 billion in the coming fiscal year to $3.02 billion next year, a 2.4 percent increase.

Given the budget constraints, Alabama won't be seeing any new education programs this year. Lawmakers, however, did pass a bill that requires background checks for all teachers and other public school employees who have unsupervised access to students.

Talk of rewriting the Alabama Constitution was put to rest, at least for now, as proposals that would have allowed Alabama residents to vote on whether to hold a new constitutional convention did not even make it out of committee.

During his State of the State Address earlier this year, Gov. Siegelman suggested that rewriting the constitution would be a way to find more money for education.

Another bill that died would have authorized Alabama's public schools to display the motto "In God We Trust" in classrooms, auditoriums, and cafeterias.

For several years running, the state has faced tough financial times. In fiscal 2001, the state cut education spending across the board after tax revenues came in below initial projections.

Should revenues fall short again this year, the legislature has authorized the governor to tap revenue that is generated by the so-called "16th Section" lands. When Alabama gained statehood, those lands were set aside for public schools, and since then, much revenue has accrued for districts through leasing the property. Any money taken from the fund, however, would have to be repaid through state bonds.

While the Alabama Education Association, the main teachers' union in the state, applauded the new budget, some school groups were not so pleased to see new spending basically eaten up by a teacher-pay raise and other benefits for public school employees.

"Schools are going into a third year with less money than they were promised in the [fiscal] 2001 year," said Susan Salter, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Association of School Boards.

—Erik W. Robelen


School Budget Items Lose
Ground to Tight Economy

Not surprisingly, a majority of conversations in the Idaho legislature this year revolved around the state's budget, which, like those of many other states, was hard hit by the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne

3 Democrats
32 Republicans
9 Democrats
61 Republicans

The $985.5 million education budget makes up almost half the entire budget for the state in fiscal 2003, and represents a $26 million increase over the state's current budget, according to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

Still, many programs did not receive the same level of funding as they did last year, said Allison Westfall, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

While the education department asked the Republican- controlled legislature for $8 million to help implement Idaho's achievement standards, that initiative was financed at $4 million.

In addition, the state's technology effort, which helps districts implement such programs as making classrooms Internet-ready and providing teachers with technology-related professional development, was trimmed from $10.4 million to $8.4 million.

And a state reading program was cut to $3.3 million, down from $4 million. That measure provides funds to districts for testing students in grades K-3 twice a year and for up to 40 hours of additional help for students who are reading below grade level. It also helps pay for teachers in grades K-8 to complete a comprehensive literacy course in order to be recertified.

But the legislature did add $2 million to the education budget to help teachers pay for classroom supplies.

The state will start a pilot program for mathematics institutes this summer, said Mark Snider, a spokesman for the governor. The institutes, which will be subsidized mostly from private contributions from businesses around the state, will enable math teachers to study at one of three universities to learn authentic mathematics applications. "We're bringing in folks from the private sector to get them excited about real-world applications," said Mr. Snider.

Summing up this year's battle over the budget, he added, "There were a lot of people who had good uses for a limited amount of money."

—Michelle Galley


Governor's Initiative
On Laptops Survives

Maine officials have been on a roller coaster ride with changing budget projections this year. What looked to be a bleak year of budget cuts at the start of the year had turned sunny for a while. Now, however, the future looks uncertain.

Gov. Angus King

17 Democrats
16 Republicans
1 Independent
89 Democrats
61 Republicans
1 Independent

The state's ambitious program to provide middle school students with laptop computers is still on track for the 2002-03 school year, although legislators cut funding slightly to make their budget.

The program, passed in last year's legislative session, was scheduled to be financed at $30 million this year, but upon the recommendation of Gov. Angus King, lawmakers dropped that amount to $25 million.

Maine is now pilot-testing the program at nine schools and is in the midst of training educators to teach with the computers. The total cost for the program is estimated at $37.2 million.

The state, which passed a two-year budget last year for the fiscal years 2002 and 2003, had approved $718.3 million for the upcoming school year, out of a total state budget of about $2.6 billion. Looking at declining revenues earlier this year, lawmakers worried that they would have to trim that amount.

But acting on more positive revenue projections released in late February, lawmakers were able to boost that figure to $730.8 million.

Some of the extra money will go to reimburse districts for the costs of providing special education to students who are wards of the state. To help meet the state's goal of increasing funds for school construction, legislators added $13 million, although Mr. King had requested $15 million.

In other action, the legislature approved a plan to study new ways of underwriting "essential programs and services" in the education budget. As part of that effort, the state plans to study its highest- achieving schools and look at how they determine which programs receive the most financing.

In addition, the legislature approved rules for a law passed last year that will align the state's graduation tests to academic standards by 2006.

Since the legislature adjourned April 24, its budget forecasts have become cloudy.

The state could face revenue shortfalls of up to $180 million later this year. Last week, the governor began talking to lawmakers about options for revising the budget.

No specific proposals to cut education have been put forth, but nothing is certain, said Yellow Light Breen, a spokesman for the education department.

"We don't know what it will impact; everything's still on the table until that gap is closed," said Mr. Breen.

—Joetta L. Sack


State Ekes Out Increase
In Education Spending

Despite one of the most acute budget crises in the nation, Virginia lawmakers found a way to nudge their education spending higher this year.

Gov. Mark R. Warner

18 Democrats
22 Republicans
2 Independent
34 Democrats
64 Republicans
1.1 million

The Republican-controlled legislature followed the lead of newly elected Gov. Mark R. Warner, a businessman with no prior political experience, who had recommended substantial cuts in the state budget this year and for the next few.

The state was hard hit when Washington-area tourism dropped after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and at the World Trade Center. Two of the Washington area's major airports, both in Virginia, were closed temporarily, and business was slow after the attacks—costing the state hundreds of millions in tax revenue.

A general slowdown in manufacturing and technology also hurt Virginia's economy, preventing the state from maintaining the spending levels it had seen in recent years.

In the end, legislators decided to raise spending on K-12 schools by $255.4 million over the next two years, to $8.4 billion. It's a much smaller increase than in recent years, and includes a 2 percent cut throughout all state agencies that may rise to 7 percent next year.

No teacher-salary increase was included, although lawmakers did promise to set aside some money next year for raises.

The budget includes cuts in school construction, teacher training, dropout prevention, and other programs. Also, the state will borrow money from other coffers to pay a portion of teacher-retirement benefits.

As the state education board holds public forums this month to discuss possible changes to how Virginia pays for education, lawmakers continued to tweak the state's Standards of Learning tests and its overall education program. One legislative change—an example used by Gov. Warner in his election campaign on how the state's high-stakes tests might be altered—called for history tests to include more essays rather than multiple-choice questions.

Another issue from the gubernatorial campaign resurfaced during the legislative session, which ended in March: whether voters could approve local sales-tax increases for roads and schools. Mr. Warner successfully urged lawmakers to allow counties to vote on local sales taxes, but for transportation only, not for school construction.

Legislators also approved about $8 million to pay for expanded tests required under the new federal "No Child Left Behind" law.

And they delayed a requirement for students to pass tests in specified academic subjects before they can graduate. The postponement allows students who haven't had the full benefit of learning under the state's academic standards established in 1995 to use additional tests and other options that could help them qualify for a diploma.

Beginning with the graduating class of 2007, students will be forced to pass tests in specified subjects to graduate.

Safety also was on lawmakers' minds. They voted to require school safety plans to include the possibility of more terrorist attacks, and for districts to provide ways for parents to seek immediate information on school closings and children's safety in an emergency.

Lawmakers also voted to consolidate two state schools for deaf and blind students into one campus. They voted to allow Korean War veterans whose education was disrupted by military service to qualify for honorary diplomas, just as the state and others have done with World War II veterans.

—Alan Richard

Vol. 21, Issue 36, Page 21

Published in Print: May 15, 2002, as Capitol Recap
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