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 2002 data reported by state education officials 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.


Top Education Issues
Put on Hold Till Fall

The motto for this year's Arkansas legislative session, at least where schools were concerned, might well have been, "We'll fix it in the fall."

Gov. Mike Huckabee

27 Democrats
8 Republicans
70 Democrats
30 Republicans

With a special session expected sometime this coming fall to deal with court-mandated education changes, state lawmakers essentially left K-12 education funding for fiscal 2004 at the 2003 level, $1.7 billion.

Any major changes to school aid in the 2004 state budget will likely be made during the special session, though it's not clear when the new funding would be available to schools.

"Until we get through the summer and into the special session, we are holding the status quo," said John Kunkel, the associate director of finance for the state education department. That is not to say that the legislature was silent on the subject of schools.

Lawmakers tinkered with a host of smaller issues, most of which impose new requirements—and costs—on school districts.

For example, districts will have to give each teacher $500 for classroom supplies beginning this coming fall, double the $250 the state had required.

And, in determining teacher pay, teachers must be given full credit for every year of experience that they have completed. Previously, districts could credit teachers with less than a full year, which suppressed their salaries.

In addition, districts must pay teachers for any time over 60 minutes per week that they spend on school-related duties after hours.

Classified employees also were targeted for more pay—a 2.2 percent cost-of-living increase.

Gov. Mike Huckabee began the session seeking legislation that would have led to widespread consolidation of small rural districts. Faced with strong opposition from those communities, however, the legislation died.

To come up with the state's overall fiscal 2004 budget of $3.5 billion, which is 9 percent above the 2003 budget, lawmakers held a special session last month in which they approved about $115 million in new taxes.

—Robert C. Johnston


Teachers Get Pay Hike
In Special Session

Gov. John Hoeven called the legislature back for a special session last month after vetoing a K-12 spending bill that did not include pay increases for teachers. Over the past two years, North Dakota raised salaries for all teachers by some $4,500, a trend Mr. Hoeven intended to continue.

Gov. John Hoeven

30 Democrats
17 Republicans
28 Democrats
66 Republicans

In that three-day session, legislators agreed to target some $12.4 million to increase teachers' salaries over the next two years. Under the provision, districts will be required to spend at least 70 percent of any new state money on teacher salaries.

Some districts, though, will not receive new money under a new funding formula, so their teachers will not see changes in their paychecks. Moreover, other districts can apply for waivers of the requirement if they can prove that the money is needed to sustain school programs, according to Tom Decker, the director of school finance and organization for the state education department.

The final $333 million education budget for the 2004 fiscal year represents an increase of some $19 million, or about 6 percent, over fiscal 2003. The education budget was spared from cuts of up to 5 percent that hit other state agencies, including the one overseeing health and social services.

While North Dakota is experiencing some fiscal constraints, state officials do not anticipate a significant deficit over the 2004-05 biennium.

But lawmakers adjusted the formula for determining districts' school aid allocations in response to complaints from several midsize districts that they were not receiving their fair share of state money. Those districts, Mr. Decker said, generally do not have to pay the higher salaries of urban districts, nor do they typically enroll large numbers of students in poverty as the state's rural districts do.

Under the new formula, midsize districts, ranging in size from 500 to 2,500 students, will still receive less per-pupil funding than other, needier districts, Mr. Decker said. Several districts have threatened to challenge the aid system in court.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo


Spending Plan Lacks
Raises for Teachers

When West Virginia's legislative session wrapped up earlier this spring, Gov. Bob Wise called it a victory for health care. But he made no mention of education.

Gov. Bob Wise

24 Democrats
10 Republicans
68 Democrats
32 Republicans

Mr. Wise praised the legislature for addressing medical-liability reform and for raising the tobacco tax to help pay for Medicaid. The session, however, contained little in the way of major K-12 education initiatives.

The overall $3 billion state budget for fiscal 2004 contains $1.6 billion in general funds for public education, a 2.5 percent increase from the current fiscal year. The increase will largely go toward increased costs of health insurance and retirement programs.

One major education bill signed by Gov. Wise aims to reform policies dealing with district school boards. Under the measure, local boards of education are required to receive additional training on the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2001. That mandate means board members must receive training beyond the seven hours currently required to be a board member.

Also under the measure, school boards must evaluate the performance of their superintendents at least once a year.

The bill also sets aside five days a year for "instructional support and enhancement." Each of those days will provide teachers with two hours for tutoring students, parent conferences, student counseling, or student community services. Up to two hours will be devoted to faculty meetings, and the rest of the day will be used for planning related to the No Child Left Behind Act.

In other action, a home schooling measure loosened requirements for home school teachers. Under the new law, parents teaching home-schooled children no longer will be required to have at least four years of education above the grade level they are teaching.

Teachers' unions expressed frustration about what did not happen this session: Lawmakers did not raise teacher pay. The previous two years, teachers had received salary hikes.

The legislature also did not alter the school calendar. Some administrators had wanted more flexibility. Others, including some educators and parents, opposed changing the school year, arguing that extracurricular activities would be thrown into a tailspin by such a change.

An interim committee of the legislature was set up to study the school calendar issue.

—Lisa Goldstein

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 18

Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as Capitol Recap
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