New Hampshire | Washington | West Virginia
Gov. Napolitano Looks to Business for Help
On All-Day Kindergarten
Arizona’s new governor vowed last week that she won’t let a $1 billion budget deficit stop her from funneling more money to public school classrooms.
Janet Napolitano made national history in November, when she became the first woman to directly succeed another female governor. Now, the former state attorney general hopes to make history again, this time by raising the Grand Canyon State’s standing in K-12 education from somewhere near the bottom of the heap to someplace near the top.
“Improving public education is my top priority as governor,” Ms. Napolitano, a Democrat, said in her Jan. 13 State of the State Address. “Currently, Arizona has the worst high school dropout rate in the country, we spend fewer dollars per pupil than nearly any state in the country, [and] our schools are overcrowded and enrollment continues to grow.
“We cannot ask our educators, students, and parents to bear any more of the burden for balancing our budgets,” she added. “They have gone without adequate funding for too long, and the effects are evident.”
The governor’s priorities should sit well with voters, if a recent poll by The Arizona Republic is any indication. Of the 610 people surveyed by the newspaper in December, 68 percent said the state doesn’t spend enough on education.
Gov. Napolitano, though, may not be able to do much about that in the short term.
The state’s new leaders inherited a $300 million spending gap for the current fiscal year and face a projected deficit of $1 billion in fiscal 2004.
Education is unlikely to end up on the chopping block—that budget is largely protected by a voter-passed referendum—but Ms. Napolitano apparently hopes to do more than maintain the status quo during her governorship.
One way of increasing classroom funding in lean times—without actually spending more—is to shift money away from school administration. Those costs were a long-standing target of former Gov. Jane Dee Hull’s administration.
So, assuming the mantle of her predecessor, Ms. Napolitano has proposed a series of planning sessions with educators across the state to find a way to raise the proportion of dollars going to classrooms from Arizona’s current level of 58 percent to the national average of 62 percent. The governor also vowed to right what’s wrong with the state’s court-ordered school construction program, a massive effort that is now $100 million over budget. (“Ed. Dept. OKs First Accountability Plans,” Jan. 15, 2003.) Without offering a plan of action, she promised simply to work with state lawmakers on finding a solution.
In an effort to tackle some of Arizona’s other school-related problems—it has one of the highest dropout rates in the country and widespread illiteracy—Ms. Napolitano pointed to early-childhood education as a key area for improvement.
“The more we learn about the importance of early-childhood learning, the more obvious it is that voluntary, all-day kindergarten and universal pre-K should be standard offerings in our public schools,” she said.
Given the state’s budget crisis, Gov. Napolitano said, her staff is exploring ways that public-private partnerships might be used to cover the cost of phasing in all-day kindergarten.
Governor to Lawmakers: Resolve Funding Case
Gov. Mike Huckabee used soaring rhetoric to challenge lawmakers who this session will face the daunting task of restructuring Arkansas’ education system after the state supreme court last fall ruled that the way it finances schools is unconstitutional.
After quoting several former state governors from the 1920s to the 1960s—who spoke up for more equitable education funding and higher teacher salaries only to see few improvements—Gov. Huckabee turned his focus to the present.
“Ladies and gentleman of the 84th General Assembly, I ask you to join me in not being another footnote in the pages of Arkansas history, where we merely come and give lip service to how much we have improved something that will only land us right back in the courts. And we’ll continue to lose until we finally stand up, step up, and do what we must in this session for our children.”
The Republican governor, whose administration unsuccessfully appealed the school finance ruling, said the court has spoken clearly on the need to reorganize the state’s education system.
Among other changes, he said, the state department of education will be realigned with a “common accounting system that will give patrons of any or all schools an opportunity to know by percentage the amount of money spent in every category ... as well as a thorough reporting system of the academic performance of each school.”
Making state government more efficient will be central to finding the resources to pay for other changes to Arkansas’ education system, he said, which experts during the trial predicted would cost anywhere from $400 million to $900 million a year. The governor said he supports a bill that would slash the number of state-level agencies from more than
50 to 10.
O’Bannon Praises State Standards
Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon held up Indiana’s academic standards during his S tate of the State Address last week as proof that Indiana is doing a good job in educating its youngsters.
The Democratic governor said the state has “some of the most purposeful school standards in the nation” and noted that Indiana was one of the first five states to receive approval from President Bush for its accountability plan under the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. (“Ed. Dept. OKs First Accountability Plans,” Jan. 15, 2003.)
Yet Mr. O’Bannon said he will continue to put pressure on the federal government to provide full funding for the law, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Calling the nation’s current recession the worst in 60 years, Mr. O’Bannon, who faces re-election next year, acknowledged that schools are being required to accomplish more than ever. At the same time, he is not proposing that they receive new money during fiscal years 2004 and 2005.
He said the state would continue to work on developing a high school curriculum that is more demanding than the current one. He acknowledged that currently the state doesn’t have the money to implement the new curriculum.
Mr. O’Bannon drew attention to how state personnel talked with more than 40,000 parents of newborns in the last fiscal year about discipline, child care, and nutrition. He also touted the state’s efforts to enroll an increasing number of children in a free health-insurance program financed by states and the federal government.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Vilsack Challenges State, Sets Bold Goals
Gov. Tom Vilsack last week challenged Iowans to look to the future and make bold changes to ensure the state’s continued prosperity.
Gov. Vilsack outlined an ambitious four-year agenda in his Jan. 14 Condition of the State Address, in which he assigned education a vital role in supporting the development of a new bio-tech economy for Iowa.
The Democratic governor, who was elected to a second term in November, proposed creating a public-private partnership to make investments aimed at transforming the state’s economy over the next five years. The proposed $500 million Iowa Values Fund also would work with higher education institutions to double the number of people with college experience in the workforce.
To expand the ranks of college-educated workers in Iowa, the governor challenged the state to make sure more than 90 percent of children have access to high-quality preschool and that at least 90 percent of young people complete two years of college or more. A new group of education leaders is planning to form the “Iowa Learns Council” to draft policies and strategies to accomplish the “90/90 goal.” Some revenues generated by the Iowa Values Fund would be dedicated to this effort.
“Bold goals precede and encourage bold action,” Gov. Vilsack said.
Another education initiative proposed by the governor would help small high schools provide more educational opportunities to students. A state-run “virtual academy” would establish online courses for students, while “regional academies” would allow schools to pool their course opportunities.
The state also should provide financial incentives to encourage small school district to consolidate, the governor said.
And as Iowa anticipates further budget cuts after facing a $220 million shortfall in the 2003 fiscal year, the governor is calling for a new study examining potential disparities in the state’s school aid system.
“If inequities exist, they must be addressed,” Gov. Vilsack said. “Our values require it.”
The governor unveils his budget later this month.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Gov. Patton Warns: Tough Decisions Ahead
Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton pledged to continue the state’s nationally acclaimed school improvement programs, but warned that the state’s fiscal straits will make it hard to keep schools and other government services running at current levels.
“We’re going to find it awfully difficult to cut more out of our budget without substantially affecting service delivery,” the Democrat told lawmakers in his Jan. 9 State of the Commonwealth Address. Mr. Patton pleaded with legislators to compromise with him to address a $500 million revenue shortfall in the biennial budget for fiscal 2003 and 2004.
He also warned that they must choose between raising taxes and cutting back on programs in education and the rest of state government.
Last year, heated budget negotiations between Mr. Patton and the legislature ended in a stalemate. After the legislature adjourned, the governor invoked executive authority to enact a two-year budget modeled after his proposal.
Now that reduced revenues require that the budget be revised, he’s pledging to work with legislators to find solutions. Democrats lead the House, and Republicans control the Senate.
“This should not be the problem of the next governor,” said Mr. Patton, who is in the last year of his second term and is prohibited by law from seeking a third. “It is our problem. It arose on my watch, and it should be solved on my watch.”
While the governor proposed no major new education initiatives, he endorsed staying with the state’s 12-year-old school improvement strategy.
“Turning around such a fundamental societal foundation as education is, at best, slow,” he said. “But at last, after 12 tumultuous years, the results are undeniable.”
—David J. Hoff
Musgrove: School Aid Must Come First
Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove laid out his plans for preschool, greater attention to teacher quality, and reasonable improvements in education funding during his State of the State Address in Jackson on Jan. 11.
The question now is how to pay for those education-related priorities—along with basics such as the state’s accountability program and a raise for teachers.
New taxes on casino gambling, cigarettes, and shifts in other state revenues are on the table as lawmakers begin their 2003 session. The state faces more budget cuts before the current budget year ends, on top of $79 million in cuts already made as part of efforts to close a $246 million deficit in the state’s $5.4 billion budget for fiscal 2003.
Still, the governor and legislators are talking up spending on education.
Mr. Musgrove, who wants a $230 million increase in K-12 education spending, said that Mississippi is making progress toward better schools. He specifically touted his computers-to-classrooms project, which he claims has placed an Internet-ready computer in every classroom. Such an accomplishment would be a national first. Several educators have expressed doubts to Education Week that the claim is completely accurate. (“Mississippi Touts a First in Internet Access,” Jan. 15, 2003.) During his address, the governor, who is in the last year of his first term, proposed a new program called “Summer Start,” which would add two months of instruction for students before the kindergarten year, and two months in the summer afterward.
He asked lawmakers to provide a $200 million “brain trust” fund to recruit and retain research- oriented professors at the state’s universities and community colleges.
He did not specifically mention that he was pushing for the third installment of a five-year, teacher-pay raise that would help his state match regional averages.
“My budget invests 62 percent of the general fund in education. This enhances our future. Anything less shortchanges it,” Mr. Musgrove said.
New Governor Wants End to Aid Stalemate
Incoming Gov. Craig R. Benson outlined his plans for New Hampshire in his Jan. 9 inaugural address, urging businesses across the state to “adopt a school” and pledging to put an end to the state’s long-running debate over how to pay for education.
Mr. Benson, a Republican businessman from Rye, N.H., replaces Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who served three, two-year terms as the state’s first woman governor.
He used his time at the podium to call for bringing the American entrepreneurial spirit to bear on solving public problems in his state. Besides the state’s perennial stalemate over school funding, those problems include rising health-care costs, an exodus of doctors and nurses, a potential $55 million deficit in the two-year state budget that ends in June, and dropout rates as high as 50 percent in some urban schools.
Gov. Benson also reiterated his support for improving technology education in the state’s schools, and pledged to bring more competition and choice to schools.
The speech was short on details, however, over how the new governor would accomplish his goals for education. An aide to the governor said the specifics would follow.
Gov. Locke Proposes School Funding Changes
Speaking against the backdrop of the largest deficit in state history, Gov. Gary Locke renewed his commitment to education as he spoke broadly about maintaining high academic standards and creating stable school funding sources.
“Education remains my highest priority,” the Democratic governor said in his Jan. 14 State of the State Address “We are committed to building a world-class education system. ... It is vitally important that we protect the core of education even as we make deep and painful budget cuts in other areas.”
Washington faces a $2.4 billion budget deficit for the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years. The governor, first elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2000, said he wants to work with state education and legislative leaders to establish an education trust fund “to address urgent needs and reforms not covered in the education budget.”
Gov. Locke, who is in his sixth year as governor, has also proposed delaying increases for a voter-approved initiative that during the past two years has provided $400 million to reduce class sizes in public schools. Under his proposal schools will continue to receive current funding levels, but a scheduled increase in the 2004-2005 school year would be delayed until the 2005-06 school year.
While noting improvements in state-test scores, Gov. Locke said more must be done to narrow the gap between white and minority students: “A good education is a universal right and must never depend on circumstances of social or economic standing.”
The governor will also support a constitutional amendment to allow the passage of school levies by a simple majority of voters. In addition, he said it’s unfair that school districts right next door to each other can have vastly different passing thresholds, and the governor said he will work with lawmakers to allow all school districts to ask their local voters for levies up to 36 percent of their levy base.
Gov. Wise Promises Protection for School Aid
In his State of the State Address, Gov. Bob Wise promised to insulate K-12 teachers and students from the state budget crisis.
Gov. Wise, a Democrat, proposed maintaining the status quo for education in the roughly $3 billion state budget for fiscal 2004, which he outlined in the Jan. 8 speech. At the same time, he advocated $200 million in spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
“We must not let the budget crisis derail the progress we have made in public and higher education in West Virginia,” Gov. Wise said. “Education is still the centerpiece of our economic-development plan and still the key to our future.”
Gov. Wise highlighted the state’s actions on education over the past year, such as giving teachers a pay raise, but did not propose any new school-related initiatives.
He touted his merit-based PROMISE scholarship program. This year, there are 3,500 students who are attending West Virginia universities with the scholarships. The scholarships are offered to students on the basis of their academic achievement, not financial need. Students who meet certain requirements get full-tuition scholarships to West Virginia colleges or universities.
—Lisa Fine Goldstein