Maryland | Michigan | South Carolina
Engler Digs In on Tax Breaks Despite Gloomy Fiscal Horizon
Faced with a slumping economy, Gov. John Engler of Michigan used his State of the State Address last week to rhapsodize about the potential of several high-tech projects to permanently transform his Rust Belt state.
But at the end of his 12th and final such speech, the three-term Republican went back to basics.
“Improving education remains my top priority,” he told lawmakers, assembled in a joint session. “Education, more than any other factor, will assure Michigan’s quality of life and economic future.”
His official written text also lambasted the Democratic-led state board of education for dragging its feet on a state accountability plan. Though Gov. Engler ran out of time to deliver that part of the speech, the message got out as part of the written text and still sent ripples across the state’s school community.
The governor’s support for education will be tested in the coming weeks as he puts together a spending plan for the next fiscal year. According to revenue estimates, the state will be more than $1 billion in the hole going into the fiscal year that starts next Oct. 1, with about half the shortfall expected to come from revenues earmarked for education.
Mr. Engler and legislators must decide, among other matters, whether to spend basic school aid in the coming school year at this year’s level of $6,500 per pupil, raise that amount, or lower it.
Under a spending plan approved three years ago but significantly altered last fall, districts were set to receive $6,700 per pupil next year. Now, however, that increase, as well as millions of dollars for programs such as remedial summer school and reading preparation, are in doubt.
Nonetheless, in his Jan. 23 speech, Mr. Engler called for maintaining a modest income-tax cut that is set to go into effect in fiscal 2003.
Democrats, who are in the minority in both houses of the legislature, accuse Mr. Engler of squandering the fruits of the recent economic boom by handing out such tax cuts.
“When you have the economy down is when you have the real test of how things are working,” said Sen. Kenneth J. DeBeaussaert, a Democrat who serves on the K-12 appropriations subcommittee. “I’m hopeful we can do better than make a cut” in the basic aid originally set for the coming school year, he said.
A spokeswoman for the state’s largest teachers’ union said her group expects that and more. “We’re looking for legislators to ... keep our funding whole,” said Margaret Trimer- Hartley, the spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association.
State schools Superintendent Thomas D. Watkins has joined calls for the legislature to postpone the income-tax cut, as well as a cut in the business tax, to help pay for schools.
Mr. Watkins was hired last winter by the state school board, which Mr. Engler chastised in the text version of his speech. The governor is unhappy that the board has agreed to wait till 2005 for a new accountability system to take effect.
“I don’t have to wait [until then] to give this state board their final grade on accountability,” the governor declared in his official text. “They deserve an F.”
The text goes on to urge the legislature to approve a system that would grade Michigan schools sooner and fully comply with the requirements in the new federal education act, such as more testing.
While the words as written were not actually uttered in the governor’s speech, they were circulated among lawmakers as the governor’s official thoughts on the matter—and were widely read.
Rep. Wayne Kuipers, the chairman of the House education committee, vowed that his committee “would get working on [an accountability system] very quickly,” despite a competing proposal expected soon from the state superintendent and school board.
“This really is a function of the legislature to define what we mean by well- performing schools,” the Republican lawmaker said. “The state board is supposed to take the rules and apply them.”
Funds Lacking to Aid Minner’s Reading Plan
Amid significant belt-tightening in her state, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said in her State of the State Address that she will put on hold plans to expand her top education initiative—placing a reading resource teacher in every classroom.
Yet the Democratic governor is proposing an infusion of state money to help local communities build and renovate schools.
In her Jan. 17 speech, Gov. Minner said her fiscal 2003 budget proposal, which was released late last week, would include a 2 percent increase over this year, a fraction of the spending increases of the previous decade.
The state cut $107 million out of its $2.35 billion budget this fiscal year to compensate for sagging revenues. The fiscal 2003 budget will not include tax increases, but will be strained by rising health care and Medicaid costs, the governor said.
While she will call for no hikes in the state’s annual bond bill, Ms. Minner will propose dedicating more than $100 million—two-thirds of the nontransportation- related bond money—to school construction and renovation projects.
The reading initiative, which Gov. Minner touted in her 2000 campaign, received some $2.5 million in the fiscal 2002 budget—half of what she had wanted. While she is proposing no increases in that program this year, she hailed the progress to date as a good start.
“As a result of the General Assembly’s investment in my top priority, Delaware’s children now have reading resource teachers in 50 public elementary schools to help them learn to read and after- school programs to help them keep up,” she said.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Bush Wants More Teeth in Accountability Law
Florida must be safe for its residents and its tourists—not only from terrorists but also from the students that schools fail to educate, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said in his State of the State Address on Jan. 22.
Gov. Bush used much of his election-year address before the GOP- dominated legislature in Tallahassee to call for a major hike in school spending, despite a sagging economy, and to tout the successes of his A-Plus school accountability plan.
The Republican governor also proposed giving the school grading system even more bite.
While the A-Plus plan aimed to end social promotion when it was passed in 1999, Mr. Bush pointed out that only a small percentage of Florida students are held back each year—despite reading scores that show nearly half of the state’s 4th graders don’t read at grade level. In response, he proposed that lawmakers agree to require school districts to show the public how promotion rates match up with achievement data. Districts that disobey the rule would face penalties, “perhaps including the withholding of administrative funds,” he added. He also proposed a new reading program that would use state and federal money—including millions the state expects from President Bush’s new federal reading program—to teach reading through the middle school grades. The money would help train teachers and establish “innovative” remedial programs, the governor said.
Lawmakers should approve a budget, Mr. Bush added, that provides a $726 million spending increase for K-12 schools, which would be 6.1 percent above the current level.
Critics, including the Florida Education Association, responded that the increase won’t make up for midyear cuts ordered in a special session a few weeks ago to close a $1.3 billion gap in the fiscal 2002 budget. His proposed overall budget of $48.7 billion for fiscal 2003 also fails to account for tens of thousands of new students or inflation, the union alleges. The Bush administration disputes those claims.
The governor asked lawmakers to support a plan to analyze test data for individual students more carefully, and to follow students from grade to grade—especially low-performing students. Schools will be required to show gains in the lowest-scoring 25th percent of students in order to earn high grades starting next year.
Mr. Bush spent part of his speech bragging that Florida has shrunk the number of schools graded F from 78 two years ago to none today. He singled out Hollywood Park Elementary School in Broward County for turning itself around, rising from an F to an A in just two years. Critics say that the clearly defined expectations on the state’s writing exams, and teachers’ efforts to prepare students for them, explain much of the apparent turnaround.
Mr. Bush held the system up as the way to push schools. “We have provided a first-rate education for hundreds of thousands more students,” he said. “And better still, we have made some of our greatest gains among minority and disadvantaged students.”
Education Cuts Ahead, Cayetano Predicts
Hawaii’s Department of Education will no longer be spared from funding cutbacks if that’s what it takes to balance the state’s budget in the current fiscal year, Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano said last week during his State of the State Address before the state legislature in Honolulu.
Except for costs associated with the Felix consent decree, a federal court order requiring improvements to the state’s special education system, the education system overall—which makes up 52 percent of the state’s general fund budget—will carry its “fair share” of the cuts, he said.
The governor, a second-term Democrat, also urged the legislature to approve his request for $225 million worth of school repairs and maintenance in fiscal 2003, and said he would even welcome their efforts to increase the amount.
“The new schools we’ve built are state-of-the-art facilities,” he said. “But our older schools are not state of the art. They are old, they are rundown, and they need help.”
Gov. Cayetano also recounted highlights of the new teacher’s contract, which was reached after a 19-day strike last April.
“Our new contract with our teachers provides more than just a pay raise, it is a step toward a culture that focuses on accountability and professional development, rather than just seniority,” he said. For example, he added, teachers who earn certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards will receive a $5,000 supplement.
While the state currently has only seven nationally certified teachers, Mr. Cayetano said the “good news” is that there are about 50 more Hawaii teachers about to enroll in the program.
“The bad news is that you will have to find the extra money to pay for them,” he said. “I suggest you pay them. It will be well worth it.”
Send Aid to Schools, Gov. Vilsack Says
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack urged lawmakers to send money to schools rather than put it in the bank, in his Jan. 15 State of the State Address, which he used to pitch school spending.
At a time when many governors are looking to hold the line on education spending due to the national recession, Gov. Vilsack called on legislators to give schools the $50 million they would otherwise use to add to the state’s reserve fund in the current fiscal year.
“A recent debate has centered on the state’s reserve account,” Gov. Vilsack, a Democrat, said. “After listening to Iowans in all 99 counties, I know what most of them think it should be used for—to protect the priorities of Iowa families during challenging times—starting with education.”
The governor also unveiled an early-childhood initiative during the annual address to lawmakers. In addition to signing an executive order creating a “Children’s Cabinet” to coordinate services for the state’s youngest children, Gov. Vilsack proposed establishing a permanent endowment for early-childhood education.
The plan would be phased in over the next five years, using surplus funds available after the full funding of the reserve fund to establish the endowment.
“It’s an investment that will pay off many times in the future,” Gov. Vilsack said. “One that will greatly enhance the impact of all our investments in K through 12 and beyond.”
In his fiscal 2003 budget plan, which was released Jan. 18, he proposed a $1.9 billion K-12 education budget, which would be a 1 percent increase over last year, out of his $4.8 billion overall fiscal blueprint.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Patton to Lawmakers: Stay Course of Reform
The Bluegrass State got a head start on much of the nation in the push for testing and accountability, and Gov. Paul E. Patton spent a major portion of his State of the State Address celebrating its accomplishments.
The state has shown progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as well as the norm-referenced state tests that are part of its accountability program.
“By every measure, our students are now performing above the national average in math, science, and language arts,” the second-term Democrat told legislators in encouraging them to stay the course in the state’s school policies. Under state court order, Kentucky radically reformed its education system in 1990 by introducing assessments to gauge school success and took steps to improve schools with poor performance on those tests. In 1998, it added a statewide technology program that has expanded student access to computers and the Internet.
Mr. Patton, who has two years remaining in his term, did not outline any new education programs in his Jan. 10 State of the State Address.
Two years ago, the state legislature passed a teacher-quality bill that stripped out requirements that middle school teachers demonstrate knowledge of the subjects they teach and a proposed board to enforce teacher standards. Both had been proposed by Mr. Patton but opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union.
While Mr. Patton didn’t mention the teacher-quality issue, education activists say they will fight for it this year. Whatever the legislature does to set policy will most likely be overshadowed by the budget shortfalls facing the state.
In Mr. Patton’s budget, released Jan. 22, he proposed level funding for K-12 programs in fiscal 2003, and providing enough for cost-of-living increases for teachers in fiscal 2004.
The budget also would give $100 million for school construction while delaying capital projects elsewhere in the state.
In December, the governor used his executive authority to rescind $49 million in current fiscal year spending from the state budget. But he spared K-12 programs.
—David J. Hoff
Glendening’s Speech Short on Plans, Aid
Gov. Parris Glendening’s valedictory State of the State Address seemed as notable for what he left out as for what he included.
Mr. Glendening, who will leave office next year after eight years at the helm of one the nation’s most politically liberal states, used his Jan. 16 speech to review his achievements and issue an unexpected call for the United States to lead the world in a fight against poverty and environmental degradation.
But the Democrat offered few specifics of his legislative program and made no mention of a state commission’s recommendation to pump an additional $1.1 billion over five years into public schools.
In the $22.2 billion fiscal 2003 budget proposal released the day before, Mr. Glendening chose not to follow the blue- ribbon group’s plan, which is aimed at providing the resources that would bring all Maryland schools within reach of state academic standards.
He did offer a $161 million increase in funding for K-12 education this year, bringing the total proposed in that area to roughly $3.6 billion, along with $68 million more for higher education. He declared, “It is unacceptable to tell our students to make do with less,” even in tight fiscal times.
Mr. Glendening bragged that Maryland is a national leader in both K-12 and higher education. As proof, he called the state “first in the nation in high school graduation” and listed a series of achievements for Maryland colleges and universities. The governor also pointed to 70 percent increase in education spending—an average of more than $1 billion in new money each year—since his election in 1994.
Among the few legislative proposals Mr. Glendening detailed in the speech were two measures advocated by the state’s largest teachers’ union.
One would extend collective-bargaining rights to teachers’ aides in the one part of the state without those rights. The other would allow teachers to bargain some working-condition issues, such as teacher mentoring and professional development, that currently are off the table.
Hodges Urges Funds, Decries New Taxes
South Carolina must continue to improve its schools despite the serious economic slowdown in the state, Gov. Jim Hodges said in his Jan. 16 address in Columbia. The Democratic governor, who faces re- election this fall, recalled the heroes who responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks as he urged lawmakers to act as legislative heroes themselves— by passing a fiscal 2003 budget and policies that spend more on education, without raising property taxes.
Gov. Hodges recognized students from White Knoll Middle School in Lexington County, who repaid an old Reconstruction debt by raising $500,000 for New York City to replace a fire truck destroyed in the World Trade Center attack. New York City bought Columbia a new fire truck after Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops burned the capital city in the Civil War.
The governor called for the Republican-controlled legislature to provide $41 million to help struggling schools earn better grades on the state’s new school report cards. The state has yet to pay for all of the academic help it had promised in a 1998 school accountability law.
Mr. Hodges also said he wants lawmakers to approve his plan for spending profits from the new South Carolina lottery, which began selling tickets earlier this month. While he wants most of the proceeds to go toward college scholarships, he also supports setting some aside for free training for teachers and workers. The governor also took aim at the state’s 3,000 portable classrooms, offering a plan that would allow school districts to share the costs of borrowing school construction money.
The backdrop for Gov. Hodges’ requests is the same economic slowdown affecting many states. South Carolina, hurt by a drop in tourism and job losses in textiles and other types of manufacturing, enacted a midyear, $200 million cut last fall to the state’s $2.49 billion budget. The governor’s new budget plan relies on some borrowed money to bridge a revenue shortfall that he estimates at $380 million in the coming year, including the restoration of some education cuts.
Despite the budget woes, he called on legislators to add a small teacher-pay increase to help Palmetto State teachers reach the average national salary in five years. He also called for borrowing $40 million for new school buses.
Republicans responded that the governor shifted money around between state agencies and government programs to cover up budget shortfalls and avoid tough fiscal decisions, and some GOP leaders favor using lottery money for K-12 funding.
Mr. Hodges also took some time to boast. The state’s SAT average scores are now the country’s fastest improving. And he bragged that his state is a leader in national teacher certification— with more than 1,300 of the specially prepared teachers now statewide. He wants 5,000 by the year 2005.
“These are goals that cannot be completed in a year or two,” he said. “But these are the works we are called to do, from generation to generation.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week as State of the States