Governors Open Sessions With Pledges of Austerity
Gov. George E. Pataki of New York announced an array of education initiatives in his hour-long State of the State Address last week, pledging to advance “sweeping reforms” in the governance of schools across the state.
He was one of several governors to give their annual addresses last week.
The Republican governor, giving his ninth such address to open the state legislative session, praised the leadership of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who with the support of the governor last year gained significant control over the New York City public school system.
Saying that the landmark law passed in June had enhanced accountability in New York City, Gov. Pataki urged lawmakers to give other mayors in the Empire State greater responsibility for the fate of their school systems.
“This year we should also give the mayors of our other urban centers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany more input and a greater voice in their school systems,” he said in the Jan. 8 speech.
Mr. Pataki went on to single out state officials for change as well.
“As we make the largest school systems more accountable, we must demand the same accountability from the state’s education bureaucracy,” he continued. “This year, I will advance sweeping reforms to governance of our schools statewide by reforming the way our state board of regents is chosen. We must make our statewide education system more accountable to parents and their children.”
Mr. Pataki did not indicate exactly what that change would be.
Currently, regents are elected by the state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.
More must also be done, the governor said, to create a well-trained teaching force.
Toward that goal, Mr. Pataki called for the creation of “the premier urban training center for teachers in the 21st century” by renovating historic buildings on the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center into teacher-training centers that would be run in partnership with Buffalo State College.
The governor also said the state would work with Mayor Bloomberg and officials with the City University of New York to transform crumbling buildings on Governors Island, a historic site in the New York Harbor that developers have battled over for years, into a teacher-training center. Those institutions would become “beacons of educational excellence,” the governor said.
School Cuts Hinted
The governor offered few details or price estimates for his education plans, but hinted that education may face cuts.
“The budget plan I will put forward in three weeks will spend less money than we did last year,” the governor said in his address. “With the exception of public security, no segment of the budget will be exempt.”
Currently the state faces a projected deficit of some $2 billion in the current fiscal year out of a total state budget of $89.6 billion. Douglas Gerhardt, the director of government relations with the School Administrators Association of New York, said he wondered where the beef was in the speech. No mention was made of the requirements the state must meet under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, school funding, or charter schools, he said. “The overall opinion was that it was very light,” Mr. Gerhardt added.
Giving mayors more say over school districts in other urban areas beside New York City, Mr. Gerhardt said, has been discussed before. But he added that the governor’s idea of having urban districts like Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo mirror New York City’s new governance structure failed to recognize that those districts already have independently elected boards of education.
Prior to last year’s governance shift, by comparison, all of New York City’s board members were appointed by the mayor or by borough presidents.
“It really was an apples to oranges comparison,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “It appeared a little ambiguous as to what he was getting at.”
Facing Huge State Deficit, Davis Mum on Education
Promising “one of the toughest budgets ever created,” Gov. Gray Davis vowed to lead the discussion on tackling California’s severe financial problems.
A Democrat re-elected last year to a second term, Gov. Davis focused on the state’s economy, creating new jobs, and building a new state office of homeland security in his Jan. 8 State of the State Address.
Unlike past speeches, education was barely mentioned as he announced that his annual budget proposal will include $10 billion in cuts to cope with the state’s escalating shortfall. In addition, the governor wants to restore executive authority to make midyear budget reductions in emergency financial situations.
“My budget will erase the $35 billion shortfall and eliminate the structural deficit,” he said. “Any alternative that does less is irresponsible and a waste of our time.”
Education has already seen a host of cuts, particularly to the state education department administration. The governor’s fiscal 2004 budget proposal was scheduled to be released Jan. 10. Many feared that it would include more significant cuts to education.
As part of his plan to create new jobs, Gov. Davis praised voters for approving $18 billion in new school construction bonds in the November elections, and called for those bonds to be issued in half the time of previous years, or at the rate of about $300 million beginning as soon as possible. He said the bonds, coupled with new housing bonds, will help spur 150,000 new jobs.
And while he did not offer details, Gov. Davis also said part of his efforts to provide a well- trained workforce will focus on teachers, as well as nurses and disabled workers.
“My most immediate priority can be summed up as jobs, more jobs, and even more jobs,” Mr. Davis said.
—Joetta L. Sack
Layoffs Are Possible, Rowland Warns
In a short and sobering State of the State Address Jan. 8, Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland said that state workers—including department of education employees— must share in the sacrifice needed to help balance the state budget.
In no uncertain terms, the third-term Republican governor gave the public employees a choice: accept concessions in salaries and benefits or face as many as 2,000 layoffs.
Taking a jab at the unions that represent such workers, Mr. Rowland accused the trade groups of “misleading” their members about the need for such action. He urged that the unions let their members decide which option to choose.
To the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature, the governor said: “Making tough choices defines leadership; inaction will mortgage our children’s future.”
Education policy drew only a brief mention in the speech, as Mr. Rowland recounted the state’s past success in raising standards for teachers and students. But, for the most part, the governor focused on one stark reality: Without drastic cuts to the state’s biennial budget, Connecticut’s deficit could top $2 billion by the end of the next fiscal year.
“This government has outgrown the taxpayer’s ability to pay for it,” he said. “And I will take the necessary action to cut it down to size.”
Kempthorne Ultimatum: New Taxes or Budget Cuts
It’s time to sink or swim in Idaho.
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said in his State of the State Address last week that in order to deal with a $200 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2004, the state would either need to make deep cuts, including at least $70 million from public schools and higher education, or find new revenue sources.
“I will not accept a budget that cuts education and guts the very services that Idahoans expect and deserve,” the Republican said in his January 7 speech.
That leaves the second option—raising taxes. Mr. Kempthorne proposed permanently raising the state’s cigarette tax by 34 cents per pack, which would generate $30 million a year.
The governor also proposed increasing the state sales tax by 11/2 cents for three years to generate roughly $240 million, according to a spokesman for the governor. “I believe in a lean government,” Mr. Kempthorne said. “But I also believe in providing for the essential functions of government.”
He also announced a $35 million gift from the Albertson Foundation, a Boise-based family foundation that supports education in Idaho. The grant will go to establish electronic communications links that will make it easier for local schools and state offices to share student achievement data.
Plan Announced to Link Education, Development
Calling on state lawmakers to look to the future with optimism, determination, and an adventurous spirit, Gov. John Hoeven asked for $100 million to link education and economic development to help revitalize North Dakota.
The Republican governor cited the state’s sound fiscal situation as an opportunity to expand programs. Though state revenues are down, the state has balanced its budget with minimal cuts to state agencies. But the state has struggled to attract industry as a way to stem the migration of thousands of young people pursuing opportunities elsewhere.
“While ... other states will be forced to make massive cuts in services and raise taxes, our administration has put forward a plan to expand services and invest in our future—without a general tax increase,” Mr. Hoeven said in his Jan. 7 address. “These investments of more than $100 million will truly link education and new technology with our economic development efforts to create good-paying jobs and careers.”
The Smart Growth initiative would focus on improving education, increasing the number of high-skilled jobs, boosting tourism, and developing linkages between schools and businesses.
More specifically, the plan calls for raising teachers’ salaries by $1,500 in fiscal years 2003 and 2004, boosting the state average to about $32,000. He also proposed raising basic per-pupil aid for public schools by more than 7 percent, and providing an additional $1 million to reduce gaps in funding between poor districts and those with more resources.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Despite Growing Deficit, Warner Says Schools Safe
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner got specific in his State of the State Address Jan. 8.
“We have made too much progress to retreat from our commitment to public schools. So let me be clear: If you send me a budget that cuts funding for education, I will not sign it,” Mr. Warner told lawmakers during the speech.
A Democrat entering his second year in office, Mr. Warner made clear that his top priority is improving public schools—but that severe budget problems still plague his state.
Virginia leaders face a $2.1 billion shortfall in the current two-year budget cycle for fiscal 2003 and 2004, and Mr. Warner has proposed a modest $65 million increase in the state’s $8 billion K-12 schools budget. That amount will not provide any state-financed raises for teachers for the second straight year.
Mr. Warner has been blunt in announcing state layoffs and budget cuts during his first year in office. He was just as frank during the speech last week when he urged legislators to consider “tax reform” that might include ending the state’s property-tax cuts on cars that had been championed by his Republican predecessor, former Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
He also left the door open for the state to seek new sources of tax money. “Tax reform is an issue that we will have to address over the year to come,” he said.
He also praised educators and law officers for protecting Virginia’s children during the Washington-area sniper attacks last fall. Meanwhile, he singled out Principal Doreatha White of Roberts Park Elementary School in Norfolk as an educator who is helping improve her city’s schools.
“Thanks to our hard-working teachers, nearly two-thirds of our schools now meet the standard for full accreditation, well ahead of schedule,” Mr. Warner said. (“As Scores Rise, Virginia Ponders Future of Accountability,” this issue.)