Pennsylvania | Rhode Island
Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee titled his State of the State Address “Education: Our First Priority.”
And true to its billing, the Feb. 2 speech included proposals to help teachers take home bigger paychecks, expand Tennessee’s prekindergarten program, and put more state money into school technology.
Speaking to a joint session of the legislature, Mr. Bredesen, a Democrat in his second year as governor, said: “I’m proposing that we begin the process of rebalancing our commitments ... of re-establishing the education of our children as our highest calling.”
Last year, Tennessee cut funds from almost all areas of state government—K-12 education was spared—to close a revenue shortfall of some $600 million in hammering out a final $21.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2004.
With no such shortfalls on the horizon, the governor is proposing $174 million in new spending for precollegiate education in fiscal 2005, which represents nearly 7 percent above what is allocated for the current fiscal year. The new aid would help pay for his four-part school agenda.
First, Mr. Bredesen wants to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program, which determines how much state aid each school district receives. Second, the governor is proposing to spend $90 million to give teachers a raise and make Tennessee’s teacher salaries competitive with those of surrounding states.
Specifically, $35 million would go to reduce the gaps between teacher pay in richer and poorer districts. Another $55 million would help pay for an across-the-board raise for every teacher in the state. If the raises are enacted, the average teacher salary will go from $39,799 this year to $43,127 next year, surpassing the Southeastern average of $41,888.
“Do I think this is the entire answer? Of course not,” Gov. Bredesen said last week. “But I do know that attracting and retaining the best teachers in Tennessee classrooms is a giant step in the right direction.”
An unspecified amount of the new aid would also go toward “seed money” to begin a program to attract mid-career professionals to teaching.
The third piece of the governor’s education plan calls for legislative authorization to direct up to $8 million in any surplus proceeds from the state’s new lottery to make prekindergarten available to more children.
“In our opinion, there’s not a better thing we can do for our students than get them ready for school,” said Stephen Smith, the director of government relations for the Tennessee School Boards Association. As part of his early-childhood plans, the governor wants $2 million to pay for matching grants from the private sector to expand the Imagination Library, which is a program started by the singer and actress Dolly Parton to provide preschool-age children with free books in communities that have local chapters.
Finally, Mr. Bredesen asked for “a modest investment” to allow the state to begin “developing state-of-the-art computer technology in the classroom.”
Mr. Smith applauded the governor for staying the course on education: “He said in his campaign that he’d make education his number-one priority, and so far, he has made good on that promise.”
Struggling Schools Eyed
For Vouchers, Funding
While pledging new money for low-performing schools, Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut also hit on the volatile topic of vouchers in his State of the State Address last week.
The third-term Republican proposed giving “Equal Opportunity Scholarships” of $4,000 each to allow up to 500 students a year to attend secular or religious private schools at public expense. The state would pay for $3,000 toward each scholarship; districts would make up the rest, and they’d be required to provide transportation to help students get to their new schools.
Under the plan, the program would be open to students from public schools identified as academically deficient based on the accountability system the state has adopted in response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“Providing every child in this state with an alternative to an underperforming school is a goal that strikes at the core freedoms of our society,” Mr. Rowland said in his Feb. 4 speech.
At the same time, the governor proposed giving special state grants of $75,000 each to low-performing public schools to help their improvement efforts. And he promised to target struggling school districts with additional money for preschool programs and for efforts to improve instruction in the early grades.
As he pitched his plan for education, Mr. Rowland faced uncertain prospects of his own. His administration is at the center of a federal probe into possible bribery and bid-rigging. Key members of the state House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, have begun talking of impeachment proceedings.
Ehrlich’s School Aid Pledge
Comes Up Short for Some
In his second State of the State Address, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland called “educational excellence” one of the “five pillars upon which my administration is built.”
To back that assertion up, the Republican urged the legislature in his Jan. 29 speech to increase K-12 spending by $326 million in the next fiscal year—a 10 percent boost he said would be a record-high increase.
The hike would keep the state on pace with its six-year plan to raise aid to schools by $1.6 billion over fiscal 2003 levels, Gov. Ehrlich said. Critics say, however, that the governor’s plan is about $56 million shy of the original plan because it fails to fund a special formula that favors districts in areas with high costs of living.
Where the legislature will find the money to pay that increase will be the subject of debate. The governor has renewed his plan to add slot machines at the state’s horse-racing tracks—a proposal that failed to clear the legislature last year—while expanding it to include two video-lottery facilities in other parts of the state.
Precollegiate education would receive $326 million of the $700 million raised by the gambling revenues.
Attention to the other “pillars” of his administration—fiscal responsibility, health and the environment, public safety, and commerce—made up most of Mr. Ehrlich’s speech.
—David J. Hoff
New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson used his second State of the State Address to call on the legislature to tighten its belt, embrace change, and “tear down the walls of classrooms so that education can occur everywhere.”
The Republican governor also challenged lawmakers and state officials in his Jan. 29 speech “to accept the mantle of change.”
Mr. Benson’s call for “tearing down” classroom walls referred to his ongoing efforts to prod the state school board to revamp the Granite State’s academic standards, with an eye to allowing students to earn school credit for real-world experiences. The board’s recommendations on that subject are due in October.
Another change for education Gov. Benson is seeking is a five-year education funding plan that would allow towns and cities to plan their school budgets years in advance.
Contending that too many students are misplaced in special education programs, the governor also pledged to form a task force to examine whether schools are properly identifying students with disabilities.
A former businessman, the governor criticized the state board’s recent ban on soda machines in public high schools as “bureaucratic micromanagement.”
Mr. Benson also used his speech to reiterate his support for school choice and charter schools and urge citizens to sign his proposed “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” That proposed constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature before taxes could increase faster than inflation and population growth.
Buckeye State Focus
Turns to Job Creation
Developing a “world class” workforce to kick-start Ohio’s economy will consume much of the state’s attention this year, according to Gov. Bob Taft.
The second-term Republican urged lawmakers in his Jan. 28 State of the State Address to approve a jobs bill designed to make the state more competitive in attracting businesses and creating employment opportunities. The governor appointed a chairman to head the newly created Jobs Cabinet, which will be charged with helping the unemployed find work and with identifying skilled workers for companies.
While legislators balked at Gov. Taft’s attempt at tax reform last year, he asked them in his recent speech to reconsider his plan and other legislative proposals to improve the state tax system.
Although much of the governor’s speech revolved around job creation, he encouraged lawmakers to pass pending legislation that mandates the creation of new standards for teachers and teacher evaluation. That same day, the state House of Representatives approved the measure. The Senate followed suit Feb. 4.
“Being world-class means high academic standards that enable students to graduate from high school prepared for their futures,” the governor said.
Building on the jobs theme, Mr. Taft said he wanted Ohio to increase its college enrollment by 25 percent over the next decade.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Pay Raises for Teachers
Part of Proposed Budget
Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma is promising to make education a priority this year.
Mr. Henry, a Democrat who took office last year, urged the legislature in his Feb. 2 State of the State Address to raise teacher salaries. He pointed out that Oklahoma ranks near the bottom nationally in what it pays its teachers, and that its average teacher salary, $38,870, is $4,000 lower than the average of the seven states in the region.
“We place great responsibility on the shoulders of our teachers,” the governor said. “It is time we act with equal responsibility.”
In addition to raising salaries, Mr. Henry proposed that the state cover all of teachers’ health-insurance costs so that educators would be able to keep more of their paychecks. Precollegiate education would receive $2.36 billion in fiscal 2005 under Mr. Henry’s budget. That would be a 4.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s appropriation of $1.95 billion.
Seeking to strengthen middle school mathematics instruction, the governor wants to establish a new professional-development program. The $2 million plan would include summer classes for teachers and $1,000 stipends for completing the coursework.
Oklahomans will vote next fall on whether the state should adopt an education lottery. In his speech, Mr. Henry praised the legislature for allowing the vote, and he stressed that the lottery could potentially raise millions of dollars for education.
Governor Hikes Request
For School Funding
Gov. Edward G. Rendell outlined a fiscal 2005 budget last week that surprised Pennsylvania legislators by seeking more education money than he had indicated he would.
The Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature wrestled over the fiscal 2004 school budget until December before coming up with a final spending plan. In those negotiations, Mr. Rendell persuaded legislators to commit to $175 million in block grants for the 2004-05 academic year, which schools can use for programs shown to improve student achievement, including smaller classes and full-day kindergarten.
In his annual budget address on Feb. 3, however, Gov. Rendell proposed $250 million in block grants for fiscal 2005. He said a greater investment in boosting student performance was needed because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires greater and greater portions of students to demonstrate academic proficiency.
The governor’s proposed fiscal 2005 budget for precollegiate education totals $7.8 billion, a 6.6 percent increase over the funds available in fiscal 2004.
The plan includes $15 million in state money to expand the federal Head Start preschool program, the first time Pennsylvania would use its own funds for that purpose, and $34 million for tutoring struggling students.
Ocean State Leader
Eyes More Charters
In his second State of the State Address, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri offered new initiatives to expand public school options for Rhode Island families and improve the skills of the state’s educators.
“Our elementary and secondary schools continue to underperform both nationally and regionally,” he said in the Feb. 3 speech. “Yet our spending on elementary and secondary education is among the highest in the nation.”
Calling charter schools “a great success story,” the Republican proposed lifting the state’s cap on the number of such schools. Rhode Island now lets no more than two charter schools operate in each district, except for Providence, which can have four. The governor also pledged $1.6 million in special state funds to help regular public high schools in Providence next year.
Mr. Carcieri reiterated plans unveiled the previous week to form a team of specialists in mathematics at the state education department to work with classroom teachers to improve their instruction. He also called for new training efforts to draw more talented principals to low-performing schools, and for new licensing rules for principals that stress on-the-job performance over graduate coursework.
Noting that Rhode Island school boards develop district budgets separate from the city and town governments they depend on for funding, he promised legislation aimed at making “school committees accountable to local municipal governments,” though he gave no details.