Warner Tells Virginia That Lean Times Near in Legislative Speech
On his second day in office, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner gave a sobering State of the Commonwealth Address, warning of budget cuts this year that would become increasingly severe in the years to come.
Those cost-cutting measures could derail a planned pay raise for teachers in the current fiscal year, and could affect what Virginia educators are paid in the future, leaders warned.
Mr. Warner, a wealthy Democratic businessman elected in November to his first public office, told the Republican-dominated legislature Jan. 14 that he intends to slice 3 percent from this fiscal year’s budget. The state, he noted, faces a $1.2 billion shortfall in this year’s $25 billion budget.
Then he proposed even deeper cuts: 7 percent next fiscal year, and 8 percent the next. Otherwise, the state deficit could snowball to billions of dollars by the end of his four-year stay in Richmond, he said.
Mr. Warner added that he would begin a “top-to-bottom review of state government” that might include the proposed consolidation of some state agencies.
Virginia has suffered drops in revenue since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on Virginia soil at the Pentagon, just outside Washington. Tourism in the area has dropped, and many thousands of layoffs in the northern Virginia technology industry and in rural manufacturing plants have hurt the state’s economy, too.
But Mr. Warner suggested there’s much more to Virginia’s budget crisis, saying that the state made budget commitments in the booming 1990s it couldn’t afford to keep.
“We did not get to this point overnight. The seeds of our current problem were sown long before the current recession,” he said.
School Impact Uncertain
How the cuts would affect schools remains to be seen
Jean Bankos, the president of the Virginia Education Association and the head of a coalition of education groups, said the current year’s 2 percent teacher-pay raises, which already have been delayed, could fall by the wayside altogether.
The prospects for an amendment that would raise salaries in the second year of the state’s biennial budget don’t look good either, she said.
“I think everything is on the block. I have to hope that the governor will make good on his promise, but this isn’t the time,” Ms. Banko said. “If there’s no money, there’s no money.”
Gov. Warner said in his campaign that he wants Virginia’s teacher salaries to meet or beat the national average, but he has proposed nothing but the state cuts so far. Salaries for Virginia teachers currently lag about $3,000 behind the national average. Mr. Warner was slated to release more specific budget recommendations on Jan. 22.
In his speech last week, the governor did call on lawmakers to reward teachers who had earned national certification. Those bonuses had been put on hold.
Mr. Warner also said he would sign any bill allowing residents to vote on local sales-tax increases, especially for transportation.
That is seen as good news for the booming northern Virginia suburbs, where some leaders and local school districts want a regional referendum to help build new roads and pay for school construction. Traffic in the area is among the nation’s heaviest, and school enrollment in areas such as Fairfax County, which already enrolls 165,000 students, is growing by thousands more each year.
Officials of the state education department said they didn’t know how the proposed cuts would affect their budget and staff.
Observers also awaited word from Gov. Warner on whether he intends to keep two state education board members whose terms expire this month, including board President Kirk T. Schroder, an advocate of the state’s much-debated Standards of Learning tests.
Legislation that would allow options for students who might otherwise not graduate under the SOL tests isn’t expected to gain wide support in the House of Delegates and the Senate, Ms. Bankos said, despite support from the governor in his speech.
Jo Lynne DeMary, the state superintendent of public instruction, was asked last week by the new administration to stay in her job “through the transition,” which could mean several more months, a spokesman for the education department said.
How the new governor handles the budget crisis and approaches education issues could go a long way to determining his success, political analysts predicted.
Calling his administration the most bipartisan in Virginia history, Mr. Warner asked lawmakers to unite even as he already has introduced some ideas that many of them oppose.
The governor expressed hesitation, for example, to support a GOP plan to finance $1 billion in construction at state universities, questioning whether the state could afford the debt right now.
He called for more attention to homefront security, longer-term state financial planning, more attention to rural economic development, and more research at state universities.
“And when it comes to the fundamental interests of our commonwealth, our economic well-being, and the safety of our citizens, we will not be divided,” he said.
Tough Accountability Is Hull’s Goal for Year
In her final State of the State Address, Gov. Jane D. Hull recapped the educational highlights of her more than four years in office, including a new injection of tax revenue for schools. But the Republican governor, who is barred from seeking re-election, also made clear she has no intention of resting on her laurels in her last full year as governor. She cited creation of a stronger accountability system for schools as her top K-12 priority for the coming year.
The K-12 Accountability Task Force, which Gov. Hull appointed, has recommended, among other steps, immediately aligning school curricula with the state’s K-12 academic standards and holding schools responsible for teaching those standards. In her Jan. 14 speech, Ms. Hull noted the task force’s work and said many of its suggestions would be turned into legislation.
“The task force recommendations outline ways to guarantee implementation of state academic standards, develop a real accountability system, and create a permanent and stable performance-pay framework for teachers,” the governor said. “Most importantly, the recommendations focus our resources on our top priority—student achievement.”
The governor also gave a nod to the state’s embattled standardized test, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, calling it “a valid assessment tool” for charting a student’s success in meeting the educational standards.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
O’Bannon Wants Taxes to Fix, Protect Schools
Raising taxes on cigarettes and riverboat gambling is the key to digging Indiana out of a fiscal crisis and protecting state funding for schools, Gov. Frank O’Bannon said in his State of the State Address last week.
The Democratic governor’s Jan. 15 speech centered on the hard choices Hoosiers must make now that the state is faced with the possibility of a $1.3 billion hole in a $20.7 billion, two-year budget through July 2003.
To balance that budget, the governor proposed a combination of spending cuts, spending delays, and higher taxes on cigarettes and riverboat gambling.
“We must find a way this session to balance our budget so we can continue to focus on helping every child succeed,” Gov. O’Bannon said. “In a choice between those taxes and our schools, I will pick Indiana’s children every time.”
The governor’s plan also includes a one-time, $115 million reduction in state operating aid for K-12 education, and calls on schools to use local money for capital projects to offset that cut.
The state’s Republican leaders, however, contend that the governor is moving too swiftly.
They assert that the state can wait out the recession without tax increases as long as lawmakers find more ways to cut spending.
But Frank Bush, the executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, supports the governor’s plan. Unless steps are taken to improve the state’s financial condition, he said, school districts may have to make difficult decisions during the budgeting process this spring for fear of being shortchanged by the state later.
“Give us the assurance, give school boards the assurance that there will be a revenue base to work with,” Mr. Bush said. “We don’t want to see layoffs.”
—Jessica L. Sandham
Graves Urges No Cuts in Education Spending
Gov. Bill Graves proposes raising taxes and slashing spending on nearly every state-financed project and service next year to maintain a balanced budget, yet he urged Kansas lawmakers on Jan. 14 not to sacrifice education. Instead, he unveiled a plan during his final State of the State Address that would slightly increase money for the state’s K-12 schools, college scholarships, and salaries for higher education.
“We cannot retreat from a commitment to give children the opportunity to learn,” the Republican chief executive said. “This is woefully inadequate, but in relationship to the resources we have for fiscal year 2003, it does provide minimal additional assistance to our schools.”
The $4.6 billion package would include $2.4 billion for K-12 education in the coming fiscal year, up from $2.2 billion in the current year. Per-pupil expenditures would increase from $3,870 to $3,890, at a cost of $12 million to the taxpayers.
Financial aid for needy college students would also climb from $14 million to $15 million. Their professors and other employees of public colleges and universities would receive 2 percent raises at a cost of $7 million to the state.
To pay for the new spending and maintain funding in other areas, the governor suggested increasing taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, and vehicle registration. The state sales tax would also rise. Such levies are expected to generate $95 million annually.
“Some of you have said there is no sentiment in your district for a tax increase,” Mr. Graves told the state legislators. “I would ask: Is there sentiment ... for breaking promises to our schools, resulting in fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and reduced services for special education?
“Is there sentiment ... to break the promise of better and safer highways, airports, and railroads? Is there sentiment ... to turn our backs on your most vulnerable neighbors—the elderly and disabled?”
Bilingual Education Targeted by Swift
In her first State of the State Address, acting Gov. Jane Swift told a legislature that produced its last state budget months late that foot-dragging on education would not be tolerated.
Under her watch, she said, schools will be the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ strength.
“What is the most powerful antipoverty program? Education. What’s the most effective crime-fighting strategy? Education. What’s the most successful economic-development initiative? Education,” said the Republican, who moved up from the lieutenant governorship last year and hopes to be elected in her own right in November.
Gov. Swift announced that she would file legislation in the coming weeks to restructure the state’s bilingual education system.
The current system provides a three-year transition period for students with limited English proficiency.
The governor’s proposal would trim the transition period to two years and eliminate what Ms. Swift calls a “one-size-fits-all approach” to teaching students English.
The plan would allow for more flexibility in how schools tailor individualized teaching methods for students whose first language isn’t English.
This year nearly 40 percent of language-minority students did not take the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, exams.
Students, starting with the class of 2003, will be required to pass tests in English/language arts and mathematics in order to graduate.
Johanns Wants Help for Juvenile Offenders
While Gov. Mike Johanns focused partly on early-childhood education in his State of the State Address last year, this time around he emphasized helping some of those at the other end of childhood: troubled teenagers. Speaking Jan. 15, he proposed four initiatives to alleviate overcrowding at Nebraska’s juvenile-treatment centers.
They include adding a 10-bed, high- security facility; a 10-bed program for sex offenders; and a 10-bed transitional program.
The governor, a Republican, also proposed hiring up to 30 more security officers for the centers.
Those measures would be in addition to the $4 million the state allocated last year to develop community-based programs for juveniles.
“We have made progress in reforming our state’s juvenile-justice system, and this year we need to take another step forward,” he said.
Like other states, Nebraska is feeling the impact of the recession.
State leaders face a projected $220 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year of Nebraska’s two-year budget, which began last July.
The unicameral legislature cut $171 million from the 2001-02 budget in a special session in October, but protected state aid to schools.
In last week’s address, Gov. Johanns spent much of his time talking about filling the current year’s budget shortfall—something that must be done before he can present any revisions to the fiscal 2003 budget.
He proposed covering more than half of the remaining $50 million revenue deficit by tapping $25 million from other areas of the budget and roughly $8 million in federal funds.
State education aid is expected to rise, however, and may add another $15 million or so to the budget shortfall this fiscal year. Mr. Johanns will make more adjustments in the current budget, after the state’s economic forecasters give an updated fiscal assessment next month.
—Rhea R. Borja
Don’t Shortchange Schools, Shaheen Says
Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vowed last week to veto any legislation that would “turn back the clock” on the state’s long-running struggle to find a fairer system to pay for schools.
After struggling for more than a decade to solve the school funding crisis, Granite State lawmakers agreed last year to pay for schools with a combination of state property taxes and business taxes.
Even so, opponents have been considering other means of paying for schools and ways to strip the state supreme court of its authority over the legal case that ignited the controversy.
“We cannot—and should not—ever go back to a system that shortchanged some students simply because of their zip code,” the Democratic governor said in her Jan. 17 State of the State Address.
Coming in the middle of the state’s biennial budget cycle, the speech contained few new education initiatives.
The talk focused instead on ways to bolster the state economy. Even though New Hampshire ended the last fiscal year with a $35 million budget surplus, paper- and pulp-mill closings in the northern part of the state have left many residents jobless.
To ease the plight of those workers and strengthen the economy overall, Ms. Shaheen proposed: increasing unemployment benefits, speeding up the start of $87 million in planned construction projects, expanding efforts to promote tourism and trade, and launching an initiative to attract more biotechnology companies to New Hampshire.
She also called for $6.5 million in cuts to the state’s general fund this fiscal year, which began last July 1.
“Do not pass spending bills this year unless you have identified how you are going to pay for them,” she told legislators. “We simply cannot afford it.”
In precollegiate education, the governor pledged to continue efforts already under way to toughen professional-development standards for teachers, to improve student achievement through institutes aimed at strengthening leadership in school districts, and to make public kindergarten and health insurance available to more children.
For older students, the governor noted that the state last year made the largest capital investment ever in its university system and offered new financial incentives to attract students to in-state colleges.
“We must continue making smarter investments in our children’s schools,” she said.
Other initiatives in the speech focused on protecting and preserving the state’s open spaces and water supplies.
Hoeven Highlights Distance Learning
Gov. John H. Hoeven invited students in a “virtual” classroom to contribute to his second State of the State Address in an effort to highlight the state’s progress in offering distance-learning opportunities to North Dakota’s many rural schools.
The students from Alexander High School in the western part of the state are taking college-level Spanish courses through interactive video.
In his interim address—the state does not have a legislative session this year—Mr. Hoeven, a Republican, drew attention to provisions in the budget passed last year.
The state has not yet run into the kind of fiscal crisis that has led other states to cut budgets."We put more dollars into the classroom to give our teachers a salary increase and reduce the pressure on local taxes,” he said in his Jan. 9 speech. (“Capitol Recap,” May 23, 2001.)
Mr. Hoeven announced last week that the state had completed a project to connect every high school to the state telecommunication network and to provide Internet access.
The state’s 550 schools also are expected to play a role in the governor’s new public-health initiative, which will promote the importance of proper diet and exercise.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Locke Cites ‘Duty’ to Support Schools
Trying times for the Washington state economy, as well as a budget that has been “ravaged by war and a national economic recession,” do not excuse the state from fulfilling its “paramount duty” to support education, Gov. Gary Locke told legislators last week.
“Great public schools are the cornerstone for our state’s long-term success,” the Democrat said in his sixth State of the State Address, which he delivered Jan. 15. “And that’s why funding for basic education, class-size reduction, and higher academic achievement simply cannot be compromised.”
The state, which is constitutionally required to enact a balanced budget, must make up a $1.25 billion shortfall in the biennial budget that ends in 2003. Still, the package of new taxes and cuts contained in Mr. Locke’s proposed 2002-03 supplementary budget, unveiled in December, left schools relatively untouched.
The governor’s plan would preserve new spending on smaller class sizes and extra money targeted to low-performing schools.
That budget proposes delaying a scheduled cost-of-living pay increase of 2.6 percent for state and higher education workers, saving about $8.5 million. But it would leave intact a similar increase for public school teachers, which is required under a ballot measure, Initiative 732, passed in 2000.
The governor also pointed out that test scores for Washington students have been rising. “But we must work to erase the growing disparity in achievement among ethnic groups,” he said. “Education begins at home, and that’s why we must encourage more parental involvement.”
Gov. Locke said he would launch a campaign this spring to promote reading and parental involvement in education. He hopes to mobilize the help of businesses, volunteers, and nonprofit groups.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2002 edition of Education Week as State of the States