Montana | New Jersey | Nebraska
Leavitt Wants to Link
State Funding to Performance
Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah last week endorsed a bold plan to replace the state education system’s emphasis on the amount of time students spend in class with a focus on subject competency in determining who advances from grade to grade and graduates from high school.
“I want to bluntly say: This is a big deal,” the third-term Republican governor said Jan. 21 in his 11th State of the State Address. “This isn’t a nibble-around-the-edges program the state school board is proposing. It’s a transformation, and I support it.”
Gov. Leavitt and the state board of education propose to replace “seat time"—based on the longtime system of so- called Carnegie units—with a requirement that students pass competency tests in such subjects as mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies in order to advance in school.
The state board is also exploring an alternative way of paying for schools in Utah that would replace the state’s “weighted pupil unit,” a measure related primarily to attendance, with a method based on student proficiency and competency. “However fast or slow students complete graduation units is the rate districts will be reimbursed” with state money, the state board says in a description of the proposal.
Mr. Leavitt called for a summit meeting this summer to hash out the proposal, with the possibility that it could be put into place as soon as next fall.
Legislative leaders and educators responded favorably to the plan, but suggested that the “devil was in the details,” as one put it to a Utah newspaper.
The governor stressed in his speech that even while the state faces continuing budget shortfalls because of the economy, he does not want to see any cuts to K-12 education. In fact, he is proposing an increase.
“Even after doubling our investment in education during the past decade, we are 50th in per-student funding,” he said. “At a minimum, over the next six years, we should aspire to both fund increased enrollment and close one half of the gap between ourselves and the intermountain states, such as Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado.”
And while the governor said he favors school choice, he declined to lend support to a movement in the state for tuition tax credits that would go to parents to help defray the costs of private school tuition. Bills proposing such credits have been a mainstay of the Utah legislature in recent years, but none has passed.
At least three tax-credit bills have been introduced in the current legislative session, but Gov. Leavitt warned that they “create serious risks.”
“I’m prepared to participate in a discussion, but only when we have adequately funded our public schools,” he said. “Until then I would create educational choices in a different way.”
Mr. Leavitt said the state’s charter schools were working, and he endorsed creating more of them and giving them “equal financial footing with other public schools.”
Owens Pledges Protection
For Precollegiate Aid
Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado told legislators that state budget shortfalls remain the state’s top policy issue, but added that K-12 education will continue to be protected from cuts.
“Ensuring full funding for our public schools has been a success that we have achieved together in each of the past four years,” the Republican governor said during his Jan. 16 State of the State Address.
While the governor did not announce any new proposals, he urged lawmakers to remain committed to the state’s standards and accountability programs.
“Just last week, we were one of just five states honored by the president as having a model accountability system in place,” the governor said. “Now that the system is showing results, we must stay the course.”
Some “old voices of the status quo” still suggest there is too much testing or the stakes are too high in Colorado’s system, the governor said. But he pointed to results showing that nearly three-fourths of schools that received unsatisfactory ratings in 2001 improved and moved out of that category last year.
“Our reforms are working,” he said.
Gov. Lingle Wants Vote
On Decentralizing System
Following up on her campaign pledge to break up Hawaii’s centralized school system, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle last week called for a statewide referendum on creating seven districts with locally elected boards.
“No other state, other than Hawaii, has a statewide school system. None. Not even one,” she told members of the legislature during her first State of the State Address. “The reason they don’t is because it doesn’t work.”
She said that while the state’s “one-size-fits-all” education system had embraced the idea of school and community-based management in theory, “the concept of local community control continues to be foreign in Hawaii.”
Gov. Lingle also said that she no longer wants to see school principals represented by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
“Principals are a part of management,” she said in her Jan. 21 speech. “They have no place in a union. Sure, union leaders and many existing principals like it, but it has proven to be disastrous for the children.”
Ms. Lingle also wants to create more choice in the state’s 183,000-student district by encouraging more charter schools, magnet schools, more home schooling, and more Internet-based education.
She said she also thinks home-schooled students should be free to participate in extracurricular activities at regular public schools, saying that the current practice of denying students that opportunity is “mindless” and “unfairly punishes the child.”
The governor said she also wants to revise the state’s funding formula so that charter schools receive the “full cost of educating a child.”
The governor also announced proposals to give educators greater authority to remove disruptive students from the classroom, and to design a voluntary drug-testing program for students.
Under the drug-testing plan, students who tested positive for drugs would not be penalized. Instead, they and their parents would be required to meet with counselors and work out a strategy to address the problem.
“Sure, there are lots of issues to resolve with such a program,” she said, “but the lives of our children are at stake, as well as the safety of our communities.”
Gov. Sebelius Pledges
To Maintain K-12 Aid
Kansas’ state coffers are nearly empty, yet Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is pledging to protect funding for K-12 schools while balancing the budget without raising taxes.
“Quality education for all Kansas children is our top priority,” the newly inaugurated Democrat said in her Jan. 15 State of the State Address. “An educated workforce is so intimately linked to economic prosperity that we can’t afford to retreat from educational excellence in difficult times, or we will hinder our recovery efforts.”
State receipts dropped nearly 7 percent last year, she said, and the state’s beginning balance in 2003 is nearly zero. The state will not be able to keep reserves, as it has in the past, because all cash is necessary to provide services for citizens and to pay bills.
Cities, counties, and highway projects will be cut, she said, to ensure the state has enough money to go around.
The fiscal troubles were prompted by a sluggish economy, Gov. Sebelius added.
Per-pupil spending for K-12 schools will remain level at $3,863 in fiscal 2004, according to the governor’s proposal, and will account for about 67 percent of the state’s total $10.2 billion budget.
“We have neither oceans nor mountains,” Ms. Sebelius said. “We have neither glitzy skylines nor glamorous destinations. What we have—what makes people want to move their businesses and families here— is a unique quality of life.”
Education, she said, is an essential part of this life.
New Taxes, Fees
Bolster Gov. Holden’s Budget
Gov. Bob Holden has promised to preserve education funding, despite difficult economic times.
“The key to Missouri’s future is—and must always be—education,” Gov. Holden said in his Jan. 15 State of the State Address. “Improving education in our state is the most important step we can take to provide better opportunities for our children and to improve our climate for the knowledge-based economy.”
In his $19.2 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2004, Gov. Holden would avoid cuts to education and other programs by increasing taxes on cigarettes and gambling and trimming from other budget areas in order to address a projected $1 billion budget shortfall.
Mr. Holden, a Democrat, called his plan “the Fair Share” budget.
Rather than make cuts to programs, Mr. Holden said he would prefer to impose a 55-cent tax increase on each pack of cigarettes, a $2 increase in admission fees on gambling boats, and a 2 percent increase on the state’s tax of gaming profits.
He also hopes to get more revenue by eliminating corporate tax loopholes. One such loophole has exempted national franchises from paying state corporate-income taxes by setting up “dummy corporations” in states without such taxes, he said.
In addition, Gov. Holden proposed a 5 percent income tax surcharge on Missouri taxpayers who earn more than $200,000 a year.
—Lisa Fine Goldstein
K-12 Education Plans
In her State of the State Address last week, Gov. Judy Martz asked lawmakers to approve several pieces of legislation for K-12 education.
The first three bills she endorsed in her speech have already been introduced in the current legislative session, which began Jan. 6.
She requested that lawmakers approve a measure that would enable the state to help repay student loans for new teachers who teach in the state. The measure would permit the state to provide up to $12,000 in loan repayments per teacher over four years.
The governor, a Republican who faces re-election in 2004, also asked lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a statewide insurance pool for teachers to help lower schools’ health-coverage costs.
In addition, she urged lawmakers to pass legislation to alleviate the ongoing problems that school districts with sharply declining enrollments have in meeting fixed costs. The bill would alter the current funding formula so that school districts would receive money according to a three-year average of their enrollment instead of for a single year. The new formula would also make allowances for school districts that experience drastic enrollment declines over a short period of time.
In Montana, funding is strictly tied to student enrollment. A lawsuit is pending that challenges the current K-12 funding system. (“Montana Teachers, Parents File School Aid Lawsuit,” Sept. 18, 2002.)
Lastly, Ms. Martz asked lawmakers to enact legislation that would support her goal of establishing a “school renewal commission” that would come up with solutions for handling problems in how schools operate along with the state’s existing board of education.
— Mary Ann Zehr
Senior Year Lacking
Hoping to make New Jersey high school graduates more tech-savvy, Gov. James E. McGreevey announced in his Jan. 14 State of the State Address that he wants to add a technology-proficiency test to the list of graduation requirements for students there.
“In little more than 20 years, one of every two jobs in New Jersey will demand computer literacy,” he said. The first-term Democrat, however, did not lay out the details of his plan.
Acknowledging that the Garden State faces a $5 billion revenue shortfall in its $23.4 billion fiscal 2003 budget, Mr. McGreevey outlined other plans for education.
For example, he wants to make the senior year of high school more meaningful by giving students who “test out” of required classes the alternative of doing college-level work, performing community service, or participating in internships.
“For many students who have already met their graduation requirements, that year is little more than a rest stop before graduation,” he added.
Gov. McGreevey said it was “unacceptable” that a recent national report found that one out of eight high school classes in New Jersey is taught by teachers without even college minors in the subjects they teach.
“We will insist teachers be certified in the subject matter they are teaching,” he added.
In a speech that addressed budget problems, rampant development, and insurance fraud, Gov. McGreevey took time to mention the progress he sees the state making toward his goal of making literacy “the top education priority in New Jersey.”
For example, he said, reading coaches now are in 80 schools, and the Governor’s Book Club continues to provide new books to schools.
“If a child can read, the world is an open book,” he said. “But if they can’t read, that child will never reach his or her potential. And if they don’t make it, neither will the rest of us.”
—Robert C. Johnston
‘Free Fall’ in Tax Receipts
Threatens School Funds
In light of falling tax revenues, a state drought of “historic proportions,” and the worst fiscal outlook in almost 20 years, Gov. Mike Johanns recommended in his Jan. 15 State of the State Address cutting state aid to Nebraska schools and special education by 10 percent in the two-year budget that covers fiscal 2004 and 2005.
That cut equals $158.6 million over the next two years. State aid to education this budget year is $793 million.
Higher education and many other state- agency budgets would also be slashed by 10 percent under the governor’s budget plan. His recommendations are “stout fiscal medicine,” Gov. Johanns said, but ones that are absolutely necessary to help fill a $673 million deficit in the proposed $5.2 billion two-year budget.
There has been a “free fall in tax receipts that is worse than the farm crisis of the 1980s,” he told the unicameral legislature. “The tremendous investment in education, human services, and corrections that began more than four years ago was based on revenue projects that dramatically missed the mark. ... It was as if we had spent our way to the edge of a cliff.”
State aid to schools makes up 71 percent of the state’s $905 million in annual aid to local governments. In addition, the governor recommended eliminating $1.9 million from the education department’s budget, $11.7 million from the education of state wards, and $1.3 million from aid for gifted education.
Gov. Johanns recommended a temporary cigarette-tax hike. The 20-cent-per-pack increase would start this July 1 and end in October 2004. The tax would raise an estimated $94 million over the biennium.
Unlike other states, Nebraska cannot borrow money to shore up its budget. Gov. Johanns and the legislature have met four times since October 2001 to deal with revenue shortfalls.
—Rhea R. Borja