South Dakota | Vermont | Wyoming
New Governor of S.C. Backs More Charters,
Caps on Schools’ Size
In his first State of the State Address, Gov. Mark Sanford told South Carolinians how he hopes to govern—and how he intends to shake up education in the state.
“I wish I could tell you our education system is second to none—but too many children in South Carolina don’t graduate, or graduate without skills essential for success in the 21st century,” the Republican governor told the GOP- controlled legislature in Columbia and a statewide television audience.
Even though he called education the state’s top priority in his Jan. 22 address, he made clear that the budget is his first order of business. South Carolina is anticipating a $1 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year, which means lawmakers might have to cut aid for K-12 schools and other areas of government as they craft a new budget this spring.
“Our budget is a mess,” the governor said.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, center, prepares to deliver his first State of the State Address. The Republican governor proposed to expand the number of charter schools across the state.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Sanford proposed the creation of a commission to examine ways of reducing the size and increasing the efficiency of the state government. He also asked lawmakers for the power to appoint more statewide officers. The state education superintendent and other leaders are currently elected by voters.
The former three-term U.S. representative, who defeated Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges in November, also urged the legislature to take steps to improve education. Mr. Sanford said he would support legislation to limit enrollments in new schools to 900 students in high schools, 700 in middle schools, and 500 in elementary schools.
“Anonymity and education don’t go together,” he said, adding that he prefers “neighborhood schools” instead of “massive, isolated schools.”
Gov. Sanford spoke of expanding school choice, but avoided the issue of Florida-style tuition vouchers for students in failing schools that had been part of his campaign platform. Instead, he said charter schools should grow across the state with the help of matching federal dollars.
The governor also proposed that the state simplify its system of education grants to make them more useful for school districts. He spoke about rising rates of school crime and “conduct grades” for students, but gave few details.
He praised the state’s Democratic state schools chief, Inez Tenenbaum, and pledged to work with her to improve teacher quality and early-childhood education.
South Carolina educators are familiar with budget troubles, since their schools have seen midyear budget cuts in the past two years. Another cut may be required in February, said Paul Krohne, the executive director of the South Carolina School Boards Association.
“We’re going to be looking at another 3 to 5 percent cut, which is really going to hit most heavily those districts that really don’t have a property tax base,” Mr. Krohne said. The state’s total budget for the current fiscal year is about $5.4 billion.
Gov. Sanford surprised observers with his talk of enrollment caps. The proposed limits could make school construction far more expensive, Mr. Krohne said.
He added that the governor shouldn’t insist that charter schools expand in South Carolina while existing schools are suffering.
“The property- tax payers can’t pay for one school system right now, let alone a second one,” Mr. Krohne said.
Ehrlich Plans Review
Of Education Policies
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he plans to launch his administration with a full-scale review of Maryland education policy and a push for a statewide charter school law.
Mr. Ehrlich, Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, announced in his first State of the State Address that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will head a commission that will review all of the state’s education policies and recommend changes.
The panel will follow up on the work of the influential Thornton Commission, which recommended in 2001 major increases in state education spending and proposed a formula to more equitably distribute money to schools.
Last year, the Maryland legislature passed a six-year plan to implement the recommendations that would raise K-12 spending by $1.3 billion. (“Md. Schools Get Big Hike in Funding,” April 17, 2002.) Mr. Ehrlich said that his budget would include a $242 million, or 7.7 percent, increase in K-12 spending this year—almost $100 million more than is called for under the Thornton guidelines.
The new governor also urged the Democrat-controlled legislature to pass the state’s first charter school law.
“It is time for this Assembly to enact a charter schools bill with teeth—one that will give disadvantaged students the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” Mr. Ehrlich said in his Jan. 29 address.
He said the bill was one of his top priorities in this year’s legislative session.
—David J. Hoff
Guinn Seeks Tax Increase,
New Aid for Education
Despite a projected biennial budget shortfall of at least $700 million, Gov. Kenny C. Guinn urged Nevada legislators to accept a budget plan that would increase aid to K-12 education by $311 million over the next two fiscal years.
In his State of the State Address on Jan. 20, the governor proposed allocating $33 million over two years to provide $3,000 annual stipends for teachers in such shortage areas as special education, mathematics, and English as a second language, as well as $2,000 stipends for teachers in low-performing schools. He also called for continuing the state’s $2,000 signing bonus for new teachers and spending $37.8 million over two years on textbooks and classroom supplies.
Gov. Guinn, a Republican, also advocated gradually implementing full-day kindergarten statewide, starting with schools defined as “at risk.”
“Education isn’t just on my agenda, it is my agenda” the governor said.
To help fix a tax system that he described as broken because of its dependence on gambling and tourism, Mr. Guinn proposed various changes, including tripling the state’s tax on cigarettes and sharply increasing the tax on liquor. Other proposals include a 15-cent statewide property-tax increase and a new gross-receipts tax on businesses.
The changes are designed to raise some $980 million in new revenue over two years, allowing the state to raise spending on precollegiate education from $1 billion this fiscal year to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2005. The governor has proposed a $4.8 billion budget for the state overall for fiscal 2004 and fiscal 2005.
Greg Bortolin, the governor’s director of communications, said the requested increases were justified because of Nevada’s fast-growing student population. “Right now, we’re just fighting to tread water,” he said.
The funds would also shore up programs such as Nevada Check-Up, which provides health care to nearly 25,000 poor children, and a class-size-reduction initiative being piloted in Elko County that the governor hopes to expand statewide.
—Marianne D. Hurst
Taft to Form Task Force
On Education Finance
Hoping to bring Ohio’s 11-year school funding battle to an end, Gov. Bob Taft is forming a task force to develop an “affordable and effective” education finance plan to support student learning.
“Now that the litigation has subsided,” the governor said in his State of the State Address on Jan. 22, “I am hopeful we can reach consensus to fund our schools thoroughly and efficiently in the years ahead.”
The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Financing Student Success, which will be made up of educators, policymakers, parents, and business leaders, will report its findings this year and work to devise a new school funding framework for 2004-05. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled for a fourth and final time in December that the state’s school funding system was unconstitutional and must be revamped. (“Ohio Court Rejects State School Aid System,” Jan. 8, 2003.)
But the Buckeye State’s attention this year will be consumed by a $720 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2003. The shortfall is attributed to increases in Medicaid spending and to the failure of state tax receipts to meet revenue expectations. The total budget is roughly $23 billion.
To spare per-pupil funding from steep budget cuts this year, Gov. Taft proposed raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and emptying the last of Ohio’s financial reserves.
The governor stressed that the increased taxes, combined with depleting funds from a rainy-day account and accelerating sales- tax collection, among other strategies, represented the state’s only option. He warned lawmakers that, if they did not approve his budget cuts by the end of February, then education funding could not be protected. The cuts could exceed the $160 million generated by increasing taxes.
Meanwhile, Ohio Department of Education officials said they were anticipating a $20.8 million cut to the $7.3 billion K-12 education budget this year, which, for example, would decrease money for professional development and halt new bus purchases.
Still, Gov. Taft predicted that the budget challenges for fiscal 2004 and 2005 would be more challenging, although he did not specify how much of a financial shortfall the state would face. The Republican, who was re- elected to a second term last fall, was expected to unveil his budget plans for the coming biennium this week.
“Our reserves will be gone,” the governor said. “Our one-time revenues will have vanished. Our cupboard will be bare.”
—Karla Scoon Reid
Rounds Proposes Increase
In State K-12 Spending
Though faced with a projected $54 million shortfall in his state’s $2.7 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, Gov. Mike Rounds did not stint on schools in his first State of the State Address.
Instead, he proposed handing $15.1 million more to school districts—"one of the largest single increases ever in the state of South Dakota"—in his Jan. 14 speech.
More than half of that amount, or $7.8 million, would make up for inflation and for funding that failed to materialize this year from investments by a new state education trust fund. That would bring the total education budget for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1, to $323 million.
The rest, or $7.3 million, would technically be added to the current fiscal year, by the release of state aid withheld from districts this year because of declining enrollments.
Taking up education in the middle of his 76-minute speech, the Republican also announced plans to reorganize the executive branch, which would remove “cultural affairs” promotion from what is currently a two-headed South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs. The newly named department of education would be structured to focus more squarely on the goals of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, he said.
Mr. Rounds urged the state to “embrace the spirit and intention” of the federal act and its goals of accountability, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and adoption of effective teaching methods.
Specifically, Gov. Rounds endorsed the law’s focus on reading and mathematics, and said he planned to launch an initiative to provide training in math instruction to schools identified as needing improvement—similar to a state program that assists students in grades 1-3 in reading.
The governor vowed the state would not lose its leading role in the use of educational technology, such as e- learning.
And he asked the legislature to enact a new scholarship program to entice college graduates to remain in the state after graduation to serve the public as “teachers, engineers, perhaps nurses.”
Budget Issues Dominate
First Address by Douglas
Incoming Gov. James H. Douglas proposed overall belt-tightening in his Jan. 23 budget message to Vermont legislators, but he said he would tug a little less tightly in the case of aid to education.
The Republican chief executive, who succeeded Democrat Howard Dean, must cope with Vermont’s version of the national economic slowdown. He warned that if the state’s spending were to continue at the current rate in the fiscal year that begins July 1, Vermont would likely accumulate a deficit of $30 million.
Instead, Mr. Douglas wants to see the state’s general-fund expenditures rise by a mere 1 percent, and he has asked most department heads to cut 5 percent to 10 percent from their current budgets.
Yet his spending plan for the coming fiscal year would preserve the legally required cost-of-living increase in state aid to schools, resulting in a 1.5 percent hike in per-pupil grants to districts. And support for higher education would rise by 2 percent.
“The key to unlocking the full potential of the next generation is education,” the governor said in explaining his proposal.
Mr. Douglas declared he would not balance the budget, which tops $3 billion, by raising taxes. In fact, he wants to cut the statewide property tax by 3 cents, from $1.10 per $100 of property value to $1.07.
He lamented that Act 60, the 1997 school finance reform law generally credited with helping the state’s poorest districts spend more on a par with wealthier ones, did little to reduce the burden of property taxes. “Property taxes continue to skyrocket, and Vermonters continue to suffer,” he said.
Acknowledging there were “no easy answers,” the governor urged the legislature to “find a more permanent solution” to paying for schools.
Included in Gov. Douglas’ spending plan are $350,000 for the first year of a four-year effort to put a substance-abuse counselor in every secondary school and $1.3 million in new money for after-school programs and job opportunities for youths.
School Facilities Spending
Wyoming’s budget picture looks healthy now, but the need for new schools and other facilities may put financial pressure on the state in the near future, Gov. David D. Freudenthal said in his first State of the State Address, delivered on Jan. 15.
“Capital-construction programs for public schools, higher education, corrections, and state facilities have been moving to the top of the state’s agenda for many years,” the Democrat said. “A review of the broad outlines of these construction programs gets us over a billion dollars very quickly.”
Unlike most other states, Wyoming does not have a budget-revenue shortfall, thanks mainly to a surge in mineral revenues.
The state is scheduled to release a survey of its school construction needs this summer. While no numbers are available yet, Mr. Freudenthal estimated the costs would run from $500 million to $1 billion. He said that no one had identified ways to pay for the construction while adequately supporting other vital needs, such as health care, economic development, and higher education.
The governor also said that while much attention has focused on the funding and operation of public schools, education is “not the only paramount priority” of Wyoming citizens. He noted that while student enrollment declined by 14,000 students from 1992 to 2002, state school foundation funding grew from nearly $500 million to $725 million.
Gov. Freudenthal also said that school foundation funding would likely increase this session. But it will be crucial to figure out how to pay for construction needs, he said, and offered four ideas for doing so.
The first funding scenario would rely on the traditional method of financing schools through property taxes. The second would involve debt financing through reallocating revenue sources, while the third would rely on a spike in mineral revenues or coal-lease bonus payments. The fourth option would combine elements of the other three options.
—Rhea R. Borja