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MORE STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Newly Given Addresses, but Very Familiar Problems

In the last issue of Straight A’s, you read about several governors who proposed changes to education, or education funding, in their State of the State address. Over the last couple of weeks, additional governors have given State of the State addresses. Not surprisingly, most speeches address familiar themes of budget deficits and forthcoming spending cuts.

Maryland: Governor Robert Ehrlich

Last year, Maryland became a national leader in adequately funding education when its legislature passed a six-year $1.3 billion plan to implement the Thornton Commission’s blueprint to balance funding for students in poorer areas compared to more affluent areas. (Learn more about the Thornton Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence.) In his State of the State address, Gov. Robert Ehrlich proposed a $242 million increase in K-12 spending, almost $100 million more than commission requires. However, Ehrlich’s plan assumes that the legislature will legalize slot machines at four horseracing tracks-a move that would bring $1 billion in potential revenue to the state.

Since the slot machine proposal was introduced two weeks ago, the Ehrlich administration has announced plans to hire an independent consultant and rework the details of the proposal in hopes of gaining additional support from state legislators. One possible change could be manipulating the formula for dividing the annual profits so that a bigger share goes to racetrack owners and horse breeders, and less to education.

Such a change could mean the state’s public schools would receive a smaller percentage of the proceeds than the 64 percent now on the table. Currently, racetrack owners are slated to receive 25 percent of the revenue. Without the revenue from the slot machines, Maryland’s pledge to increase annual spending on public schools could go unfulfilled, as the state could face up to a $1 billion deficit under the requirements of the education bill passed last year.

South Carolina: Governor Mark Sanford

In his State of the State address, Gov. Mark Sanford took the state’s education system to task for its low graduation rate and stressed that he wanted to make education the state’s highest priority. However, given the reality of a $1 billion budget shortfall, he admitted
that cuts to K-12 education programs might be unavoidable. He urged the state legislature to enact legislation that would cap enrollment to 900 students in high schools; 700 students in middle schools, and 500 students in elementary schools.

Nevada: Governor Kenny Guinn

Despite facing a $700 million shortfall, Gov. Kenny Guinn urged the state legislature to accept a budget plan that would increase education funding for K-12 by $311 million over the next two years and raise spending on K-12 from $1 billion to $1.2 billion by fiscal 2005. Specifically, Guinn focused on the area of teacher quality and proposed spending $33 million over two years to provide $3,000 annual stipends for teachers in hard-to-staff areas, such as special education and math. He also sought $2,000 for teachers in low-performing schools and asked the state to continue its $2,000 signing bonus for new teachers. To pay for these increases, Guinn proposed tripling the state’s tax on cigarettes and sharply increasing the liquor tax in hopes of raising $980 million in new revenue over two years.

South Dakota: Governor Mike Rounds

In his State of the State address, Gov. Mike Rounds proposed a $15.1 million increase in education, “one of the largest single increases ever in the state of South Dakota.” Rounds also asked South Dakota legislators to enact a new scholarship program to entice college graduates to remain in the state after graduation and serve as teachers, engineers, and perhaps nurses. In addition to Rounds’ agenda, the state legislature also must work to close a $54 million budget shortfall.

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