Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Field Guide to the New Legislative Season

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Field Guide to the New Legislative Season

Article excerpt

State legislative action for 1998 has begun, and, as usual, surprises and disappointments will be plentiful. Spying on the legislative process is as simple as sitting in on an education committee hearing. But putting one's arms around a single tree doesn't afford a good view of the forest. Likewise, climbing to the highest vantage point does not enable one to classify all the individual issues that make up the forest of education policy.

Some Issues to Watch

The economy. Some observers view and identify only one issue each year. The budget bill is, for them, the tree under which all other bills seek shelter. With nearly every state boasting an economic surplus, this should be a good year for large budget increases. Maybe. But usually a surplus creates more political rancor than a budget shortfall does. The choice to decrease taxes and send money back to the taxpayers or to build a bigger "Christmas tree" budget with new programs hung on every branch will be influenced the most by the perceived proximity of the next election. There is growing sentiment, however, that more money in state budgets must be tied to new forms of accountability.

Accountability. Extending the reach of accountability programs and finding stronger consequences for poor performance will be the issues to watch. Academic bankruptcy takeovers, especially in large urban districts, have not produced perceptible changes. In some states, the search is on to find ways to use standards and assessments to build stronger consequences for poor performance. The practice of using a district's academic failure to trigger school choice for parents (with money following the family) may catch on in states other than Kentucky. Allowing a voucher to kick in may be the next level of activity on the horizon. Legislators in some states are becoming more vocal about continued low test scores when the only proposed solution put forth by schools is to ask for more money in order to try harder. A willingness to turn to privatization and vouchers as a consequence of poor performance could be viewed as an astute political move.

The urban scene. Takeovers, reconstitution, governance changes, and nontraditional leadership are all visible developments in urban school districts. …

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