More Money for Schools, Less Consensus on Allocations
Lawmakers in all five states increased public school budgets, with Arkansasstanding out by devoting nearly half its annual budget to K-12 education.
Except for New Mexico every state in the region increased teacher salaries orplaced teachers on salary schedules that reward years of experience. Othereducator-focused laws require criminal-background checks for people seekingcertification as Arkansas and New Mexico school personnel and enhanceprofessional development opportunities for Texas teachers and Louisiana schooladministrators. It seems lawmakers recognized that a high-quality school workforce is necessary for improving public education, and they crafted policies toachieve that end.
Policymakers also attended to some of the basics of public instruction. Reformsin Louisiana and New Mexico require school districts to improve schoolaccountability systems. Large-scale reading initiatives were refined in Arkansasand initiated in Louisiana, Texas, and, to a lesser degree, Oklahoma, while otherlegislation also affected mathematics, character education, and core curriculum.Both Oklahoma and Texas clarified procedures for educating suspended students,emphasizing that all students - including nonviolent disruptive students - deserve aneducation.
School technology won broad lawmaker support, perhaps in the wake of heightenedpublic interest in computer-aided learning and a Clinton Administration push toconnect every American classroom to the Internet. All five state legislaturespassed school technology legislation. Most notably, Oklahoma legislators rejectedGov. Frank Keating's proposed state K-12 telecommunications network yet laid thegroundwork for school technology grant funding and more teacher training intechnology. Louisiana poured $38.2 billion into a new Classroom-Based Technologyfund.
Although lawmakers focused on improving traditional K-12 public schools, four ofthe five states continued to grapple with issues of school choice. Even amongthese four states, no clear policy direction was established. Oklahoma's voucherand charter school legislation failed. Arkansas tightened graduation requirementsfor home school students. Louisiana and Texas expanded the number of charterschools allowed in the state. Like the public, lawmakers held a spectrum ofpositions in this education controversy.
Julia Guzman and Mimi Mayer