Education on Upcoming Agenda for State Legislators
On March 14th, Representative Darryl Scott introduced House Bill 46 to encourage the creation of gifted and talented programs in schools statewide through start-up grants. Representative Scott sponsored a resolution to create a Gifted and Talented Student Task Force in June 2012, and this bill is built upon the work of that task force. Currently, the creation of gifted and talented programs is at the discretion of school districts and not all districts choose to participate due to the initial start-up costs. Those programs that exist are not always offered during the regular school day and may not provide after school transportation which may affect a child’s ability to participate. Per the bill, priority for grant funds would be provided to schools offering programming during the existing school day. While crafting programs to target students capable of advanced work is noble, the grant program is reliant upon funds in the state’s budget, and given the state’s financial situation, it could prove to be a difficult task.
The Legislature faces a bleak budget outlook this year, given the $56 million projected shortfall as well as the unknown effects of the federal sequester. Governor Markell responded in January with a proposed budget that continues personal and business tax increases from 2009 which were intended to sunset at the end of this fiscal year. Amidst these pending fiscal concerns, there have been a number of other bills introduced that could potentially affect our schools and would result in significant financial impact.
HB 46, which will be considered by the House Education Committee on Wednesday, is not the only bill seeking allocation of funds for schools. Two bills have been introduced as a response to the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and seek to improve the security in schools. House Bill 33, sponsored by Representative Joe Miro, would require each public school be equipped with a silent alarm system. The fiscal note is incomplete, but there would undoubtedly be some cost to the state. House Bill 34, sponsored by Representative Danny Short, would create a School Safety and Security Fund to award grants on a competitive basis for schools to make safety upgrades in their facilities. The fund would be established with $5,000,000 and schools would be limited to a maximum award of $50,000.
While there are a number of worthy ideas that would academically challenge students and protect them from harm, the ongoing need to fund existing programs remains. These will be difficult issues for the Joint Finance Committee in the months ahead.