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School choice continues to generate debate in state legislatures, even as several states move toward offering their students options beyond the K-12 public school setting. However, given the particular circumstances of children with special needs, less debate and controversy has surrounded the implementation of school choice programs for students in special education classrooms. Since state governments have a constitutional obligation to provide an education to all children, creating more educational options for children with special needs has the most potential for providing them the best education possible. Meanwhile, considering that the average annual cost of a special education student is $9,369 above the norm, the provision of legally required additional services for special needs students can prove costly for public schools with a small student population, where economies of scale are not feasible. Allowing and supplying additional school options for special education students, in these cases, may provide savings for schools unable to provide cost-effective specialized services for the limited number of students requiring them.
This SLC Regional Resource examines the strategies taken by Southern states to increase school options for special education students through the implementation of state-funded school voucher programs, focusing on their many forms and variations, and addresses school voucher programs that provide direct payments or reimbursements to private alternative schools or parents and legal guardians, respectively. While several strategies beyond school voucher programs, such as tax credits and educational savings accounts, have been implemented as additional strategies to increase school choice, these programs are not included within this Regional Resource.
According to June 2015 statistics released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 40 of the top 100 U.S. ports (coastal, Great Lakes and inland) in terms of tonnage were located in states belonging to the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments (CSG), the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC). Impressively, seven of the top 10 ports were SLC state ports. The Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Houston rose to the top, ranking first and second, respectively. While the SLC has focused on ports, the economic influence of ports and the potential impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal on ports in the South for more than 15 years, this Regional Resource reviews an important allied field: emerging trends linked to the nation's, and specifically the region's, inland ports, waterways and related infrastructure.
Throughout the history of the United States, water has been the key to determining settlement patterns and development opportunities. It is migratory in nature and often crosses many boundaries, a characteristic that has generated ownership disputes and countless conflicts. Every state in the contiguous United States shares ground or surface water resources with another state, and almost every major city is located near a river or body of water.
Water resource scarcity can affect many sectors of a state's economy as well as the region's natural ecosystems. The Southern United States, characterized by a network of major rivers and tributaries, and generally abundant precipitation, has enjoyed a generous water supply. Consequently, the region has not experienced the water disputes that have plagued the Western United States. However, development pressure, changes in precipitation patterns, and transitioning priorities and consumption levels have caused a shift in these circumstances. When water shortages do arise, they often can cause interstate conflicts. Perhaps one of the most widely reported and longest running of these interstate disputes in the Southern region involves Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, known as the "tri-state water wars." The tri-state water wars have spanned 25 years and center on water resource allocation in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins. Recognizing the importance of this dispute and the impact the resolution will have on the states involved, the issue has remained relevant to the ongoing policy work of the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments, the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC). This third review of the issue advances the developments and actions that have occurred since SLC last reported on the conflict in 2010. Additionally, it should be noted that The Council of State Government's Center for Interstate Compacts has more than 75 years of experience in promoting multi-state problem solving and advocating for the role of states in determining their respective futures.
This SLC Issue Alert serves as an update to the 2010 SLC Regional Resource, Water Allocation and Management: Southern States Outlook and the earlier, 2000 SLC Regional Resource, The War Over Water and examines developments up to December 14, 2015.
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Just three years ago, almost every state in the nation belonged to a national testing consortium, such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) whereas, today, barely half continue to participate in these multi-state comparative student assessments. The Southern region, in particular, has seen a shift away from the national testing consortia to state-specified student testing. As state education systems adapt to their new educational standards of college- and career-readiness, state governments continue to modify their approach to assessing student learning toward these standards.
After dismissing PARCC and Smarter Balanced, several states’ education systems began, and currently continue, a transition to various alternatives. This SLC Regional Resource provides an overview of the strategies that SLC member states have undertaken for student testing, as of October 1, 2015. Specifically, the analysis examines the current status of K-12 testing requirements implemented by the 15 SLC member states for their general public school populations and the experiences of these states as they seek to improve their student performance measurement systems. Further, the report focuses on the many adjustments and changes to K-12 English language arts and mathematics student assessment systems implemented by Southern states in the post-Common Core educational era, geared toward preparing college- and career-ready students.
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With the potential reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) nearing a critical junction, a delegation of Southern states’ legislative education committee chairs traveled to Washington, D.C. between November 4-5, 2015, for meetings with influential members of Congress involved with the reauthorization process, as well as a policy session with key staff from the legislative and executive branches and a Washington, D.C-based nonprofit educational research organization.
The delegation, organized by the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments (CSG), the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), in collaboration with CSG’s Washington, D.C. Office, focused on securing a more detailed timeline for the passage of ESEA, determining the potential outcomes of the compromise that will be reached by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for the versions passed by each chamber, voicing a need for states to gain greater flexibility from federal educational oversight, examining how the groundbreaking legislation will affect state educational systems and governments, and preparing for the potentially significant changes to federal educational policy.
Led by the state Senator Dolores Gresham of Tennessee, chair of the SLC Education Committee and chair of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee, the delegation comprised state Representative Tom Dickson of Georgia, vice chair of SLC Education Committee and chair of the Georgia House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education; Representative Rita Allison, chair of the South Carolina House Education and Public Works Committee; Senator Dave Sypolt, chair of the West Virginia Senate Education Committee; and Representative Kathryn Swan, chair of the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
During their Washington, D.C. visit, delegation members met and discussed the ESEA reauthorization and related matters with U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP); U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, majority member on the Senate HELP Committee; Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, majority member on the Senate HELP Committee; Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri; Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia, ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Congressman Alex Mooney of West Virginia; and Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
During an afternoon policy session, several policy experts and key government officials provided further insights into the current status of ESEA reauthorization and the positions of the executive and legislatives branches that ultimately must approve any compromise. From the U.S. Department of Education, Emma Vadehra, chief of staff to U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Simone Hardeman-Jones, special assistant in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs, provided the view of the administration; David Cleary, chief of staff to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and the majority staff director for the Senate HELP Committee, provided the majority view of the U.S. Senate; and Chad Aldeman, associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, provided a view from the nonprofit educational research sector.
A delegation of state legislative leaders from Georgia recently traveled to the Port of New York and New Jersey for high level briefings on the operations of the largest port on the East Coast and the third-largest in the nation. In terms of total TEUs (or Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), in 2014, the Port of New York and New Jersey handled over 5.7 million, a 5.6 percent increase from the prior year. In 2015, the Port is on track to exceed the levels reached in 2014. The record volumes allowed the Port to maintain its position as the busiest on the East Coast, with nearly 30 percent of the total market share. The dollar value of all cargo that moved through the port exceeded $207 billion.
The visit, organized by the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments (CSG), the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), was designed to reinforce the need for Southern ports, including ports in Georgia, to continue essential infrastructure enhancements to accommodate the significantly larger vessels and expanded cargo volumes expected in coming years. The delegation included Senator Jeff Mullis, chair of the SLC’s Economic Development, Transportation and Cultural Affairs Committee; Senator Steve Gooch; Senator Lester G. Jackson; Representative Ron Stephens; and Representative Mickey Stephens. Delegation leader, Senator Mullis confirmed that this visit reinforced the “need for continued investments in Georgia’s ports so that the state remains competitive in attracting traffic, including after the expected 2016 completion of the Panama Canal expansion project. From the KIA automobile factory in West Point to the poultry industry in Gainesville to the carpet industry in Dalton, the economic impact of Georgia’s ports extends far beyond Savannah and Brunswick to every corner of the state and even the region,” Senator Mullis added.
For more than a decade and a half, the SLC has focused on the critical role played by Southern ports in the economic calculations of the Southern region and the nation as a whole. Given the critical role played by Georgia’s ports, the visit focused on briefing the legislative delegation of critical policy measures necessary to advance Georgia ports. The briefings included an overview of the Port’s operations by Molly Campbell, Director, Port Commerce Department, which included details on raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge, building a replacement for the Goethals Bridge, initiating harbor deepening efforts, continuing work to lengthen existing berths and acquiring Super Post Panamax cranes. This was followed by details on the Port Performance Task Force by Beth Rooney, Assistant Director, Port Performance Initiatives. The Task Force includes industry executives and port officials and seeks to identify challenges to port efficiency and service reliability and devise solutions to overcome these challenges. Finally, the delegation was provided a facilities overview by Aaron Sherburne, General Manager, Port Commerce Department. After the briefings, the SLC delegation drove to several of the Port’s terminals for a first-hand look at the infrastructure upgrades in progress along with insights into operations of this major East Coast port.
The Southern Legislative Conference will host a webinar on State Strategies for Shaping Effective Teacher Preparation Programs from 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, November 19, 2015. The importance of ensuring effective teacher preparation programs (TPPs) continues to be an issue of significant interest to state policymakers. As the focus of teacher education shifts more and more from training to preparing, several states are undertaking new approaches to identifying and promoting successful TPPs. Strategies to encourage properly prepared new teachers include: raising program admission standards; requiring shadowing of mentor teachers that have demonstrated their high effectiveness; performance-based funding; and monitoring program outcomes. For example, Louisiana and Tennessee have developed statewide systems that track the academic growth of a teacher’s P-12 students back to the preparation program from which that teacher graduated. This webinar will focus on these and additional tactics of Southern states to ensure well-prepared teachers. Further details are available here.
Legislative leadership in Kentucky recently announced the selection of Mr. David Byerman as director of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, effective October 1. As one of the largest centralized service agencies in the South, Mr. Byerman supervises around 400 legislative employees.1 Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, who chairs the Southern Legislative Conference, said of the thirty applicants, Mr. Byerman was the best fit for the position. 2
Mr. Byerman previously served as the secretary of the Senate of the Nevada Legislature, and received several awards for his outstanding work. In a recent op-ed3 on his approach to the directorship, Mr. Byerman writes, "Everything we do will be filtered through the prism of communication: We will strive to make the legislative process more accessible, more understandable and more relevant for the residents of Kentucky."
1. Panel recommends secretary of Nevada Senate to head Kentucky's legislative bureaucracy ↩ 2. Lawmakers Vote to Name David A. Byerman as Legislative Research Commission Director ↩ 3. David Byerman: New director of Legislative Research Commission ready to write new chapter ↩