James S. Gilmore III, who inherited a learning standards program from fellow Republican Gov. George Allen two years ago, proposed today to spend about $27 million more to help Virginia youngsters pass their state-mandated tests.
Unveiling another major piece of a biennial budget he will present formally to legislators next week, Gilmore defended the Standards of Learning ushered in by Allen as necessary testing to help "prepare kids for life."
To get there, Gilmore said, he will ask the General Assembly to spend $17.1 million to expand the kindergarten Early Reading Intervention Program so that it serves first- through third-graders as well. The program adds classroom resources to help students pass the third grade English-and-reading test.
The governor proposed spending $9.8 million for a new remedial mathematics initiative for seventh and eighth grades in 2002 to enable all students to pass the eighth grade math test and succeed in related high school courses.
Virginia's SOLs have raised widespread concerns among parents about the caliber of instruction for their children and the fairness of the tests. But many educators and elected officials have defended the standards as a much-needed measure of how public schools are doing for the 1.2 million-student state system.
"There is a wide-ranging belief that kids deserve the opportunity to have as much remedial training as possible to get ready" for the SOLs, Gilmore said today in an interview.
"We don't want the standards to be a trap to kids," he said. "We want them to be something good for kids, and we want kids to succeed with them."
Stephen J. Kenealy, chairman of the Alexandria School Board, had called for more state funds at a public hearing last week and welcomed Gilmore's announcement. "It is a monumental task to get our kids ready for the SOLs, particularly in a city like Alexandria, and so the governor's effort to provide more funds is sincerely appreciated," he said.
In addition to the $26.9 million geared to the SOLs, Gilmore's more than $40 billion budget allocates $2.5 million to assist flagging schools with the related standards of accreditation. The assistance would provide "independent reviewers" to help those schools comply with state standards.
Gilmore also said today that he wants to hire more than 700 new teachers, through state and federal funds, many for math and reading programs in smaller classes. He has been working toward a goal of 4,000 new teachers by the time he leaves office in January 2002; the state has hired just over 1,700 on his watch.
The governor said the money for the grade-school reading intervention program envisions a ratio of one teacher for every five pupils; the remedial math program for later grades would involve a ratio of one teacher for every 10 students.
Gilmore also told reporters today that he wants to give 70,000 state government employees a raise of 2.4 percent, on top of the more than 6 percent boost they are receiving in this budget year.
Staff writer Jay Mathews contributed to this report.