Issued last month by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, The Fiscal Survey of States finds that state budget revenues should see a slight improvement in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 as revenues are expected to grow slightly. However, the report also warns that most states will still face significant budget gaps. Further complicating matters, the federal money provided to plug state budget gaps through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is unlikely to continue. According to the report, the wind down of these flexible funds in FY 2012 will result in a funding cliff of more than $65 billion.
On November 2, 2010, thirty-seven states held gubernatorial elections to determine who would lead their states through this difficult budget environment; twenty-six of those states elected new governors. Over the next few months, many of these newly elected governors will join sitting governors in delivering state of the state addresses that outline policy goals, spending plans, budget cuts, and other policy proposals. During that time, Straight A’s will highlight relevant budgetary proposals and education policy changes included in these speeches.
New Hampshire: Lynch Highlights Importance of Technology in Education1
In his inaugural speech on January 6, Governor John Lynch (D), who was reelected for a historic fourth term with 52.6 percent of the vote, took pride in national rankings that rate New Hampshire as the state with the fastest-growing economy, lowest state taxes, lowest crime rates, and the best state to raise children. He also noted that New Hampshire, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, has fared better than most of the nation during the recent recession. At the same time, however, Lynch, New Hampshire’s longest-serving governor since colonial times, acknowledged that the state has made hard choices to balance its budget by cutting important initiatives and directing limited resources to its priorities: education, health care, and public safety.
“Just as our educated workforce is helping our state’s economy grow today, the education that we give New Hampshire’s children now will determine the strength of our state’s economy for decades to come,” Lynch said. He listed several educational accomplishments, including higher standards and greater access college classes and credits for students in high school.
Lynch also highlighted the state’s focus on reducing the high school dropout rate. “A high school diploma is not a luxury,” he said. “It is a necessity to succeed in the workforce. We’ve made remarkable progress. But we’re not done; we’ve set a goal of reducing our dropout rate to zero. Let us make sure every child graduates from high school.”
Lynch credited the state’s progress in reducing its dropout rate to new educational approaches such as night school, internships, and online learning. He noted that one school district is planning to move to online classes on some snow days while another is allowing its students to take Advanced Placement classes online. He praised the FIRST Robotics competition, which is “teaching children things they could never get” from textbooks. “We need to spur these types of changes in education by encouraging school districts to expand opportunities through technology,” he said. “We should not expect twenty-first-century results with a twentieth-century educational model. We must and we will give our students opportunities to learn in new ways so they can succeed in a new economy.”
New York: Facing $10 Billion Budget Deficit, Cuomo Calls for More Results-Oriented Spending, Proposes Race-to-the-Top-Style Competitions for New York School Districts
While New Hampshire has fared better than most states during the recession, New York has been hit especially hard. In his state of the state address on January 5, newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said that New York’s unemployment rate hit a twenty-six year high in 2009. Complicating matters are a business tax climate that Cuomo called the worst in the nation and a pension program with exploding costs that are projected to grow 476 percent by 2013.
Noting that New York is facing a budget deficit of about $10 billion this year, $14 billion next year, and $17 billion the year after that, Cuomo said, “The State of New York spends too much money, it is that blunt and it is that simple.” He also stressed that the state gets too little in return for what it spends. Specifically, he pointed to poor-performing Medicaid and economic development systems, as well as an education system that is the most expensive in the nation but only ranks thirty-four in results.
In an effort to jumpstart performance in education, Cuomo proposed taking a page out of the federal government’s book and introducing more competition grants and performance incentives. “We know in New York how effective those competitions were in making the state government actually move and pass a piece of legislation authorizing charter schools so we could qualify for the Race to the Top money,” he said.
Cuomo proposed two competitive funds in education that reward performance. The first would be a $250 million competition for districts that increase student performance in the classroom, while the second would be a $250 million competition for school districts that can find administrative savings through efficiencies, shared services, and the like.
As evidence that school turnaround is possible, Cuomo introduced the principal of Chelsea Technical Career High School in Manhattan, where student attendance has gone from 73 percent to 85 percent and the pass rate on New York’s Regents exam went from 31 percent to 89 percent. “That performance is what we want to incentivize, that performance is what we want to model, and that performance is what we want to applaud,” he said.