Despite tough budget times, many governors have prioritized K–12 education in their state of the state addresses. Specifically, several governors focused on linking teacher tenure to student performance; the importance of digital learning; and highlighting the link between education and the economy.
During his second state of the state address on January 19, Governor Sean Parnell (R) explained how Alaska has made progress in providing its children “more access to life-transforming education.” He highlighted how five hundred children located in three different rural areas of the state now have access to brand new schools and discussed the Alaska Performance Scholarship. The scholarship program, formerly known as the Governor’s Scholarship, was introduced in 2010 and is granted to qualifying students to help pay for up to four years of tuition at a higher education institution in Alaska. This year, more than nine thousand high school seniors took advantage of the scholarship opportunity and Parnell predicts that 30,000 more students will be involved in the program over the next three years.
“Our goal is a transformational education for every student; one that adequately prepares them for postsecondary education and good jobs,” said Parnell. “We describe the Alaska Performance Scholarship as an invitation to excellence but it’s so much more. Every student willing to take the challenge of a more rigorous curriculum can earn these scholarships. Over the long term, these scholarships will have a profound impact on the quality of life in Alaska, and on our state’s ability to compete in a global economy.”
On January 10 during his state of the state address, Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter (R) called for a slight increase in Idaho’s general funds for public schools during fiscal year (FY) 2012 while recommending at least a 2 percent budget reduction for most of the other state agencies. Last year, the governor called for a reduction in general funds for public school appropriations resulting in a $128 million hit for students.
Otter specifically called for investments in a third year of math and science for high school students and a program to cover all Idaho juniors’ college entrance exam fees. He also emphasized making a shift from a teacher salary system that rewards tenure to one that rewards performance.
The governor recognized that Idaho continues to outperform national averages on math and reading while spending less than half the amount per student than New York, New Jersey, or Washington, DC. He also gave special attention to the growth of the Idaho Education Network (IEN), a push for the use of information technology in the state, and its role in expanding access to education.
“I’ve talked with the teachers and the high school students who have already earned 1,300 college credits by using the IEN,” said Otter. “I’ve seen how a calculus teacher in Eagle can reach students in Sandpoint and Sugar City. I’ve seen how our Idaho students can use the IEN to take interactive guided tours of world-class resources like the Great Barrier Reef, the Holocaust Museum, the Alaska Sea Life Center, and NASA facilities. And just as importantly, I’ve seen how the IEN is becoming a true community and economic development resource.”
According to a recent article by the Associated Press, Idaho Superintendent Tom Luna presented a $68 million education reform plan for FY 2012 that would continue to expand classroom technology and tie teacher pay to merit while providing bonuses for those who take on hard-to-fill positions and leadership roles.
“In many states, the budget process has become one of triage, where leaders desperately are trying to save whatever services they can in the face of gaping deficits,” said Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) during his state of the state address on January 11. “That we do not face such bleak crises here is a source of pride.”
The governor based his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year on predicted small increases in state revenue. Although he called for nearly all agencies and services to remain funded at the same levels as this year, his budget includes a 2 percent increase in per-student funding. He also requested a 1 percent increase in higher education funding to help the state colleges and universities counterbalance rising student enrollments and asked administrators to be “measured and modest” when considering raising tuitions.
Beebe recognized that the state had made significant progress in improving K–12 education and now holds a sixth-place national ranking as determined by Education Week. He mentioned that in the past, funding allocated to closing the achievement gap had been stashed away and not dedicated to fixing the problem. As a result, he said he was working with the state legislature to ensure that those funds are spent on active efforts to help students while still allowing districts to hold some funding in reserve.
Indiana: Daniels Calls for More Parent Choice
Governor Mitchell E. Daniels (R) focused more than half of his state of the state address on education, and emphasized the importance of teacher quality in turning around Indiana’s schools. He said that under the current teacher evaluation system, 99 percent of Indiana teachers are rated effective; however, if that were true then 99 percent, and not the current one-third, of students should be passing national tests. He recommended that teachers earn tenure by proving their ability to help kids learn instead of earning it by seniority. The governor also put forth a new accountability system that would evaluate teachers on an ‘A’ to ‘F’ grading system saying, “There will be no more hiding behind jargon and gibberish.”
Citing his visits to local high schools, Daniels observed that many students complete their K–12 graduation requirements in less than twelve years. He proposed providing these students with another option. “We should say to these diligent young people, and their families, if you choose to finish in eleven years instead of twelve, we will give you the money we were going to spend while you cruised through twelfth grade, as long as you spend that money on some form of further education. Let’s empower our kids to defray the high cost of education through their own hard work, by entrusting them with this new and innovative choice.”
In an effort to bolster more local control for schools, Daniels ordered the Indiana Board of Education to remove unnecessary requirements that consume time or money without contributing to student learning. He took a hard line on teacher unions saying that they can go over the line when they spend their time and energy on decisions such as the color of the teachers’ lounge or who can monitor recess. Daniels also expressed his support for more parent choice and the expansion of charter schools.
In an interview with the Journal Gazette, Indiana high school teacher Renee Albright responded to the governor’s inaugural remarks, saying, “It’s insulting. It makes it sound like we’re sitting there wallpapering the bathrooms in our school instead of educating our students.” Albright disliked the suggestion that teachers do not put kids first and commented, “In twenty-five years I’ve been teaching, nothing has ever been enough. We’re supposed to sharpen the swords for our own execution.”
During his third state of the state address, Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) focused on the importance of preparing students to compete with their international peers. He explained why he strongly supports a regulation requiring students to complete a course in world language in order to graduate.
“The international insurance firm Cigna employs five hundred people in North Wilmington who service workers all over the world,” said Markell. “Cigna has support centers in many different countries, and they’ve found that their employees are most productive when they speak multiple languages. Their employees in Belgium speak an average of three languages. We helped Cigna stay in Delaware, but if we want companies like them to grow, they need workers here ready to meet the challenge of communicating around the world.”
The governor announced a new partnership with the Chinese Hanban Institute to bring teachers from China to Delaware so schools could offer Chinese language courses online to students across the state without incurring significant costs. He also described science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) education as a “language that underpins most of the innovation that drives global growth” and discussed the formation of a STEM Council and STEM Residency Program to ensure that the state’s schools offer high-quality curriculum and attract teachers with STEM experience. He also emphasized the importance of adopting and implementing the common core state standards so all students are prepared to compete on a global level.
Markell recognized the work of teachers, administrators, business leaders, and parents in developing a Race to the Top plan that helped win the state $100 million in federal funds. Delaware’s plan consisted of improving its assessment system, linking teacher evaluations to student growth, creating more time for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues, expanding Advanced Placement courses, and attracting effective teachers to the lowest-performing schools using incentive pay.
Also included in the state’s 2010 Race to the Top application was the launch of Partnership Zone (PZ) schools. These selected schools receive grants of up to $2.2 million over a period of four years to implement one of four turnaround options designed to significantly improve student outcomes. The Delaware Department of Education calls for PZ schools to work with the school community in order to determine which turnaround method is the best fit. During his speech, Markell was proud to announce that each of the PZ schools had submitted bold reform plans that included “leadership and staffing changes, hiring flexibility, the creation of focused academies, and the implementation of longer school days and school years.”