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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Even in Tight Budget Environments, Governors Continue to Stress the Importance of Education

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"The funding recommendations in my budget will provide our schools, teachers, and students with significant resources to be successful now and in the future. Unlike in the past, we will not leave our schools, teachers, or students scraping for leftovers."

As governors make their state of the state addresses, they continue to stress the importance of education to their states. However, in the tight budget environment that accompanies an economic downturn, governors must often choose between continuing the positive momentum that they have made in education reform and focusing their energy (and money) on closing widening budget deficits. In some cases, they have decided to do both.

Arizona: Napolitano Calls Education the “Most Important Chapter for Our Future”

On January 14, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D) kicked off her state of the state address by asking legislators to build on their past work and keep the momentum going, “even as we confront the challenges of our current budget.” Calling education the “most important chapter for our future,” the governor expounded upon Arizona’s recent educational accomplishments: expanded access to all-day kindergarten, increased investment in teacher pay, early childhood education, financial aid, and higher expectations and standards which require more math and science in high school.

Building on these achievements, Napolitano proposed changing testing to match graduation standards “to make sure we’re testing for the right things, at the right times, and for the right reasons.” She renewed last year’s request for lawmakers to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.

“It’s time to end the fiction that a high school diploma is the final goal of education or that a student should be allowed to drop out at the age of sixteen,” she said. “An Arizona diploma should demonstrate that a student is fully prepared for higher education, whether in a technical or vocational setting, a community college, or university.”

Napolitano also called for a Centennial Scholars program, which would guarantee free tuition at any Arizona higher learning institution for any student who stays out of trouble and maintains at least a “B” average during high school. “Rewarding students who are excelling is a good step,” she said, “but we must recognize that higher education is something that all Arizona children will need to succeed. It’s a pathway to prosperity and, in Arizona, it’s also supposed to be affordable.” The governor also proposed to double the number of bachelor’s degrees by 2020 and to create a fixed tuition for four years when a student begins school at an Arizona university.

Reminding her constituents that 15 percent of Arizona’s students come from families who don’t speak English, Napolitano discussed the need to allocate more funding toward helping English language learners. She remarked, “These students must learn to read, write, and speak in English as soon as possible. I put this challenge to the legislative leadership: take our tax dollars out of court and put them back in the classroom, where they belong.” In addition, the governor discussed the need to expand teacher loan forgiveness, scholarships, and incentives, as well as to fund more math and science teachers.

Governor Napolitano’s complete speech is available at
http://www.azgovernor.gov/media/sos_08.asp.

Mississippi: Barbour Plans to “Live Within Our Means” but Continues to Propose New Education Reforms

Saying that education was the “number one economic development issue in [the] state and the number one quality of life issue,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) introduced some new education proposals in his state of the state address on January 21. But he also spoke about the “softening” national economy, troubles in financial markets, and the credit crunch and how it could impact Mississippi’s budget.

Barbour said, “Our duty is to live within our means…to pass an honest balanced budget and particularly this year to protect our strengthening rainy day fund.”

At the same time, Barbour called education his “top priority” and reminded lawmakers of past increases for education, both in K-12 and higher education. “This year our K-12 schools are receiving more than $4.2 billion from state, federal and local sources. . . more than $8,500 for every child attending our public schools compared to $6,800 per child just four years ago,” he said. He also talked about record increases for higher education over the past four years and said he was in favor of “continued, large increases in funding” for higher education. But, both times, Barbour stressed that the current budget environment would not allow for increases in education funding of the same magnitude as in the past.

He did say that his budget would fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan, a program designed to ensure that each school district receives enough money to meet midlevel accreditation standards. First enacted in 1997, the program was fully funded only during 2003 and 2007-both state election years.

Barbour also pledged to continue to support the state superintendent’s proposal to redesign high school to reduce the dropout rate and make high school more rigorous and relevant to kids who might not be thinking about college. He also proposed a salary increase for teachers with more than twenty-five years of experience and called for a new program for beginning teachers.

“For our beginning teachers, we need to give them more support as they learn to manage a classroom full of kids,” he said. “We lose a third of our new teachers within three years. As my Teacher Advisory Council has told me, more young teachers leave teaching because of discipline issues than over teacher pay. Every new teacher in our schools should have an experienced teacher serving as a mentor, and we should pay that mentor an extra $1,000 for this valuable service. It is more than worth it.”

Barbour’s complete speech is available at http://www.governorbarbour.com/speeches/2008SOS.htm.

Missouri: Blunt Focuses on Preparing Students to Compete on a Global Level

In his state of the state address on January 15, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R) identified education as his top budget priority. He recommended boosting funding at all levels of education, including a $121 million increase for elementary and secondary schools. He also proposed allocating $125 million for A+ and Access Missouri Programs.

“The funding recommendations in my budget will provide our schools, teachers, and students with significant resources to be successful now and in the future. Unlike in the past, we will not leave our schools, teachers, or students scraping for leftovers.”

After reflecting upon recent accomplishments, including the expansion of the Advanced Placement (AP) program, Blunt proposed continuing to go forward by appropriating $750,000 to train one thousand new AP teachers and help six thousand students take AP tests and $5 million to create technologically advanced classrooms.

“To ensure that the next generation enjoys even greater prosperity, we must provide our students with a world-class education in these subjects. We want our students to do more than merely keep up with their peers in other states and other countries. We want them to lead the world.”

Blunt also proposed spending $1.1 million for afterschool programs “which help students stay fit, stay safe, and stay out of trouble.”

Governor Blunt’s complete speech is available at http://gov.missouri.gov/State_of_the_State_2008.htm.

Delaware: Minner Seeks to Make College More Affordable

In her state of the state address on January 17, Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner (D) outlined several educational initiatives she wants to accomplish in the coming year. She proposed enacting legislation to create the Student Academic Reward (STAR) scholarship, which would enable high-achieving SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree) graduates to continue on to a four-year, tuition-free bachelor’s degree. Currently, the SEED scholarship program enables students who stay out of trouble and do well in high school to go to college to earn an associate degree at no cost to them.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students and would result in a better educated workforce for our business community,” she said.

As a continued show of support for the efforts of the Vision 2015 group, an education-focused organization of business leaders, educators, and state officials, Minner echoed its recommendation to dedicate $500,000 to continue to invest in early childhood education and $250,000 to make the virtual school a reality.

Minner also noted the state’s many successes in education over the past seven years. Specifically, she highlighted the addition of reading specialists in every elementary school and math specialists in every middle school, higher National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, Delaware’s recognition as one of the top four states progressing toward closing the achievement gap, the formation of the SEED scholarship program, and the implementation of the Delaware Performance Appraisal System in every district by next school year.

Governor Minner’s complete speech is available at
http://governor.delaware.gov/speeches/2008_state_of_the_state.shtml.

Hawaii: Lingle Focuses on STEM Issues

In her state of the state address on January 22, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (D) lauded Hawaii’s accomplishments in education over the past year. She highlighted the statewide program to increase the global education of Hawaii’s teachers, students, and residents, the creation of academies in middle and high schools that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and their statewide involvement in a hands-on robotics program. The governor then recognized students and educators involved in these projects.

“These young people and their adult mentors are an inspiration to me in the fearless way they are embracing their future,” she said. “Their enthusiasm makes me optimistic about our state’s future.”

Turning her focus to higher education, the governor called on the state legislature to pass tax deductions of up to $20,000 a year for parents or other family members saving for a child’s college education. In addition, she proposed the creation of a Commission on Higher Education made up of the presidents of Hawaii’s major universities, members of the community, and business leaders. The role of the commission will be to envision new ways of using federal and state education dollars.

Governor Lingle’s complete speech is available at:
http://hawaii.gov/gov/leg/2008-session/state-of-the-state.

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