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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Continue to Focus on Budget Deficits

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“Where we fall to the bottom is in our inability to graduate those students, to get degrees in their hands, and put them on stronger footing to begin their careers.”

With forty-six states facing budget shortfalls, governors and state legislators around the country are rolling up their sleeves and crunching numbers to cut spending and find additional sources of revenue. Because education spending accounts for such a large percentage of most state budgets, it provides a big target for governors who are looking to reduce spending. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least twenty-five states are cutting, or proposing to cut, K–12 and early education while at least thirty states already have made cuts or are planning cuts to public colleges and universities. But in some cases, governors—emphasizing the clear link between education and the state’s economic future—are choosing to preserve or even boost education spending.

Arkansas: Beebe Proposes Funding Boost for Education, Freeze for Everything Else

In his state of the state address on January 13, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) said that economic development and education were “intertwined and inseparable,” adding, “One cannot fully succeed without the other.” To demonstrate his commitment to public education, which he called his “first…and highest priority,” Beebe proposed a $234 increase in per-student funding over the next two years and an additional one-time increase of $35 per student in his state of the state address on January 13. Other than the Division of Children and Family Services, public education was the only item in his budget to receive a real increase in funding.

Beebe commended the decision to provide quality pre-kindergarten education to all at-risk children, saying that it would “pay dividends for decades to come” and have a “positive ripple effect throughout our education system as a whole and the academic life of any single student. It creates a richer learning environment that better prepares our children to succeed throughout elementary and secondary grades, reducing the need for remediation, and allowing entire classes to learn at a faster pace.”

Turning his attention to higher education, the governor said that the state needs to do a better job of graduating its students from college. “Arkansas holds its own nationally when it comes to enrolling college students,” he said. “Where we fall to the bottom is in our inability to graduate those students, to get degrees in their hands, and put them on stronger footing to begin their careers.”

Beebe blamed poor preparation prior to entering college and a lack of funding as the two primary reasons that students do not earn their degrees. “We’re addressing preparation through increased overall funding, through pre-K … and stronger college prep programs, and now through pilot programs for afterschool and summer learning,” he said.

To help students pay for a college education, Beebe proposed expanding the state’s GO Opportunities Grant, a need-based financial aid program, to reach more students and provide greater financial assistance and simplifying paperwork that students must fill out in order to be eligible to receive scholarships and other financial aid. Beebe also suggested reworking the higher-education funding formula to “stress graduation rates, rather than the number of students who happen to be on campus.” He added that shifting some of the formula’s weight from the beginning of the school term to its successful conclusion would provide a financial incentive for colleges and universities to increase the number of students who earn a college degree. “I want every Arkansan who has earned it and wants to go, to have the chance to get a college degree. That’s what Arkansas is all about, that’s what America is all about,” he said.

Governor Beebe’s complete speech is available at http://tinyurl.com/dj9p2w.

California: Schwarzenegger’s Sole Focus is Closing the State’s $42 Billion Budget Gap

Facing a budget shortfall of $42 billion, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) did not give a traditional state of the state address on January 15. Instead of a laundry list of accomplishments and proposals, he urged the legislature to continue its work on a budget deal.

“I will not give the traditional state of the state address today, because the reality is that our state is incapacitated until we resolve the budget crisis,” he said. “The truth is that California is in a state of emergency. Addressing this emergency is the first and greatest thing we must do for the people. The 42 billion dollar deficit is a rock upon our chest and we cannot breathe until we get it off. It doesn’t make any sense to talk about education, infrastructure, water, health care reform and all these things when we have this huge budget deficit. I will talk about my vision for all of these things…and more…as soon as we get the budget done.”

Schwarzenegger promised to send the legislature package of legislative goals and proposals, which he said were “sitting on [his] desk,” when a budget agreement is reached. “Let me tell you, I have big plans,” he said. “They include action on the economy, on water, environment, education, health care reform, government efficiency and reform, job creation. But, our first order of business is to solve the budget crisis.”

During budget negotiations, Democrats have been pushing Republicans to accept tax increases to prevent cuts to education and social service programs, while Republicans have been resistant to raising taxes. Schwarzenegger has offered a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, but has yet to agree on a compromise with the legislature. The state said that it would run out of cash on February 1, but that date has come and gone without a deal.

Already, California State Controller John Chiang has stopped writing checks and is only making payments that are required by the state constitution, federal law, or court rulings. The federal government has stepped in to temporarily cover some of these payments, such as Supplemental Security Income checks for seniors and the disabled. Additionally, California’s public universities are moving thousands of applicants into community colleges to help balance budgets, but the move is likely to worsen problems for the state’s community colleges.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s complete speech is available at http://gov.ca.gov/speech/11390/.

Georgia: Perdue Proposes Merit Pay for Teachers and Principals

In his state of the state address on January 14, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) called for paying teachers more for what they do inside of the classroom. First, he proposed merit pay legislation that would reward teachers who “show evidence that their classroom instruction leads to increased student achievement,” adding that the current compensation model “fails to reward excellence.”

Perdue also proposed differentiated pay for math and science teachers. “It astonishes me that this state produced just three physics teachers last year,” he said. “We must introduce a market dynamic into the salary schedule to address these critical needs areas. Some may be surprised to hear these ambitious plans in these times, but, this more than any other period, is a time to continue improving education and the basic institutions of government.”

The governor also called for a high school principal incentive pay program for principals who increase student achievement. Specifically, he would reward principals who raise graduation rates and improve SAT and end-of-course test scores.

Governor Perdue’s complete speech is available at http://tinyurl.com/ctf2dd.

Indiana: Daniels Proposes Freeze in Education Spending

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) used his state of the state address on January 13 to lay out a few maximums for developing a budget for the next two years. “First, no tax increases,” he said. “A state striving for economic greatness should constantly be looking for ways to reduce its burden on workers and enterprise.” Daniels also called on the state to preserve and safeguard its reserve funds and reject any budget gimmicks.

Turning to education, which he said was one area of “special care,” Daniels praised Indiana taxpayers for their commitment to schools. “The commitment of Indiana taxpayers to our schools is virtually unsurpassed,” he said. “We now spend $11,000 per student, and as a share of Hoosier incomes, we dig deeper than the taxpayers of every state but four. As we meet tonight, states all over America are slashing education spending: by $2 billion in New York, $2.3 billion in Florida, $2.5 billion in California so far. Virginia last week cut per pupil spending by seven percent. In this environment, protecting education funding at this year’s levels would be a significant victory and we should aim for it.”

To maintain education spending at last year’s level, Daniels said he would have to postpone two of his campaign proposals—state funding of full-day kindergarten and guaranteed college tuition. “A time of fiscal austerity regrettably will require each of us to forgo for now priorities about which we feel strongly,” Daniels said.

Indiana Democrats have said that freezing education funding would actually be a cut due to higher costs for items such as teacher pay raises and higher utility costs. Instead, they have suggested tapping the state’s budget surplus, which is projected to be $1.3 billion at the July, to increase funding for education and projects that could create jobs.

Governor Daniels complete speech is available at http://www.in.gov/portal/news_events/34390.htm.

Minnesota: Pawlenty Cuts Elsewhere to Boost K-12 Funding

Like many other governors across the nation, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) faced difficult decisions on how to close his state’s budget deficit. But, in the face the approximately $5 billion budget shortfall, Pawlenty proposed a 2 percent increase in funding for K–12 education and offered a series of education reforms that would affect education at every level.

“One of our highest priorities must also be to continue to dramatically reform and improve our K–12 education system,” Pawlenty said in his state of the state address on January 15. “The quality of life for most Minnesotans depends on their ability to have a good job. Those jobs now and in the future will require our citizens to have a great education and a marketable skill.”

Pointing to past reforms such as higher academic standards and graduation requirements, pay-for-performance for teachers, better training for science and math teachers, and greater access to college credit classes for high school students, Pawlenty said that Minnesota’s students are at or near the top of the country in many education measures, including ACT scores and science and math achievement. However, he cautioned that more work needs to be done. “Our K–12 system is not ready for the future. The success of that system is mission critical to the future success of our state.”

In addition, because teachers play such a crucial role in student success—second only to parents according to Pawlenty—a large part of the governor’s proposed reforms focused on teachers. To help ensure that the best and the brightest become teachers, Pawlenty proposed minimum entrance requirements for teacher preparation programs. “We have minimum requirements for pharmacists, dentists, engineers, and just about every other profession,” he said. “We should have minimum entrance standards for people who do our most important job: educating our children.”

To guarantee that the best teachers are rewarded for their efforts, Pawlenty called for an expansion of the state’s Q Comp program, which provides school districts with additional funding if they pay teachers for improvements in student learning. He also proposed increasing school district funding by up to 2 percent per student for students meeting standards or showing reasonable progress, and called on Minnesota’s 490 school districts and charter schools to come together for bulk purchasing to lower costs.

But, because of the looming budget deficit, not every part of education avoided a funding cut. Under Pawlenty’s budget proposal, higher education spending would be cut by approximately 8.2 percent. At the same time, Pawlenty called for a firm cap on tuition increases and challenged Minnesota’s colleges and universities to deliver 25 percent of their courses online by 2015.

In addition to the cut to higher education spending, Pawlenty called for cuts in aid to cities and counties and health and welfare programs to help close the budget shortfall. He also proposed a two-year freeze on the salaries of all state employees and a similar cap on raises for all government agencies that receive state funding.

Governor Pawlenty’s complete speech is available at http://tinyurl.com/8o8eb7.

Mississippi: Constitutional Mandates Force Education Cuts

In his state of the state address on January 13, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) explained that the continued decline in Mississippi’s economy, combined with a provision in the state constitution, would force him to make cuts to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), which finances K–12 education. In the last round of budget cuts, made in November, Barbour made $42 million in cuts, but held MAEP harmless from these cuts.

“The law says I can cut any department or agency by five percent of its appropriation; however, I cannot cut any department or agency by more than five percent until every department and agency has been cut five percent,” Barbour said. “The effect of this law is that I can no longer exempt the Mississippi Adequate Education Program from cuts, as I did in the November round.”

But Barbour also informed the state legislature that they did not face the same restrictions in crafting the Fiscal Year 2010 budget as he did in balancing the current budget. “You don’t need me to tell you education has to be the highest priority,” he said, adding, “Education is the number one economic development and quality of life issue in our state and every state.”

Barbour urged the legislature to focus on a program to redesign high schools and reduce the state’s dropout rate. “The ‘redesign’ program, if it succeeds in keeping kids from dropping out of high school, will save tens of thousands of young Mississippians and lead them to be productive citizens,” he said.

Governor Barbour’s complete speech is available at http://tinyurl.com/cg8caq.

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