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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Focus on Digital Learning, College Completion, and Reducing High School Dropout Rates

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“Our very economic stability as a state is threatened if our education system is not improved,” Bryant said. “We must make reforms now so that our citizens can be productive contributors to our communities and less reliant on social welfare programs … the path to Mississippi’s economic success must pass through the school house door.”

Maryland: O’Malley Pushes for Digital Learning

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) focused on three major changes to education in his January 30 state of the state address: (1) transitioning to twenty-first-century digital learning tools; (2) expanding career and technical education in high schools; and (3) making college more affordable and accessible to all students.

Believing an investment in digital learning will improve public education in the state and bring it up to date, O’Malley proposed new investments in technology to accelerate the state’s transition to digital learning, including iPads, laptops, and Smart Boards.

O’Malley praised Prince George’s Community College for partnering with the county’s public schools to permit motivated high school students to work toward two-year associate’s degrees while obtaining their high school diplomas. He wants to make this sort of early access to affordable college a reality for more families and asked the legislature to vote for an innovation fund that would allow him to do so.

For students who plan to enter college after high school, O’Malley laid out four steps to hold down the cost of tuition and focus on degree completion: (1) redesign college curricula and add courses that will help students complete their programs; (2) move toward a system of competency, rather than number of hours a student spends in class; (3) rework financial aid so more students can afford to take a full course load; and (4) offer more online opportunities for college credit.

Mississippi: Bryant Aims to Reduce High School Dropout Rate

The way to lower high school dropout rates, according to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R), is to improve early childhood education. In his January 22 state of the state address, he issued a set of policies to improve the state’s schools, including ensuring that students do not advance from third grade until they can read and funding an additional $15 million in literacy improvement efforts. Bryant also proposed an additional $3 million to continue the literacy research that the organization Building Blocks is conducting to make sure children begin school ready to learn.

Bryant praised Jobs for Mississippi Graduates, which provides dropout prevention services and school-to-work transition for at-risk and disadvantaged youth, saying he wants to see it and programs like it expanded. In addition, he proposed funding national certificates for high school students enrolled in workforce training, and he continues to support Teach for America and the Mississippi Teacher Corps.

“Our very economic stability as a state is threatened if our education system is not improved,” Bryant said. “We must make reforms now so that our citizens can be productive contributors to our communities and less reliant on social welfare programs … the path to Mississippi’s economic success must pass through the school house door.”

Missouri: Nixon Proposes $150 Million Funding Boost for Education

In his January 28 state of the state address, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) announced plans to increase education funding by $150 million, including $17 million for early childhood education, $100 million toward K–12 classrooms, and $34 million for higher education. He expects the additional resources to contribute to better test scores, higher graduation rates, more college degrees, and more competitive Missourians.

With the extra money devoted to early childhood education, Nixon plans to double funding for the Missouri Preschool Program and put more money into programs like Head Start. All students, he believes, should be prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten.

For K–12 classrooms, the extra $100 million will go toward training more teachers, modernizing equipment, and lengthening the school year by six days, a move Nixon said would give teachers more time to work with their students and students more time to learn.

The additional $34 million allocated for higher education funding is tied to specific performance goals like increased student retention, higher program completion rates, and improved learning, along with increased accountability for higher education institutions in the state. Additionally, Nixon wants to help students who started college, but never finished, obtain their certificates and diplomas online. The state will begin enrolling those students at Western Governors University—a nonprofit institution that offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four areas.

“The dream of a college education should be within reach for all Missouri families,” Nixon said. “Because education is the best economic development tool there is.”

Tennessee: Haslam Announces “Drive to 55”; Sets Goal for 55 Percent of Tennesseans to Earn Associate’s Degree or Higher by 2025

“Education is another example of how in Tennessee we’re distinguishing ourselves as different from the rest of the country,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) said in his January 28 state of the state address. “This administration is absolutely committed to public education and understands that the large majority of our students attend public schools and always will.”

Haslam’s commitment to public education starts with technology. He announced an investment of $51 million to assist schools across the state in obtaining technology upgrades. Other investments include $34 million for increased safety measures, $35 million for teachers’ salaries, and $22 million for a new high school for the Tennessee School for the Deaf.

He acknowledged that money alone will not solve the state’s education problems and raise standards, and said he is pursuing a strategic plan to pursue reform that produces results. As part of this reform plan, he proposed an additional $9 million for schools in the bottom 5 percent of the state, making their total funding $47 million.

In higher education, the governor announced a pledge made with the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee system to limit tuition increases to no more than 6 percent at four-year schools and 3 percent at two-year schools. His goal is for 55 percent of Tennesseans to earn an associate’s degree or higher by 2025, dubbed “Drive to 55.” To reach that goal, he aims to improve affordability and access to higher education.

Haslam’s goal of creating a more competitive Tennessee extends to technical education, as well. He announced that the state is funding a new technical education complex tied to advanced manufacturing skills.

West Virginia: Tomblin Praises Alliance for Excellent Education’s “Project 24” Initiative

“Education in West Virginia must change,” West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) said in his February 13 state of the state address. “And that change begins now.”

Tomblin said change must begin with the youngest children and outlined a plan to ensure that every child is reading at grade level by the end of third grade. “If a child cannot read at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade, bad things happen,” he said. “They will remain poor readers in high school, and they will be more likely to become high school dropouts.” To help meet this goal, Tomblin said the state would work to ensure that every new elementary teacher is specially trained in reading.

At the middle school level, Tomblin wants the state to incorporate more workforce education. This would continue into high school in the form of vocational training for students who do not plan to attend college. He proposed that every student have access to counseling from the community and technical college staff to ensure that they are learning the skills they need to find employment after high school.

Tomblin also focused on guaranteeing that every student is taught by a great teacher. He announced that the state will begin paying for teachers to seek their ten-year recertification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In addition, he emphasized that quality professional development must be continually provided to all teachers across the state.

The governor ended his remarks on education by focusing on the importance of technology and digital learning in the classroom. He encouraged West Virginia to join the Alliance for Excellent Education’s “Project 24,” a ground-breaking initiative to help school districts implement a plan around digital learning and technology over the next twenty-four months.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.