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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Focus on Education Reform as Key to Improving Economic Futures for Individuals and State Economies

“While lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary regulations are critical, the bedrock of any sound, sustainable economy is an educated workforce well equipped to meet the challenges of an advanced global marketplace.”

The start of a new year means governors around the country are delivering state of the state addresses, during which they report on the condition of their state, preview budget plans, and outline legislative agendas. According to a recent report from the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers, states’ fiscal situations have rebounded from the depths of the recent recession, but state revenues and spending figures remain below their prerecession levels.

With revenues finally starting to improve, governors seem willing to increase spending in areas such as education that they believe are most crucial to their states’ economic future. Repeatedly, governors across the nation used their state of the state addresses to stress the link between a quality education and an individual’s future job prospects.

Florida: An educated workforce is the “bedrock of any sound, sustainable economy”

During his state of the state address on January 10, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) urged state lawmakers to boost spending on education, stressing that one of his most important roles as governor is to secure the right of every Floridian to a quality education. “While lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary regulations are critical, the bedrock of any sound, sustainable economy is an educated workforce well equipped to meet the challenges of an advanced global marketplace,” Scott said.

Scott, a Republican in his first term, recommended increasing spending on education by $1 billion annually, a plan that, according toEducation Week, would boost per-student funding by about 2 percent, to $6,372. The governor called this request “the single most important decision we can make today for Florida’s future.”

According to an article in the Miami Herald, Scott’s proposal received a positive response in the state legislature, where Senate education leaders hoped to add to Scott’s request.

“I hope that we can meet him and actually raise him,” said Senator David Simmons (R) who chairs the Senate subcommittee on PreK-12 education appropriations. “I hope that we will be able to add $300 million to that.”

At the same time, however, school district officials and union leaders say the request will not make up for deep cuts to the education budget in past years, including a $1.35 billion cut to the education budget last year, the article reports. Since 2007, the state’s education budget has fallen from almost $19 billion in 2007 to $16.6 billion in 2011.

“This proposal puts a small bandage on the gashes inflicted with last year’s budget,” said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford. “We need to do better.”

To support his call for increased funding, the governor referenced a first-year teacher who serves students in a small farming community where students’ limited resources do not inhibit their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, or business owners.

“I heard one thing very clearly, over and over,” said Scott. “Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity for our state.”

Georgia: Preparing students for the future by starting early

On January 10, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) used his state of the state address to implore the state to “provide great schools that will cultivate the minds of our young people.” One of his goals, as expressed during the state of the state speech, is to educate students better at an early age in order to ensure that they are ready for postsecondary studies or a job. Deal aims to achieve these initiatives throughout the new fiscal year by providing additional teaching jobs and additional funding for teaching salaries.

Deal called for amendments in the previous fiscal year budget and a 2013 budget that would take advantage of a stabilization in revenues to appropriate an additional $146.6 million to fully fund enrollment growth in K–12 schools. Additionally, his budget proposes an additional $55.8 million to fund salary increases for Georgia teachers based on training and experience.

Deal also stressed the importance of literacy among the state’s youngest learners, noting that children who are not reading at grade level by third grade are “more likely to drop out of school, go to prison, and have higher unemployment rates later in life than their reading-proficient peers.” Therefore, Deal aims to invest more funding in early childhood education programs so that more students are learning at a proficient level by third grade. The governor noted that these investments are critical to ensure students are progressing from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” To support this initiative, the budget includes $1.6 million for a reading mentors program.

Deal told attendees that he believes students graduating from Georgia high schools should be fully ready for postsecondary studies or a job and that amendments to the budget along with additional educational investments should be a part of the tools to get them there.

“Young men and women who have done everything asked of them by our K–12 system should be fully ready for postsecondary study or a job,” Deal said. “Going forward, we will reclaim that mission by ensuring that there is a more seamless transition from high school to further study and from postsecondary study to the workforce. With our young people facing a difficult job market and stiff global competition for good jobs, we must do everything in our power to ensure that our education system provides graduates with real opportunity.”

Idaho: “Students Come First”

During his January 9 state of the state addressIdaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) declared that education is one of his top priorities for the fiscal year and pledged to increase funding for K–12 education by $31.6 million.

Otter said he intends to fund a slate of education reforms known as “Students Come First” that he first signed into law in 2011. Included within the list of reforms is requiring students to take online courses, expanding technology in schools throughout the state, and placing restrictions on collective bargaining. The initiative would also provide laptops for each student in the classroom and pay teachers based on merit.

The governor also asked state lawmakers to support his bid to replenish a reserve account for public education with $29 million that the state had mostly depleted in recent years because of the recession.

While encouraging state lawmakers to make increased education spending a priority, Otter stressed that “when it comes to education, we cannot rely on the policies of the past to prepare our children for the possibilities of the future.”

Iowa: Sticking to the core, building a well-rounded student

In his state of the state address on January 10, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) introduced an educational reform blueprint that was based on conclusions from an education summit for some of the state’s top educators and a road trip full of education town hall meetings to get feedback from teachers, administrators, and parents.

Branstad assured listeners that the Iowa Department of Education would continue to improve state standards in math, science, English, and social studies while working with educators to develop new standards for music, fine arts, character education, physical education, entrepreneurship education, applied arts, and foreign languages.

Branstad spoke extensively on the importance of literacy and providing the resources necessary to ensure that all Iowan children can read at or above grade level by the third grade, and the danger of promoting children to the next grade when those basic skills have yet to be achieved.

He also spoke on the need for increased spending and investment in education through innovation and better preparing students for the workforce.

“Our children’s future depends on whether they learn the knowledge and life skills needed to succeed in a global economy and be well-informed, good citizens for the twenty-first century.” Branstad said. “Our state’s future depends on whether the quality of our schools matches the best-performing schools anywhere in the world.”

Kentucky: Ensuring a “work-ready community”

In his January 4 state of the state address, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) outlined one of the most austere state budgets in the state’s recent history, which proposes 8.4 percent in spending cuts for many agencies and limits money for new construction projects. However, the second-term Democrat announced that funding for K–12 and preschool programs would be relatively exempt.

Beshear’s address focused on ensuring a “work-ready community” by improving workforce training. Specifically, he discussed making the state’s career and technical education courses more rigorous in order to integrate them more fully into the secondary education system. Additionally, he said the state had adopted a dual-credit agreement that would allow students in high school to earn college credit for approved courses, including those in career and technical education. Beshear said this change would “speed a student’s path to a certificate or degree, reduce his or her costs, and keep them in school by tying class work directly to their future careers.”

Beshear also called on the state legislature to pass a bill that would raise the mandatory school age from sixteen to eighteen to keep students in school longer. “In Kentucky alone, 6,000 students drop out before their eighteenth birthday every year,” he said. “As a direct result, they are more likely to be unemployed, to earn significantly less money when they do find work, and to find themselves on welfare or in prison. By letting them jeopardize their future, we are failing our youth and we are costing Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars.”

South Dakota: Investing in Teachers initiative

In his state of the state speech on January 10, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) unveiled the state’s Investing in Teachers initiative. This program would give bonuses to all of the state’s science and mathematics teachers, as well as the top 20 percent of all teachers in each school district, which would be determined by a combination of test-score growth, classroom observation, and local school input.

“South Dakota wins when our students are prepared to compete in a modern, high-tech economy,” Daugaard said. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math in this modern economy. Nearly every high-need career field relies on a strong foundation in these areas.”

According to the governor, the initiative would be a three-year plan beginning with an $8 million investment for training to lay the groundwork for the system during Fiscal Year 2013. Then, beginning the next year, $5 million would be applied toward ongoing funds for bonuses of $3,500 a year for math and science teachers. Lastly, $10 million would be allocated for ongoing funds the following year for $5,000 performance-based bonuses. Overall, Daugaard’s budget would increase state aid for education to almost $370 million, which is a funding increase of $40 million, or 11.9 percent.

Daugaard hopes the plan allows the state to recruit better teachers while also increasing declining scores on assessment tests. “Our schools do well, and our test scores are good, but they have flatlined,” he said. “Our ACT scores, our NAEP scores, and our graduation rates are above the national average, but they have been relatively unchanged for years.”

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