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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Focus on Reducing Dropout Rates, Increasing College Access

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"We want all our students to have a great start in school, because we want them to have great opportunities in life."

In their state of the state addresses, governors from around the country continued to stress the importance of providing students with a strong education. They examined ways to strengthen their states’ education systems from kindergarten through college, focusing specifically on improving teacher quality, reducing dropout rates, and increasing access to college.

Michigan: Granholm Sets Goal of Doubling the State’s College Graduates

In her state of the state address on January 29, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) proposed legislation to address the continuum of needs in the pre-K-20 system in order to reach the state’s goal of doubling the number of college graduates in Michigan. She remarked, “To reach that goal, we’ll make progress throughout our education system, from preschool to grad school to on-the-job training.”

Granholm announced that her budget would significantly expand early childhood education and called on all school districts to begin offering full-day kindergarten. “This simple step will make a dramatic difference in the lives of our children,” she stated. “We want all our students to have a great start in school, because we want them to have great opportunities in life.”

Turning her attention to the end of the K-12 pipeline, Granholm said that Michigan’s high school dropout rates were unacceptable and urged the state legislature to raise the dropout age to eighteen. She also proposed creating a Twenty-first Century Schools Fund that would replace large failing high schools with smaller early college high schools that would provide students with the skills they need to succeed in college and the work place..

“Free from red tape and bureaucracy, these schools will deploy the new three Rs-rigor, relevance, and relationships-to keep students in high school and then get them to college or technical training,” said Granholm.

Continuing her focus on postsecondary education, Granholm remarked upon the successes of the Kalamazoo Promise, a program that provides each Kalamazoo Public Schools graduate with the opportunity to attend postsecondary education with up to a 100 percent tuition scholarship. She also committed to signing legislation that would expand the program to communities across the state. Finally, Granholm proposed rewarding colleges and universities when their graduates start businesses that provide opportunities for low-income students. “We will invest more in higher education,” she stated, “and we will expect more in return.”

Governor Granholm’s complete speech is available at
http://www.michigan.gov/gov/0,1607,7-168-23442_21981-184537–,00.html.

Wisconsin: Doyle Focuses on Teacher Pay

Saying that Wisconsin’s teacher compensation system is “broken” and “a relic from a political fight a half a generation ago,” Wisconsin Governor James Doyle Jr. (D), in his state of the state address on January 23, announced a new plan to increase teacher pay. He said that his budget would invest in a compensation system that rewards teachers who take on the hardest assignments, advance their skills, and help their students succeed. He expressed particular concern over the fact that one third of the state’s teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.

“Everyday we depend on our teachers to enrich young minds and build a brighter future for Wisconsin,” he said. “But today, teachers in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, [and] Iowa all make more than Wisconsin teachers. In fact starting teachers in forty-eight other states make more than Wisconsin teachers. We need high standards for our students and our teachers, but we have a compensation system that rewards neither.”

Other education proposals included a plan to require high school students to take a third year of math and a third year of science before they could graduate. Such a plan, he said, would help to ensure that students are college- and work-ready.

Governor Doyle’s complete speech is available at
http://www.wisgov.state.wi.us/journal_media_detail.asp?locid=19&prid=3122.

Oklahoma: Henry Proposes Graduation Coaches to Decrease Dropout Rates

In his state of the state address on February 4, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D) proposed a new program that would put “graduation coaches” into Oklahoma schools. The program, modeled after a similar system in Georgia, would link mentors with at-risk students to keep them focused on academics and help them deal with issues outside of school that could be a barrier to graduation.

“In the last several years, we have done a better job providing new resources to education, while at the same time increasing academic rigor and accountability,” Henry said in a statement prior to his state of the state address, “but those efforts are of little use to students who don’t stay in school. More than ever before, a high school diploma is needed for success in the workplace, yet too many of our young people are entering the world without the education so vital to their success. With this program in a place, a graduation coach will be there to help students through difficult times and see them on to graduation.”

Like his counterpart in Wisconsin, Henry also expressed concern over losing teachers to neighboring states and reminded lawmakers of the state’s five-year plan to raise teacher pay to match the regional average. “Few professions are more critical in shaping future generations, and we are fortunate to have many of the finest educators in the nation,” he said. “It’s no wonder, then, that Texas and other states have long recruited many of our best educators.” Noting that the state is in the final year of its five-year plan, Henry encouraged state lawmakers to keep the promise to teachers and provide the final $1,200 boost that would bring Oklahoma teacher salaries in line with the regional average.

Governor Henry’s complete speech is available at
http://www.governor.state.ok.us/stateofthestate2008.php.

Utah: Huntsman Proposes Year-Round Contracts for Math and Science Teachers

Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (R) also focused on the importance of teachers in his state of the state speech on January 23. He noted that his state had four hundred teacher vacancies, double the previous year’s shortfall.

“This trend is increasingly corrosive,” he said. “It is time we put educators back on a pedestal. To do this we must improve two things: compensation and capacity.”

Huntsman proposed increasing the number of graduating teachers from 2,300 to 3,300 by 2011. In addition, he proposed year-round contracts for math and science teachers, which would provide opportunities for students to remediate or accelerate in their studies during the summer months.

“It is amazing to me that, in this age of innovation and education, we have students, buildings and teachers sitting idle for three months every year,” he said. “Based on any business model, this would be unacceptable. … The global economy doesn’t take summers off, neither should we.”

In an effort to give principals what he called “greater accountability and responsibility” to manage their schools, Huntsman proposed giving principals the ability to reward good teachers and to fire bad ones.

Governor Huntsman’s speech is available at http://www.utah.gov/governor/news/2008/news_01_22_08.html.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.