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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Outline Plans to Improve Education Equity

“Today’s habitually truant kids are indeed tomorrow’s dropouts. It is our collective problem. And we know who the at-risk kids are; teachers say they can spot them a mile away—detached, behavior issues, lack of interest in school and their peers," said NM Gov. Martinez.

In their annual state of the state addresses that began last month, many governors shared the sentiment that education is the great equalizer. A good education, they say, is the one thing that can pull students out of struggling situations.

Colorado: Gov. Hickenlooper Sets Future Goals for Postsecondary Education Graduates

During his January 15 state of the state speech, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) identified “targeted workforce development” and “a strong education system” as keys to supporting a strong middle class. He noted that the Colorado Commission on Higher Education set a goal of 66 percent of twenty-five- to thirty-five-year-olds holding postsecondary credentials by 2025, and added his own goal of reaching 55 percent by 2020. To help the state meet that goal, Hickenlooper proposed a $480 million increase for K–12 funding and an additional $107 million for higher education.

Hickenlooper said reaching the state’s postsecondary goals means “[confronting] the truth about whether Colorado’s kids are getting the education they need to compete and succeed in the job market.” He favors “easing the testing demands” on high school seniors in social studies and science and “streamlining” tests in early years, but he said maintaining consistent assessments in English and math through high school is “fundamental.”

He said that increasing recruitment and retention for teachers is also key to improving post-secondary numbers in Colorado. Hickenlooper noted that state officials await the final education recommendations from the 1202 Task Force, a group of experts who met in July 2014 to discuss how best to use assessments, especially in high school.

Delaware: Gov. Markell Outlines New Initiative—“Delaware Promise”

In his January 22 state of the state address, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) asked state legislators, schools, colleges, and businesses to commit to his new plan, the “Delaware Promise,” aimed at improving the job market through education initiatives. The plan’s the ultimate goals of having 65 percent of Delaware’s workforce earn a college degree or professional certificate and 100 percent earn a high school diploma. Though Delaware has seen its high school graduation rates increasing in recent years, Markell said the state’s changing economy calls for an expansion of the workforce and restructuring of skilled training.

“Today’s jobs do not look like those of decades past,” Markell said. “Few high school graduates can count on a good-paying factory job or a stable career with benefits and a comfortable pension. Manufacturing jobs created today—building fuel cells, airplane parts, and other high-tech products—require a much higher skill level than the jobs of generations past.”

Markell’s Delaware Promise includes three components. First, the state will introduce a Pathways to Prosperity initiative establishing partnerships between employers, colleges and universities, and K–12 schools that will provide high school students with “hundreds of hours of specialized instruction and hands-on training” and allow students to graduate with industry-recognized certificates and college credits. Markell plans to launch pathways for information technology (IT) and hospitality industries this fall and expand into financial services and healthcare the following year.

Next, Markell proposed a partnership with Delaware Technical Community College and McKinsey, a consulting firm, to accelerate the training of entry-level health-care workers that will have them ready for the field in months instead of years.

Lastly, the Delaware Promise will create education programs and a coding school starting this fall to give eight major IT employers in the state the chance to properly train people in the field at an accelerated rate.

“We know that the education we received years ago will not be enough to prepare students to thrive in our new economy,” Markell said. “So we’re making investments and improvements across our education system.”

New Mexico: Gov. Martinez Aims to Prevent Truancy, Prevent Dropouts

Calling truancy a “cancer” in the state’s schools, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) used her January 20 state of the state address to outline several proposals to keep students in school and engaged.

“If education is the key to a brighter future for our children, then we must have the courage to demand that our kids are in their seats and learning,” Martinez said. “Today’s habitually truant kids are indeed tomorrow’s dropouts. It is our collective problem. And we know who the at-risk kids are; teachers say they can spot them a mile away—detached, behavior issues, lack of interest in school and their peers.”

A prosecutor for twenty-five years, Martinez brings to the table a wealth of personal experience on the issue. Among the ideas she offered were putting social workers on middle school campuses and hiring dropout prevention coaches for high schools whose “sole purpose” is to make sure that students receive a diploma. She also called for legislation preventing habitually truant students to obtain or keep a driver’s license.

At the same time, Martinez sought to target problems in the earlier grades, such as poor reading skills and social promotion, that she said lead to truancy. “How did many troubled students end up that way—uninterested in school, dropping out, perhaps engaging in criminal activity, achieving far lower than their potential?” she asked. “When children cannot read, and yet they are passed along anyway, we do them no favors. We discourage them. We frustrate them. We hurt their chances for success in life. We hamper their ability to get a good job.”

Martinez noted that the state had doubled pre-K funding since she became governor and said she would propose more funding in 2015. She also mentioned the state’s K–3 Plus program, which provides at least twenty-five additional instructional days before the school year, begins for disadvantaged students in kindergarten through third grade.

“I firmly believe that education is the road that will lead out of poverty for each New Mexico child, for each struggling family, and for our state as a whole,” Martinez said. “Why do I believe that? Because education is what plants the seeds of wonder, of curiosity, of excitement in a child; points them to opportunities and goals, inspires dreams about careers, and about better days; gives them hope that today’s circumstances do not have to be tomorrow’s circumstances.”

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.