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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Push for Education Improvements to Create a More Prepared Workforce

The new year marked the beginning of state of the state addresses by governors across the country. Education issues were woven into the speeches, earning great attention in some and brief mentions in others. A common theme throughout was the increasing demand for individuals who are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed beyond the K–12 and higher education environment. Governors called for more career and technical training to close the skills gap and create a workforce that is prepared for the demands of today’s economy.

Iowa: Gov. Branstad Calls for 70 Percent of State’s Workforce to Have Education and Training Beyond High School

During his January 12 state of the state address, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) shared his vision of making sure Iowans are ready for the future and set a goal that 70 percent of the state’s workforce have education and training beyond high school by the year 2025. This initiative, which Branstad calls “Future Ready Iowa,” is an attempt to close the skills gap and align education with available jobs and future economic developments. To reach this goal, Branstad called for more effective career guidance in Iowa’s K–12 public education system.

“This is about teachers, counselors, and other school leaders infusing career information and career-related skills into local curriculum,” said Branstad. “It is about employers leading conversations in every community in the state to advance productive partnerships with educators. It is about the business and non-profit communities better articulating key needs for Iowa’s educators.”

Branstad also addressed the state’s growing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, which engage more than 100,000 students. To expand these efforts, Branstad introduced a proposal to require high schools to offer at least one computer science course by School Year 2018–19, and to give middle school students the chance to take a class on coding.

Virginia: Gov. McAuliffe Seeks to Modernize High Schools

In his January 13 state of the state address, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) discussed his goal of transforming public high school education to get students ready for college and a career.

“If we are going to prepare students for the jobs of today and create the jobs of tomorrow, we must fundamentally change the way we think about education,” implored McAuliffe, “You cannot build an economy for 2050 with a 1950s approach to education.” To modernize Virginia’s high schools, McAuliffe announced a focus on hands-on learning, internships, early college courses and industry credentials, and a cyber education.

“For those of us old enough to remember the movie The Graduate, the key word then was ‘plastics.’ Today, it’s ‘cyber,’” McAuliffe said. In response to this cyber-era, McAuliffe discussed a new school that teaches students to code and offers an accelerated degree track while simultaneously giving students career-experience in computer science jobs. “Virginia’s students hold the key to innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth—what we put into our schools today will be what we get out of our economy 10, 20, and 50 years from now.”

Georgia: Gov. Deal Focuses on Dropout Prevention

During his state of the state address on January 13, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) remarked on the increase in the high school graduation rate in the state, praising the progress made—an increase of 11 percentage points over the past five years—but urged that this success is not enough. Deal noted that 96,660 students have dropped out since 2011 and, in line with his speech theme of the state as a ship, declared that the dropout situation “is a wind that is blowing in the wrong direction, and we must continue to trim our sails to bring that dropout number down.”

Deal discussed several programs to prepare more students for college and a career, including grants to attend technical colleges and programs to allow high school students to attend postsecondary institutions at no cost. To further close the skills gap and create more early-learners in a high-demand field, Deal proposed having computer science classes count as core courses in high schools and toward college admission.

“The education of Georgia’s children is too important to be held hostage to a status quo that may feel comfortable to certain adults but is a disservice to our students,” he said. “The method whereby we educate our children must be as modern and adaptive to the changes in the world as our cell phones, our computers, our televisions and our automobiles. If it is not, our children will stumble and fall when they step onto the escalator of life outside the schoolhouse door.”

Idaho: Gov. Otter Outlines Several Education Priorities, Proposes 7.9 Percent Increase in Education Funding

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) used his January 11 state of the state address to highlight several education priorities, all focused around promoting and improving the system of free public education in Idaho. Otter discussed increasing reading proficiency and combatting early reading challenges as critical efforts for long-term improvement in school outcomes. He announced a focus on teacher retention, professional development, and a desire to move teachers up the career ladder.

As for technology in the classroom, Otter recommended investment in both devices and teacher training, noting that technology is a necessary factor for success in twenty-first-century classrooms, when it is “properly applied.” Otter shared his vision to move toward a “mastery-based” education system, where teachers provide individualized learning measured by mastery of subject matter, instead of by classroom “seat time.”

A key area of focus for Otter is the connections built between K–12 education and a career. To ensure that students are ready for college and a career, which Otter noted is “as critical to employers as it is to Idaho’s young people,” he called for “higher standards, more individualized learning, more dual-credit offerings professional-technical options.”

Among these efforts were increased support for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, more college and career counseling in high schools, funding to address training backlogs in industries offering high-wage jobs to graduates, tuition lock for Idaho’s colleges and universities, and a new “Completion Scholarship” to motivate adults to return to the classroom and finish their postsecondary education.

Otter has his sights set on a goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Idaho’s citizens between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four have a college degree or professional-technical certification by the year 2020. “I just can’t emphasize enough how important improving our K-through-career education system is to providing the tens of thousands of skilled workers we need to meet the increasingly technical demands of Idaho employers. This truly is an investment in the future of all our citizens.”

To fund these efforts, Otter proposed a 7.9 percent increase in education funding, the second year in a row that Otter has proposed “steep hikes in education spending,” according to the Associated Press.

Vermont: Gov. Shumlin Focuses on Sending More Students to College

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who was the first to give a 2016 state of the state addresses with his January 7 speech, focused on ensuring students are trained and educated to succeed after high school and remarked that employers throughout Vermont say the biggest challenge they face is finding skilled workers to help them grow.

“[Vermont employers] know that our success in moving more low-income Vermont kids beyond high school will determine their success,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin’s goal of creating “an education system that gives all Vermont kids an equal shot at success” is the driving force behind many efforts highlighted within his speech. He outlined plans to make education more affordable and expand opportunity for all people, so that they are not limited by income, including a bill to help families save for college, a semester of free courses and support services for first-generation students and students from low-income families, and allowing more students to earn college credit during high school at no cost.

Shumlin noted that a high graduation rate does not automatically equal success beyond high school. “Despite having one of the highest graduation rates in the country, we continue to fall short getting more students the college education that is now a prerequisite to earning a decent wage,” Shumlin said. “We must ensure that Vermont kids who are not born with mountains of opportunity have the same shot at economic prosperity as those who are.”

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.