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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Governors Recognize Education as Bridge to Strong Workforce

"Investing in education is the smartest thing we can do for economic development," Haslam said.

Throughout the 2016 state of the state addresses, the issue of a strong and prepared workforce has taken priority in many of the governors’ speeches. Governors are increasingly looking to form pathways between education and careers to foster more skilled and prepared workers. These state of the state addresses highlight several programs underway to achieve this goal.

New Hampshire: Gov. Maggie Hassan Looks to K–12 to Strengthen Workforce

In her February 4 state of the state address, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) emphasized the importance of fostering a strong workforce, something that “begins with a strong education at all levels—from early childhood, to our K–12 system, to higher education.”

Hassan explained that businesses across the state say a “highly educated workforce remains their number-one need.” Preparing students at the K–12 level for higher education and the challenges of the changing economy is necessary to make this goal achievable, Hassan said. She named several efforts underway, including increasing math requirements, creating new options for math classes, developing stronger science standards, and integrating coding into the curriculum to have a twenty-first-century education.

In addition to work in the K12 area, Hassan also announced a new plan, Gateway to Work, to “strengthen job training, create new apprenticeship opportunities, help remove the barriers that cause too many of our citizens to fail in the workplace, and help our young people get a leg up on their futures.” As a part of this plan, partnerships will be formed between community colleges and the business community to establish apprenticeship programs in high-need career areas, including manufacturing, information technology networking, and health care.

During her speech, Hassan also nodded to the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot program, a competency-based education model used in seven school districts and one charter school across the state. Through the program, participating districts administer the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s (SBAC’s) statewide test once in elementary school, one in middle school, and once in high school—three grades instead of seven. In the years when students do not take the SBAC assessment, districts administer a local performance assessment developed by the districts and validated by the state. Locally managed assessments are integrated into students’ work and reduce the level of standardized testing, a model, Hassan notes, that is expanding nationally due to its success.

A 2013 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System, profiles how two New Hampshire high schools made the shift to competency-based learning in which students advance when they have mastered course content rather than the number of days students spend in class.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker Praises Efforts to Prepare Students for Careers

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) focused on education as the bridge to prepare citizens for the workforce during his January 19 state of the state address. He mentioned several ways Wisconsin is working to prepare students for a career, including helping technical colleges enroll 5,000 more students into high-demand career programs, and doubling the number of youth apprenticeships.

Walker also discussed the Academic and Career Planning pilot program, which will give access to a career plan to children in grades six through twelve in twenty-five school districts, enabling them to explore their interests and take relevant courses to prepare them for their futures. He announced an additional $3 million in funding for the Wisconsin Fast Forward program, which enables districts to partner with technical colleges to start students on career plans through dual-enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credits while still in high school. And a new three-year degree would allow students to begin during high school and finish at University of Wisconsin, reducing costs and getting students into the workforce sooner.

Walker praised these efforts, noting that well-paying careers can require more than a high school diploma, making training and higher education options critical to meet today’s workforce needs. He also called for a change in perspective about students’ career choices, saying, “We must value our students who choose to be highly skilled welders, IT technicians, or certified nursing assistants as much as we do those who choose to be doctors or lawyers. Each of these professions is vitally needed for a strong economy in Wisconsin.”

Walker shared positive news of Wisconsin’s high school graduation rates reaching third best in the country, and the graduating class of 2015 having the second highest ACT scores in the country. He also noted that the class of 2016 will be given the opportunity to take the ACT for free as an effort to overcome financial barriers and close achievement gaps.

He also emphasized that technology drives success, creating a need for high-speed internet connections. Walker noted that his budget tripled the amount of funding dedicated to broadband access across the state, which will assist rural areas, small businesses, and public schools in getting connected.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam Emphasizes Benefits of a More Educated Population

During his February 1 state of the state address, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) focused on the improvement in student outcomes as a result of strategic investments, increased accountability, and higher standards. Markers of this progress include thousands more students on grade-level math and science, improved ACT scores, and a continually increasing high school graduation rate, which now stands at 88 percent.

Haslam explained that the importance of preparing students for success after high school, saying that “investing in education is the smartest thing we can do for economic development … The facts are clear: a more educated population will spend less money on health care. Less money on incarceration. If we’re going to be about anything, it has to be about opportunity for all Tennessee students.”

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.