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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Nation’s Governors Focus on Technology in Schools, Common Core State Standards, and Restoring Funding for Education

“I am determined to find money to reinvest in education—even if I have to make harmful cuts in other areas to do so,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.

With the start of the New Year, the nation’s governors are outlining their policy agendas in their annual state of the state addresses to state policymakers and citizens. Already, expanding the use of technology in the classroom, the Common Core State Standards, and increases in education funding are common topics. Indeed, after cutting education funding in the face of declining revenues during the Great Recession—per-pupil spending in at least thirty-four states was lower in the 2013–14 school year than it was before the recession, according to a September 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—some of the nation’s governors are hoping to restore education funding that was cut in lean years.

Alabama: Bentley Touts Teacher Pay Increase

“Nothing is more important to a child’s education than his or her teacher,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) asserted in his state of the state address on January 14. “I truly appreciate the sacrifices our teachers have made,” he added.

The governor dedicated the bulk of his speech to health care in the state, but at several points he touched on the importance of education. Last year, he said, teachers in the state received a 2 percent pay increase. He included another 2 percent pay increase in this year’s budget, as well, for teachers and support personnel.

Bentley applauded the state’s creation of the Governor’s College and Career Ready Task Force—an initiative that brings together business, industry, and education leaders to improve education standards in the state. In 2014, the governor intends to expand on that success by creating a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders that will advise secondary school and college educators on the types of skills that students need to secure jobs in the region. This program will also expand dual-enrollment programs across the state, allowing more students to work toward high school and two-year college degrees simultaneously.

In his budget, Bentley also included increased funding for early education programs, which he says are “making a real difference in the lives of Alabama’s children” and are closing the achievement gap between low-income children and their peers.

Georgia: Deal Proposes Nearly $50 Million to Connect Schools to High-Speed Internet

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s (R) budget for Fiscal Year 2015 dedicates more than 80 percent of new revenue to education, with nearly 70 percent going toward K–12. Like many states slowly coming back from the Great Recession, Georgia is focused on restoring and increasing education funding.

Deal outlined his funding requests in his January 15 state of the state address. The additional education funding will be used to “restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs, and increase teacher salaries.” The ultimate goal, Deal said, is to provide school districts with the resources necessary to address their most critical needs.

Of the proposed education funding increases, Deal allocated $44.8 million for connecting schools and classrooms to high-speed internet and equipping them with digital resources like laptops and other devices to encourage and improve digital learning.

“It is my goal that every child in any classroom in our state will have access to the best instruction possible, and this can be done by expanding the availability of our online learning,” Deal said.

He also commented on the continued need to end the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that is fueled by high school dropouts. “High school dropouts with no marketable skills become the feedstock for our prisons,” he said, impassioned. Deal encouraged lawmakers, teachers, parents, and citizens to focus energy on increasing the state’s high school graduate rate.

Deal’s other education proposals focused primarily on increasing funding for technical education to encourage students to pursue high-need fields in the state, including welding, health-care technology, and information technology.

Kentucky: Beshear Willing to Make “Harmful Cuts” to Improve Education

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) did not mince words about his goals for the future of education in his state of the state address. “I am determined to find money to reinvest in education—even if I have to make harmful cuts in other areas to do so,” he said.

Beshear applauded Kentucky for being a forerunner in adopting and implementing the Kentucky Core, standards that are in line with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Kentucky schools have been using the high-quality standards since 2011, which is well ahead of the rest of the nation.

In addition to the CCSS, Kentucky is only the second state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, Deal proudly noted. He added that the state is currently working on creating standards for social studies and the arts and humanities, as well.

Kentucky was recently awarded a $44.3 million Race to the Top grant to improve accountability and transparency in the state’s early learning programs. Beshear plans to seek legislation to implement the goals for the state’s program.

New York: Cuomo Wants to Bring Classrooms into the Twenty-first Century

“The best long-term economic development strategy is to have the best education system in the world, and that is our focus,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in his January 8 state of the state address. “We are in the midst of an education reinvention.”

Cuomo followed this strong statement with ways to improve New York’s education system, including a call to bring classrooms into the twenty-first century. He lauded a $2 billion investment to bring classrooms “up to speed” with access to high-speed internet and the digital tools necessary to facilitate learning and teaching.

With access to digital technology, students more easily obtain the skills they need to succeed in a twenty-first-century economy, Cuomo remarked. In addition, parents can communicate more easily with teachers, and teachers can get more personalized and directed training they need.

To improve teacher quality and retention, Cuomo proposed creating a teacher excellence fund that would award bonuses to teachers based on performance evaluations.

“Teachers who are rated ‘highly effective’ on their evaluations, which is the highest statewide rank, would be eligible to receive $20,000 as a bonus, in performance pay, which is on average 27 percent of their salaries,” Cuomo explained.

Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota Governors Hold Differing Views on the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards have been a “common” theme in this year’s state of the state addresses. Many governors feel strongly about it—whether for or against it—and used their speeches to advocate for a particular viewpoint to the state legislature and citizens.

Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) began his January 6 state of the state address with remarks on education. He lauded the state’s efforts at implementing the Idaho Core Standards. His goal is for the state to focus on education from kindergarten all the way through a productive career; he dubbed this “K-through-Career.”

In addition to the standards, Otter pledged that every elementary and middle school in Idaho will be connected to high-speed internet by the end of Fiscal Year 2015.

Even more enthusiastic in his support for common standards was South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R), who addressed a common myth that the standards are a federal initiative in his January 14 state of the state address.

“The standards were not written by the federal government, are not required by the federal government, and South Dakota receives no federal funds that were contingent upon adopting the Common Core State Standards,” Daugaard said. “I hope we will work together this year to protect our students without undermining the important goals of rigorous and competitive content standards.”

In addition to supporting the standards, Daugaard pledged an additional $1.5 million in funding for scholarships for students pursuing high-need programs in technical areas.

Not all governors are as committed to the Common Core State Standards. Turmoil over the standards in Indiana has dotted national and state news throughout the last year. Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) reflected the state’s opposition to the standards in his January 14 state of the state address.

“Hoosiers have high expectations when it comes to Indiana schools. That’s why Indiana decided to take a time out on national education standards,” Pence said. “When it comes to setting standards for schools, I can assure you, Indiana’s will be uncommonly high.”

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