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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Spotlighting Governors’ Speeches in Alaska, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, and New Mexico

“I have never been more excited about the great work being done in our schools,” Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) said in his January 17 state of the state address.

Alaska: Parnell Sets 90 Percent High School Graduation Rate Goal

In his state of the state address on January 16, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell (R) set a goal of raising Alaska’s high school graduation rate from under 70 percent—where it stands now—to 90 percent by 2020.

Parnell outlined several requirements the state would need to meet to accomplish the goal, including a greater commitment to childhood literacy, an “unwavering focus” on low-performing schools, and innovation. Parnell said the “promise of digital learning” would help the state deliver “world-class instruction” to its students anytime, anywhere. “When it comes to learning online, Alaska should be first in line,” Parnell said.

Delaware: Teachers Take Center Stage in Markell’s Speech

“I have never been more excited about the great work being done in our schools,” Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) said in his January 17 state of the state address. “For this, we have Delaware educators to thank.” Markell titled his speech “Leading In the World We Now Live In” and said he believes this “new world” begins in schools and with the students of today who will become the workforce members and leaders of tomorrow.

Markell said the way to ensure students’ continued success is to recruit, train, and reward great teachers and presented three ways to attract more great teachers to the state. First, he would strengthen the standards for entry into the teaching profession by requiring teachers to take an assessment, similar to the bar exam, demonstrating their knowledge and teaching skills. Second, he would recognize teachers who excel as “teacher leaders,” and pay them extra for serving as role models, helping other teachers, and putting their experience to work in the classroom. Finally, Markell would strengthen Delaware’s compensation system to incentivize teaching in high-need schools and critical subjects, raise starting teacher pay, and reward teacher leadership.

Markell also focused on ensuring that students are equipped with the skills they need to obtain jobs. He proposed the creation of a “Delaware skills bank,” which would keep an inventory of essential skills needed for in-demand jobs and occupations in the state and use it to ensure that training programs provide workers with the right opportunities. “Once workers have completed the training they need to fill in-demand jobs, we should make sure that employers know it, by providing these workers with a Career Readiness Certificate that employers respect and trust,” Markell said.

Georgia: Deal Focuses Resources on K–12, HOPE Scholarship; Aims to Increase State’s High School Graduation Rate

“We can do better,” Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) said of his state’s education system in his January 17 state of the state address. He said the state currently ranks forty-five out of forty-seven states that reported high school graduation rates under the new cohort method, which tracks individual students throughout their high school career.

Deal emphasized that the state needs to modernize the way it spends taxpayer dollars to produce more positive results in public schools. He noted that while most state agencies have seen their budgets cut for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 and FY 2014, the funding for education would increase. Specifically, his budget would provide an additional $156 million for enrollment growth in FY 2013, and $147 for enrollment growth and salary increases for teachers based on training and experience in FY 2014.

Directly addressing parents of children who are thinking about dropping out of school, Deal said they should remind their children that, by dropping out, they are “condemning themselves to the lowest rung on the employment ladder.” He added that parents should “prepare [potential dropouts] to continue to live at home because the jobs that will be available to them will be few indeed.”

In addition to his K–12 initiatives, Deal praised the state’s efforts to save the HOPE scholarship program over the last two years. He said his budget would increase funding for the scholarship program by 3 percent over last year, bringing the total funds for HOPE to nearly $600 million in FY 2014. Additionally, he said his budget would focus HOPE funds going to technical colleges toward occupations, such as commercial driving, nursing, and early childhood education, where “jobs are available and shortages actually exist.”

Hawaii: Abercrombie Looks to Digital Learning to Raise Educational Achievement

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) pledged to transform teaching and learning in Hawaii’s public schools through greater access to technology in his January 22 state of the state address.

Abercrombie set a goal of delivering current curriculum materials on a digital device—such as a tablet or laptop—to every public school student within three years. “Having students with curriculum materials on a digital device solves the problem of not having enough textbooks or obsolete textbooks,” he said.

Abercrombie said the state was using its $75 million federal Race to the Top grant to align curriculum and instruction with the Common Core State Standards, which Hawaii and forty-five other states have adopted. “Common curriculum statewide is no easy task, which is why we are seeking dedicated funds for teacher training to empower them with current instructional innovations,” he said. “Our students will be engaged in learning, and graduate with the knowledge and preparation for using these technological tools in college and the workplace.”

Iowa: Branstad Presents Plan to Revitalize Iowa’s School System; Focuses on Teachers and College and Career Readiness

In his state of the state address on January 15, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) said it was an “economic and moral imperative” that all students finish high school ready for college or career training and outlined a three-point plan to “revitalize” a school system “designed for the twentieth century.”

Branstad proposed that a high school student be able to earn a new college- or career-ready “seal” in addition to their diploma by taking and passing a college-entrance or workforce-readiness test. The test would be administered at the state’s expense and would signal to business and education leaders that a student is prepared to meet real-world expectations.

“When Iowa can brag about having the best-educated workforce anywhere, more businesses will locate and expand in Iowa,” Branstad said. “As a result, more young people will stay in Iowa because they can land good jobs that pay well, and allow them to enjoy a great quality of life.”

The centerpiece of Branstad’s plan to revitalize Iowa’s schools revolves around a new $160 million teacher leadership compensation structure that would establish new career pathways to “keep our best performing teachers in classrooms throughout their entire careers.” Branstad also introduced the “Teach Iowa Initiative,” which will recruit top students to become teachers by boosting the beginning minimum teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000 a year and offering tuition reimbursement for highly talented new graduates who teach in Iowa schools for five years. The program will place a priority on students who major in hard-to-staff subjects, such as math and science, but it will reward teachers in other majors as well. It will also create a pilot program to expand the traditional one semester of student teaching to a year-long apprenticeship in partner schools.

Nevada: Sandoval Focuses on English Language Learners, Early Literacy, and Dropout Prevention

Calling literacy the “key to long-term” success, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) outlined a proposal in his January 16 state of the state address to ensure that all Nevada schoolchildren can read by grade three. The proposal includes $20 million over two years for early education and an expansion of all-day kindergarten at the state’s most at-risk schools. “If we expect children to read by [third grade], we cannot continue to ignore all of the data that tells us all-day kindergarten is a critical foundation for a child’s success,” Sandoval said.

Turning his focus to high school graduation rates, Sandoval proposed a new investment in Teach for America to help recruit, train, develop, and place top teacher and leadership talent in Nevada. He also called for an expansion of the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) initiative from seven Nevada schools to up to fifty more high schools serving 2,000 additional high school students by 2014. JAG prevents dropouts by placing a specialist in each high school it serves to work with the most at-risk students.

Noting that more than 15 percent of Nevada’s students—including more than 50,000 students in the Clark County School District—are English language learners, Sandoval proposed $14 million for an initiative targeting these students. “The challenges these students confront are wholly different from those faced by their peers, yet our obligation to them is no less important,” he said. “Reality dictates that we acknowledge that reading levels, graduation rates, and college readiness will not improve until we appropriately focus on these students.”

Among his other proposals, Sandoval said he would introduce an “opportunity scholarship bill,” which would give businesses a tax credit for making contributions to a scholarship fund that would be distributed on a means-tested basis for students at low-performing schools to use at a school of their choice. He also called for a data system that would link student performance to teacher effectiveness.

New Mexico: Martinez Focuses on Dropout Reduction

New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez (D) believes dropping out of high school is not an option for students in her state but lamented the fact that only 63 percent of the state’s students graduate in four years.

“Those dropping out are not statistics—they are our children,” Martinez said. “They were once little boys and little girls who believed they could one day fly a spaceship to the moon, who once saw themselves becoming a doctor, or firefighter, or scientist, or whatever they dreamt they could be. But somewhere along the line, the system failed them. They lost hope and they dropped out, dashing those dreams. We have an obligation to focus on raising our graduation rate and better prepare our high school students for New Mexico’s workforce or for college.”

To that end, Martinez highlighted several successful dropout prevention programs during her January 15 state of the state address. For example, she spoke of Dona Ana County’s “The Bridge” program, which allows students to earn an associate’s degree while obtaining their high school diploma. Martinez noted that not a single student has dropped out of the Bridge since its inception in 2009. Wanting to see more programs like the Bridge, Martinez said she will pursue a plan to take what the Bridge has accomplished in Dona Ana County and bring it to other areas of New Mexico.

Martinez also included $2.5 million in her budget to expand Advanced Placement (AP) courses by training enough AP teachers so that every child in New Mexico can participate and waive the fee for AP tests for low-income minority students. She also proposed a statewide dropout warning system to train parents and teachers on warning behaviors from students at risk of dropping out of high school in order to help them stay in school.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.