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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: Spotlighting Governors’ Speeches in Colorado, Nebraska, Vermont, and Virginia

We are on the right path, and that path starts with quality education,” Heineman said.

Colorado: Hickenlooper Champions Equity

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) expressed pride in the work Colorado has done in improving early childhood education in his state of the state address on January 10. Last year, the state passed the Read Act, an early childhood literacy program that he called “among the most innovative in the country.” The program identifies struggling readers and provides interventions with the goal that all students will be able to read by the end of the third grade.

Among the other gains in education Hickenlooper highlighted is the $29.9 million the state received in Race to the Top grants to support the gains in early childhood literacy. The money, the governor noted, will serve up to 6,500 new pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

When discussing his goals for Colorado’s future, Hickenlooper stressed equity in education. He proposed a new school finance formula that seeks to improve equity in all school districts and opportunities for all students. In that vein, the state will adopt a need-based financial allocation process for higher education this month that will support students with the highest need and incentivize colleges and universities to focus on retention and timely completion.

Nebraska: Heineman Says Education Is the “Great Equalizer”

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) called education “the great equalizer” and a “top priority” during his state of the state address on January 15.

Heineman praised Nebraska’s P–16 initiative that strengthens academic achievement for all students. Within that, he referenced his 2008 law that provides for statewide assessments in reading, math, and science. He credits legislation, along with a renewed focus and cooperation with the State Board of Education, for gains in student achievement. The most visible of these gains is Nebraska’s high school graduation rate of 86 percent—the fourth best in America, Heineman noted.

The governor’s top priority going into 2013 is increasing K–12 education funding. He proposed a $43 million increase in Fiscal Year 2014, along with a 5-percent increase in special education funding. He also announced a two-year tuition freeze for Nebraska’s higher education students, provided his budget is adopted. He has collaborated with presidents within the University of Nebraska system to make this offer. “We are on the right path, and that path starts with quality education,” Heineman said.

Vermont: Shumlin Focuses Entire Speech on Education

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) took a nontraditional approach in his state of the state address on January 10 and focused only on one theme: education. The governor embraced digital learning and emphasized the economic imperative of having a strong education system.

During his speech, Shumlin listed more than a dozen companies in Vermont with job openings but no qualified workers to fill them. “I remain unfailingly optimistic about Vermont’s economic future,” Shumlin said. “But to ensure our success, we must embrace change in the way we both view and deliver education. The rapid change that is required of us is not optional; it will define our success or deliver our failure.”

Shumlin admitted that his state has failed to move enough low-income students beyond high school and that is unacceptable. He quoted research showing that 62 percent of job openings in the next decade will require post-secondary education. Raising the high school graduation rate and college completion rate is high on Shumlin’s agenda.

“Technology has dramatically changed the tools available for teaching and learning,” Shumlin said. “It has changed the nature of work. The high school degree that brought success and a lifetime job in the old economy ensures a low-wage future in the tech economy. Success in the new economy depends on an educated workforce with skills beyond high school in science, computer technology, engineering, and math.”

Shumlin highlighted four areas in which he plans to focus this year. The first is in early childhood education, where he will redirect $17 million form the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to make high-quality childcare affordable to lower-income people. The second is ensuring that no student is hungry. He proposed that the state cover the gap left by the federal government and provide free lunches to every student who qualifies for reduced-price lunches. His third focus is making sure that education is more accessible and affordable for everyone. This includes promoting dual enrollment, which allows students to take college courses for both high school and college credit, and an early college initiative, which permits students to take college courses while still in high school. Finally, Shumlin would make college more affordable for students. His flagship initiative is the Vermont Strong Scholars program, which, over five years, would pay back the final year of tuition to all students who graduate with a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field.

Shumlin called for a “Personal Learning Plan” that would follow students from elementary school through their senior year of high school. He said the plans would help guide each student’s education and also tie education goals to career opportunities, which would make school more relevant and increase students’ individual options while fostering a connection between school and a career.

Shumlin ended his speech with a strong note of hope and optimism, encouraging state legislators to focus on education this year and ensuring that every student is career ready. “Vermont—and this governor—places the highest priority on education,” Shumlin said. “There is no greater responsibility that we have as elected representatives than ensuring that our children have the best education available in the country.”

Virginia: McDonnell Links Teacher Pay Raise to New Teacher Evaluation Proposal

Saying that “Better schools mean better jobs and a stronger Virginia,” Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) used his January 9 state of the state address to outline a number of education proposals, including the first state-supported pay raise for teachers since 2007. McDonnell would tie the increase in teacher pay to the enactment of what he called the “Educator Fairness Act,” a new law that would extend the probationary period for new teachers from three to five years and require a satisfactory rating on a performance evaluation system.

Continuing his focus on teachers, McDonnell asked for funding to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers in middle and high school plus a $15 million program to reward well-performing educators. He also proposed legislation to begin a Teach for America program within the states.

McDonnell proposed a new A–F grading scale for schools and asked that the state place one reading specialist in every school that scores below 75 percent on the third-grade Standard of Learning test. For low-performing schools, McDonnell called for a new statewide school division—the “Opportunity Education Institution”—which would be charged with turning around failing schools. “If a school is consistently failing, the Opportunity Educational Institution will step in to manage it,” McDonnell said. “If the school has failed for two years, the Institution can take it over and provide a brand new approach to a broken system.”

Noting that Virginia only has four charter schools, McDonnell also called for a new constitutional amendment that would allow the Virginia Board of Education to authorize charter applicants and make it “much easier” for proven charter schools to be established in Virginia.

Speaking to the state’s legislators, McDonnell asked them to work with him to “get a few big things done that will create more jobs and more opportunities,” adding, “If a young person does not graduate from high school, or does not graduate career or college ready, you have failed, I have failed, and, worse, they have failed.”

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