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STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESSES: States Make Due with Massive Budget Deficits

“The old Michigan economy is gone … GM, Chrysler, and over fifty suppliers declared bankruptcy. A million Michigan jobs lost over the last decade. Record foreclosures. The worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression. And Michigan was at the epicenter of it all.”

MICHIGAN: Granholm Announces Restoration of Michigan Promise Scholarship

During her state of the state address on February 3,  Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) outlined the impact that the recession has had on Michigan’s economy.

“Our world has changed, utterly,” Granholm said. “The old Michigan economy is gone … GM, Chrysler, and over fifty suppliers declared bankruptcy. A million Michigan jobs lost over the last decade. Record foreclosures. The worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression. And Michigan was at the epicenter of it all.”

She said that education has played and will continue to play a key role in helping to transform Michigan’s economy. “But if there was any good to come from this painful, heart-wrenching year, it was this: 2009 made clear that the way forward for Michigan is precisely the path we have been forging together … creating jobs by diversifying our economy; educating our people to fill and create those jobs; and helping people when they need it most,” Granholm said.

Granholm said her budget would restore the Michigan Promise Scholarship, a merit-based scholarship program that provides eligible high school graduates with up to $4,000 towards postsecondary education at any approved Michigan institution. The scholarship program was made unavailable during the 2009–10 school year, leaving 100,000 families wondering how they would fund their students’ tuition bills, Granholm said.

According to a February 12 Detroit Free Press article, Granholm’s 2010–11 proposed budget plan would revive the program with a twist—new college graduates would receive a $4,000 refundable tax credit on the condition that they find employment in Michigan for at least a year. The plan was received with mixed reactions.

Granholm also said she would oppose any additional education cuts. “Sure, the choices we face in the budget are tough, but is there a single family in Michigan that would choose to make ends meet in hard times by first sacrificing the needs of the children?,” she asked.

NEBRASKA: Heineman Lays Out Vision for Nebraska’s Virtual High Schools

During his state of state address last month, Governor Dave Heineman (R) described a vision for Nebraska high schools that includes reforming school calendars and providing greater access to virtual classes and other online learning opportunities.

“Imagine how a Nebraska virtual high school could expand learning beyond the traditional school day and school year for both students and teachers,” said Heineman. “For rural and urban school districts, it will provide access to a wider range of rigorous academic subjects, such as foreign languages and advanced math and science classes. For school districts with parents without internet access at home, schools could keep buildings open later in the evening for students to access these academic programs online.”

Heineman emphasized the need for a common set of college- and career-ready standards and discussed the Nebraska P–16 Initiative, a coalition of twenty-eight Nebraskan organizations in government, education, and business that was developed to strengthen the state’s education priorities. As part of that effort, minutes before the speech, the governor approved a new regulation that would update Nebraska’s graduation requirements for the first time since 1984.
The Nebraska State Board of Education also recently adopted a core curriculum of four years of English and three years of math, science, and social studies to be implemented in the 2014–15 school year.

NEVADA: Gibbons Tries to Reign in $880 Million in Budget Shortfalls

Facing an $880 million revenue shortfall, Governor Jim Gibbons (R) took a stern tone during his state of the state address on February 8. He vowed to limit government to its core functions, reduce state spending, and to avoid raising taxes.

Gibbons talked at length about education, calling it a core function of Nevada state government. He introduced the Nevada Education Gift Certificate, an opportunity for anyone to contribute directly to teacher salaries, and said he would donate 6 percent of his own salary to the cause. He cited a Nevada Department of Education study that found 142 of the 613 public schools in Nevada qualified as the “worst” in the nation and called for an end to throwing money away by giving it to education systems and initiatives that were no longer rightly serving students. He mentioned his Gibbons Education Reform plan that was unveiled in January and stressed the need for increased local and parental control over governing school systems.

“Bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, DC and Carson City, whose ideas of education reform start and end with writing a blank check, have no business dictating how your child is educated,” said Gibbons. “We need to empower local school boards and parents to make decisions which are right for their children so they can decide how their kids are educated. Nevada taxpayers spend billions of dollars on education. It’s time to let local school boards, teachers, and parents have a voice in how that money is spent.”

Gibbons said state employees, teachers, and legislators would have to learn how to do more with less. He advised that programs must be judged on their results rather than on their intentions, and was adamant about eliminating programs that were no longer serving their purpose. During his address, the governor said across-the-board salary reductions for state workers might be necessary, though it was a last resort.

According to a February 18 article in BusinessWeek, Gibbon’s recent recommendations for salary cuts could put schools at risk of losing thousands of teachers and dealing with oversized classes in high schools. The governor said that because public education makes up 52 percent of general fund spending, it cannot be shielded from the cuts.

OKLAHOMA: Henry Dips into Rainy Day Fund to Make Up for Budget Deficits

Given the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall, Governor Brad Henry (D) expressed his appreciation for the Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund during his state of the state address on February 1.

“We beat back annual efforts to raid the fund and, today, for the first time in history, the Rainy Day Fund is full, preserved for its intended purpose: a rainy day,” said Henry. “And ladies and gentlemen, it is raining. This budget crisis is precisely the kind of emergency that citizens envisioned twenty-five years ago when they voted to create the Rainy Day Fund. Now is the time to use our reserve dollars to preserve crucial services.”

The governor made education a key focus during his speech and expressed pride in the state’s progress in improving standards and accountability, teacher quality, and college attendance rates. He commended the state superintendent for developing and submitting Oklahoma’s Race to the Top application and expressed hope for winning federal funds that would allow further reforms such as linking teacher pay to student performance and implementing comprehensive student data systems. Despite the tight budget year, he said Oklahoma would be able to increase teacher pay and, for the first time in the state’s history, cover the full cost of teachers’ health insurance.

UTAH: Herbert Maintains Level of Education Funding

“Utah has long been committed to funding our public schools, our colleges and universities, and our technical institutions,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert (R) during his state of the state address on January 26. “In fact, few states in the country spend as much of their overall budgets on education as we do. Our unique demographics—which is a way of saying we have larger families—mean we must continue to increase funding to maintain and enhance the solid education and training our students receive.”

Herbert called on Utah’s legislators to maintain the level of education funding at $293 million for fiscal year 2011. In December 2009, he put forth an overall budget of $11.3 billion and announced the formation of the Governor’s Educational Excellence Commission. The commission, chaired by the governor, is charged with developing new and innovative solutions to the state’s educational problems. Herbert explained that although some of the challenges in Utah’s schools could be overcome by additional funding, other problems could be fixed with common-sense solutions that he hopes the commission will provide.

The governor said a “renewed and sustained emphasis” is needed in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). He asked education and business stakeholders to build support for immersing more students in these fields because so many of today’s jobs require STEM skill sets.

Herbert also highlighted the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership, an effort to help strengthen the bridge from college to career. The partnership is comprised of industry leaders, researchers, state government officials, and higher education administrators and practitioners. Its goal is to enable critical industry groups to communicate their current and future workforce needs directly to educational institutions.

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