Although education is primarily a state responsibility, the federal government has played a larger role in the last decade through the No Child Left Behind Act and has encouraged states to adopt education reforms more recently through the Race to the Top program. In their state of the state addresses, some governors are pushing to move more control over education back to the state and local levels.
California: Brown Proposes New School Finance System, Less Testing
California Governor Jerry Brown (D) faces an enormous budget crisis, but aims to tackle the state’s budget shortfall responsibly by cutting spending and temporarily raising taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers through November. During his state of the state address on January 18, Brown called for replacing the state’s school funding and testing systems with a “weighted student formula.”
Brown said the new system would provide basic funding with the exception of money designated for disadvantaged students and English language learners. He said his proposal would “give more authority to local school districts to fashion the kind of programs they see their students need.” Brown also insisted that his proposal would create transparency, reduce bureaucracy, and simplify complex funding streams.
Brown also said the state’s testing system eats up too much class time and is too slow to provide schools information that can inform instruction. He proposed reducing the number of tests and getting the results directly to teachers, principals, and superintendents.
Missouri: Nixon Calls Broadband Access a “Game-Changer”
In his state of the state address on January 17, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) discussed the importance of high-speed internet to Missouri’s rural areas, especially its schools. He called broadband access a “game-changer” for commerce, farming, health care, law enforcement and public safety, and education.
Specifically, Nixon pointed to Otterville, Missouri, where the local school now receives broadband and has significantly expanded its ability to provide web-based classes using streaming video. “Just as the railroads and interstates changed the face and the fate of Missouri communities in decades past, this project will help shape Missouri’s future from Otterville to New London and everywhere in between,” Nixon said.
Nixon proposed a $200 million net increase in K–12 education spending for Fiscal Year 2013, but suggested that spending on higher education be cut by about $100 million. He also called on the legislature to send him a comprehensive charter school accountability bill that holds all charter schools to high standards of academic achievement and financial integrity.
New Mexico: Martinez Focuses on Reading Reforms, Raising Graduation Rates
Noting that 80 percent of the state’s fourth graders cannot read proficiently, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R) called for a $17 million investment in reading reforms in her state of the state address on January 17. In her speech, Martinez described a little boy who does not get the help he needs in reading in the early grades, yet he continues to be promoted through elementary school and into middle school.
“[In middle school], he can read the words but doesn’t really understand them, so he struggles to learn about history, geography, science,” Martinez said. “When he can’t meet the standards, we don’t offer him a hand up. We just lower the bar, sending him to the next grade and sending him a toxic message that he’s not capable of making the cut. He’s ashamed, frustrated, and angry. Eventually, he drops out.”
Martinez said she encountered many students like this as a prosecutor, but “not when they were kids but when they were living a life of crime as adults.”
Under her plan, teachers will assess children during early grades and students who are struggling will get immediate help through tutoring and more individual attention. Her plan also calls for more reading coaches in elementary schools.
To help raise graduation rates and prepare students for college, Martinez called for testing kids from fourth through tenth grade to catch kids before they fall too far behind. She also outlined a plan that would pay for tenth graders to take the pre-SAT and expand access to Advanced Placement classes for low-income students.
Martinez also announced a new grading system for New Mexico schools that would give an official letter grade for every school in the state by summer 2012 and urged her constituents to support a teacher evaluation system that “must measure the progress their students make in mastering the basics.” Her plan includes making teacher pay and productivity more heavily dependent on the progress of each teacher’s most struggling students.
Oregon: Kitzhaber Pushes for a Waiver from No Child Left Behind
Saying that “all of our job creation and economic development strategies will be futile in the long run unless we are successful in transforming our system of public education and our health care system,” Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) used his January 13 state of the state address to lobby for a bill he would introduce in February—a “home-grown alternative”—that would allow the state to obtain a waiver from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act while providing “smart accountability and better paths to student success.”
Kitzhaber’s plan would create “education achievement compacts,” which are partnerships between the state and its school districts, community colleges, and universities. He said the compacts would “express a common commitment to improving outcomes, but they would tailor outcomes to unique circumstances of individual districts.” He added that they would also allow the state to compare results and progress between districts with comparable populations in order to connect funding to outcomes so the state can become a “smarter investor in education.”
Kitzhaber said the new legislation was “essential” to meeting the state’s goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate by 2025, with 80 percent of those graduates receiving at least two years of postsecondary education or training and 40 percent earning a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“If we fail to pass achievement compacts in February, we’ll be left with the status quo under No Child Left Behind—an outcome everyone agrees is unacceptable,” Kitzhaber said. “None of us should be willing to accept 65 percent high school graduation rates or the fact that this generation of Oregon children could be the first to be less educated than their parents and their peers around the United States.”