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STATE OF THE STATES: Governors Highlight Return on Investments in Education, Push Stronger Standards

“My education plan invests in our children—and I firmly believe it will save billions of dollars and thousands of young lives for generations to come.”

Over the last few weeks, many of the nation’s governors used their state of the state and budget addresses to argue for significant investments in high school reform. They explained that investments in education were not only the right thing to do, but that they would also pay for themselves in the future. Their proposals included more rigorous high school graduation requirements, increasing the compulsory attendance age, more personalized attention for at-risk students, and creating modernized high schools.

Connecticut: Rell Pledges Record Investment, Increased Accountability

Governor Jodi Rell (R) used her budget address on February 7 to call for a $3.4 billion increase in state education spending over the next five years. She called her proposal the “the single largest investment in education” in state history but acknowledged that she would have to raise the state income tax to pay for it. However, she also explained an investment in education would pay for itself in the long run.

“My education plan invests in our children—and I firmly believe it will save billions of dollars and thousands of young lives for generations to come,” she said. “It will save in terms of prisons we will not have to build, lower teen pregnancy rates, reduced high school dropout rates and more. Because education is the only real cure for each and every one of these ills. Ills that are measured not just in dollars, but in lives, and in the quality of those lives, and in lost opportunities and unfulfilled promises.”

In return for these additional funds, the governor would ask for greater accountability, including a statewide high school graduation exam and a requirement that high school students take more math and science courses. Rell would also mandate that districts that do not make adequate progress in raising student achievement designate more money for intervention with at-risk students. Schools where achievement continues to stagnate would risk losing autonomy to the state Department of Education, which could replace personnel, including school administrators, or reconstitute schools entirely.

Governor Rell’s complete speech is available at

Michigan: Granholm Vows to “Invest in Michigan’s People”

In her February 6 state of the state address, Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) argued that investments in education, health care, and infrastructure hold the key to weathering the state’s economic transformation from an auto-manufacturing base to a more diversified economy poised to compete on a world stage. She praised recent steps, such as the enactment of rigorous new high school graduation requirements, and pledged to build on them in her second term.

“Economists and experts across the country agree that education is the single most important strategy for stoking a state’s economic growth,” she said. “That means we all must create a culture of learning that is unprecedented in Michigan’s history.”

Granholm vowed to start by increasing the state’s compulsory attendance age to eighteen, calling the 1895 law that allows students to drop out at age sixteen “absurd” in the face of the new century’s global economy. She also called personalized attention a critical component to ensuring that students are prepared for college and the workplace, and pledged to continue expanding the reach of the Mentor Michigan program, which coordinates and provides support for youth mentoring programs throughout the state.

The governor also announced that the first five in a series of “revolutionary new high schools” will open this fall, with five more to follow a year later. The schools, which will be sponsored by institutions such as Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, will enable students to earn a high school diploma and a community college degree in five years, and will focus on preparing students to fill critical job vacancies in the health care industry.

Granholm also praised the city of Kalamazoo’s nationally recognized effort to increase its high school graduation and college attendance rates by enlisting private donors who promise free in-state college tuition to every young person who attends school in Kalamazoo and graduates from one of its high schools, and then enrolls in one of the state’s two- or four-year public colleges. She said that the state will assist other struggling cities by creating “Promise Zones,” where the state will help provide start-up funding for similar public-private partnerships.

Governor Granholm’s complete speech is available at,1607,7-168–161761–,00.html.

Oklahoma: Henry Announces Plan to Graduate Every Student

In his February 5 state of the state address, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry (D) pledged to expand the state’s efforts in early-childhood education and challenged legislators to ensure higher achievement levels in the later grades.

“In the global marketplace of the 21st century, a college or CareerTech degree is more crucial than ever before,” he told state legislators. “But many young people find it a challenge to obtain even a high school diploma….This session, I ask you to support tough legislation to ensure that every Oklahoma teenager completes high school. Let us resolve that within five years, Oklahoma will boast the highest graduation rate in the country.”

Henry also announced plans to secure a permanent funding stream for the “Oklahoma’s Promise” college scholarship program for high-achieving students who take a rigorous high school curriculum, and to continue raising teachers’ salaries.

The following week, State Senator Kathleen Wilcoxson (R-Oklahoma City) introduced a bill that would mandate compulsory school attendance until age eighteen by eliminating a loophole in current law that allows a student to leave school if administrators and parents agree that it would be in the best interest of the student to drop out.

Governor Henry’s complete speech is available at

Tennessee: Bredesen Plans Focus on Educational Achievement During Second Term

Calling education the key to improving the quality of life for the next generation, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D) dedicated his entire state of the state address, delivered on February 5, to raising student expectations and achievement in the state.

Bredesen related plans to raise standards to his experience as a father, noting that “children are very good at responding to expectations. If we set them low, they respond low; if we set them high, they respond in kind.” He specifically called for requiring every high school student to take four years of high school mathematics and announced that he will ask the state school board and Tennessee Department of Education to review the curriculum throughout the state’s school system and work to make it “more specific, more rigorous, and better aligned with what our children really need to succeed in college or the workplace.”

Bredesen also proposed an investment in personalizing the high school experience as a means to engage students in a rigorous curriculum. In addition, he would ensure that all eighth- and tenth-grade students take the appropriate ACT test, which will be used to help create individual learning plans for each high school student.

Governor Bredesen’s complete speech is available at

WisconsinDoyle Announces New “Covenant” With High School Students

In his state of the state address on January 30, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) pledged to offer a comprehensive education agenda in his budget, saying “when we support and invest in the young people of Wisconsin, they can achieve anything.”

Doyle’s plans will be centered on the “Wisconsin Covenant,” which he explained is a “promise to every high school student that if you work hard and make the grade, we’ll make sure you have a place in higher education, and a financial package to pay for it.” He added, “I don’t want any high school kid to think college isn’t for them, or that it’s only for rich people. I want every boy and girl to know…with the Wisconsin Covenant, college is within your grasp-just reach for it.”

The governor announced that his budget will establish the Office of the Wisconsin Covenant, which will implement an agreement signed last fall with university leaders and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster. He also proposed a major increase in financial aid to “prepare for the day when the first Covenant scholars walk through the doors of our universities.”

Doyle added that the Wisconsin Covenant will “make high school more meaningful. But we can go even further.” He strongly urged the legislature to pass his proposal mandating that high school students take a third year of math and a third year of science in order to graduate.

Governor Doyle’s complete speech is available at

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.