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STATE OF THE STATES: Governors Offer Various Proposals to Improve Student Achievement

“Even though Nebraska has a nearly $1 billion projected shortfall, our two-year budget prioritizes education.”

West Virginia: Tomblin Recommends One-Time, Across-the-Board Bonus for Teachers

The West Virginia Constitution currently gives Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) the duty of acting as governor after Former Governor Joe Manchin (D) was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. During his January 12 state of the state address, Tomblin proposed a one-time, across-the-board $800 bonus for teachers and $500 bonus for state employees and school service personnel. The governor also announced that his budget would support a 2005 initiative that rewards every teacher in West Virginia an approximate 1.5 annual percent pay raise. “Frankly, it should be more and we all need to continue to strive for a day when our teachers are paid at a rate equivalent to the most important role they play in our children’s lives,” he said.

In his address, Tomblin also focused on reducing the high school dropout rate, eliminating the high level of teacher vacancies, and focusing on developing vocational skills for students starting in middle school.

Nebraska: Heineman Supports Development of Statewide Virtual High School

During his January 13 inaugural remarksNebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) said, “Even though Nebraska has a nearly $1 billion projected shortfall, our two-year budget prioritizes education.” He proposed budget cuts to other state agencies but called for state aid to education in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 to remain at $810 million and to increase to $860 million in FY 2013. Heineman also strongly supported the development of a statewide virtual high school and estimated the initiative would cost $8.5 million, which he proposed financing through lottery funds.

“A virtual high school would allow Nebraska high school students to take courses ranging from basic Spanish classes to Advanced Placement courses,” said Heineman. “In rural Nebraska, it can be difficult to hire foreign language, math, and science teachers. A virtual high school would allow rural schools and rural communities the opportunity to survive. Online courses allow students to complete course work on their timetables in the evenings or on weekends.”

Heineman expressed his support for Senator Brad Ashford’s (R-Omaha) efforts to reduce truancy and explained that last year, 22,000 students missed more than twenty days of school. He also proposed a Nebraska Internship Program as one component to a four-part plan to enhance economic growth. The program would assist more college students in interning with Nebraska businesses and would be funded through resources from the Nebraska Job Training Cash fund and matched by private sector funds.

New Mexico: Martinez Introduces Education Reform Package

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R) presented a comprehensive reform package to transform schools during her state of the state address on January 18. The plan, “Kids First, New Mexico Wins,” is comprised of four key initiatives including shifting dollars from bureaucracy and into the classroom; adopting an “easy-to-understand, easy-to-implement” letter-grade accountability system for schools; ending social promotion; and rewarding New Mexico’s best teachers. The governor particularly focused on eradicating social promotion, the practice of passing children from one grade to the next before they have actually mastered the content.

“Too many are afraid to focus on student achievement, so we shuttle too many kids to the next grade, even if they haven’t learned the basics,” said Martinez. “That implicitly tells little boys and girls that it’s okay that they don’t achieve. My fellow New Mexicans, telling children, regardless of how subtle, that they are not capable of achieving is morally wrong. We must end the culture of low expectations. Stop accepting failure.”

In line with her interest to shift education dollars away from administration costs and into the classroom, the governor said her budget would require the education bureaucracy to trim 1.5 percent.

Kentucky: Beshear Backs Legislation to Raise Mandatory School Attendance Age

On February 1, during his state of the state address, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) recognized the hard work of teachers, principals, school board members, superintendents, and university presidents in raising student achievement levels in the state. At the same time he warned, “But we must not be satisfied, because we are not yet where we should be.”

The governor advocated for moving ahead with legislation focused on improving academic standards, assessments, leadership, and teaching and learning. He also expressed his support for a bill designed to address the problem of high school dropouts and would establish alternative education programs to provide more options to students that do not learn well in a traditional setting. The bill would also require schools, over the next five years, to phase in a new requirement that Kentucky students must attend school until age eighteen. Since 1934, sixteen has been the legal age a student can drop out of school in the state.

Last year, a bill to raise the dropout age passed in the House but not in the Senate because the legislation did not include funding to pay for programs designed to help at-risk students who otherwise would have dropped out. In a recent article in the Courier Journal, Senator Ken Winters (R-Murray) said opposition to this year’s bill still exists because of the belief that youths forced to remain in school would be resentful and disruptive.

Nevada: Sandoval Suggests Budget Cuts in K–12 Education

“As governor, part of my job is to tell people things they don’t like to hear,” said Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) during his state of the state address on January 24. “And when it comes to education in our state, I want to level with the people of Nevada. Our education system is broken. Not the people, but the system. While many teachers, professors, and students are excelling, collectively they are held back by an antiquated system that emphasizes too many of the wrong things – and for which the only suggested answer has been more and more money.”

During his speech, Sandoval focused on Nevada’s $1.2 billion budget hole and called for basic support in Nevada’s K–12 schools to be reduced by $270 per student. He said the budget cuts were in reason if the education establishment was willing to make real changes in how the dollars were spent. The governor’s plan has not been well-received among the local education community. The Associated Press recently reported, “Critics have painted his plan as a commitment to dumbing down Nevada.” In the same story, Allison Turner, president of the Nevada Parent Teach Association, said the governor’s agenda is “a pretty major step backward.”

Sandoval spoke about education at length during his address and recommended the creation of a block grant program in order to give districts more flexibility in determining what school improvement methods worked best for them. The program would rest on three key components: flexibility, local autonomy, and accountability. He also backed a number of other school reform efforts including ending teacher tenure, relying on student achievement data to evaluate educators, offering incentive pay to teachers, ending social promotion, and reforming K–12 governance so the governor has the authority to appoint state board of education members and the superintendent.

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