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Governors Set the Stage: Unveiling Legislative Priorities in their Annual State of the State

January marks the time for Governors across the nation to address a joint session of their legislature and deliver a State of the State Address. This annual speech serves as a way for a Governor to introduce legislative and policy priorities for the coming year.

While the format and name of each address varies from state to state, education consistently features prominently in these speeches. As we examine three notable addresses, it becomes clear that, this year, many Governors are grappling with the challenges they face as Federal COVID funding winds down.

Every governor gives a version of this speech, although in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the speech is called the State of the Commonwealth Address, and in Iowa it is known as the Condition of the State Address. In Nebraska, the Governor delivers remarks to the unicameral Nebraska Legislature.

Education is nearly always included in the State of the State address. This year, with Federal COVID funding winding down, education funding was a topic that many Governors talked about. Here are examples of what three Governors had to say:

Arizona – Governor Katie Hobbs – January 8, 2024

In 2000, Arizona voters approved Proposition 301. It included a measure requiring the legislature to increase the school funding formula to adjust for inflation. It also prohibited the base level of school funding from ever dropping below the FY2002 level.

But during the recession, the terms of Proposition 301 were not fully met. After years of litigation, including an allegation that the failure to fund public schools was a violation of the Voter Protection Act, a settlement for a new funding plan, Proposition 123, was reached. Gov. Hobbs asked the legislature to send this stronger funding program to the voters to provide additional education funding in the future.

Hobbs highlighted two workforce programs: Future48 workforce accelerators, which focus on preparing people for jobs in industries like semiconductors, renewable energy and aerospace and defense. She also promoted the Build It AZ Apprenticeship Initiative, designed to double the number of apprentices in construction and the trades.

Furthermore, she advocated for increased accountability in Arizona’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program, citing misuse of taxpayer money. Governor Hobbs proposed tightening regulations, including a requirement for ESA recipients to have attended public schools for at least 100 days.  .

Virginia – Governor Glenn Youngkin – January 10, 2024

Governor Youngkin highlighted steps his administration took to help students recovering from COVID-related learning loss. He cited the “All-IN Virginia” Plan, which provides tutoring in reading and math to students in grades 3-8 who experienced learning loss. All school divisions in Virginia now participate in the program.

The $418 million in one-time expenditures that support the All-IN program are some of the last funds available from a previous budget surplus enabled in part by Federal COVID funds. Other budget surplus funds were devoted to addressing chronic absenteeism.

The Governor proposed an overhaul of what he called a “byzantine” school funding formula. Virginia is currently one of only ten states whose funding formula is based on inputs (number of staff members, for example) rather than any individualized weighting for students based on educational need.

Rhode Island – Governor Dan McKee – January 17

Governor McKee began his speech by revisiting the challenge he laid out in 2023 — that Rhode Island would “reach Massachusetts achievement levels by 2030.” That effort, focused on three key areas – attendance, FAFSA completion, and student scores on the RICAS test.

He noted that 98% of the state’s schools had improved student attendance, and that there were 13,000 fewer students listed as chronically absent. To improve test scores, he announced a $15 million plan for coaches for students and teachers in both English and math.

Gov. McKee thanked the federal government for their additional support during the pandemic and pledged to use one-time funds only for one-time expenditures.

We will continue to monitor State of the State addresses and report on how Governors are highlighting education.