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State of the State Addresses: Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Alabama

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February 14, 2017 11:20 am


In the most recent round of state of the state addresses, the nation’s governors have touted increased spending on education, as well as efforts to better prepare high schools students for college and the workforce, including investments in career and technical education, greater linkages between high schools and employers, and free community college for all. In the post below, we examine education proposals contained in the state of the state addresses from the governors of Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Alabama.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam Takes Education Victory Lap, Pledges Free Community College for All

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) took a victory lap for education early in his state of the state address on January 30.

“On education, there is no state in the U.S. that is demanding the spotlight like Tennessee,” Haslam said. “It’s worth repeating: with the incredible hard work of our teachers and students, Tennesseans are the fastest improving in the country in math, reading and as of this year, science. This past October we received the science scores from the Nation’s Report Card, and beyond being the fastest improving, we narrowed the gaps between African American, Latino and white students. We also completely eliminated the gap between male and female students.”

Haslam was not ready to rest on his laurels. He announced one of the largest funding increases for education in Tennessee history, including $22 million in additional funding for high-need students, $15 million for equipment for career and technical education programs, and $100 million for an increase in teacher salaries.

“Tennessee has shown it will not balance the budget on the backs of teachers and students,” Haslam said. “In fact, under the legislature and this administration, Tennessee has increased total K-12 spending by more than $1.3 billion.”

Haslam also discussed his “Drive to 55” initiative, a goal that 55 percent of the state’s residents will have a college degree or certificate by 2025. A critical element to reaching that goal has been Tennessee Promise, which provides two years of free tuition at a Tennessee community or technical college.

“While it’s still early in the Tennessee Promise story, the results so far are incredibly encouraging,” Haslam said. “Since the program started, more than 33,000 students have enrolled in college as a result of Tennessee Promise, and of the students who began in fall 2015, 63 percent are still enrolled.”

Haslam noted that Tennessee last year led the nation in applications for free student aid by high school seniors through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and is ahead of last year’s rate in 2017. Additionally, he noted that 9,000 Tennessee adults are volunteer mentors to high school students, who have, in turn, contributed more than one million hours of community service.

At the same time, Haslam acknowledged that Tennessee cannot reach its Drive to 55 goal by just serving high school students. He proposed that Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults free access to community college through a program called Tennessee Reconnect.

“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise we’re making a clear statement to families with Reconnect: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said. “We don’t want cost to be an obstacle anyone has to overcome as they pursue their own generational change for themselves and their families.”

Haslam also spent a significant portion of his speech discussing infrastructure—roads and bridges, yes, but also access to high-speed internet. “We live in a world where if you have a strong internet connection you can just about work from anywhere,” Haslam said. “If we’re serious about putting our rural counties on a level playing field, then opening up broadband access is one of the largest steps forward we can take.”

“The Tennessee we can be provides not only access to opportunity but the tools to be successful. Good roads that take you to good jobs. Broadband access to conduct and grow your business anywhere in Tennessee at the speed of the 21st century. A high-quality education system that educates all.”

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf Works to Restore Previous Cuts to Education Funding

Saying that there should be “no greater priority” for the state government than educating its children, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) outlined a budget plan on February 7 that would provide $125 million more in K-12 education funding, part of a continued effort to restore a $1 billion cut from education enacted five years ago.

“Instead of allowing schools to become the first casualty of our budget deficit, we’ve made them our first priority,” Wolf said. “We’ve undone nearly two-thirds of those short-sighted cuts to our public school system. In fact, we’ve made the largest investment in education in the history of the Commonwealth.”

Wolf highlighted some of the progress schools have made as a result of those investments, including an expansion in career and technical education programs, advancement placement courses, and learning pathways programs that prepare high school students for careers in business, human services, and industrial technology.

Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan Looks to Expand P-Tech High Schools

In his state of the state address on February 1, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) touted the third budget in a row with record funding for education.

“We have already accomplished a great deal,” Hogan said. “But together, we can – and we must – do more. Every single child in Maryland deserves access to a great education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in. Sadly, we still have students who are trapped in persistently failing schools.”

Hogan highlighted efforts to provide students with greater choice, including an increase in a voucher program that provides scholarships for certain students to attend a private schools and an expansion in charter schools. Specifically, Hogan cited P-Tech, which began as a partnership between IBM and a high school in Brooklyn in which students graduate with both a diploma and an associate’s degree in a field related to computers or engineering. Maryland began six such schools last year. In his address, Hogan committed to doubling that number in 2017.

Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley Focuses on Middle School Students

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) set a goal in his state of the state on February 7 to address to “significantly increase” the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by 2019.

To meet that goal, Bentley described how Alabama’s FUTURE Scholarship plan, which is modeled after the GEAR UP program, would identify seventh graders in the state’s poorest counties for tutoring, summer help programs, visits to college campuses, and financial planning.

“By the time they graduate high school, after they’ve met strict criteria, kept their grades up, and tapped into all available financial aid, we will pay their two-year college tuition,” Bentley said. “The FUTURE Scholarship Plan will not only educate and train our students, it will produce a pipeline of well-trained, well-educated talent for industries so those businesses can expand and grow.”

Jason Amos is Vice President of Communications at the Alliance for Excellent Education.


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