Education State of the States

State of the States 2012: Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Utah, Wisconsin

January 31, 2012 4 min read
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie addresses a joint session of the state legislature in Honolulu. The governor wants to keep talks going with the state teachers' union over a contract proposal that has foundered on such issues as teacher evaluation.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

ALASKA

Gov. Sean Parnell (R) • Jan. 19

In his annual speech to the legislature, Gov. Sean Parnell commended the state on maintaining economic stability, with a $13 billion surplus and an unemployment rate 1½ points below the national average, at a time when many states are struggling to stay in the black. Alaska’s strong economy is driven by oil production, said Gov. Parnell. He also congratulated legislators on establishing the Alaska Performance Scholarship, which provides scholarships for students who opt for a more rigorous curriculum in high school. He asked lawmakers to create a fund for those scholarships so they may be used for future generations as well.

—Katie Ash

HAWAII

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) • Jan. 23

In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Neil Abercrombie expressed a desire to continue negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Union after his most recent proposed six-year teacher contract was rejected in a vote by the union Jan. 19. The proposal included plans to restore teacher pay to 2009 levels, after which public employees took a 5 percent pay cut as part of a cost-saving measure, and to establish a performance-based teacher-evaluation system to be implemented in 2013-14. Failure to ratify the new proposal has threatened the state’s retention of its $75 million Race to the Top grant, which has been flagged as “high risk” by the U.S. Department of Education.

Gov. Abercrombie also requested an additional $2.9 million for the Hawaii Broadband Initiative, in part to initiate a 1-to-1 laptop program for students in the state, and pressed for more-robust and expanded early-childhood education for more children.

—Katie Ash

MICHIGAN

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) • Jan. 18

In his second State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder praised Michigan lawmakers for making changes to teacher-tenure laws and lifting the cap on the number of charter schools that universities can authorize.

“Now we have a better system to support our teachers, recognize their critical role, and create an environment that supports their success,” Mr. Snyder said. The new policy changes enacted last year eliminates seniority-based staffing decisions, and increases the amount of time it takes to earn tenure from four to five years. The cap of 150 on university-chartered schools will end by 2015.

The governor said the percentage of students in the state classified as “college- and career-ready” remains unacceptably low, however. Citing the “Michigan Dashboard,” a website created by his administration that provides a snapshot of key state indicators, Mr. Snyder noted that in 2009-10, 16 percent of the state’s students met the college-readiness benchmarks of the act college-entrance exam. That proportion rose to 17.3 percent in 2010-11, but “we need to be 100 percent college- and career-ready for our young people,” Gov. Snyder said.

The governor plans to present his proposed budget to the legislature Feb. 9.

—Christina A. Samuels

UTAH

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) • Jan. 25

Gov. Gary R. Herbert told lawmakers his “top legislative priority” is to “fund the growth and continued innovation in our education system.” In his State of the State address, the governor highlighted plans to increase state aid to public schools by $111 million in fiscal 2013, raising it above this year’s $2.5 billion for K-12 and including a “modest, but well-deserved pay increase for our teachers” of 1 percent.

In addition, he cited recent actions to expand early-intervention programs for students deemed at risk, and said the state was also expanding a Web portal that provides all those in Utah with online career counseling “to ensure the education they receive today will get them a job tomorrow.”

—Erik W. Robelen

WISCONSIN

Gov. Scott Walker (R) • Jan. 25

Gov. Scott Walker, who sparked a political backlash last year with his successful effort to curb Wisconsin teachers’ collective bargaining powers, outlined an education vision in his State of the State address that focused on increasing accountability, implementing a “more rigorous licensure exam” for elementary educators, and targeting new interventions to help elementary students learn to read.

“Every school that receives public funds ... will be rated by a fair, objective, and transparent system,” the Republican declared, saying the effort was based on the work of a bipartisan task force. One dimension of the new reading initiative, the governor said, is to have screeners “assess every child entering kindergarten so that our teachers know the reading levels of each of their students and can put together plans to get kids reading at grade level.”

The speech was delivered about a week after the governor’s political opponents signaled that they had turned in more than 1 million signatures to advance a recall election that could remove him from office.

—Erik W. Robelen

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2012 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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