State of the States: Ala., Alaska, Conn., Del., Ill., Md., Mass., Mo., Miss., Okla., Tenn., Utah

February 09, 2016 10 min read
OKLAHOMA: Gov. Mary Fallin, who told lawmakers in her State of the State speech that she wants to boost teacher pay, stands behind a chart showing falling revenues as she outlines proposals to boost cigarette tax and close tax exemptions to deal with a state budget hole.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

Gov. Robert Bentley (R) • Feb. 2

The governor pitched lawmakers on a new Alabama Future Ready Scholarship program to improve postsecondary preparation in the state.

The program, which would begin first in Alabama’s neediest communities, would connect 7th graders with an “education adviser” charged with coaching the student through high school graduation and the transition to postsecondary.

Students would receive help from local community colleges, including tutoring, visits to college campuses, and financial planning. Those who complete the program would get two years of free community college.

“The results will be a well-trained, well-educated new generation of Alabamians,” Bentley said.

The governor is also pushing to expand the state’s First Class preschool program. Ideally, over the next three years, Bentley would like to give every interested parent the chance to enroll his or her 4-year-old in the program.

“Children who attend pre-K are more likely to read at grade level quicker, their math scores are higher, and they are less likely to need special education services,” Bentley said. “We know this program works, we’ve seen the statistics, but more importantly, we’ve seen the results in the lives of our students.”

–Alyson Klein

Gov. Bill Walker (I) • Jan. 21

In his annual address to legislators, the governor touched on education at the end, saying that falling oil prices continue to affect education spending. Alaska’s department of education had to cut its budget by a third last year, and Walker is proposing the state’s first income tax in 35 years.

“Even in these challenging times, Alaska’s students are a source of optimism and confidence,” Walker said in his address. “Their enthusiasm for tomorrow is not diminished by today’s oil prices. State education leaders are developing a sustainable plan for Alaska’s public education system based on input from Alaskans statewide.”

Beyond that, Walker said his three priorities for improving academic achievement in the state are strengthening local control, securing high-quality educators, and modernizing the state’s education system.

–Arianna Prothero

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) • Feb. 3

The state has to face “new economic realities,” and that means making budget reductions to reflect lower revenue projections, the governor told state legislators as he introduced a budget aimed at closing a $570 million deficit.

“Families and businesses do not set their budgets based on the amount of money they want to have next year. Neither can the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said. “This budget is based not on how much we want to spend, but how much money we actually have to spend.”

The proposed state budget adjustment from the governor’s office would cut $52.9 million from the $1.8 billion that had been allotted to the education department. About $3.6 million would be pared from the state’s $116 million budget for the early-childhood office.

—Christina Samuels

Gov. Jack Markell (D) • Jan. 21

In his eighth and final State of the State address, the governor lauded the growth in Delaware’s high school graduation rates, which he said represents the largest increase in the country. Graduation rates have reached an all-time high nationally, at 82 percent, and federal data show that Delaware’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is at 87 percent, up from 80 percent the year prior.

More high school students than ever are now taking computer science courses, participating in Advanced Placement programs, and attending college classes, Markell said in the speech. And over the past two years, he said, “all of Delaware’s college-ready students have applied and been accepted to college. Virtually all have enrolled. Previously, as many as 1 in 5 had not.”

The governor gave much of the credit for those accomplishments to Delaware’s teachers, whom he vowed to continue to support by working to raise their salaries, pilot teacher-leadership programs, and provide stipends for those with national-board certification.

“One of the best things we can do to ensure the prosperity of the generation to follow is to ensure our children have great teachers today,” he said.

—Liana Heitin

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) • Jan. 27

Education was a significant piece of the governor’s annual address to legislators, in which he outlined 10 long-term goals including expanding school choice for children attending academically struggling schools, building a “comprehensive, consistent, objective student-growth measure not necessarily based on the [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] exam,” and growing the state’s early-childhood education programs.

To better assure what he called “a high-quality, fully integrated education system,” Rauner said " we are committed to eliminating wasteful bureaucracy, putting more money into our classrooms, freeing up our teachers to teach, and holding our schools truly accountable for results.”

He didn’t give much detail on the initiatives, however, or any budget specifics.

Last month, Rauner and several Republican legislators proposed a bill that would allow the state to take over the financially struggling Chicago school system. Most notably, the bill would allow the district to declare bankruptcy and establish that the state would not be liable for the school district’s debt.

—Daarel Burnette II

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) • Feb. 3

In his second State of the State speech, the governor praised his state’s fiscal health, but gave little attention to K-12 issues—devoting less than a minute of his 25-minute address to education.

Hogan congratulated lawmakers on funding the K-12 system at historic levels by adding $830 million to the precollegiate budget, and called for sustained support of the Bay State’s schools.

Making a pitch for school choice, Hogan urged the legislature to provide “alternatives” to parents who want better options for their children as they prepare for college and good jobs.

—Catherine Gewertz

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) • Jan. 29

Lawmakers should lift the state’s cap on charter schools, Baker told them in his annual address, while also promising a state budget that would increase funding for schools without also increasing taxes.

Massachusetts currently limits charter schools to 120. The governor would like to add up to 12 new schools annually beyond that cap.

“More than 40,000 kids—most from communities of color—are excelling in public charter schools,” Baker said. “However, 37,000 more—mostly the neighbors of those kids—remain on a waiting list. Their parents struggle to understand why they don’t deserve the same education their neighbors’ kids get.”

—Evie Blad

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) • Jan. 20

In his final annual address to legislators, the governor said he has budgeted $150 million more for public schools this year than the $4.46 billion allocated for 2015-16. His budget proposal also represents an investment of $400 million more in the K-12 foundation formula than when he took office in 2009, he said.

This “record funding” includes dollars earmarked for the foundation formula, special education, transportation, and struggling school districts. Early-intervention and support will be made available to “troubled schools,” Nixon said, and more students in low-income communities will have the opportunity “to learn 21st-century skills like computer science.”

“And for the first time, we’ll be funding early-childhood education through the foundation formula, giving more than 2,500 kids access to high-quality preschool this year,” he said.

—Michele Molnar

Gov. Phil Bryant (R) • Jan. 29

School superintendents in the state should be appointed, rather than elected, the governor urged lawmakers in his annual address.

“There is a reason most of the nation has elected school boards and appointed superintendents ... because it works,” Bryant said.

The governor also wants to see interdistrict school choice and an expansion of charter schools.

“Just imagine that parents could take their hard-earned tax dollars and send their child to a school of their choice,” he said. “Imagine the freedom of a parent in a failing school to send an at-risk child to a superior school nearby but outside the district. ... Your ZIP code or income level should not determine your opportunity to get a good education.”

The governor’s budget for fiscal year 2017 includes $500,000 in new money for nationally board-certified teachers, bringing that program to more than $23 million. Bryant is also asking for $1 million for a new early education initiative. At the same time, he’s seeking to level-fund the state’s primary vehicle for education aid, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, at nearly $2.25 billion.

—Alyson Klein

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) • Feb. 1

Amid a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall resulting from the collapse of the oil industry and a simultaneous teacher-shortage, the governor outlined for legislators her proposal to give teachers a $3,000 pay raise next year. The move would cost the state $178 million. In exchange, she’s asking lawmakers to merge several districts and give superintendents more flexibility in how they spend their money.

The proposal was mostly in response to an initiative gaining traction to place a measure on this fall’s ballot that would raise the sales tax 1 percent to provide teachers with a $5,000 pay raise. Fallin pointed out that a penny sales tax would bring the sales-tax rate to 5.5 cents on the dollar.

In 2014, the state’s superintendents began complaining about a teacher shortage. A task force concluded that Oklahoma offers teacher pay that is among the lowest in the region, with starting teachers making $31,600.

But the oil-producing state is facing a severe fiscal crunch, driven by drops in oil prices. Fallin in November declared a “revenue failure” after tax revenue fell $50.1 million or 12 percent short of projections.

In her address, Fallin proposed “cutting 6 percent of state agencies’ spending and capturing $910 million in revenue by raising its cigarette and online sales tax, consolidating administrative services, and repealing several of the state’s $8 billion worth of tax exemptions.

She also proposed allowing superintendents to spend money traditionally used on facilities on teacher pay and other needs, freeing up about $200 million in spending.

—Daarel Burnette II

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) • Feb. 1

Touting education investment as “the smartest thing we can do for economic development,” Haslam dedicated the bulk of his State of the State speech to reflecting on the state’s higher education and K-12 progress and proposing “the largest investment in K-12 education in Tennessee’s history without a tax increase.”

Haslam proposed $4.8 billion for K-12 and $1.7 billion for higher education in state funding in fiscal 2016-17. That would provide $153 million in additional K-12 general education funding, including $105 million for teachers’ salaries, and $30 million to provide year-round health insurance for teachers, rather than 11 months’. He also wants to double the K-12 school technology budget, to $30 million, and unlike many Republican governors, vowed to continue implementation of the state’s Common Core State Standards. “While much of the rest of the country is still arguing about what to do on common-core standards, Tennessee went to work developing our standards that continue to raise the bar of expectations,” he said.

Noting that the state had seen a 25 percent increase in new community college freshmen enrollment and a 20 percent rise for four-year college freshmen, Haslam called for an additional $20 million for the Tennessee Promise fund to pay for at least two years of college tuition.

In addition, Haslam asked for $10 million to offer a second round of Labor Education Alignment Program grants to help school districts and colleges set courses to match local business needs for employees.

—Sarah D. Sparks

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) • Jan. 27

Over the next four years, Herbert wants Utah to raise the state’s high school graduation rate to 90 percent, up from its current rate of 84 percent. During his annual speech to the state’s legislators, the governor did not issue any specific policy reforms or new programs in support of that goal, but touted the more than $1 billion that his administration has invested in education, including $512 million last year, when the state’s operating and capital budgets totaled $13.5 billion.

“With finite resources and hundreds of competing demands in last year’s session, you made the tough decisions that put Utah’s children first,” Herbert told lawmakers. “As I go around the state, I am often thanked by teachers, principals, parents, and others for this extraordinary investment in Utah’s future.”

—Benjamin Herold

A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2016 edition of Education Week as State of the States


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