State of the States: Ariz., Ark., Ga., Idaho, Kan., N.J., N.D., Ore., S.D., Vt., Wash., Wis., Wyo.

January 17, 2017 10 min read
Gov. Jay Inslee takes the oath of office before his inaugural address to a joint session of the legislature. Lawmakers are scrambling to revamp the K-12 funding system to satisfy a court order.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.


Gov. Doug Ducey (D) • Jan. 9

Signaling that schools will be a top priority during the upcoming legislative session, Ducey outlined plans for an education-heavy agenda, including statewide teacher pay raises, increased spending on all-day kindergarten, and a $1,000 signing bonus for new teachers who take jobs in low-income districts.

To ease a teacher shortage, Ducey wants state universities to provide free tuition for prospective educators as part of a program that would also guarantee jobs for graduates. Revamping the state’s teacher certification process, connecting rural and tribal school to high-speed broadband, and creating principal academies to train school leaders are also on his to-do list. He did not provide specifics on how he would pay for the changes.

—Corey Mitchell


Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) • Jan. 10

Increased state authority in education and health care gives Arkansas “a unique opportunity to innovate, reinforce the important values of work and responsibility, and to assure equal and excellent world-class education to every child in Arkansas,” the governor said in his State of the State address.

Hutchinson also proposed ArFuture Grants, through which the state would cover the cost of tuition and fees at a two-year college or technical school for high school students interested in a “high-need job skill” who agree to participate in a mentorship program and work in the state for three years after college.

“Because of ArFutures, it will be not only possible, but practical, for a student to get a two-year degree or certificate without any student debt,” Hutchinson said.

—Evie Blad


Gov. Nathan Deal (R) • Jan. 11

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, shakes hands as he leaves the House floor after delivering the State of the State address in Atlanta. Deal is asking Georgia lawmakers to support a new plan for fixing low-performing schools after voters last fall rejected a proposal for state takeovers of schools that consistently struggle.

The governor told lawmakers in his in his annual speech that he will propose granting teachers a 2 percent pay increase, in addition to merit-pay raises, while also pressing for legislation to turn around low-performing schools.

He argued that simply providing schools with more money would not improve their performance, saying that Georgia has boosted total K-12 spending by $2 billion over the last four years—which amounts to about half of all new state revenue going into schools.

Deal said he would work with leaders of Georgia’s GOP-controlled statehouse to craft legislation to address “chronically failing schools,” particularly at the elementary school level. The vast majority of Georgia’s lowest-performing schools serve those grades, he said. The importance of helping those schools should be clear, including to “those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo,” the governor said.

—Sean Cavanagh


Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) • Jan. 9

The governor called for an increase in spending on public education of more than 6 percent—to a total of nearly $1.7 billion—as he made education the cornerstone of his address.

Saying that “revenue is exceeding expectations,” Otter gave specifics about how he would allocate the increased funding for 2017-18, based on a state task force’s final recommendations in 2013 for improving Idaho’s K-12 education system.

The largest share would be an ongoing $58 million to continue implementing the career ladder pay model for public school teachers. That would be added to the $75 million invested over the past two years in this area, he said. Other funding would go toward leadership training of principals in low-performing schools, the training of school administrators in Idaho’s teacher evaluation framework and process, and improvement of teachers’ professional development opportunities.

Classroom technology also would receive a boost of $10 million a year, starting in fiscal 2018, he said. And he recommended $5 million per year be allocated for expanding and improving college and career counseling in Idaho high schools.

—Michele Molnar


Gov. Sam Brownback (R) • Jan. 10

Kansas lawmakers’ “most significant legislative task” during the 2017 session is “building a new school funding system that puts students first,” Brownback said in his speech to lawmakers, referring to an ongoing battle over how the state funds schools amid budget shortfalls.

“For decades, the children of Kansas suffered under an overly complicated education finance formula that lacked accountability for results, handcuffed local school boards, and spent money unrelated to student achievement,” he said, calling for a finance system that measures success “not by dollars spent, but by the achievement of our students.”

Brownback also proposed reforming the state’s teacher certification requirements to “create a pathway bringing more teachers to Kansas,” as well as creating a scholarship program for Kansas students who want to become teachers, and an updated school grading system.

—Evie Blad

New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie (R) • Jan. 10

The governor, in his seventh and final State of the State address, pledged to craft curricula about opioid addiction for all K-12 schools in the state and to bring inmates from minimum-security prisons to middle and high schools to discuss the ways addiction led to their imprisonment.

Christie also pledged $1 million to create “recovery dorms” that provide counseling support for college students recovering from addiction.

A strong charter schools advocate, Christie noted that the state board is considering his proposal to loosen regulations on the state’s most effective charter schools so they can be “more innovative.”

—Catherine Gewertz

North Dakota

Gov. Doug Burgum (R) • Jan. 3

Education is one of the areas that “demands change,” Burgum said in his first State of the State speech after being elected last year. “We can’t prepare our kids for the 21st century using a 19th-century model.”

To illustrate the old vs. new contrast, the governor cited a couple of examples in his speech. Burgum, who sold a software company to Microsoft and was an executive there, noted that he did an internet search for “online courses for free” and received 51.6 million responses. Later in the speech, he pointed out that building new schools on the outskirts of a metro area has resulted in “huge, long-term ongoing costs to deliver city services.”

While his administration remains “committed to funding education,” he said, “we need to challenge ourselves to find more cost-effective approaches that produce better results.” The biennial $2.3 billion public-instruction budget for 2017 to 2019, proposed by the previous governor, represented a 0.1 percent increase from the 2015 to 2017 biennium. Burgum has not yet proposed changes to that budget, but he did say “we must begin the long, hard process of reforming property taxes.”

—Michele Molnar


Gov. Kate Brown (D) • Jan. 9

Brown vowed in her inaugural address that raising Oregon’s high school graduation rates will be her top education-related priority. As part of that pledge, Brown is asking for money in her proposed budget to address issues surrounding school attendance and student trauma, as well as to make more investments in underserved communities. She also highlighted investments in technical and career training and said she would continue to support that work.

Although Brown said the state has made strides in her two-year tenure with investments in early learning and postsecondary education, there is still much for the state to tackle.

“Our schools continue to be among the nation’s leaders in all the wrong categories—the largest class size, the shortest school year, and the highest drop-out rate,” she said.

Brown became governor in 2015 after Democrat John Kitzhaber resigned amid an ethics scandal.

—Arianna Prothero

South Dakota

Dennis Daugaard (R) • Jan. 10

The governor used his seventh State of the State address to tout the success of past efforts to improve teacher pay, revamp the state’s school funding formula, and expand student participation in a statewide dual-credit program.

Preliminary reports show that the average South Dakota teacher’s salary is up 12 percent from 2015, to nearly $47,000, Daugaard said. Schools also received an average increase of $526 in state funding per student. And more than 2,000 high school students in the state last year earned a university credit through the dual-credit program, he said.

He was less enthusiastic about schools’ limited participation in a 4-year-old program meant to reduce the number of South Dakota students taking remedial courses in college. Just 42 of 150 districts in the state have adopted the free Accuplacer program, Daugaard said, imploring school administrators to take better advantage of the initiative in the coming year.

—Benjamin Herold


Gov. Phil Scott (R) • Jan. 5

In his inaugural address, Scott called for the state to rethink its education system by paying more attention to pre-K and higher education. He connected those changes Scott, who defeated Democrat Sue Minter last fall, connected reforming the state’s education system—from pre-K to technical training programs, to graduate education —to boosting economic growth and making the state more attractive to young families.

Though Scott did not give concrete details on how education funding will change to support his vision during his term, he noted that Vermont’s annual K-12 spending of $1.6 billion accounted for about 25 percent of the state’s entire budget. He argued that more money should be directed toward pre-K, which he said has been proven to lower special education and health-care costs, and to state colleges and universities, the latter of which he said were among the lowest-funded in the country.

“We can revitalize the entire system, so we no longer have to accept rising taxes and compromises in the quality of our children’s education,” he said, in asking teachers, principals, superintendents and higher education officials to think differently about education

Scott is expected to lay out his budget proposals in an address to the Democratic-controlled legislature in a few weeks.

—Denisa R. Superville


Gov. Jay Inslee (D) • Jan. 11

In his annual address to lawmakers, Inslee said he was confident 2017 would be the year that the Washington legislature finally meets the demands of a five-year-old state supreme court ruling to increase funding for the state’s public schools. Although the state has made steps toward adequately funding public education, it still hasn’t completely satisfied the court’s decision.

“We’ve added more than $2.6 billion for our schools” since 2013 when he took office, Inslee said. “We’ve tackled issues like all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes in early grades, and funding for student transportation and supplies.”

Through moves such as taxes on carbon pollution and investment gains for the wealthiest 1 percent of residents, Inslee said his proposed 2017-19 biennial budget would fully fund K-12 education in the state.

—Arianna Prothero


Gov. Scott Walker (R) • Jan. 10

Walker pledged to boost support for improved internet connectivity for schools, and touted his record backing public and private school choice in his seventh State of the State address to lawmakers.

Now midway through his second term, the governor boasted of Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate—which, like most states, has dramatically fallen since the end of the Great Recession—and of tax cuts he implemented. The governor called for $36 million in new spending to be put into a state grant program to upgrade broadband technology, which will also support tech training for teachers from small and rural districts. That investment would bring total spending on the program to $52 million, he said.

The governor, who made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2016, is perhaps best-known among educators nationwide for his policies to slash collective-bargaining powers among his state’s K-12 employees, a decision that proved hugely controversial. Walker has also expanded charter schools and private school vouchers, efforts he cited in his speech to lawmakers.

—Sean Cavanagh


Gov. Matt Mead (R) • Jan. 11

Wyoming public schools are facing a $1.5 billion shortfall over the next six years, Mead warned in his seventh state of the state address. And that’s not including funding for school construction and maintenance, he said, calling the situation a “fiscal crisis.”

Wyoming’s school funding is tied to revenue from coal, oil, and natural gas production, which has declined in recent years.

The governor also called for the legislature to convene an education funding task force to address possible cuts and revenue streams—something he had unsuccessfully requested last year. “A year has gone by, and things have not gotten better,” Mead said. “We cannot wait another year to act.”

—Madeline Will

A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 2017 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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