State of the States: Ariz., Fla., Ga., Idaho, Iowa, Ind., Kan., N.J., N.Y., S.D., Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va.

January 19, 2016 14 min read
INDIANA: Gov. Mike Pence, center, delivers his annual address to legislators in Indianapolis, flanked by House Speaker Brian Bosma and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. His proposals include a new scholarship program for students who graduate in the top fifth of their class and agree to teach in Indiana for at least five years. Pence also touted education gains, including the state's high graduation rate.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) • Jan. 11

Ducey used his second annual address to promote Proposition 123, his education-funding ballot initiative that would add $3.5 billion to K-12 public education over the next decade. If voters approve the proposal in May, it would resolve a 5-year-old lawsuit over school underfunding.

“This is a first step—a big first step—but not our only first step to improve public education in Arizona,” Ducey said in urging Democrats and Republicans to back the ballot initiative. “We know spending is not the measure of success. And it shouldn’t just be about the billions of dollars we are putting into public education; it must be about what our kids are getting out of their education.”

As part of the new $24 million Arizona Public School Achievement District, the governor is proposing that high-performing, in-demand K-12 public districts and charters be able to apply for low-interest financing to expand their operations. Ducey is also proposing a financial incentive for schools to provide college-prep classes; schools in lower-income areas would get an “even greater boost for helping kids beat the odds,” Ducey said.

Ducey also discussed school infrastructure, saying the state needs to provide resources for aging schools to repair and rebuild facilities. Arizona leaders are facing the threat of a lawsuit over the condition of the state’s crumbling school buildings. And he promised to target high-need employment sectors with a renewed focus on career and technical education.

–Corey Mitchell

Gov. Rick Scott (R) • Jan. 12

In a speech that included little in the way of policy detail on education, Scott has proposed investing $91 million more into the state’s K-12 school system next year, mostly by using increased revenue from the state’s property tax. That’s on top of the $13 billion put into K-12 in the current 2016 fiscal year.

“We made a record high investment in our education system so every child can have the opportunity to pursue their American dream,” he said during the speech.

His address focused primarily on persuading legislators to approve his $1 billion in tax cuts, helping residents obtain jobs and fighting terrorism. He only mentioned education twice.

–Daarel Burnette II

Gov. Nathan Deal (R) • Jan. 13

In an address that acknowledged the challenges educators face even as he vowed to press for improvements in the K-12 system, Deal told lawmakers he would budget for a 3 percent raise for teachers across the state.

The governor said he wants to devote an additional $300 million to K-12 education, money that would flow to Georgia’s school districts. He said he expects that individual districts would use that money to support teachers’ raises at the amount he targeted.

If they don’t, he suggested, the state will not be as inclined to give districts flexibility in spending state education dollars in the future. Deal also said his budget would put in place a new compensation model for prekindergarten teachers, with the goal of retaining more of those educators and their classroom assistants. Georgia’s K-12 general fund budget in fiscal 2016 was about $8.5 billion.

In addition, Deal touted gradual improvements in the state’s graduation rate during his tenure, while bemoaning a dropout rate that has remained “unyieldingly stagnant.”

–Sean Cavanagh

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) • Jan. 11

The governor made education the cornerstone of his speech, calling for a 7.9 percent increase in K-12 funding, bringing it to nearly $1.6 billion for the state’s 291,000 public school students in fiscal 2017. He also asked that plans be accelerated to return school operating funds to pre-recession levels.

"[T]he foundation we’re building will advance our goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Idaho citizens between the ages of 25 and 34 have a college degree or professional-technical certification by 2020,” he said.

He would devote $38 million to continue implementing the state’s teacher career ladder, and about $1.8 million to move non-instructional school staff like counselors, nurses, and speech pathologists onto it. That ladder, based on specific student success measures, “is essential to attracting and retaining the best teachers for Idaho schools,” he said. Otter asked for an investment of $5 million for professionals to mentor new teachers.

Reading proficiency also received attention, with Otter pledging $10.7 million for interventions to support K-3 students who need support. Mastery-based education was in the spotlight, too, with Otter’s proposal to allocate $1.1 million for up to 20 districts interested in creating models for that approach.

At the post-high school level, Otter asked for a 9.6 percent increase in funding for community colleges, and a boost of nearly 9 percent for the state’s four-year institutions.

–Michele Molnar

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) • Jan. 12

Even in what he called a “tight” budget year, the Republican governor is pushing for an increase in pre-K-12 funding of more than $145 million, which would bring the state’s investment in this area to over $3.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The funding increase would include the state’s third installment in what Branstad called “our extraordinary commitment to teacher leadership and compensation.” For the past couple years, Iowa has been investing in the “Teacher Leadership and Compensation System,” which was created in 2013 and focuses on helping high-flying educators serve as instructional leaders. The Hawkeye State has been gradually expanding the program to its 300-plus districts. Right now, the program is in more than 100 districts.

Branstad also called on the legislature to extend the state’s Secure Advanced Vision for Education, or SAVE, fund for school infrastructure, which was created in 2008 and expires in 2029. The fund has allocated more than $3.2 billion to schools for infrastructure funding. Branstad’s proposal would increase those dollars from $458 million this year to $788 million by 2049, or a total of $20.7 billion.

And Branstad encouraged the General Assembly to make the state a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math education. He noted that his STEM council, created in 2011, has recommended requiring high schools to offer at least one computer science course by 2018-19, and for middle school students to have a preliminary unit on coding.

–Alyson Klein

Gov. Mike Pence (R) • Jan. 12

In a wide-ranging speech that included several education elements, Pence said the state needs to take “a step back” on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, or ISTEP, the state’s annual assessment exams. The tests, used in teacher evaluations and school ratings, were revamped in 2015, and scores fell in every district.

Pence promised that the low scores would not affect teacher compensation or bonuses and that they would be used in ways that are fair to schools.

Pence also said he supports a proposed scholarship program proposed by the Indiana House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma that would cover up to $7,500 in annual tuition for students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class and commit to teaching in the state for at least five years.

The governor also noted state education gains in recent years, including the high school graduation rate, which is the seventh highest in the nation, and Indiana students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The state’s students outperformed the national average in every major category, he said.

And he highlighted the state’s pre-K pilot initiative for low-income families, school voucher programs, and an emphasis on career and vocational education in high school.

–Denisa R. Superville

Gov. Sam Brownback (R) • Jan. 12

In calling on the Sunflower State’s legislature to create a new school funding system that channels more money to teachers and includes merit pay, Brownback said it was “highly inefficient, if not immoral” that much of the state’s $4 billion in education spending goes to uses other than classroom instruction.

“Education is not done by money or buildings,” he said. “It is done by teachers.”

Brownback wants a flexible school funding formula that also supports tax credits for private school tuition and alternative teacher certification. Kansas, which is operating under a budget deficit, opted last year to finance its schools with block grants based on 2014 funding after a court deemed its finance formula inadequate. An appeal of that decision is currently before the state’s supreme court.

–Evie Blad

Gov. Chris Christie (R) • Jan. 12

In his sixth State of the State address, Christie called for cutting back regulations that restrain charter schools, saying they’re a pivotal piece of education reform in the Garden State.

With characteristic pugnaciousness, Christie announced that he will “aggressively prioritize” easing regulations on charter schools. He highlighted the work of a Newark charter school teacher who has expanded computer science programs for minority and female students, using her story as an example of innovation that needs more support. The governor, who also is a Republican candidate for president, said he will focus on helping charter schools find space to operate and building flexibility into teacher certification to ensure a steady flow of teachers into charters.

Christie called attention to past work that’s put him at odds with the state teachers’ union: increasing the number of charter schools, making tenure harder to earn, and introducing performance pay. He also praised the state’s College Readiness Now program, which involves community colleges in helping struggling students graduate from high school and enroll in college.

–Catherine Gewertz

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) • Jan. 13

In a speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, Cuomo charged the state education department with continuing to rebuild trust with parents and teachers after 20 percent of the state’s students opted out of testing last year. The state’s board of regents recently placed a four-year moratorium on test results used to evaluate teachers.

“Time has shown that this was the right decision,” Cuomo said. “We urge the state education department to do it right this time, and we are all fully available to assist in and monitor in this effort.”

Cuomo is proposing that the state spend $25 billion on educating the state’s students in the two-year, fiscal 2016 and 2017 budget cycle, an increase of $2.1 billion over those two years. He wants to use the increase to close the state department’s deficit and turn every failing school into a community school. (The speech was interrupted by a heckler who complained about education funding in the state.)

The governor also said he will continue to invest in charter schools which, he pointed out, cost half as much as traditional public schools. And he said he will provide teachers with a $200 tax rebate. “They more than deserve it,” he said.

–Daarel Burnette II

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) • Jan. 12

An extended call to improve pay for South Dakota teachers, currently the lowest-paid in the country, was the focus of Daugaard’s sixth State of the State address. Through a proposed new half-cent sales tax, he seeks to raise more than $100 million annually, most of which would be used to bump the state’s average teacher salary to $48,500.

“If South Dakota wants to maintain high student achievement, we need a new generation of high-quality teachers,” Daugaard said. “We are not going to get them unless we become more competitive with surrounding states,” especially Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota.

The new tax, which would require support of two-thirds of the state legislature, would also raise millions for property-tax relief. If Daugaard gets his wish, it will also help prompt reform of the state’s education funding formula, to be based on a target average teacher salary, rather than per-pupil expenditure. In his speech, the governor also said his state would seek to provide incentives for school districts to share more services, including purchasing, payroll, and software licensing.

–Benjamin Herold

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) • Jan. 7

In his final address to the state legislature, Shumlin, who was selected for a two-year term in January 2015 by legislators after he failed to get 50 percent of the vote in his 2014 re-election bid, touted his education record, including the state’s achievement as the first in the nation to offer universal pre-K to 3- and 4-year-olds, and a 150 percent increase over the last three years in the number of students earning college credits while still in high school.

Shumlin also debuted new education initiatives, including the creation of college savings accounts for every child born in the state. Through the program, the state will contribute a minimum of $250 for every child and $500 for low-income children.

He proposed a new program to help working adults and first-generation students take advantage of one free semester of college courses at Vermont state colleges. The program will also include mentoring and other support. Shumlin plans to provide $2 million in his 2016 budget, which he will present to the legislature on Jan. 21, to kick-off the program.

Lastly, Shumlin asked lawmakers to repeal or impose a one-year moratorium on a portion of Act 46, a law passed last year to encourage school districts to consolidate. A part of the law that holds districts to strict spending caps and imposes heavy penalties for exceeding the cap has been deeply unpopular, and the state school boards association and others have called for it to be repealed. The Associated Press said 127 districts would exceed the spending cap this year under the current law, and they could face a collective tax penalty of $9.5 million.

–Denisa R. Superville

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) • Jan. 13

VIRGINIA: Gov. Terry McAuliffe used his annual speech to lawmakers to urge a reduction in time spent on standardized tests, and for beefing up career and college preparation.

K-12 education was a high-profile topic in this year’s State of the Commonwealth address, as McAuliffe urged lawmakers to further reduce assessment time, and to ensure students have strong career, as well as college, preparation.

Virginia cut its Standards of Learning tests by half in 2014, but McAuliffe asked the legislature to embrace, by 2017, computer-based tests that shorten testing even more—to less than two hours.

He also highlighted a package of proposals he introduced Jan. 12 that is designed to better position high school students for college and jobs. It includes new expectations that students will take courses for college credit, get work experience, and earn industry certifications. The plan also would make it easier for high schools to hire industry professionals to teach career and technical education.

To signify his priorities, McAuliffe mentioned a school that’s opening in Richmond next fall that will allow students to earn high school diplomas and associate degrees in four years, while studying coding and working in computer science jobs.

“For those of us old enough to remember the movie ‘The Graduate,’ the key word then was ‘plastics.’ Today, it’s ‘cyber,’ ” the governor said.

–Catherine Gewertz

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) • Jan. 12

Among the priorities Inslee outlined for the 2016 legislative session is addressing the state’s teacher shortage. To recruit the additional 7,000 teachers Washington state needs, the governor proposed raising starting salaries, instituting minimum annual raises for all teachers, and investing more in mentoring programs.

Inslee also praised the bipartisan work lawmakers did last session to increase education spending in the state’s 2015-17 biennial budget by $1.3 billion, but he said more needs to be done.

The state supreme court decided in August that despite a boost in spending, the state had not done enough in response to the court’s 2012 McCleary v. Washington ruling on school finance. The court levied a $100,000 daily fine on the state.

–Arianna Prothero

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) • Jan. 13

For the past year, “the delivery of public education in West Virginia has been used as a political football by members of both parties,” the governor told the legislature in his annual speech. He called that situation disappointing, unacceptable, and “a disservice to our kids.”

“At a time when comprehensive reform has led to real improvements, and our students are more competitive with their peers in other states, we need to build on these successes—not introduce legislation that prioritizes summer vacations over a good education,” Tomblin said. “We cannot allow politics or red tape to get in the way of providing our kids with a thorough and efficient education.”

The governor plans to introduce legislation to establish a new grant program called Innovation in Education. A reallocation of existing funding would free nearly $2.5 million to support new classroom offerings designed to increase students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, math, and entrepreneurship, he said.

–Michele Molnar

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as State of the States


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