States State of the States

State of the States 2011: California, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin

February 08, 2011 8 min read
Members of the Utah legislature stand and applaud Gov. Gary R. Herbert as he addresses them at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26. The governor vowed to make education the state’s “number-one budget priority.” He has proposed money to cope with projected enrollment growth and to continue voluntary all-day kindergarten. Read more about Gov. Herbert's address.

For complete coverage of this year’s governors’ speeches, check out State of the States 2011.

CALIFORNIA

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) | Jan. 31

Having already proposed major spending cuts aimed at closing his state’s daunting budget gap, Gov. Brown used his first State of the State speech since returning to the governorship to urge Republican lawmakers to support his plan to put a series of tax extensions on the ballot, a move he argues is necessary to avert deep cuts to schools and other programs.

The governor has called for cutting $12.5 billion in spending in fiscal year 2011, out of a proposed general fund of $84.6 billion, in an effort to close a projected budget deficit of $25 billion. While many state programs and services would be slashed under his plan, K-12 spending would largely be spared from the pain.

State of the States

BRIC ARCHIVE

Education is feeling the pinch as state budgets tighten nationwide. Read what the governors plan for education funding and reform in 2011 in our State of the State and budget address roundups. Read more.

In a relatively brief address to lawmakers, Mr. Brown, who previously governed the state from 1975 to 1983, said he had demonstrated his willingness to cut spending, and that he and lawmakers now need a “clear mandate” from voters on whether to make more cuts. He invoked recent pro-democracy protests in Tunisia and Egypt in questioning why California political leaders would “block a vote of the people.”

“[I]t would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities, and our system for caring for the most vulnerable,” the governor said. “They have a right to vote on this plan. This state belongs to all of us, not just those of us in this chamber.”—Sean Cavanagh

IDAHO

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) | Jan. 10

Despite a shaky budget situation and Idaho’s also-ran status in the federal Race to the Top competition, Gov. Otter and Tom Luna, the state schools superintendent, are urging lawmakers to embrace a makeover of the K-12 system that would include major changes to teacher pay and tenure, and a new investment in technology.

The proposal, outlined in the governor’s State of the State address and discussed by him and Mr. Luna in a subsequent news conference, calls for a $50 million boost to help expand classroom technology over the next two years. Each 9th grader would get a laptop computer, and high school students would be required to take online courses in order to graduate.

The plan also seeks to hike the minimum pay for new teachers to $30,000, put in place a pay-for-performance plan, and phase out tenure by offering new teachers and administrators a two-year, rolling contract. School districts would no longer be able to use seniority as the sole factor in determining teacher layoffs. And districts would have to tie a portion of teacher and administrator evaluations to student academic progress. The proposal also aims to ensure that parents have access to “understandable” fiscal reports on local school districts and input on teacher evaluations. —Alyson Klein

IOWA

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) | Jan. 14

The new Republican governor called for an education summit in his inaugural, saying he would bring together top national and state leaders on K-12 to consider how Iowa schools compare to those in the rest of country and make recommendations for improvement.

The summit will consider how the Hawkeye State can boost teacher recruitment efforts, as well as help current teachers improve their practices. Gov. Branstad, who also served as Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999, wants to examine how the state can remove teachers who aren’t effective even after receiving coaching to improve.

The new focus on teacher quality is likely to come against a backdrop of austerity. Gov. Branstad said state auditors believe Iowa must cut the government by 15 percent to permanently balance the books. “We will remove the lead boots of excess government from our economy,” Gov. Branstad said. “And without that burden, we will be able to run like the wind in the race to prosperity.” —Alyson Klein

KENTUCKY

Gov. Steve Beshear (D) | Feb. 1

In his address, Gov. Beshear called on lawmakers to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18. He has endorsed a bill recently introduced in the House that would make that change gradually by 2016. The bill also would create alternative programs for some high school students.

“Our youth need more education, not less,” Gov. Beshear said. “Their economic security depends on it.” A similar bill introduced during the previous legislative session cleared the House but did not advance in the Senate.

Gov. Beshear also said the state was in the process of “aligning” its early-childhood and childhood-development programs to ensure students are ready for kindergarten. —Stephen Sawchuk

MARYLAND

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) | Feb. 3

Maryland must hone its innovative edge to thrive in a competitive global economy, and the “foundation of innovation is education,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in his State of the State address.

Although the state faces overall budget cutbacks because of a $1.4 billion shortfall, it must preserve its commitment to education because of its value as a long-term investment, Gov. O’Malley said. He proposed holding education spending at the same level as in the current fiscal year. In fiscal 2011, the budget for precollegiate education is $5.7 billion.

The governor warned that state and employee contributions to the pension system will have to be “moderately” increased, and benefits “moderately” reduced, in order to protect the health of that system and the state’s finances. —Catherine Gewertz

MONTANA

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) | Jan. 26

Gov. Schweitzer called on lawmakers to fund his proposed increases for public education, giving particular notice to funding public pre-K and to capping college tuition costs.

“Please bring me bills that unite Montana,” he said. “Bills that help businesses and create jobs, and bills that prepare our students for a better tomorrow. I’ll sign them.”

That could be a tough challenge in the Republican-dominated legislature, however, which has advanced bills with lower figures than his budget request. In that request, Gov. Schweitzer proposed to raise spending on the University of Montana system by $52 million by 2013, and to increase state per-pupil allocations in K-12 by $161 over the next two years.

“If the 62nd legislative assembly chooses to decrease our support for public education, you do so as a reflection of your values, not for a lack of available revenue,” he said. “We have the money in the bank. —Stephen Sawchuk

UTAH

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) | Jan. 26

Gov. Herbert vowed in his address to make education “our number-one budget priority” and touted elements of a “long-term action plan” devised by a state Education Excellence Commission he set up a year ago. The plan includes ensuring that students are proficient in reading by the 3rd grade and calls for “matching classroom instruction to real-world jobs—especially in the areas of science, engineering, and math.”

As part of the $11.9 billion state budget he proposed in December, the governor included $50 million in additional state aid for public education to cope with projected enrollment growth, as well as $7.5 million to continue the state’s voluntary all-day kindergarten program. “Investing in our children today benefits all of us tomorrow,” he said.

The governor, who took over in 2009 when then-Gov. Jon Huntman Jr. stepped down to become the U.S. ambassador to China, identified education as a “cornerstone” to ensure Utah’s future prosperity. “The pathway to success in postsecondary education, which leads to economic prosperity as an adult, begins in elementary school as a child,” he said. —Erik W. Robelen

VERMONT

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) | Jan. 25

Even as the state must find $176 million to cut from its $4.8 billion spending plan, Gov. Shumlin called for Vermont to become a national leader in early education by expanding prekindergarten programs.

The governor proposed eliminating the cap on how many children ages 3 to 5 can enroll in pre-K classes, saying prekindergarten may have the potential to produce long-term savings on prisons, special education, and other services. Over time, he said, if even half of Vermont’s eligible children enroll, it would cost the state about $14 million. However, the expansion would have little effect on the 2012 budget: Local government agencies would have to approve raising property taxes to pay for their share of the expansion.

Gov. Shumlin also proposed a higher-education income tax credit. He said he hoped such a program would encourage Vermont high school students to go to college and work in the state after graduation, which is a necessity as the state’s population ages. —Nirvi Shah

WISCONSIN

Gov. Scott Walker (R) | Feb. 1

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to a joint session of the state legislature in Madison on Feb. 1. The governor is calling for public employees to pay about 5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and to pay 12 percent of their health-insurance premiums.

Although he did not specifically refer to public education, Gov. Walker’s address to legislators contained at least one element that surely perked up the ears of some educators: his call for public employees—presumably including public school teachers—to make a large contribution toward their pensions.

“Currently, state employees pay next to nothing from their salaries toward their pension,” he said. The governor is proposing that public employees contribute about 5 percent of their annual salaries into the pension system and pay 12 percent of their health insurance premiums.

The freshman governor, who was elected last fall, focused his address largely on the state’s financial straits. Wisconsin faces a projected budget shortfall of $3 billion for the two-year budget cycle that begins next July, the governor noted in his speech, and it faces a $200 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

First, let me be clear: We have an economic and fiscal crisis in this state that demands our immediate attention, the governor said. The solutions we offer must be designed to address both job creation and our budget problems.Erik W. Robelen

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A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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