States State of the States

State of the States Coverage: Illinois, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Wisconsin

February 17, 2015 7 min read
TENNESSEE: Gov. Bill Haslam, front, set out his agenda for education and other state priorities to state lawmakers in his Feb. 9 State of the State speech in Nashville. Among other initiatives, he outlined plans for teacher raises and higher education.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

ILLINOIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) • Feb. 4

Calling education “the most important thing we do together as a community,” Gov. Rauner pledged in his State of the State speech to lift the state’s cap on charter schools while cutting back K-12 bureaucracy that he said inhibits good teaching.

Gov. Rauner, who defeated Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in 2014, also cited his campaign pledge to increase education funding as one he intended to keep.

“Too many students are trapped in failing schools or schools that are not a good fit for them,” he said in his prepared remarks. “We can give them better. We must give them better.” He also said that employees should have “the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union,” and that local voters should also have control over local collective bargaining.

MAINE

Gov. Paul R. LePage (R) • Feb. 3

Gov. LePage did not mention education, either K-12 or college, in a speech dedicated primarily to pitching a major reduction in the state income tax, but he did call for the state to focus on preventing domestic violence, particularly against children.

The governor proposed cutting the income tax on those in the highest bracket from 7.95 percent to 5.75 percent and replacing it with sales taxes. “A young married couple, both teachers with one child, claiming a standard deduction, would get a $1,500 pay raise,” Gov. LePage said. “That’s a mortgage payment. That’s a few tanks of heating oil. It’s several car payments or back-to-school clothes for the kids. It’s real money.”

He also urged the state to begin work to reduce domestic violence. Of the 21 murders committed in Maine in 2014, he noted, 14 were related to domestic violence, and eight of the victims were children under 13. Gov. LePage did not, however, lay out specific initiatives or new money to address the issue.

MARYLAND

Larry Hogan (R) • Feb. 4

In his first State of the State address, Maryland’s new governor staked out a new and more modest approach to K-12 education spending and challenged the legislature to approve the expansion of more charter schools.

The Republican chief executive has angered Democrats and the state’s biggest teachers’ union by proposing a $16.4 billion spending plan for fiscal 2016 that channels $144 million less to counties than they got in the current year’s budget. The proposal calls for $6.1 billion in aid to public schools, an increase of $45.3 million.

But in his 20-minute speech to the legislature, Gov. Hogan said that the plan represents a “record investment in K-12,” and noted that it includes $290 million for school construction. His aides have also pointed out that the proposed budget fully funds the state’s pension obligations.

Gov. Hogan said that the state had been poised for a $700 million budget shortfall, but that he and his team “revised the script” and delivered a budget that “only spends what we take in.” He added: “This is just common sense.”

The governor said that he will soon offer legislation that would allow more charter schools to open and that would provide tax credits to people who make contributions to private and parochial schools.

NORTH CAROLINA

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) • Feb. 4

In his annual address to lawmakers, Gov. McCrory laid out ambitious plans to raise teacher pay, reduce testing, and expedite teacher certification. He touched on his own student-teaching experience to make an argument for increasing teachers’ base salary to $35,000 a year.

“As a 20-year-old student-teacher ... I thought I had the perfect lesson plan for my first day of teaching,” he said. “But I ran out of material after 10 minutes. ... Teaching is hard.”

The governor said the current teacher certification is an unnecessarily bureaucratic process. He pointed to a teacher who had been trained through Teach For America, an alternative-preparation program, and had a master’s degree in education yet was still required to take 18 months of courses before receiving his North Carolina certification. “We want, and should be encouraging, accomplished people who want to join the teaching profession,” he said.

The governor also said his administration is working “to distinguish which tests improve a student’s performance and which tests simply waste time,” and plans to “eliminate unneeded testing by next year.”

OKLAHOMA

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) • Feb. 2

Gov. Fallin focused much of her State of the State speech on the importance of graduating students with skills to keep the Sooner State competitive.

She said that Oklahoma’s workforce is not meeting the education levels needed to sustain job growth. Only 31 percent of working Oklahomans have a workforce credential or associate degree, she added, and only 24 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“If we don’t address that skills gap, those jobs will go elsewhere,” the governor said.

To build a better workforce, she said, the state should raise academic standards and strengthen partnerships between businesses and schools so students can dual-track their education and work skills.

Gov. Fallin also talked about the state’s new budgeting system, OkStateStat, which ties spending to measurable outcomes. She said that in the education arena, her administration will be using it to increase the number of college degrees and credentials related to the state’s top five industries; reduce remediation rates for incoming college freshmen from 40 percent to 30 percent by 2025; and increase to 75 percent the number of 4th graders scoring proficient or above on state reading tests by 2018.

TENNESSEE

Gov. Bill Haslam (R) • Feb. 9

Building on the state’s significant K-12 and higher education investments in the past several years, Gov. Haslam called for more than $97 million in new money for teacher raises and money to expand several programs under the state’s “Drive to 55" initiative to raise the percentage of Tennesseeans with a certificate or college degree from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

The governor’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal includes $170 million more for K-12 funding, including a $44 million increase in the basic education fund and teacher pay raises equal to 4 percent on average. In addition, the governor proposed $5 million to create a trust to offer teachers free liability insurance.

Gov. Haslam also announced several initiatives to build on the 2014 Tennessee Promise scholarships, which provide two years of college tuition to any graduating senior, including: $2.5 million to improve high school remediation for students who otherwise would have to take noncredit courses in college, and $400,000 for a program to help first-generation college-goers adapt to campus life. He also announced a $1.5 million pilot that would allow adults with some college credits but no degree to attend any state technical college for free.

The Volunteer State has been backing off somewhat from long-term support of the Common Core State Standards in the last year, and Gov. Haslam urged residents to look at the standards on the state’s website, where more than 82,000 comments have already been submitted.

“I expect that we’re going to talk about state standards this session, and I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards. What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible.”

WISCONSIN

Scott Walker (R) • Jan. 13

In a statehouse speech with national overtones, Gov. Walker called for lawmakers to expand school choice and approve legislation “making it crystal clear” to local school districts that they are not required to follow the Common Core State Standards.

The governor, who was re-elected to a second term last fall and is considered a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, told lawmakers that standards “should be set by people from within Wisconsin—and preferably at the local level.”

Wisconsin districts already have the right not to follow the common-core standards, academic guidelines the state adopted in 2010. The potential barrier to such a move is that their students would still be tested on state assessments that are based on the standards.

In a subsequent speech on Feb. 3 outlining his two-year, $68 billion budget proposal covering the 2016-17 fiscal years, Gov. Walker called for cutting off funding for Wisconsin’s use of the tests designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two main groups of states designing exams aligned to the common core. Mr. Walker, whose state faces a major budget deficit, would hold the spending for K-12 education at roughly the same level. State schools superintendent Tony Evers has said he believes the budget will actually result in a cut in state aid to schools the first year.

A version of this article appeared in the February 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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