States

State of the States: Montana, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia

February 28, 2017 3 min read

Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock (D) • Jan. 24

In his third State of the State address, Bullock urged the legislature to fund early-childhood education, proposing a $12 million preschool grant program for low-income 4-year-olds.

“Like the other 45 states that have implemented state funding for preschool, we know this works,” he said. “It costs us not to invest in kids.”

In Bullock’s last proposed budget, he asked for $37 million for publicly funded preschool, which the legislature voted down. The governor said in his address that the state still made progress through a federal grant—last year, more than 650 children from low- to moderate-income families attended high-quality preschool.

Bullock also asked the legislature to add about $1.5 million to the state’s $42.9 million base of special education funding, and to invest $2 million toward internet connectivity in schools. And he touted the state’s all-time-high graduation rate of 86 percent and an increase in schools with internet access.

—Madeline Will

Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) • Jan. 31

Pledging to “empower parents,” Abbott used his address to trumpet a plan that would let residents use public money to send children to private schools. His administration has failed in the past to win passage of legislation that would grant families access to vouchers for tuition at nonpublic schools. He gave no details during the speech, but is backing legislation that would base the amount available through an education savings account on family income.

Abbott also focused on school finance, calling on legislators to overhaul the state’s funding system. Hundreds of districts and charter schools challenged the formula before the state supreme court last year, arguing that the state doesn’t spend enough money to educate its 5 million public school students. The court deemed the funding system barely constitutional.

Noting that Texas leads the nation in teacher-student sexual assaults, Abbott also urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would strip the licenses of teachers convicted of such crimes and set up safeguards to prevent offenders from landing new jobs in the state.

—Corey Mitchell

Utah

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) • Jan. 25

In his seventh State of the State address, Herbert announced the creation of Talent Ready Utah, a collaboration among the governor’s office of economic development and state education officials that aims to “help fill 40,000 new high-skill, high-paying jobs over the next four years.”

Business leaders, parents, and educators from across Utah are also “very close to uniting on an innovative 10-year plan for kindergarten through post-high school,” Herbert said.

He also touted Utah’s high school graduation rate, which has risen from 75 percent to 85 percent since 2009.

—Benjamin Herold

West Virginia

Gov. Jim Justice (D) • Feb. 8

The governor acknowledged his state’s education woes—"We’ve proven how to be dead last"—in a folksy, no-notes State of the State speech that outlined the remedies he intends to champion.

Justice proposed a 2 percent raise for teachers and said he was “ashamed” that it couldn’t be more. In his proposed budget, Justice recommended saving $3.5 million by eliminating state funds to eight regional education service agencies.

Beyond that, he proposed that Smarter Balanced assessments be thrown “in the trash can” and replaced with the ACT. And the current A-F school grading system should be jettisoned, too, he said.

Education can be “a revenue producer,” the governor said, because “businesses want to go where your kids are going to be educated the best.” If state residents could “create an education mecca in West Virginia, honest to Pete, people would come, and you couldn’t beat them away,” he said.

—Michele Molnar

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2017 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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