States State of the States

State of the States 2012: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia

January 17, 2012 8 min read
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell gestures as he delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers in Richmond last week. The Republican devoted much of his speech to education.
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Here are summaries of recent annual addresses by governors around the country.

ARIZONA

Gov. Janice K. Brewer (R) • Jan. 9

In her State of the State address to Arizona lawmakers, Gov. Janice K. Brewer made no specific policy announcements about K-12 education, highlighting instead the state’s role as a “leader in allowing parents to choose a school that best meets their children’s needs.”

The governor pledged to provide “quality teachers, a safe environment, a setting of a parent’s choosing, data-driven decisions, and the highest of standards,” in the state’s public schools, but offered no specifics about how she would deliver on those promises.

Gov. Brewer also promised that the additional 1 cent sales tax she had supported in 2010 to help the state weather the economic recession would expire in 2013 as scheduled. Two-thirds of the revenue generated by that tax has gone toward the state’s public schools. The governor did not say how the state would make up for the loss of those funds for public schools.

—Lesli A. Maxwell

FLORIDA

Gov. Rick Scott (R) • Jan. 10

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who oversaw major cuts to school funding last year, is now asking state lawmakers to boost spending on education, though Democrats say his proposal doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The first-term Republican, in his annual State of the State address, reiterated his call for increasing spending on schools by $1 billion annually, a plan that would boost per-student funding by about 2 percent, to $6,372.

In a speech that was otherwise heavy on anti-tax and anti-government themes, Gov. Scott said he was proposing increased funding for schools in response to calls from state residents.

“I heard one thing very clearly, over and over,” said Mr. Scott, according to his prepared remarks. “Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity for our state.”

Last year, the governor and the state’s GOP majority in the legislature angered teachers by approving deep cuts to K-12 spending, and laws that phased out tenure and implemented merit pay for teachers and required them to pay more for pensions.

Florida Democrats greeted Gov. Scott’s call for new education funding skeptically, saying he was proposing to raise funding for schools by gutting other government programs, particularly in health care. Those gains would not fill the hole left by earlier cuts, they argued. Nan Rich, the Democratic minority leader in the state Senate, said the governor’s budget created a “false choice, pitting our hospitals against our teachers.”

—Sean Cavanagh

IDAHO

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) • Jan. 9

Declaring that jobs and education are his “top two” budget and policy priorities, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter called for boosting state spending on public schools in the upcoming fiscal year in his annual State of the State address.

Gov. Otter pledged to increase funding for K-12 education by $31.6 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and “fully fund” a slate of education reforms known as “Students Come First” that he signed into law in 2011. Those reforms include expanding technology in schools throughout Idaho and requiring students to take online courses, as well as placing restrictions on collective bargaining.

The governor also asked state lawmakers to support his bid to replenish a reserve account for public education with $29 million that the state had mostly depleted in recent years because of the recession.

—L.A.M.

KANSAS

Gov. Sam Brownback (R) • Jan. 11

In his second State of the State message, Gov. Sam Brownback said school districts will have more flexibility in how they spend their money and can rest assured that Kansas’ contribution to their budgets would be preserved. He reiterated a plan he outlined last month to change the state’s school finance formula, the target of a lawsuit that is scheduled for trial this summer. The plan would also allow unlimited local control of property taxes for educational purposes.

“Local districts should be allowed to invest in the excellence of their schools to the extent their voters believe is appropriate. As more districts make those investments, my plan establishes a mechanism which will protect poorer districts so that they, too, benefit,” Gov. Brownback said. The state’s poorest school districts would split an additional $45 million under his proposal.

He said his new school finance formula should last four years, “thus ending the cycle of litigation and beginning a cycle of legislation.”

—Nirvi Shah

SOUTH DAKOTA

Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) • Jan. 10

In his second state budget address, Gov. Dennis Daugaard unveiled the South Dakota Investing in Teachers initiative, an investment that, if carried out, would give bonuses to all of the state’s science and mathematics teachers, as well as the top 20 percent of all teachers in each school district, based on a combination of test-score growth, classroom observation, and local school input.

The governor said he envisions the initiative as a three-year plan, beginning with an $8 million, one-time investment for training to lay the groundwork for the system during the 2013 fiscal year, $5 million in ongoing funds for bonuses of $3,500 a year for math and science teachers the following year, and then $10 million in ongoing funds the year after that for $5,000 performance-based bonuses.

“This is by far the largest investment in the teaching profession in the history of our state,” Gov. Daugaard said of the measures, which were crafted with designs on recruiting better teachers as a response to flatlining achievement scores. “Funding these bonuses is a sizable obligation, and I want to emphasize my strong commitment to fully funding these incentive payments every year.”

His budget for fiscal 2013 increases state aid for education by $40 million, to just under $370 million, nearly restoring it to fiscal 2011 levels after all state agencies without mandated federal funding levels saw spending cut by at least 10 percent in fiscal 2012, including education. The boost represents an 11.9 percent funding increase.

—Ian Quillen

VERMONT

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) • Jan. 5

Gov. Peter Shumlin, recently featured in a Rolling Stone article about leaders who get things done, told Vermont residents he will pursue improvements in education with the same vigor with which he took on recovery efforts after Hurricane Irene last August.

“If we can reopen hundreds of flooded businesses in 14 weeks, we can transform Vermont into the innovative education leader, where from early childhood to higher education to continuing education, we train employees for the prosperous jobs of our future,” Gov. Shumlin said.

In a budget address last week, he proposed new state spending on higher education and dual enrollment, which he sees as investments aimed at making Vermont students more competitive and creating opportunities for employers to recruit better employees.

—N.S.

VIRGINIA

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) • Jan. 11

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell gave K-12 education a high profile in his State of the State address, asking the Virginia legislature to pare back job protections for teachers and principals and take steps to ensure that 3rd and 4th graders read proficiently before being promoted to the next grade.

The governor wants to replace “continuing contracts” for teachers and principals with annual job contracts. He wants to require school districts to provide reading help for3rd and 4th graders who fall short of state reading-proficiency scores.

Gov. McDonnell also proposes the repeal of a state law that prohibits districts from starting the school year before Labor Day, and the consolidation of seven types of high school diplomas into three. He recommends giving businesses tax credits for supporting scholarship funds for low-income students who want to attend private schools.

—Catherine Gewertz

WASHINGTON

Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) • Jan. 10

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire waves to the upper gallery in the House chamber following her annual State of the State address to a joint session of the state legislature in Olympia last week. She is seeking a temporary sales-tax hike to aid education.

During her annual address to lawmakers, Gov. Christine Gregoire urged them to approve a temporary, three-year, half-cent increase in Washington’s sales tax that would largely benefit education. Of the projected $494 million in additional revenue, $411 million would go toward K-12 and higher education.

The governor also called on the legislature to approve a series of school initiatives she laid out in December, including a new teacher- and principal-evaluation system; an effort that would pair universities with struggling schools for research and innovation opportunities; a reduction in requirements for students and administrators in order to devote more time to instruction; and the creation of an executive-level “office of student achievement” that would focus on helping students achieve higher levels of education.

“If we implement these innovative reforms and if we use our can-do spirit, we can give our children the best education in the United States,” Gov. Gregoire said.

—Katie Ash

WEST VIRGINIA

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) • Jan. 11

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, in his first State of the State speech, said he planned to introduce legislation that would tie student achievement to teacher evaluations—expanding a pilot program, as well as introduce another bill that would create a pilot to improve struggling West Virginia schools. The latter would allow local administrators and educators the flexibility to draw well-qualified teachers into schools to improve student achievement.

In addition, the governor devoted several minutes to a recent audit of the state’s education department, which found ways to save about $90 million a year. The K-12 budget is about $2 billion, in an overall state budget of about $4 billion. The audit recommendations include using technology to help rural districts, giving local school boards more authority, and improving teacher evaluations.

Gov. Tomblin explicitly thanked American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten for her work on the effort, which involves a public-private partnership and 40 organizations.

—N.S.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as State of the States

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