Eye on the States: These Governors Are Prioritizing Education

If you want to know what’s really happening in education policy, don’t just look to D.C. or #SOTU (that’s Obama’s State of the Union hashtag, for those of you not on Twitter). The real action is happening in the states. And because so much of education policy is created at the state level, the priorities set by each governor matter a great deal. As we wrap up the first month of 2015, governors across the country have begun giving their state of the state addresses, detailing their priorities and plans for the upcoming year. To date, 29 speeches have been given and all of them have mentioned education in some way or another. The policies they outline for pursuit will have an impact on how teachers are treated, how students learn, how money is spent and how families are given information, options, and more.

Investing in Education Reform

New York Some governors focused on a reform-based agenda for the upcoming year. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out a specific and aggressive “Opportunity Agenda,” including:
  • Strengthening teacher evaluations to include a greater percentage of student learning gains.
  • Reforming teacher tenure so that receiving it takes five consecutive years of high evaluation ratings.
  • Prohibiting a student from being in the classroom of two consecutive ineffective teachers.
  • Increasing the charter school cap.
  • Focusing on charter quality.
  • Turnaround plans for struggling schools, accountability for teacher preparation programs, and more.
Michigan Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder spoke extensively on education, calling attention to the importance of student literacy and teacher effectiveness, requesting to finalize the teacher effectiveness policies that have been floating around Michigan for several years, and pointing to Detroit and the work being done for students there. Missing from Gov. Snyder’s speech was any mention of charter school transparency and accountability. After a damning series on charter schools in the Detroit Free Press last year, many were hoping for, if not expecting, a strong call to action for increased transparency and accountability, including sanctions for consistently low-performing schools and authorizers. Georgia Following in the footsteps of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) and the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia asked for a constitutional amendment to create an Opportunity School District, one that would allow the state to intervene in the lowest performing schools in the state. This system has shown promising results in both the ASD and the RSD, and I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that could be made under a similar structure in Georgia.

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Many governors, those of Missouri, Mississippi and New Mexico, for instance, have identified increased teacher pay as a way to bring in and retain the best talent. New Mexico governor Susana Martinez also proposed to provide educators with $100 gift cards at the beginning of each school year, to help offset the cost of materials that teachers often have to provide on their own. Many governors called simply for more funding to be directed to the classroom, including Missouri, Mississippi, Arizona, Minnesota (in an inaugural address), Nevada and more, despite the fact that many states are still operating at pre-recession levels of funding. Georgia and Arizona also called for a fresh take on their states’ funding formulas, with a focus on resources for technology and increased equity for students.

Transitioning to High Standards

Governor John Kasich of Ohio has spent time across the country touting the importance of the college- and career-ready standards. Governor Brown of California and Governor Beshear of Kentucky both highlighted the importance of training tens of thousands of teachers and helping students master the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). On the other hand, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, said that his plan will “help get people the education and skills they need to succeed,” while calling for a repeal of CCSS ( I’m not holding my breath that he’ll stick with that position). Walker also championed the importance of school choice in his speech—choice that, to put it frankly, is not enough to solve the education issues of Wisconsin if students aren’t being held to high standards that enable policymakers, parents and teachers to use a common benchmark to assess student learning. Finally, of the speeches given so far, Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut is the only governor to skimp on education. His only mention of education was in the beginning of the speech, when he recapped successes of the past few years. Leaving education out of his speech isn’t great news for the kids in Connecticut, despite whatever successes they may have seen in recent years.
Valentina Payne
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.

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