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The Boldest Education Ideas from State of State Addresses So Far

Education is taking center stage early in the State of the State season. Here are some of the more interesting proposals governors are floating.

Governors across the U.S. have started pushing their policy agendas in their State of the State addresses with urgent rhetoric and vignettes about struggling constituents. So far—a number of them have yet to speak or don’t plan to at all—education has dominated gubernatorial to-do lists. 

Many are touting broad new spending. Others are urging expansion of pre-Kindergarten programs. Still more are emphasizing education as a way to meet the demands of the workplace through career and technical training. Those are themes and initiatives that have long preoccupied state leaders, but a few governors have mentioned specific new policies. 

Performance funding for K-12

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, isn’t giving up on an idea to tie a portion of a school’s base education funding to how well its students perform on standardized tests. The state’s GOP legislature wouldn’t go along with the plan last year because some feared it would hurt already struggling schools in higher-poverty areas. But Brewer is rebranding the performance-pay proposal—more commonly found in higher education, not K-12—as “Student Success Funding.”

“I am asking legislators to approve an ambitious and historic education proposal, which I call Student Success Funding,” she said in her State of the State address. “Under this plan, we will reward improved student performance and we will incentivize and replicate success.”

The original plan would have tied 1 percent of state school funding to test performance using two-thirds new funding and a third from existing sources of money. In five years, 5 percent of the formula would be based on performance. Brewer is reportedly scaling back her funding request, using only new funding and tweaking the formula to better reward growth in attempt to calm the worries of low-income districts that would have a harder time matching more affluent districts at the level of raw scores. 

All-in on workforce development

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal wants to pay the full tuition costs for students who choose to pursue four career areas state businesses have identified as "high need." His request would add welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology to areas of study that come tuition-free in Georgia. His Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant, an offshoot of Georgia’s HOPE program, started last year with grants covering tuition for students earning certifications in commercial driving, practical nursing and early childhood education. 

“In order to fill the needs of a growing economy, we need more of our citizens to acquire education and skills beyond high school,” Deal said in his State of the State address. 

Along those lines, Deal is also asking his legislature to create a new program, the Zell Miller HOPE Grant, which would cover 100 percent of tuition for anyone in a technical college who maintains a 3.5 grade-point average. Deal also wants to set aside $10 million in the next budget cycle to offer 1-percent-interest loans solely to those attending technical colleges. He also announced a task force of universities, colleges, economic development officials and private-sector leaders to recommend ways to better tailor higher education to workforce needs. 

School choice? Let's talk "teacher choice"

In all the talk in education about parental choice, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in his State of the State address, the notion that “teachers deserve more choice, too,” gets left out.  

“Any public school teacher who feels called to serve in a low-performing school or a public charter school serving low-income students should have some of their compensation protected if they are willing to make the move,” he said. “Let's let our teachers follow their hearts, and go where they think they can make the most difference.”

The details of a program that would boost the pay of teachers working in low-income schools or ensures higher-paid public school teachers won’t lose money by leaving for a charter school haven’t been announced. That makes this proposal very much a work in progress but an interesting one nonetheless.  

Funding full-day Kindergarten 

Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia provide full-day Kindergarten for all children at the public’s expense, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, wants to make his state the 11th.  Right now, the state is among the vast majority that require only half-day Kindergarten or allow districts to charge student fees to pay for full-day classes. The state allows schools to count kindergarten students only as half-day pupils when determining their funding. 

 “It seems strange to me that the state counts all of the 12 and only half of the K,” Brownback said in his State of the State address.

Brownback’s state board of education backs his five-year proposal to pay the cost of full-day Kindergarten for all districts, but he’ll need the support of his legislature. It’s reportedly expected to cost $80 million over five years. 

Brownback acknowledged in his address that many districts—some 95 percent, by one count—are already providing full-day Kindergarten. But making the investment allows them to spend that money elsewhere or avoid charging fees to parents, he said.

Chris covers health care for GOVERNING. An Ohio native with an interest in education, he set out for New Orleans with Teach For America after finishing a degree at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He later covered government and politics at the Savannah Morning News and its South Carolina paper. He most recently covered North Carolina’s 2013 legislative session for the Associated Press.
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