Early promises from governors on school issues

Early promises from governors on school issues

(Colo.) Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige needs to install air conditioning units in more than 800 classrooms. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is working with lawmakers on a new funding formula. And Gov. Gary Herbet of Utah is looking to distribute new grant money aimed at technical career training.

The nation’s governors have convened their legislative sessions and offered up their proposed budget plans and policy goals and, not surprisingly, K-12 education sits at the top of the priority list for most of them.

Since the start of the year, 42 governors have delivered their State of the State address and all of them had one plan or another for schools, according to a new survey from the Education Commission of the States, a non-profit think tank based in Denver.

They found that 32 governors, proposed some change in education funding; while 24 want to improve student workforce training; and 17 have issues related to teacher pay and retention.

Somewhat in line with the president’s new secretary of education, 10 governors are looking to expand school choice for parents and 16 states are engaged in debate over early-learner programs.

Among the more unique problems facing states is Hawaii’s need to keep children comfortable.

Last year the Legislature appropriated $100 million to fund Gov. Ige’s plan to install cooling systems in 1,000 classrooms. According to a report from the state’s department of education, 209 classrooms have had units installed and 926 classrooms are in the pending stage. The governor’s program stalled largely because contractor bids came in much higher than expected.

One of the more complicated problems faces Kansas Gov. Brownback who, along with the Republican controlled Legislature, is under orders from the state supreme court to come up with a new school funding formula by June 30 that would support a “suitable” education for all students.

The Republican Brownback attempted to jump-start the economy by slashing taxes and instead stalled output so much that a massive deficit was created. The governor and lawmakers repealed the state’s previous school funding formula in 2015 and replaced it with block grants that the courts have called into question.

Now, Brownback and legislative leaders are back trying to come up with a new formula that will satisfy the judges but not cost taxpayers too much.

Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley has even bigger troubles and could be looking at the education budget of early learners as a welcome distraction.

Bentley is under the threat of impeachment as a result of an apparent affair the governor had with the married wife of one of his appointees. The state Attorney General said last month that his office was investigating Bentley over potential misuse of government property in connection with the alleged affair.

Meanwhile, the governor is throwing his support behind a popular pre-k program that serves about a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds. Bentley wants to expand the curriculum-rich program through the 3rd grade, where students get a lot of one-on-one attention from teachers.

Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage, another controversial chief executive, is looking to overhaul big parts of his state’s public school system. Among other ideas, LePage wants to lower the amount of state funding for schools by about $20 million to $991 million.

He also wants to do away with a number of district superintendents and consolidate districts.

LePage, who has been accused of threatening a political cartoonist as well as using profane language, has also proposed pushing back by one year delivery of some $150 million in new taxes approved by voters in 2016.

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