Governors find promoting schools is good politics

(Colo.) Delaware Gov. John Carney proposed tripling the number of schools that could receive up to $350,000 in state grant money aimed at disadvantaged students.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo would spend $1 billion to fixing aging school facilities, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam would add $200 million to the school budget that has increased $1.3 million under his watch.

It would be the rarest of political outcomes that anyone ever lost an election by promising to improve public education, and indeed 28 governors promised to make school funding a priority in their state of the state speeches made earlier this year, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Twenty-three chief executives said their states needed to expand workforce development programs; 16 touched on the importance of career technical education; and 11 governors emphasized high-quality early learning efforts.

“Poverty is the enemy of education,” said Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a speech to a joint session of the Legislature in late January. “The key is not trying to pour knowledge in, but rather, opening eyes and imaginations and letting eagerness and fascination out.”

Like 36 other governors across the country, McMaster is running for re-election this year after succeeding Nikki Haley who was appointed by President Donald Trump as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

And like many other governors, McMaster made the public schools a focal point of his state of the state speech along with promises to cut taxes, uphold immigration laws and fight against abortion.

Of course, making promises is easy—delivering on them is more difficult.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is not on the ballot this fall but was challenged by a two-week teachers strike this month, said he wanted lawmakers to bring him workforce development legislation.

“I want us to develop a way to where kids in high school and the trades can get an associate degree while they're in high school,” he said. “I also want us to add, if it's possible, a 13th year where they can get additional accreditation or additional certifications.”

He was not alone in putting a spotlight on the need to train more skilled workers.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal wants to cover the college tuition for students who agree to enroll in high-demand, strategic fields. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin would add $100 million to the state budget to support workforce development. And Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a new state program aimed at close the skills gap in her state.

Teacher quality was another favorite topic of governors this year, 16 of them said they would make it a priority while nine of them thanked key educators by name.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to add $10 million in state spending to reduce the teacher shortage. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter would spend $42 million on a new career ladder for teachers. And New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and a $5,000 bonus to those earning an exemplary rating.

The growing focus on early learners also drew attention.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant noted that for the first time in state history, 90 percent of 3rd graders passed the reading assessment. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, wants to expand the state’s pre-K program to include 3-year-olds. And Alabama Gov. Key Ivy proposed a $23 million expansion of their existing early leaning program.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead offered a good summation of the aspirations of many of his colleagues in state houses across the U.S.

“By spending neither too much nor too little, by continuing to invest in the future of our state and by responsibly taking on education funding, we will serve the citizens of our state well this session,” he said. more