This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline, where it was originally published.
Training students in the skills that industry needs and expanding early childhood education could be the big winners in education funding this year, if governors get their way. After years of state cuts to education, governors of both parties are presenting lawmakers with long wish lists for schools.
“2014-15 looks like it’s going to be a good year for education,” said Mike Griffith, school finance consultant for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education policy nonprofit organization. “Increases in sales and income tax revenue have really helped to boost state budgets.”
The question that remains, Griffith said, is where to spend new dollars -- on new programs, or to make up for past budget cuts in areas like student transportation, where budgets were slashed deeply in the recession.
In their State of the State speeches, some governors pressed for broad education spending increases:
- Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who is seeking re-election, wants to increase education funding by547 million, which he says would be the largest single-year increase in K-12 funding in seven years. Critics charge that years of state budget cuts have led to shorter school years, teacher furloughs and higher property taxes.
- Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is also seeking a second term, is asking lawmakers to increase per-pupil funding by223, along with an additional100 million for higher education to cap tuition increases at 6 percent. State lawmakers made deep cuts to the K-12 school system during the recession and last year, the state’s voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot measure to increase the state income tax to put an additional $950 million into the schools.
- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, wants an additional278 million for K-12 education, which he said various school districts could use to pay for smaller class sizes, create early childhood programs and bring back summer school. As in other states, lawmakers in Missouri slashed school spending during the recession and funding in many areas of education has not returned to prerecession levels.
But governors’ wish lists are just that until -- and if -- lawmakers act on their proposals. And this year, with 36 governor’s seats up for election and most legislators, politics could complicate education efforts. In Hawaii, for example, Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who is seeking re-election, drew criticism for his State of the State address from critics including state Sen. David Ige, who is running against Abercrombie in the Democratic primary.
“I am disappointed that growing the state’s economy is not a priority of the governor,” Ige said. “I believe that economic diversity, job creation and plans for expansion of our tourism industry are critical priorities.”
Several governors pitched proposals or expansions of existing programs to train students in skills that are in demand. Their ideas include linking colleges with private industry, providing scholarships or free tuition for community college students and encouraging students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math studies.
Kathy Christie, of the Education Commission of the States, said the proposals address a groundswell of sentiment that says “but what about those kids that don’t want to go to college.”
“Not all kids should have to go to college to get a good job,” she said. “We know we need machinists, we know we need welders, good (computer-aided design) designers -– all those sorts of things that don’t necessarily take a four-year degree.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, proposed using $300 million from the state Education Lottery Fund to create an endowment that would cover tuition at community colleges and technology centers. “Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees along with the support of dedicated mentors,” he said.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he will spend at least $8.5 million to fund grants to help K-12 schools strengthen career and technical education programs.
These programs “are very closely aligned with our state’s workforce needs from welding and machining, to health care and information technology, to engineering and biosciences,” Daugaard said. “These programs give students experiences so they understand these aren’t ‘dirty jobs,’ but opportunities to work with the latest technology hands-on.”
Daugaard said the state will also help defer the cost for more high school students to take “dual credit” courses, earning credit for both high school and postsecondary education. He also wants to give technical institutes $500,000 a year for the next three years to create scholarships for 20 high-need program areas, including welding, machining, construction trades, engineering and biosciences.
In response to Daugaard’s address, fellow Republican state Sen. Ryan Maher said it was encouraging to see some of the career and technical education issues he and others have been working on for years get some attention.
“It’s nice to see the governor step up and put some money toward those programs that are so vitally important to our students,” Maher told Dakota Radio Group. “I know we’ve heard from a lot of businesses across the state that there is a skilled workforce shortage out there, so hopefully this will help remedy some of those problems and help get some of that new technology into our school systems.”
Partnering With Business
In his speech, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced a partnership between DuPont and the state’s colleges.
“They will work to identify skills needed for entry-level positions, match those skills with courses offered by our colleges and provide internships,” Markell, a Democrat, said. “By completing identified courses and practical experiences, they will put students on a fast-track for opportunities, including full-time jobs.”
Markell also talked about a two-year program in manufacturing technologies for high school juniors and seniors, which is set to launch this fall. He proposed a competitive grant program to fund public-private partnerships between employers and schools and colleges “that will develop the skills needed by tomorrow’s workforce.”
In Georgia, Deal called on lawmakers to create a new scholarship to cover tuition for students in the state technical college system who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average as well as a low-interest loan program for students attending technical colleges. He also announced the creation of a new program to bring together leaders from the state’s colleges and schools and leaders from private industry.
“This initiative will allow us to hear directly from the employers of our state about what they expect their future needs will be, and it will give our institutions of education the chance to get ahead of the curve in preparing tomorrow’s workforce,” Deal said.
Likewise, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, urged lawmakers to put more money into an advanced manufacturing program at several of the state’s colleges as well as “more targeted use of grants for training employees not just for individual businesses, but for the market-driven growth of industry sectors that add value to Idaho’s economy.”
On the beginning of the education spectrum, early childhood education also drew a lot of attention from governors.
“We know that the early years of a child’s development are crucial in setting the foundation for a child’s behavior and lifelong learning,” said Abercrombie. “Investing in our children’s early years will pay dividends down the road in the form of healthy and contributing adults, reduced crime and incarceration and less dependency on social services.”
Abercrombie called on lawmakers to expand access to preschool for 4-year-olds and provide additional funding for a program that subsidizes childcare to families for the year before kindergarten.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to fund full-day kindergarten for all who want it. While many districts in Kansas already offer full-day kindergarten, Brownback said the additional funding would allow those school systems to free up the districts’ kindergarten dollars for other priorities.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who last year added $65 million to increase the number of slots for preschool programs, wants to see the amount doubled this year and waiting lists eliminated for low-income children trying to get into preschool.
Nixon asked Missouri lawmakers to triple funding for the state’s preschool program.
Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.