This latest column focuses on some of the key takeaways from what's happened in state legislatures during the past month. Previous installments of The 50 States of Education Policy, along with an interactive map that breaks down policies in each state, can be found here.
By the end of March, 48 of 50 governors will have delivered their 2019 State of the State addresses. For 19 of them — plus former educator and current Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz — this year's State of the State is their first since taking office. And while there's variation among state officials and what they hope to conquer, as well as what their states already have, education is a common thread across the nation.
An analysis by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) found that all 48 governors who have delivered a State of the State address so far this year mentioned education in some capacity, whether it was to tout a victory or put forward a policy proposal.
Below are the biggest trends from this year's speeches and what they mean for state education policy:
The main takeaways
Based on the ECS analysis, four overarching K-12 topics throughout governors' addresses were school finance, teaching quality, early learning and school safety.
At least 36 governors discussed school finance, ECS notes. California, Maryland, Iowa and Utah governors pushed for significant increases in education spending for the next fiscal year.
California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to inject more than $80 billion into the state's public education system, while Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa boasted record-high education funding. Hogan said his proposed budget, for the fifth year in a row, "provides historic, record-high funding for our schools," investing $32 billion in K-12. Reynolds mentioned her state's record investment in K-12 in 2018.
Other governors — from Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington, among others — talked of fully funding at least basic education. Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey moved to fully fund education in the state, while Kansas Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts called for fully funding schools. Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee mentioned his state's "years-long effort to fully fund basic education."
Many governors outlined proposed budgets for the upcoming fiscal year that include increased spending for schools and specific K-12 initiatives.
Another popular topic in State of the States was teaching — mentioned by at least 26 governors, ECS notes — and, among other ideas, raising teacher salaries and boosting recruitment and retention for high-quality educators. More than 20 governors called for increasing teacher pay, Education Week reports, with raises reaching as high as 20% in Arizona. Governors in Arkansas, Maine and New Mexico moved to raise the minimum salary for teachers.
In addition, as states struggle to recruit and retain teachers, governors suggested financial incentives, such as benefits, bonuses, student loan repayments and investments in living wages. Maine Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt called for changes to their states' respective teacher certification processes.
In her address, Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey cited increased funding for a math and science teacher education program, "which provides a better pathway to certify future computer science teachers."
At least 24 governors emphasized directing more money into early-childhood education. Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker praised his state, which "invested over $100 million in new funding into our early education system," and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said 4,000 more 3- and 4-year-olds are now in high-quality pre-K programs. Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed increasing Early Childhood Block Grant funding by $100 million, totaling $594 million.
The governors of Rhode Island and New Mexico also advocated for universal pre-K in their states, while Mills of Maine proposed giving all 4-year-olds access to pre-K programs.
School safety remains a trend in policymaking, as shown through at least 18 governors' annual speeches. A major piece of these proposals is adding more specialized staff — including both school resource officers and more mental and behavioral health specialists.
Arizona, Nevada and South Carolina all saw State of the State addresses that advocated for more security officers. Ducey of Arizona suggested funding to put a police officer on every school campus in need of one, while South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said funds were increased so every public school in his state would have a trained full-time law enforcement officer.
Governors in Indiana, Rhode Island South Carolina and Utah were among those who talked about either expanding mental health initiatives in schools, boosting funding for related programming and staff, and ensuring that students have more of these resources and supports.
While Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo asked her state to "ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and [to] ban guns in schools," Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis advocated for the state's legislature to support and enact the recommendations put forth by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which formed in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February 2018. Part of those recommendations includes arming teachers.
ECS also notes a number of emerging trends: school health, high school issues (including dropouts, Advanced Placement classes and college readiness), technology and rural education.
What this means for state ed policy
With every governor mentioning education so far, it's evident this continues to be a top subject nationwide. The past few years have seen a surge in educator activism, as well as public awareness and support for struggles teachers and administrators are facing, and this increase in dialogue has transcended to policymaking.
As the top state executive, a governor holds a degree of power and influence. While they can't single-handedly pass legislation, he or she can certainly propose something, advocate for — or against — it, and choose to sign or veto what's passed through a state legislature. Outside the lawmaking process, what the governor deems a priority is poised to get more attention than what isn't deemed a top concern.
This trend is a likely predictor of what might come up during the two remaining addresses: that of Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on April 3 and of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on April 8. Walz, a 20-year classroom educator, has already presented his budget, which noted increases in school funding, support for community schools and more effort to recruit teachers of color. Edwards has also detailed several education-related priorities, including raising teacher pay, increasing school funding and recruiting more qualified educators.
Ultimately, education is, at the very least, on all governors' radars. And with hundreds of education-related bills still moving through committees and full chambers, these speeches suggest education will continue to be a major focus in this legislative season.