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State of States Update: Tenn., Okla., Miss. and S.C. Governors on Education

• ExcelinEd

Today, we’re highlighting four governors—from South Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee—who have used their state of the state addresses to highlight education. Specifically, how they plan to center their state education systems on students and focus on improving student achievement.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

GovHaslamQuoteOn Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State address, marking the sixth straight year in which he has emphasized education reform in his agenda. Education highlights in Governor Haslam’s remarks included:

  • School Choice: A year after the passage of Tennessee’s Education Savings Account program for special needs students, known as the Individualized Education Act, Governor Haslam said the state’s commitment to quality educational options remains strong. “We’re not investing in the same old public education system in Tennessee,” the Governor said. “We’ve expanded education options for children.” A voucher program for low-income students in failing schools will be considered next Monday in the state House.
  • K-3 Reading: Governor Haslam’s proposed budget provides $9 million for the Statewide Literacy Coaching and Intervention Initiative to help the school districts improve student reading by creating a network of district literacy coaches and regional coordinators. The budget also proposes $1 million for kindergarten screenings, allowing schools to identify and help struggling learners at the earliest possible opportunity. “Our students have shown incredible growth, but reading remains a challenging area that we have to get right,” Governor Haslam said.
  • Standards and Accountability: The Governor highlighted Tennessee’s continuing commitment to high academic standards and rigorous accountability. New standards will be voted on by the State Board of Education in April, and the new TNReady assessments will be released throughout the 2015-16 school year.
  • College and Career Readiness: “We are also proposing $10 million to fund the second round of Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) grants. Continued support for LEAP will mean more opportunities for communities to align the degree and course offerings with the needs of their local workforce,” Governor Haslam said.

Governor Haslam also highlighted the gains that Tennessee students have made in recent years. “In Tennessee our public schools have roughly 1 million students. Since 2011, 131,000 more students are on grade-level in math and nearly 60,000 more are on grade-level in science,” he said. “For the third straight year, Tennessee public high school students improved on their ACT. Our graduation rate has increased for the third year in a row and now stands at 88 percent.” In all, the Governor’s budget proposal adds $261 million to public education, including $104.6 million in teacher pay raises.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Oklahoma QuoteThe same day, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin also delivered her sixth State of the State address and underscored the value of building a student-centered education system. Education highlights in Governor Fallin’s remarks included:

  • Education Savings Accounts: “All students learn differently and should have the opportunity to attend a school that has the best environment for each student to be successful. This can be accomplished through Education Savings Accounts, while still protecting school finances,” Governor Fallin said. We look forward to supporting the reform efforts of Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma legislature as they take strides to best prepare students to succeed in a competitive global economy.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant

On Friday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant delivered his fifth State of the State address, once again demonstrating an unwavering commitment to fighting for education reform. Education highlights in Governor Bryant’s remarks included:

  • School Choice: Governor Bryant called for the removal of barriers to charter schools. He said, “In my inaugural address, I asked you to imagine a Mississippi where schools competed for students. Where classrooms were designed for students’ success. Where parents and students could choose the school they desired to attend. Just imagine that parents could take their hard-earned tax dollars and send their child to a school of their choice. Imagine the freedom of a parent in a failing school to send an at risk child to a superior school nearby but outside the district. Why should only the affluent enjoy the benefits of these fine schools? Your zip code or income level should not determine your opportunity to get a good education. Let us make this bold decision and give these children hope.”

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

On January 21st, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivered her sixth State of the State address, in which she laid out a budget that moves education reform forward. Some highlights from Governor Haley’s budget to continue improving South Carolina’s education system include:

  • School Choice and Digital Learning: The Governor is seeking $11.5 million to accommodate the addition of seven new schools to the South Carolina Public Charter School District, along with $1.2 million to expand the number of teachers in the state’s VirtualSC program. She is also allocating $5.8 million to boost connectivity in local schools, $5.2 million to bring broadband internet access to the homes of 10,000 underserved students and $27 million for digital and traditional instructional materials.
  • College and Career Readiness: Governor Haley is adding $3 million to fund industry certifications for South Carolina students, with a goal of increasing the number who earn these credentials by at least one percent each year. She is also proposing $700,000 to fully fund the cost of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams statewide. And she is creating a new dual-enrollment weight of $345 per pupil in the Palmetto State’s student funding formula.
  • Governance Reform: Together with State Superintendent Molly Spearman, Governor Haley is asking the legislature to put a statewide referendum on the ballot in November that would make the superintendent position appointed beginning in 2023 (the state superintendent is currently elected). As many as 38 other states currently appoint their state education chief, helping to ensure a united vision with their respective governors.

Governor Haley also highlighted South Carolina’s comprehensive K-3 Reading law, Read to Succeed, in her remarks. Passed in 2014, Read to Succeed focuses on intensive intervention for K-3 students who are at risk of reading failure to help ensure they read on grade level by the end of third grade. With additional support from the legislature in 2015, “we have put reading coaches in every elementary school and will no longer pass a child out of the third grade if they can’t read,” Governor Haley said.

ExcelinEd is working to build an American education system that prepares our students for success. We are thankful for leaders like Governors Haslam, Fallin, Bryant and Haley who are building a better future for their students.

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