The State of the States
As many states begin their legislative sessions, Governors across the country are addressing their constituents on the state’s accomplishments to date and goals for the future. Education has been a central topic for many Governors, including:
- Arizona Governor Doug Ducey reiterated his support for ensuring all students are college and career ready by proposing incentives for schools who help students succeed on AP-level exam success.
- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper communicated his administration’s commitment to high standards, fewer, better tests and initiatives that prepare students for college and career.
- Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s remarks included K-12 Funding Reform, high-quality assessments, accountability and the Opportunity School District that will be on the statewide ballot in November.
- Idaho Governor Butch Otter acknowledged reading as the key to lifelong learning and proposed funding for intervention support for students in kindergarten through third grade. He also promoted Idaho’s Mastery Education Program and its importance to ensuring all children succeed in a competitive global economy.
- Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner discussed the need for programs providing options for low-income children stuck in failing schools, along with the need for more partnerships amongst high schools, community colleges and employers to improve workforce readiness.
- Indiana Governor Mike Pence mentioned teacher merit pay, pre-Kindergarten expansion initiatives and highlighted Indiana’s voucher program, which is one of the largest in the nation.
- Michigan Governor Rick Snyder discussed his administration’s work on early literacy and a longer-term review of the state’s career and technical education programs.
- Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant discussed the state’s dramatic gains in early literacy proficiency scores and the positive impacts of Mississippi’s K-3 Reading law, highlighted the state’s first two charter schools and called for the removal of barriers to opening charter schools, and called attention to the students with special needs who are utilizing Mississippi’s new Education Scholarships Accounts school choice law.
- New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez underscored the importance of early learning by proposing funding to better target and increase interventions for struggling readers.
- South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley discussed school choice, digital learning, college and career readiness and governance reform.
- Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe focused on the importance of college and career readiness programs and preparing students for the global economy.
- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker highlighted the state’s increased graduation rates and ACT scores, as well as an Academic and Career Plans pilot that will allow junior high students to think more strategically about their future coursework.
The US Department of Education (USDOE) released a Request for Information on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) asking the public for comments on implementing programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
ExcelinEd submitted a letter recommending that USDOE’s rulemaking remain consistent with the bipartisan intent of the legislation: reducing the federal role in education and empowering states and districts to develop innovative approaches to accountability. We asked the USDOE to regulate or issue guidance only where it is absolutely necessary to explain ambiguous requirements or ensure that state accountability systems identify schools based on measures that are valid, reliable and comparable.
National School Choice Week
This past week marked the sixth annual National School Choice Week. With 27 governors issuing proclamations recognizing School Choice Week in their states and more than 16,000 events held across the country, this was the largest-ever celebration of choice and access in education. The ExcelinEd team attended events in California, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, Georgia and Arkansas.
Governor Mike Pence signed legislation (SB 200 and HB 1003) that provides a one-year safe harbor from consequences related to the state’s new assessments and more rigorous cut scores. SB 200 allows schools’ published A-F grade to be the higher of the grade earned in the 2013-2014 or 2014-2015 school year and also provides relief to schools earning ‘D’ grades that participate in the state’s school voucher program. HB 1003 includes ‘hold harmless’ language regarding teacher evaluations and state-funded performance bonuses. Neither bill would impact the publication of letter grades (or the consequences of those grades) for the 2015-2016 school year.
The Indiana Senate Education Committee also passed a bill that includes a directive to evaluate Education Savings Accounts via a summer study committee. The legislative language passed as an amendment to a larger education bill, and it would create a pathway for the discussion and possible consideration of Education Savings Accounts in future legislative sessions.
Earlier this month, a Nevada District Judge granted a preliminary injunction that orders the State Treasurer to stop implementing Nevada’s landmark Education Savings Accounts program pending further court deliberations. ExcelinEd joined the call for an immediate overturn of this harmful action against the 4,100 children who were counting on these accounts for their education. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt appealed the injunction to the Nevada Supreme Court, requesting an expedited decision. Thousands of Nevada policymakers, parents, teachers and children displayed their support for Nevada’s education savings account program at School Choice Week events around the state.
The Tennessee House Finance, Ways and Means Committee passed the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act (HB 1049), sponsored by Representative Bill Dunn. The legislation would give low-income students in failing schools across Tennessee the opportunity to attend an accredited, high-quality private school that better serves their individual needs. The committee vote was the last major step before the House floor; the bill has already passed the Senate.
The Tennessee Senate passed SB 151, a bill that ends the automatic collection of union dues from teacher paychecks. Sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire, SB 151 does not prevent teachers from joining unions or prevent unions from engaging in political activities, but it does take school districts out of a private business transaction between the union and those who wish to join the union.
The Florida Legislature advanced a significant number of education reform bills in January:
- Education Savings Accounts legislation – recently renamed the Gardiner Scholarship Program in honor of its Florida champion, Senate President Andy Gardiner – was signed into law January 21 by Governor Rick Scott. SB 672 expands educational opportunities for students with special needs, including 3- and 4-year-olds as well as students with muscular dystrophy and autism spectrum disorder.
- Enhancements to the state’s K-3 Reading laws passed through committees in both the Senate and House. The legislation would ensure training for reading coaches, teachers, and principals focused on effective reading instruction for all students, including those with severe reading difficulties. It provides for better communication between educators and the parents of struggling readers and ensures reading instruction is based on sound research.
- Significant expansions to Florida’s Public School Choice (open enrollment) law moved through multiple Senate and House committees. Two Senate bills and a companion measure in the House would allow students to enroll in the public school of their choice if space is available, including across district lines.
- Senate and House committees advanced Competency-Based Education legislation this month. The legislation will support competency-based pilot programs in Lake and Pinellas Counties and the P.K. Young Developmental Research School at the University of Florida.
- “Pay for Success” (funding reform) legislation advanced unanimously out of its first committee of reference in the Florida Senate. The bill would create a financial structure where private finding can be utilized to solve social issues in Florida at no risk to taxpayer dollars.
- School choice omnibus legislation advanced through House committees and is ready for consideration by the full chamber. Amongst other proposals, the bill would expand students’ access to courses and online learning opportunities, and it would create supports and growth opportunities for high-performing charter schools.
- Increases to eligibility and educational options are part of proposed revisions to the state’s McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. The bill advanced out of its initial Senate and House committees.