by Brian Washington
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The beginning of a new year is generally when people lay out a game plan for the future and elected leaders are no different. At the state level, governors across the nation will make State of the State Addresses—which should give citizens a clear understanding of their education priorities.
Governors often use their State of the State Address to set the tone for what type of education issues they will champion during the legislative session—which could result in bills that impact students, educators, and public schools.
In several states, like New Jersey and Wisconsin—where incumbents are returning—governors have already made their addresses, but there are more to follow between now and next month.
As a public education activist, it’s important to view the State of the State Address with a critical eye to know where your governor is coming from on the education issues that matter to you. Here are some key subjects that, if they are brought up, you’ll want to pay close attention to because they could spell trouble for public education in your state.
Vouchers siphon away taxpayer dollars from public schools—which in many cases are already underfunded—to pay tuition at private or religious schools. Voucher programs are in place in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. They are often offered up as part of “school choice” plans, but, despite claims by proponents, studies show vouchers do not result in a better education for students.
Charter schools are exempt from many of the rules and regulations tied to traditional public schools. They were originally intended to serve as incubators for innovative teaching methods. However, conservative groups like ALEC and business leaders driven by a profit motive see the charter school industry as a chance to make millions. As a result, there’s been a proliferation of unaccountable charters in states like Pennsylvania and New York, where studies have alleged that fraud, waste, and abuse have cost taxpayers millions.
Right to Work
Right to work legislation is designed to silence educators and strip them of their voice in the workplace—the same voice they use to advocate for students. Right to work bills attack educators by attacking their union and collective bargaining rights—which allow educators to negotiate better teaching and learning conditions on behalf of students. Right to work bills have recently passed in Michigan and Indiana and are quite popular with conservative, right wing governors.
Broad, general statements about or a passing mention of school funding by a governor in a State of the State Address could indicate a weak commitment to solving funding issues related to public schools. However, it is a good sign when a governor gives some detail about investing in those things that will help students, for example early childhood education, decreasing funding inequities, and making college more affordable.
When governors talk about increasing education funding, it’s best to take a closer look at the numbers to make sure the money is being spent on those things that will help students succeed in the classroom. Also, any jump in education funding should take into account increases in the number of students being served.
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