State of the State Addresses: Getting to the bottom of what they mean

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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

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

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.

Education Funding

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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Reader Comments

  1. The “Right to Work” (FOR LESS) laws are only the latest Union busting measure underpinning Conservative Representative lackeys who, for over 30 years, have represented ONLY corporate and moneyed interest at the expense of the USA working middle class commoner, as they look for any and all ways to bolster Wall Street gains. The once prosperous middle class that could be counted on to invest their decent pay back into the USA consumer economy, has become nothing more than a thing to be fleeced for all its worth with no need to invest anything back. Wall Street returns have been deified, while the middle class has been offered up as the sacrificial lamb on the alter of Wall Street returns.

    Sorry, but a prosperous working middle class consumer with a decent pay (disposable income) is the DEMAND side of “supply and demand” dynamic that clears retail shelves and drives production (that is: if an uptick in production actually affects USA factories instead of those relocated in Communist China). Unions have been the target of corporatists since their inception.

    Welcome to the age of the decimation of the working middle class, that is being commanded to capitulate to downward pressure on wages and benefits, exerted from over 30 years of an offshoring trend through Free Trade Agreements that have pitted the high wage USA worker against sweatshops in China. Some have called this, “The race to the bottom.” I call it, entering the American Dream into a pissing match with a pole cat!

  2. The assault on the public system is clear but not always in every way! We do need better teacher training in mathematics, and I have published my “You Can Count On It: A Mentor’s Arithmetic Patterns for Elementary Students” on Amazon to show how much young children can learn if the teachers have the simple tools. Time to look at mathematics!

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