Legislative Action at the State Level


Legislative Action at the State Level

by Dan Domenech, AASA executive director

While AASA’s advocacy is focused on federal education policy, AASA members have increasingly requested information on state-level trends and issues. State legislatures are, of late, where all the action is, a reality attributable as much to the dysfunction of the current Congress as it is to increasingly coordinated efforts to move legislation that threatens public education. AASA’s advocacy team is already making progress on this work, and I want to highlight their most recent analysis of state-level education issues, starting with the 2014 State of the State addresses and the upcoming 2014 gubernatorial elections.

In the 28 State of the State addresses already given, there is a noticeable trend toward early education, career and technical education and workforce development, education funding and education technology and connectivity. In 10 states, early education came up as a major education priority. Several of these governors mentioned their early education Race to the Top grant awards, proposed to fund full-day kindergarten and expressed their goal to use community partnerships to expand early education access to all children. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said “the earlier [children] begin receiving a quality education, the better chance they have at success” and proposed an increase in pre-k funding throughout the state.

Given the focus on employment and 21st century skill development, it is not surprising to see the focus on CTE and workforce development within education. Several governors proposed assessing their states’ CTE programs to ensure they are effective and targeted towards appropriate skills for their areas; Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia proposed the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative, to bring together thought leaders to discuss CTE in Georgia. Workforce development is a hot topic, with WIA reauthorization looking refreshingly close to passing through Congress. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn wants to expand the youth conservation corps program, which helps at-risk youth get experience and jobs, while Idaho Governor Butch Otter is shooting optimistically for having 60 percent of Idaho citizens age 25-34 have some degree or certification by 2020.

Also not surprising given lingering state budgetary issues, funding remained the overarching theme of most of the State of the State addresses, and was prevalent in the education sections. Some governors, such as Jerry Brown in California and John Hickenlooper in Colorado discussed attempts to improve how funds are allocated; Brown touted his Local Control Funding Formula that will change the way funds are allocated to schools, and Hickenlooper proposed a change in how student counts are performed to ensure more accurate funding for each school. Other governors, such as Georgia’s Nathan Deal, promoted education funding increases under their leadership. In his exit address, before he handed the governorship over to Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said he had ensured a larger percentage of education funds went to the classroom while he was governor.

As AASA works with the FCC to improve the E-Rate program and increase funds available to schools to connect to broadband, governors in six states made connectivity and technology a major priority in their State of the State addresses. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Let’s reimagine our classrooms for the next generation. Let’s have the smartest classrooms in the nation because our children deserve nothing but the best.” Iowa’s Terry Branstad proposed the Connect Every Iowan Act that aims to make Iowa the most connected state in the Midwest, while Idaho’s Butch Otter is working to connect every elementary and middle school to broadband by the end of FY15.

AASA will continue to monitor these addresses and the education issues that arise in the 2014 gubernatorial elections, as 36 states hold elections, many of which are already gaining media attention. Texas frontrunner candidates Greg Abbott (R) and Wendy Davis (D) have already made education, particularly the charter school vs. traditional public school debate, a central piece of their campaigns.

These efforts are very much a work in progress and something we look forward to building on in the coming year. Our website and the advocacy blog will be continually updated to reflect the latest information. Any questions about the information or what may be forthcoming can be directed to AASA Policy Analyst Leslie Finnan.