BEGINNING each January, governors summarize accomplishments, present challenges, and propose solutions. As we might expect, a certain amount of rhetoric accompanies the listing of accomplishments. But when that rhetoric is stripped away, we can begin to see patterns of gubernatorial focus. Some of these patterns might be linked to common state conditions, such as economic downturns, taxation issues, or even court- mandated school finance fixes. Others might have bubbled up from such organizations as the National Governors Association or the Education Commission of the States -- organizations that enable governors to focus on pressing issues and to network with their peers.
In 2005, occupying the top tier of issues addressed (mentioned by 10 or more governors) are school finance, accountability, teacher compensation, high schools, economic development, financial aid, and early childhood education. In tier two (mentioned by more than five governors), we find career/technical education, charter schools, curriculum, merit pay for teachers, professional development for teachers, and kindergarten. The third tier (mentioned by five or fewer governors) is made up of such topics as school size, textbooks, and school safety. (Summaries of education proposals from the governors' state-of-the-state addresses are available at www.ecs.org.)
Teacher compensation. Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma asked for passage and implementation of the Achieving Classroom Excellence initiative. Last year, he said, "we pledged to pay 100% of teachers' health insurance premiums, and we did. But we also pledged that Oklahoma would no longer tolerate shamefully low wages while other states tried to lure our great teachers away. This year, we must honor our commitment and stay the course." Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's budget recommendation offers support for beginning teacher compensation ($15 million) and includes an additional $300 for each elementary teacher to use for classroom supplies. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas supports "dedicating new money to rewarding and supporting our best teachers and providing incentives for progress at schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students." Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's budget includes a 4% pay raise for teachers and an incentive bonus for those who volunteer to teach in hard-to-staff schools or in subject matters where there are teacher shortages.
Nine governors alluded to paying teachers based on performance or demonstrated skills. For example, Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin says the state needs a new system that pays teachers based not only on the length of their service but also on their ability to help children learn. Texas Gov. Perry proposes to pay the best and brightest teachers salary incentives as high as $7,500 a year. Alabama Gov. Riley's budget rewards teachers who are doing a great job by linking their pay to their performance in the classroom.
High school quality. Gov. Henry of Oklahoma wants to promote a college- bound curriculum and phase in end-of-course testing. He also wants to require three years of high school math and make the senior year count by encouraging more students to attend college. The state can do this, he says, by offering to pay full tuition costs for up to six hours of college credit per semester for high school seniors. Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona proposes $10 million to provide one-on-one tutoring for juniors who are struggling with her state's new high school exit assessment.
Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania stands behind Project 720, which is aimed at reforming how the state prepares its students from the first day of ninth grade through the last day of 12th grade -- 720 days. The goals of the project are to double the number of schools teaching the skills that graduates will need for tomorrow's jobs and to make better use of 12th grade by helping school districts pay tuition for students who have the skill and drive to take college-level courses in 12th grade. …