Governors outline key education priorities for 2024: Early childhood, curriculum, school choice, mental health

2024 Education Focus of Governors: Kids Early, Curriculum, School Options, Mental Well-being

DiMarco: Insights Signals from 38 State of the State Speeches Indicate Major Education Investment and Learning Enhancements

By Bella DiMarco
March 4, 2024

Amid the current political landscape, a cross-party examination of 38 State of the State speeches shows a receding focus on controversial cultural issues and a motion towards important education investment and strategies to reinforce educational quality, as per a FutureEd review of 38 addresses. These actions reinforce the significance of bolstering learning extensively.

While some educational matters still divide governors based on political dispositions such as the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten programs or the allocation of public funds towards non-public schooling, it is noteworthy that both Democrat and Republican governors strive to enhance teacher compensation, tackle shortage areas with targeted incentives, boost higher education accessibility, and bolster college and career readiness in high schools. Notably, they lend support to long-established priorities that might have been conventionally linked to their political adversaries; with Republicans advocating for youth mental health initiatives, and Democrats endorsing reading reform expansion. 

However, a glaring gap exists in the addressal of a critical issue confronting local educational authorities – the steep surge in rates of chronic absenteeism post the pandemic. Both Democrat and Republican domains remain silent on introducing fresh measures to catalyze students’ reintegration into the educational milieu.

The principal education policy focal points for the states’ leaders in 2024 span across seven core domains: child care and early learning, enhancements in teaching profession, school choice opportunities, curriculum and instructional advancements, student mental well-being, higher education provisions, and workforce prowess enhancement.

Child Care and Early Learning

Early learning and child care command bipartisan attention, illustrated by 17 governors advocating measures aimed at bolstering accessibility and affordability for working parents.

Democratic governors in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Michigan championed a universal pre-K on a statewide scale, with Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey spearheading such efforts in 26 midsize cities contending with social and economic hurdles. Further, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly proposed the largest single-year investment to bolster the state’s early childhood system, alongside initiatives from Missouri, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Hawaii governors in proposing new or expanded child care tax credit schemes.

The Teaching Profession

Mirroring a trend from the prior year, governors aim to reinforce the public school teaching cadre by ramping up compensation, addressing shortages, and widening recruitment prospects, with 21 governors putting forth such propositions.

While both Republican and Democratic arenas discussed this issue, the lion’s share of actionable plans to hike teacher salaries sprang from Republican camps in the southern and western regions, characterized by lower levels of unionization and remuneration scales. Conversely, proposals from Democratic-dominated, well-unionized states centered more on educator recruitment and retention. 

For instance, Kentucky’s Democrat Andy Beshear and West Virginia’s Republican Jim Justice rallied for 5% across-the-board pay raises for teachers in their respective states. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster called for elevating the starting salary standard from $40,000 to $45,000 by 2025, eventually escalating it to $50,000 by 2026. The push for pay increments was equally championed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, urging for a 50% increase through the allocation of $96 million to elevate the starting remuna…

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