“What does it mean to be an education governor in 2019?” This is a question our team at NGA was thinking about a lot as we watched last fall’s midterm campaigns. After the dust settled, we’ve seen that career readiness promises to be a major theme for almost all governors, both incumbent and new. This theme spans the continuum of early through postsecondary education and goes beyond mere language. Depending on how governors implement their own individual approaches, there could be great implications for how future generations of American workers fare in the global marketplace.
High-quality education represents a key component of America’s success. However, public education systems are not always equipped to meet the needs of Americans. Many families struggle to access quality and affordable childcare and early education opportunities. Many schools are funded inequitably. And the cost of higher education continues to outpace inflation. In this context, thinking of education as career readiness represents an important opportunity — a chance to rethink and retool our education systems to better prepare Americans for the challenges of the 21st century.
During the 2018 campaign season, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Education Division closely followed candidates in all 39 gubernatorial elections in the states and territories. We reviewed thousands of statements outlining candidates’ positions on education from sources such as their campaign platforms, news reports, campaign appearances and social media posts. Throughout this process, we identified five key priorities emphasized by the new class of governors that were often connected to career readiness:
· Workforce Alignment: Governors spoke at length about the need to better align education systems to ensure that their states’ populations are better prepared for success in the workforce. While this focus pervaded all areas of education, governors particularly emphasized the need to invest in Career and Technical Education, apprenticeships, computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
· Education Funding: This issue, encompassing funding for early through postsecondary education, dominated education discussions in many states. Almost every governor emphasized the crucial need to modify his or her state’s K-12 education funding structures in some way, whether by increasing overall spending, using existing funding more efficiently, or modifying how funding is allocated. And many governors spoke to the importance of increasing investments in early and postsecondary education to expand programs like pre-K or improve college affordability, respectively.
· The Rising Cost of Higher Education: Many governors, including almost all who are new to the office, identified the rising cost of college as a challenge. Governors spoke to the importance of addressing rising tuition costs and student debt. They also identified the need to improve financial aid opportunities and expanding early college credit programs as a means to reduce the barriers to higher education. Governors often tied this back to workforce readiness, emphasizing that higher education should prepare students for a good career.
· Early Education: Throughout their campaigns, governors consistently referenced the need to expand early education opportunities as crucial to both starting out life on the right foot and to be well prepared for future careers. Many pointed to the role that childcare plays in preparing students for success in school and in life. Issues like the cost of childcare, pre-K and kindergarten access and the need to improve early literacy achievement were also front and center throughout campaigns.
· Teachers and Leaders: Many governors emphasized the importance of investing in and supporting K-12 teachers and leaders in their state. Many highlighted the importance of improving teacher compensation as a means of improving recruitment and retention and alleviating staffing shortages. Governors also emphasized the importance of teacher quality, including strengthening preparation pipelines, professional development and pathways for advancement within the profession.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means — governors spoke to the importance of dozens of other education issues impacting their states. For example, many emphasized the importance of whole child investments. This theme wove itself through a number of policies, from school safety to community schools and wrap around services. In this context governors also addressed social and emotional learning, especially in connection with issues like mental health and the opioid epidemic. And again, these messages often fell under the broader umbrella of preparing students to successfully emerge from their states’ education systems prepared for careers.
In the next few months, incumbents will be transitioning to their new terms and new governors will be getting started. They’ll be hiring staff, building relationships and working to translate platforms into policy. With such a large class of new governors—22 in total — the time is ripe for the education policy community to get engaged. Now is the time for us all to reach out in partnership with governors, to tackle the challenges facing our nation and to help devise innovative and forward-thinking solutions to move our country forward. Together, we can help the new class of education governors succeed in empowering Americans to find success in both their careers and in life.
Jon Alfuth is a Policy Analyst in the Education Division of the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices.