What Education Companies Should Know About Governors’ K-12 Agendas

Staff Writer

As governors across the country begin rolling out their plans for the next year, a notable trend is emerging: Most are discussing increased funding for education, while few are announcing major new initiatives.

That’s a promising combination for the K-12 market, said Hillary Knudson, vice president of the education-focused consulting firm Whiteboard Advisors. If new state dollars aren’t tied to a specific mandate or project, that means school districts will have more discretion in how its spent.

School districts may have more say in how they spend additional state money this year, given the lack of new initiatives being announced by governors.

“In the absence of big-ticket items, but with the call to increase state appropriations for education, that means … the governor, and therefore the general assembly, has not decided where those dollars are going,” Knudson said.

“That means that it is up to districts to determine. So, I think there’s opportunity there.”

So far, about half of all state governors have given their state of the state addresses, offering insight into their administrations’ priorities for 2024. And education has remained a significant piece of their agendas, with topics such as improving student achievement, expanded pre-K, literacy, and teacher pay and retention showing up in many.

For companies working in the K-12 space, understanding where state money is going — as well as the new or continuing expectations placed on schools by state leadership — is critical. And can signal what types of products and services district will be looking to purchase.

Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, and Nebraska, for example, are among those whose leaders called for increasing the base formula or overall funding for education.

“Typically, the priorities that are highlighted in State of the State [addresses] then show up in the [state] budget proposal,” said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers, which tracks and summarizes each governor’s address.

And there’s a high likelihood they end up approved by lawmakers, he said.

Purchasing Areas to Watch

Over the next year, states appear poised to support products and services that generally help districts improve student outcomes and recruit and retain teachers. Both of those were priorities discussed by governors in their addresses to lawmakers.

Many states and school districts are trying to find strategies to rebuild student learning in the years after the pandemic. And a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey of district and school leaders across the country showed that recruiting and keeping staff is one of their biggest challenges.

In the absence of big-ticket items, but with the call to increase state appropriations for education, that means… the governor, and therefore the general assembly, has not decided where those dollars are going. That means that it is up to districts to determine. So, I think there’s opportunity there.Hillary Knudson, vice president, Whiteboard Advisors

A number of governors also told legislators that they want their states to focus on improving early literacy, in some cases referring to the popular research-based approach known as the “science of reading.”

Two states that don’t currently have science of reading laws, Iowa and Massachusetts, had governors say they plan to put more money behind literacy, Knudson said.

A few governors have also called out special education as an area of focus, according to NASBO’s summaries of their speeches, and promised more funding. Examples of their priorities include:

  • Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, called for the state to “fully fund” special education.
  • Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee spoke in favor of raising the cap on special education funding and creating more incentives for people to become special education teachers.
  • In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds called for a policy change that would give school districts more control over their special education funds.

And some state leaders are also thinking about K-12 education through the lens of workforce development, which signals a potential interest in tools that help schools prepare students for future jobs:

  • Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, offered a number of solutions to Wisconsin’s workforce challenges, including investing in public education.
  • Missouri Gov. Michael Parson, a Republican, recommended greater support for youth apprenticeship opportunities. And Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis similarly spoke about expanding apprenticeships.
  • In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined initiatives including increased support for workforce education.

Efforts to tie workforce development and career training to K-12 education aren’t new ideas, said Sigritz of NASBO. But career and technical education and different career training programs has received particular attention in governors’ speeches for the last three or four years.

What Wasn’t Said

Few governors spoke about the so-called “funding cliff” directly, Knudson said. But it’s important to note that the massive, $190 billion federal stimulus aid is also winding to a close near the end of 2024.

One explanation why governors avoided the topic is that not every district across a state will be affected, Knudson said, and its likely that the districts in challenging financial positions ahead of the pandemic will remain in that position after the aid ends.

The impact could also vary from state to state, depending on how healthy a state’s budget is, she noted.

Some issues considered important by educators largely went unmentioned by governors, including cybersecurity and chronic absenteeism.

“In states where … there was a quicker rebound, perhaps, from the height of the pandemic, those states are better off in being able to support their districts,” Knudson said. “And the majority of states have increased their education funding.”

Regardless, vendors should be aware that for districts that received large chunks of federal money — those with high poverty populations — these increases in state funding likely won’t be enough to fill the gap.

Also missing from many governors’ agendas were some issues Knudson considers top-of-mind for school and district leaders, including: cybersecurity, student engagement, and chronic absenteeism. She’ll look to state education chiefs’ agendas to see where these issues are a priority.

“Every governor is going to talk about student achievement and the need to improve outcomes,” she said. “That’s very hard to do if kids aren’t actually in school.”

There were also few mentions of math, despite the next couple of years being big ones for math adoptions in major markets.

“We might eventually see a map where we can say every state is doing something around the science of reading,” Knudson said. “But you only had [around] four governors that said something about math.”

Image of Colorado Governor Jared Polis delivers the 2024 State of the State address on Jan. 11, 2024, in Denver. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via AP)

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