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2019 State of the State Addresses on Early Care and Education


March 12, 2019
Aaron Loewenberg
New America

Now that January and February have passed almost all of the nation’s governors have delivered their annual State of the State address. These addresses are an opportunity for governors to set forth their legislative priorities for the coming year before an audience of state lawmakers. This year’s addresses were especially noteworthy for the early childhood community because many newly elected governors campaigned on promises to expand access and increase funding to early care and education programs. The State of the State address is an opportunity for these governors to show their commitment to using their political capital to turn campaign promises into legislative reality.

Highlights of each governor’s address can be found using this database created by the Education Commission of the States. Below I detail highlights from a few key states.

Colorado

First-term governor Jared Polis made education issues, and early education specifically, a centerpiece of his campaign. He even ran a campaign ad promoting his promise to fund free, full-day kindergarten and pre-K. On the campaign trail, Polis vowed to make full-day kindergarten available to every Colorado child within two years of his election.

Since entering office, Polis has shown no signs of backing down on his push for full-day kindergarten throughout the state. In his State of the State address, Polis pushed lawmakers to make free, full-day kindergarten a reality by fall of this year. Polis pointed out that access to full-day kindergarten would improve academic performance, narrow achievement gaps, and lead to earlier identification and intervention for students with special needs. But while Colorado is expecting $1 billion in new revenue this year, some lawmakers are wary of committing up to $250 million to pay for full-day kindergarten. Currently, school districts in the state receive about half the average per pupil amount for kindergarten students compared to students in higher grades. Since districts must make up the funding difference if they want to offer full-day kindergarten, some districts have resorted to charging tuition for a full-day program.

Polis also used his address to propose expanding pre-K access to 8,000 additional children. As of the 2016-17 school year, about 21,600 children were enrolled in the state’s pre-K program, serving about 23 percent of Colorado four-year-olds.

Hawaii

Second-term governor David Ige used his State of the State address to call for the creation of a universal pre-K system for four-year-olds in the state over the next several decades. Citing research showing early education as critical for brain development, Ige proposed starting the process of adding the more than 300 public pre-K classrooms he says the state will need for a universal system. The state has a long way to go to achieve universal pre-K access: its public pre-K program was launched during the 2014-15 school year and served only two percent of the state’s four-year-olds during the 2016-17 school year.

Ige also used his address to propose a fundamental restructuring of the state’s elementary school system. In order to make early learning an integral part of the overall elementary curriculum, Ige proposes elementary schools be changed from their current grade structure of kindergarten through sixth grade to a structure that runs from pre-K to fifth grade. Sixth grade would then become part of the middle school system. Some state lawmakers are skeptical of this plan, however, citing a projected cost of $500 million to use existing space at elementary schools for pre-K programming….