All 50 state legislatures will meet this year, with most of them convening in January. We expect COVID-19 to be the dominating topic at the state level with state finance and education budget debates being heavily influenced by the pandemic. Bill introductions are pouring in, and NAfME public policy staff members are reviewing sponsored legislation in all 50 states to identify the potential effects on music and arts education in 2021 and the coming years.
A positive trend that we have seen thus far is in governors’ budget proposals for the coming fiscal year. These proposals are meant to outline an administration’s priorities for the year’s legislative session and usually function as a starting point for the legislature’s budget work. This year, we are seeing governors from both major political parties release budget proposals that include increased funding for education.
Some are following through on campaign promises, like Utah Governor Spencer Cox. His $21.7 billion budget proposal includes more than $12 billion in public education funding, with increased spending for rural schools and pay raises for teachers. Others are capitalizing on unexpected revenue surpluses to boost education funding. California Governor Gavin Newsom released a $227 billion budget proposal that aims to help schools rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, making reopening schools a priority. The proposal requests $90 billion for schools, made possible by a record $185 billion in capital gains revenue from the year before. In Idaho, the state ended up with a significant surplus thanks to federal funds and a strong state economy. Governor Brad Little proposed a “no-frills” budget that includes a $30 million investment in education to include addressing concerns raised by the pandemic’s impact.
Given the financial woes of many states incurred by the pandemic, it is unclear whether the commitments in these proposals will translate to increased education funding in state budget appropriations. Nevertheless, the focus shift to education during these turbulent times is clear: States are recognizing the importance of fully funding education to support the needs of students during the global pandemic. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is recommending a 3.3% increase in state general fund spending for public education in the coming fiscal year. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s budget proposal restores about half of the $2.7 billion in spending that was put on hold earlier this year and includes an additional $500 million to support schools over the next two years. State Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg said a top priority will be ensuring that schools have “robust” funding, including money for extra school counselors to support teachers and students when they return to the classroom
In Mississippi, State Senator Joey Fillingane said that teacher pay increase would be a “top priority” of the legislature this year, coming after the Senate passed a $1,500 pay increase for teachers last year that was stalled by the onset of COVID-19. There are even special sessions being convened to focus solely on education. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee convened a special session to address education issues in the state, including learning loss, state testing accountability, and funding for teacher pay and schools.
As we embark on a new state legislative year, these developments and open support for education are a promising sign of progress. NAfME’s public policy staff will continue to monitor legislation statewide and will work to keep members informed of policy developments in your state and to help accomplish your MEA’s advocacy goals. For more legislative information, check out the State Information Center. We also invite you to join our ALF call on Monday, January 25 at 7:00 PM Eastern for more state updates. You can click here to register. If you have any questions, you can reach Matt Barusch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Barusch, State Advocacy Engagement Manager, January 22, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)