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Seven Midwest governors gave State of the State addresses in January — here is one policy idea from each

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »


1. Indiana Gov. Holcomb: Help local schools raise pay of state’s teachers
To make teacher pay in Indiana competitive with neighboring Midwestern states, Gov. Eric Holcomb told the state General Assembly, policymakers must do more than his proposed 2-percent-a-year boost in K-12 funding. His idea is to use the state’s current surplus to pay off a pension liability of $140 million for local schools. These schools, in turn, would dedicate all of that freed-up money to raise salaries for teachers. Holcomb also is establishing a Next Level Teacher Pay Commission, which will make longer-term recommendations in time for the 2021 legislative session.


2. Iowa Gov. Reynolds: Cultivate rural growth with more housing, broadband access
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds focused the Legislature’s attention on two needs in the state’s rural communities: access to high-speed internet and more housing. The state already has an existing grant program that provides up to 15 percent of the costs for broadband projects in underserved/unserved areas. Reynolds proposed spending an additional $20 million over the next two years. She also wants to double the amount of tax credits (up to $10 million) that the state provides to housing developers in rural communities.


3. Kansas Gov. Kelly: Expand Medicaid to save lives and keep rural hospitals open
In making her first pitch to legislators to expand Kansas’ Medicaid program, newly elected Gov. Laura Kelly tied this policy change to the future well-being of the state’s rural hospitals and communities. Such an expansion, she said, would provide affordable care to 150,000 residents and, in the process, help keep rural health facilities open. According to Kelly, up to 30 percent of Kansas hospitals “are considered financially vulnerable.” Kansas is one of three states in the Midwest that has not expanded Medicaid under the U.S. Affordable Care Act. The others are South Dakota and Wisconsin. (Nebraska will expand because of a voter-approved ballot measure this past fall.)


4. Nebraska Gov. Ricketts: Invest in scholarships that lead students to good jobs
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts asked legislators to invest in a new scholarship program for students in targeted areas of study. These $4,000 scholarships would be spread among students at the University of Nebraska, the state’s colleges and community colleges. Eligible areas of study would include math and science, health care, information technology, the skilled trades, criminal justice and agriculture. Along with assisting students, Ricketts said, the additional 2,100 scholarships would help Nebraska’s postsecondary schools attract more talent.


5. North Dakota Gov. Burgum: Address workforce shortage with new career academies
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum started the legislative year with a speech that emphasized the adverse effects of ongoing workforce shortages in the state. “[It] remains our No. 1 gating factor for economic growth,” he said. Burgum wants part of the state’s policy response to be a new $30 million investment in career academies — partnerships between local K-12 schools and colleges that provide students coursework in high-demand, high-wage fields. His plan for alleviating workforce shortages also includes a scholarship program funded by state and philanthropic sources as well as changes in occupational licensing that make it “easier for people from other states to transfer their skills to North Dakota.”.


6. South Dakota Gov. Noem : Find the “next big thing” to drive the state’s economy
Kristi Noem’s first State of the State address as South Dakota’s first female governor included a long list of policy ideas, from broadband to workforce development. But she also presented an overarching challenge: “Search for the next big thing,” an industry sector that can kick-start the state’s economy. She noted that in the early 1980s, South Dakota deliberately changed its laws and regulatory environment to become a hub of the nation’s credit card industry — a move that continues to pay off, Noem says. She wants to identify, and then attract, the “next big industry.” In her speech, she discussed the potential for South Dakota to be an epicenter of value-added agriculture, health and crop technology, and cybersecurity.


7. Wisconsin Gov. Evers: Commit state to funding two-thirds of school costs
Gov. Tony Evers previously served as Wisconsin’s state school superintendent, and K-12 education was a focus of his State of the State address. He asked lawmakers to appropriate more money for education so that the state could fund at least two-thirds of the state-local cost of schools. According to Associated Press reports, the estimated cost to get to that level is $130 million. Evers also pressed the Legislature to invest more in specific areas of education — for example, a fivefold increase in school-based mental health programs and an expansion of early learning and summer school in high-need urban districts. In his speech, Evers proposed an unprecedented $600 million boost in special education funding, saying the state has failed to fully fund these services and “forced local school districts and taxpayers to squeeze resources from other areas.”