Governors like talking about education. A lot.

April 18, 2013

As lawmakers in Washington have been wrestling over guns, immigration and sequestration, the nation’s governors have their sights on a different issue: Education.


(Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post)

Fully a quarter of all the initiatives governors proposed during their 2013 "State of the State" addresses involved education, according to a study conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm. Jobs and the economy placed second, accounting for 18 percent of all proposals, while taxes and health care were the third most popular issues, clocking in at about 10 percent apiece.

Republican governors really like to talk about education, the study shows. They released nearly twice as many education proposals as they did on the issue of jobs or the economy.

Democratic governors, too, are fond of laying out education policies. But they pitched a few more proposals on jobs and the economy.

While education is still on top for the nation’s governors, it’s become a less prominent focus at state of state speeches over the years. In 2005, 33 percent of total "State of the State" proposals were education-related. That number dipped to 27 percent in 2006 and 23 percent in 2009. The study did not have data for 2010-2012.

Many of the education proposals from governors in both parties had to do with increasing funding. Some Republicans sought to expand school choice and increase the number of charter schools. Democrats laid out plans on a variety of fronts, from creating a set of uniform standards to bolstering community colleges.

With education receiving outsize attention at the state level, there may be implications for 2016. Many potential presidential candidates are governors or former governors with records on the issue – records they will be expected to use to distinguish themselves from one another.

Some other interesting findings from the study:

* Health care has declined as a focal point for Democratic governors over the years. Just 9 percent of their proposals involved the topic this year, down from 21 percent in 2006. Meanwhile, Republicans’ focus on health care has remained steadier. This all makes sense, as President Obama's health care reform law has taken effect. Many Republican governors have been pushing back against pieces of the law (Medicaid expansion, for example) and pitching their own plans, whereas Democrats have been more accommodating.

* Taxes were a much more popular topic among Republican governors. Ten percent of the proposals GOP governors unveiled had to do with taxes. Only 5 percent of Democratic proposals touched the subject.

* Crime and drugs, on the other hand, got more attention from Democrats, who collectively unveiled 13 proposals connected to the subject. By comparison, just five Republican proposals touched the issue matter.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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