Thirty years ago, Saturn started its current revolution around the Sun, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and Americans began to understand that governors are the most important people in U.S. K-12 education. They control, on average, about half of schools’ budgets. They propose, lobby, and ultimately sign legislation that spans the spectrum from teacher evaluations and collective bargaining to textbook adoption. Today, with bold gubernatorial leadership on display once again, we do well to recall some of the pioneering “education governors” of the 1980s, men and women who set about to reform their states’ public schools—indeed, to overhaul their states’ entire K-12 system.
Most of them were considered political “moderates”—mind you, that was neither a slur nor an endangered species in the ‘80s—and they definitely came from both parties. Prominent among them were Dick Riley (D-SC), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jim Hunt (D-NC), John Engler (R-MI), Bill Clinton (D-AR), Tommy Thompson (R-WI), Ann Richards (D-TX), and Rudy Perpich (DFL-MN)—to name a few.
(photo credit: Eli Sagor)