The Intersection

The Hunt Institute’s Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellows Program Cultivates Education State Leaders

August 27, 2019

In today’s politically charged climate it is easy to overlook a fundamentally American belief: all children deserve a quality education that prepares them for success. While headlines may divide and delay action, what sets The Hunt Institute apart is its ability to break through this noise and bring together a bipartisan group of state leaders determined to improve education for all students.

This is perhaps most prevalent during the Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellows, The Hunt Institute’s premier education policy bipartisan Fellowship. The Fellowship provides senior-level elected leaders from across the nation and the political spectrum a comprehensive, research-based program that equips them with the knowledge necessary to cultivate smart and effective education agendas.

By demonstrating the interconnectedness of education policies, from early childhood through the workforce, HK Fellows are equipped with the knowledge and relationships needed to lead these critical conversations and drive action in their states.

Since 2015, I have had the pleasure to work with all of our Cohorts of HK Fellows, including our latest group – Cohort 5 – which completed the program on August 16 in Austin, Texas. While each Cohort brings diverse perspectives and experience, they all share a passion for improving educational outcomes for all students in their states.

Cohort 5 HK Fellows worked with the HK Fellows Advisory Board, including Governors Jim Hunt, Tom Kean, Dave Heineman, Jim Douglas, Susana Martinez, and Bob Wise (not pictured).

Over the course of the nine-month Fellowship, which kicked off in December 2018 in Washington, D.C., Cohort 5 HK Fellows engaged with leading experts in research, policy, and politics on topics that included K-12 standards and assessments, school funding, early learning and the early childhood workforce, school choice, effective teachers and school leaders, and higher education access, affordability, and completion. Visits to two schools – Two Rivers Public Charter School and Educare New Orleans – provided the opportunity to connect with educators, students and families firsthand to learn how policies impact schools at the local level.

Fellows also worked with the HK Fellows Advisory Board, a network of Former Governors known to have worked across the aisle to improve education. We are especially grateful to Gov. Jim Hunt (D-NC), Gov. Tom Kean (R-NJ), Gov. Jim Douglas (R-VT), Gov. Dave Heineman (R-NE), Gov, Jack Markell (D-DE), Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM), Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH), and Gov. Bob Wise (D-WV) for sharing their time and experience as their state’s education leader.

With such varied viewpoints and thoughtful dialogue, here’s a few key points from our discussions throughout the Fellowship:

  • Equity should be foundational to any public education goal or vision. While there are no “one-size-fits-all” policy solutions to improve equity and excellence, policymakers should engage in conversations with fellow elected officials and stakeholders, including families, about what equity means and how that definition influences policy actions. 
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, President of the Learning Policy Institute and the California State Board of Education, highlighted the importance of quality teachers and how a teacher’s academic background, quality of preparation program, certification, and experience impacts student achievement
  • Site visits to traditional public schools and charter schools are an important way for policymakers to stay engaged with school leaders, teachers and students. Encouraging and incentivizing partnerships between charter schools and traditional public schools to share best practices and increase coordination can better serve all students and families. 
  • An increasingly prevalent topic, Fellows explored the challenges of ensuring all children have access to a high-quality early education workforce, especially since research shows the significance of the first five years of life are for healthy brain development. 
  • Will Miller, President of The Wallace Foundation, shared the foundation’s success with its Principal Pipeline Initiative, noting that the comprehensive program is scalable, affordable and most importantly, effective
  • A panel of system and university leaders – Tom Kean, Former New Jersey Governor and Former President of Drew University, J.B. Milliken, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Margaret Spellings, President & CEO, Texas 2036, Former President of the University of North Carolina System and Former U.S. Secretary of Education – covered a variety of topics, but echoed that modernization in the higher ed space is needed, which could include stronger K-12 partnerships, smarter governance structures, or a deeper focus on specific goals or programs to reduce costs. 
  • Disparities in college attendance and completion continue for low-income students, students of color and non-traditional students. Thoughtful, innovative strategies at the state level can help address these inequities, and state leaders need to consider the unique needs of all students when designing systems of support.

As each HK Fellow’s impact and influence grows, I’m confident that the Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellows program has provided them with a comprehensive background in education policy as well as an ever-growing network of resource experts, Governors, HK Fellow Alumni, and now, a dedicated Director of HK Fellows – David Struhs – to support them along their path; but our work is not yet complete.

We will welcome Cohort 6 HK Fellows this December, focusing not on what divides us, but on how these diverse voices can work together to improve educational outcomes for all students.


Javaid Siddiqi, Ph.D.
President & CEO, The Hunt Institute

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