General Assembly passes conservative budget continuing government services and aiding in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic
The Tennessee General Assembly is set to reconvene on June 1st after recessing the 2020 legislative session late on March 19th. We recessed after passing a conservative budget which continues state government services and aids in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee. State legislators also acted on several bills considered critical to the function and operation of the state, or which contained mandatory responsibilities and calendar-sensitive obligations to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
The budget recognizes essentially no new growth in Tennessee revenues for the upcoming fiscal year set to begin in July as a result of the crisis, whereas previously it was anticipated at the rate of 3.1 percent. As a result, the legislation removes approximately $900 million in improvements from Governor Bill Lee’s original proposal in order to meet the challenges ahead.
The amended budget comfortably covers the essentials while making appropriate reductions and investing in reserve funds. It responds to the tornado disaster and the COVID-19 crisis by adding significantly to the Disaster Relief Fund and providing $150 million to establish a new fund to cover public health and safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, it strengthens the state’s safety net for health and mental health programs for uninsured Tennesseans. This includes an additional $9.3 million in non-recurring funds and $3 million in recurring funds for the adult health care safety net.
The legislation doubles the Local Government Grants proposed by Governor Lee earlier this year from $100 million to $200 million for infrastructure and to help mitigate the economic effects of the crisis on local governments. It also includes an additional $350 million in the Rainy Day Fund to ensure Tennessee remains prepared and continues to fully fund obligations such as the Basic Education Program (BEP), children in state custody, inflation growth in TennCare, and other liabilities.
The budget ensures the state will be in a posture to respond to the epidemic, while providing the essential services to Tennesseans. Tennessee’s commitment to fiscal responsibility places the state in a stronger financial position than the vast majority of other states to address the challenges ahead. Tennessee has a Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s savings account for emergencies or economic downturns, that is unprecedented in state history. This uniquely positions the state to face many of the economic challenges presented by the pandemic.
Legislation ensures students, teachers, and schools will not be penalized due to current state of emergency
Legislation passed the General Assembly ensuring that students, teachers, principals and school districts are not adversely affected by closures or other school-related hardships due to COVID-19 and the March 3rd tornadoes. Senate Bill 2672 waives certain K-12 education rules and requirements to help those impacted by Tennessee’s current state of emergency. It also requires the State Board of Education to revise high school graduation requirements to ensure that no high school seniors affected by the school closures fail to receive a high school diploma for which the student was on-track and otherwise eligible to receive.
The bill reiterates the recommendation by Governor Bill Lee that all Tennessee schools should remain closed through March 31st. Due to school closures, it waives the requirement for TNReady and end of course assessments that were scheduled this spring for the 2019-2020 school year, unless school districts administer them voluntarily. If such voluntary tests are administered, scores for students, teachers and school districts will only be used if it reflects positive growth or a higher grade. The legislation also waives: the requirement for 180 days of classroom instruction; BEP-related requirements to ensure that school districts and employees shall continue to receive full state funding despite any lengthy school closures; and the11th grade postsecondary readiness assessment for the 2019-20 school year.
The State Board of Education is charged with promulgating any necessary emergency rules, guidelines and resources in order to implement the waivers. In addition, the bill authorizes the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation to create emergency rules to protect financial aid and credit opportunities, including dual enrollment courses, for high school students.