The General Assembly was highlighted by Governor Bill Lee’s second State of the State Address on February 3rd where he presented his budget for the upcoming fiscal year and outlined his 2020 legislative vision for Tennessee. Improving K-12 education emerged as the top item from the night, as Governor Lee proposed a record $600 million in new funds for a series of initiatives to help students learn and reach their maximum potential.
Governor Lee also reiterated his commitment to workforce development, emphasizing that the proposed education initiatives are designed to boost economic development and ensure students are equipped for the workforce. To aid in this effort, proposals were introduced stressing the importance of teacher compensation, preparation, recruiting and retention.
Key education priorities in the governor’s budget include the largest investment in K-12 teacher salaries in Tennessee history and the creation of a $250 million K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund. This innovative fund would support the growth and placement of mental health support services in Tennessee’s most at risk schools to ensure students’ basic needs are being met and that they are ready to learn at their highest opportunity level. Governor Lee also pointed to the need to address rising youth suicide rates in the state.
Another education challenge tackled by Governor Lee is improving early childhood literacy. Currently, only one-third of Tennessee third graders are reading on grade level. Lee announced legislation to establish new, clearer, evidence-based standards for teacher training, such as phonics-based instruction. He is also proposing an investment of $70 million to ensure teachers have the resources needed to improve literacy rates.
Other key initiatives for education include:
• Raising the minimum teacher salary schedule from $36,000 to $40,000 over the next two years;
• Growing school-based behavioral health liaison program from 36 counties to all 95 counties;
• Launching the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship to support the education of over 1,000 future teachers per year;
• Supporting district-led “Grow Your Own” programs with new curriculum and grants;
• Investing $4 million into professional development and career advancement opportunities for teachers and school leaders;
• Applying for a new AP education teaching course; and
• Establishing the Tennessee Teacher and Leader Institute which will solicit proposals from across the country to help launch a new initiative to build the best educator preparation program in the nation.
Budget proposal continues focus on increasing jobs, rural economic development
Governor Lee continued a strong emphasis on job creation, including the growth of economic development in Tennessee’s rural communities. Key economic and workforce development proposals include:
• Cutting the professional privilege tax by 50 percent;
• Offering an enhanced incentive package for companies considering locating in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties and 24 at-risk counties;
• Launching Apprenticeship TN, a new effort that will realign the state’s approach to getting individuals back into the workforce;
• Increasing broadband accessibility through an additional $25 million investment, adding to the significant investments phased in over the past four years;
• Expanding the TN Agriculture Enhancement Program through a $7 million investment;
• Investing $2 million for UT Extension Agents in distressed rural counties;
• Investing $20 million in the Rural Opportunity Fund which supports site development, main-street development, and critical infrastructure assistance
• Supporting the Department of Tourism’s Office of Rural Tourism through a nearly $2.4 million investment.