Governor Bill Lee delivered his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 3, showcasing Tennessee’s progress over the past year and outlining his legislative and budget priorities for the coming year.
The governor’s address focused on one of his core priorities, supporting public education. The proposed budget includes the largest investment in K-12 teacher salaries in Tennessee history, and a series of initiatives designed to ensure that Tennessee is recruiting, retaining, and training the best teachers in America.
The governor also announced legislative and budgetary priorities to build a comprehensive approach to advancing literacy across the state, which includes additional teacher training and development. In the coming fiscal year, the proposed budget includes more than $600 million new dollars for public education.
“Make no mistake: we will do whatever it takes to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a student, and that means making Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher,” Gov. Lee said. “That means better pay, as we’ve said, but it also means better training and professional support, so that our teachers can perform at the top of their trade.”
Additional education initiatives include the following:
•Investing an additional $117 million in teacher salaries, an amount equal to a 4% increase in the state’s contribution;
•Recommending moving the minimum teacher salary schedule from $36,000 to $40,000 over the next two years;
•Creating the K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund through $250 million in one-time funds to support the growth and placement of mental health services for students through a systemwide, evidence-based, whole child approach;
•Growing school-based behavioral health liaison program from 36 counties to all 95 counties;
•Setting new standards for public elementary literacy training and instruction and providing improved literacy supports and interventions for K-2 students;
•Launching the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship to support the education of more than 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;
•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.
Gov. Lee emphasized that these education initiatives are designed to produce economic and workforce development.
“The true measure of a successful education system is a cohort of high school graduates who are well-prepared to be productive citizens, whether they choose a career or college,” Gov. Lee said. “To me, education isn’t just about a test score.”
Key economic and workforce development highlights include the following:
•Cutting the professional privilege tax by 50%;
•Returning over $100 million to cities and counties;
•Offering an enhanced incentive package for companies considering locating in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties and 24 at-risk counties;
•Launching ApprenticeshipTN, a new effort that will realign the approach to getting individuals back into the workforce;
•Investing $160 million for capital improvements and $70 million for capital maintenance projects on higher education campuses.
The governor’s ongoing commitment to rural Tennessee was showcased through initiatives including the following:
•Increasing broadband accessibility through an additional $25 million investment;
•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;
•Investing $4 million for payment increases to rural health clinics and expanding rural access to dental care through the Department of Health and a new public-private partnership with SmileTN;
•Supporting the Department of Tourism’s Office of Rural Tourism through a nearly $2.4 million investment.
Gov. Lee also outlined plans to improve public safety.
“When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer,” said Gov. Lee.
Key public safety initiatives include the following:
•Increasing the criminal penalties associated with theft of a firearm and increasing the criminal penalties associated with reckless endangerment of a police officer or first responder;
•Revising the occupational licensing process to encourage employment for those leaving prison;
•Expanding recovery courts and community supervision.
Gov. Lee further discussed plans to provide all Tennesseans access to high-quality affordable health care by the following:
•Investing $6.5 million additional recurring funds in the Health Care Safety Net;
•Creating a Children’s Behavioral Health Safety Net through a $7.5 million investment;
•Funding the third year of the Rural Hospital Transformation Program;
•Extending postpartum coverage for women on TennCare to 12 months;
•Providing a dental and oral health benefit to pregnant women on TennCare who do not currently receive dental benefits during the time of pregnancy through 60 days post-delivery
Finally, Gov. Lee discussed his previously announced comprehensive pro-life legislation to prohibit an abortion where a fetal heartbeat exists. That legislation also includes provisions to require a mother to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion and prohibit an abortion where the physician is aware that the decision to seek an abortion is motivated by the race, sex, or health or disability diagnosis of the unborn child.
The proposed budget is available on the Department of Finance & Administration website.