NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Next year's state budget of nearly $53 billion was approved on Thursday, but amendments to increase K-12 school funding and state employee and teacher pay were rejected.
"In Tennessee, we’re underfunding education by a lot,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Tenn. Yarbro was the proponent of the rejected amendments. “A billion dollars added into education, where we are in Tennessee right now, we are only catching up on underfunding from the past decade.”
Tennessee ranks 6th lowest in the nation for student funding per pupil, and second to last for student funding in the Southeast.
Instead, Governor Bill Lee has proposed a funding formula overhaul known as TISA. However, if approved, it would not kick in for two more years.
“Thanks to input from thousands of Tennesseans over the past several months, our state is in a position to update how we fund public education for the first time in over 30 years and put the focus where it belongs — on students,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn of the TISA plan.
Yarbro's K-12 funding amendment was killed on a vote of 25 to 4.
The second failed amendment would have invested an additional $350 million in pay raises for teachers and state government workers. Yarbro said the amendment was motivated by a necessity for teachers and state employees to maintain buying power at their current salary, and to mitigate a hiring and worker retention crisis.
“We’re losing teachers… we’ve been losing DCS case workers; this has been happening across state government, and once we lose people it’s hard to get them back," said Yarbro. “We have an urgent need when it comes to keeping teachers and state employees on the job.”
The amendment to increase salaries lost in a 26-4 vote.