Educators, lawmakers react to Gov. Lee's State of the State address

Posted at 9:21 PM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-03 22:21:21-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Governor Bill Lee gave his second annual State of the State address Monday night. Educators were glad to see new commitments to teachers and students throughout the state. Read what they said in response to the governor's address below.

Beth Brown, President of the Tennessee Education Association:

“Tennessee is 45th in the nation in what we invest per student. While Gov. Lee outlined millions in new K-12 investment, our public schools need $1.2 billion to get us to the southeast average and out of the bottom 10 in funding. It is something our state can afford, and it’s the best investment our state can make.”

"The governor has proposed $117 million for increased teacher salaries. While that is a large yearly increase, it breaks down to about $1,450 per teacher, or approximately $28 a week. The governor said he wants Tennessee to be the best state in the nation to teach, and we agree. The state increased its cash reserves by more than $1 billion last year. Clearly the governor and General Assembly can and should do more to make teaching a professionally paid career.”

Professional Educators of Tennessee:

Our commitment to public education, and our advocacy efforts, have been reflected tonight with many of the items in Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State. Teachers across the state will be very pleased with several of the items the Governor identified, including salary increases and a renewed emphasis on literacy. We look forward to more in-depth details on implementation, as well as opportunities for additional input on these issues.

To our knowledge, we are the only teacher association meeting with major stakeholders, including the executive branch, on a regular basis. That has helped lead to major monetary commitments in the budget in the last decade for K12 education here in Tennessee. More importantly, we have tried to help legislators keep the focus on educators and students. This year we are focused on 4 major areas: Salary, Student Discipline, Teacher Certification, and Literacy.

We are pleased Governor Lee has identified some of these very themes tonight. Teachers do “deserve to be paid more for the important work they do.” The Governor is also accurate that “education isn't just about a test score.” We are very happy to see literacy will be a cornerstone of the Governor’s agenda moving forward. Governor Lee is correct, that without literacy: “our other investments and work in education will always be limited.” We look forward to working with him, Commissioner Schwinn and the Tennessee General Assembly on these and other issues.

A decade ago, we were near the bottom in the nation in education. Today, we are somewhere in the low 30’s. We have much more left to do, and the state must continue to invest in education, and we must continue to define our priorities and work together. Working in a non-partisan fashion proves we can move the state in a positive direction. We strongly believe that children from all backgrounds can succeed when given the opportunities they deserve.

While not addressed tonight, it is important to note that our organization has confidence that the Tennessee General Assembly will work to address Teacher Certification and Student Discipline this session. We have a teacher shortage in our state. In fact, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) reports roughly 1100 positions are unfilled or do not have a qualified teacher in the classroom, across the state. Urban areas are hit especially hard. In rural areas, Art, Music, and Special Education are areas that are especially difficult to fill. In particular, we will work on strengthening reciprocity laws and dropping requirements for re-taking the Praxis exam when entering Tennessee, as well as making it easier for our current teachers to add additional endorsements. Student discipline is critical, and we must work to address several of these issues through legislation.

Statement from Lt. Governor Randy McNally:

“In his second state of the state address, Governor Lee once again laid out a bold vision for our state. I am particularly impressed with his focus on education. Whether it is through teacher pay raises, vocational education or his commitment to choice and reform, the governor has made his focus the future. This budget maintains our fiscal responsibility by making strategic reductions, cutting taxes and saving for a rainy day. I am also grateful for the commitment to the health care safety net and to mental health. Governor Lee has made it his mission to have Tennessee lead the nation. We are well on our way.”

Statement from Senate Republican Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin):

“I am proud of Governor Lee’s audacious plan for the future of Tennessee. He set forth a roadmap to maintain our fiscally conservative principles while enhancing the lives of all Tennesseans through new initiatives focusing on mental health, education and rural development. His proposal invests in some of the most important people in our communities: teachers and giving them a well-deserved increase in their pay. I am ready to work alongside Governor Lee’s administration to tackle these issues facing Tennessee and pass a budget that works for all Tennesseans.”

Statement from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston):

“Tonight, Governor Lee proposed a conservative budget that continues Tennessee's outstanding fiscal management. He is committed to investing in sustainable initiatives that will help our state meet the needs of Tennessee now and in the future. The Governor has set forth exciting new plans to make prospering our rural communities a top priority with a focus on development and job creation. His proposal also invests in some of the most important people in our communities: teachers and giving them a well-deserved increase in their pay. By creating a $250 million protected mental health trust fund, the governor shows that he takes tackling the mental health crisis as seriously as I do. I look forward to working with Governor Lee and his administration as the budget makes its way through the legislature. I will prioritize strong fiscal management and focus on initiatives that will meet the needs of our citizens and communities.”

Democrates respond: