NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Governor Bill Lee delivered his first State of the State address before the Tennessee General Assembly Monday evening.
During his highly anticipated speech, the governor proposed a strong, conservative budget that would include a record-breaking deposit to the Rain Day Fund which will shift the state saving s account to a never-before-reached height of $1.1 billion.
This proposed budget also will not take on any long-term debt and will also manage to cut more than $40 million in costs without services being compromised in the process.
Gov. Lee also touched on his previously announced initiatives such as the Governor’s Investment in Vocational and Technical Education (GIVE), the Future Workforce Initiative and measures to improve school safety.
Additionally, the governor announced the following plans regarding public education:
• A $71 million pay raise for teachers across Tennessee and investment in professional development programming.
• A three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties.
• Establish the Governor’s Civics Instructional Seal to support and recognize those schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values.
• Providing approximately $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in our traditional public schools.
Governor Lee also proposed doubling the number of charter school in the state, along with establishing a new education savings account program. These initiative will offer the following positive outcomes:
Statewide Charter School Authorizer and Increased Facilities Funding and Access
• Doubling the amount of facility funding available to public charter schools and providing new criteria for access to public facilities.
• Establishing an independent state authorizer to approve high-quality charter schools.
• Empowering the State Board of Education to develop authorizer standards that ensure only high-quality schools are authorized.
The Tennessee Education Savings Account
• Provides approximately $7,300 to eligible, participating students.
• Eligibility limited to low-income students in districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10% of schools. Currently includes Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Jackson-Madison, Shelby and the Achievement School District.
• Establishes a new school improvement grant fund for LEAs included in the program during the first three years.
• The local education agency (LEA) will be disbursed grant funds in the amount equal to what local students receive in their education savings account.
• Gov. Lee is recommending $25 million in this budget as an initial payment towards this grant fund with additional funding to be added in subsequent years.
• Enrollment will be limited to 5,000 students in its initial year. The cap will increase by 2,500 students per year if the cap is met.
• Only authorized providers and schools will be eligible to participate in the program, with the Department of Education having the authority to remove poor-performing providers and schools.
• Strong accountability measures are in place to ensure that education savings account funds only go to Department of Education approved expenses.
“As we consider expanding options in this state, we must re-double our efforts to make sure that public schools in Tennessee are well-resourced and that Tennessee teachers and principals are the best and most celebrated in the business,” said Lee.
Another aspect of the governor’s address was his focus on improving public safety.In addition to previous announcements regarding education opportunity within prisons, Gov. Lee outlined the following initiatives to supplement efforts:
• Establishing the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force to make communities safer by reducing recidivism through proposed legislative and budgetary changes.
• Launching the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative to partner incarcerated individuals who are working toward obtaining higher education with a mentor.
• Increasing funding to the Electronic Monitoring Indigency fund to use GPS monitoring of low-risk, non-violent individuals instead of incarceration.
The modernization of health care also was touched upon in the State of the State Address:
“We will work with patients, providers, and payers to establish Tennessee as a world- class health care market for our people using transparency and competition”, said Lee.
Key health care provisions include:
• Launch the Health Care Modernization Task Force to bring the private sector, policy makers and communities together to develop reforms and improve the value of care for all Tennesseans.
• Crack down on expensive Medicaid fraud by expanding the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit with an additional 24 positions dedicated to identifying fraud and waste.
• Serve thousands of additional vulnerable Tennesseans by investing an additional $11 million into the Behavioral Health Safety Net and Regional Mental Institutes.
• Increasing, by as much as $8.6 million, funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee’s medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities.
Lastly, plans were announced to establish the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to leverage the non-profit community and reduce the size of government.
“Many of our people can be found at non-profits in this state who are doing, with excellence, jobs that government cannot or should not do,” said Lee. “So, to help protect taxpayer dollars and to engage some of our under-utilized citizens, one announcement I am particularly excited to make is the Governor’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.”