Tennessee’s Haslam Promotes Education in Annual Budget

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Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee (R) has released a $34.8 billion budget that includes an investment of $261 million in targeted money for K-12 education. The money will be used for items extending from teacher pay to the addition of a 12th month of teacher health insurance to be funded by the state.

In his State of the State address, Haslam labeled this education investment the largest in state history that does not rely on a hike in state taxes, reports Andy Sher for the TimesFreePress. What it will rely on is enormous increases in revenue growth to the tune of $703.8 million in a time when Tennessee is still recovering from the Great Recession.

Another expensive project is slated to cost $35.9 million and will be located in Chattanooga — the renovation of the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga’s Lupton Library, along with another building. This improvement relies on a surplus of almost $1 billion accrued last year and forecast surpluses in the current budget period.

“Our commitment to education continues in a big way tonight,” Haslam said of his improvements in K-12 spending. “What’s important in all of this is that we’re not investing in the same old public education system in Tennessee. We’ve raised our standards. We’ve linked teacher evaluations to student performance, and we’ve expanded education options for children. We’re showing historic progress, and we can’t back up.”

But is this enough money to satisfy Hamilton County school boards and six other counties? These seven school boards sued the state over their contention that Tennessee’s current school formula for funding has shortchanged their schools. Now, a Davidson County Chancery Court judge may decide the case based on whether the state’s effort to improve education funding is sincere and honest.

The governor is also recommending an additional $48.8 million to accommodate added students and the expansion of the state’s Basic Education Program funding formula.

Haslam’s teacher pay increase is the second in two years and is in line with his plan to make Tennessee the state that is providing the fastest improvement of teachers’ salaries in the country, reports The Tennessean. The governor plans to spread the wealth to college campus construction and maintenance across the state.

The new budget includes moderate hikes to tuition at colleges in the state, along with the continuation of the governor’s college programs. Haslam explained that education-based investments are the most important things the state can do to secure economic opportunity, reports James Bennett, writing for Columbia, Tennessee’s The Daily Herald. And Tennessee Promise, a program that offers high school seniors two years of free tuition at technical and community colleges, is still at the heart of the governor’s education plan.

The state’s continued investment will also help achieve the goals of Drive to 55. The program is in place to ensure that 55% of Tennessee adults have a college degree or training by 2025.

Joel Ebert of The Tennessean quoted the governor:

“You’ll see a lot of focus on how we make certain that we serve those people that we’re called to serve, particularly our most vulnerable citizens who count on us for things that they can’t get elsewhere.”