NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In a Tennessee state budget that shot past the $40 billion mark for the first time, Republican Governor Bill Lee highlighted in his State of the State address a potential 4% raise for K-12 teachers, a $250 million dollar trust fund for future help in school mental health issues, and $70 million dollars to help students read better in early literacy programs.
“Over the next two years, we will recommend moving the minimum salary schedule for teachers from $36,000 to $40,000, so that no Tennessee teacher is making less than $40,000 per year,” said Lee.
There was a further accent on education, as the governor proposed an early literacy program and a $250 million trust fund for help in school mental health issues.
“Scores of teachers and principals, as well as our education commissioner, have pleaded for reinforcements from the state to help schools tackle the mental health and other challenges that students bring with them into the classroom.”
Tucked into the overall spending plan that reflects a 3.7% increase over last year’s budget, is some potential help worth $100 million for local and county governments to use for things like roads and public safety.
Other budget investment numbers include money to hire 25 new TBI agents and a second year of pay increases for correctional officers as the department struggles to fill staff shortages pointed out in a recent state audit.
Democratic state Senator Jeff Yarbo had a response to the governor’s address, saying the legislature should focus on more real issues Tennesse residents face every day.
“While we were encouraged to see the most of Governor Lee’s speech focus on kitchen-table issues like education and health care, it was disappointing to see the governor–who campaigned on bringing people together focus one of his biggest priorities on one of the most divisive issues in American politics,” said Yarbo. “Every week that you hear legislators in this building fighting over abortion, private school vouchers and refugees and block grants and who can have adoptions and who can use which bathrooms, that is time that this legislature is not focused on solving the actual problems faced by actual people in Tennessee.”
Yarbo did express optimism in some of the things Governor Lee mentioned in his speech and said Tennessee Democrats would be willing partners.
“Now we heard the governor put forward some initiatives tonight that could do some good. Many of us here have been working on these issues like workforce, education, mental health for years and we are excited the governor is showing some leadership in those areas. And we will be willing partners because we all need the governor to succeed.”
Now begins the long process for lawmakers to either add or subtract from the nearly $41 billion budget.
The governor also highlighted a tax cut affecting potentially 191,000 Tennesseans. He proposed cutting in half the state’s $400 yearly professional privilege tax.
The tax affects professions like doctors, lawyers, and accountants.