Questions growing about Governor’s education spending plan


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s massive spending on K-12 education drew more questions Thursday from state lawmakers and it was not just limited to Democrats.

The minority Democrats were most critical with Senate Democrat Leader Jeff Yarbro fearing too much money would end up in the state education department instead of with teachers and students.

“What we need is a record investment in classrooms,” Yarbro said at a Thursday morning news conference. “What we are still trying to do is drill down on what exactly the investment is and where it’s going.”

An hour later, Republican Bo Watson, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, raised his own questions while being less critical.

“There are some very innovative things here being discussed in very general terms,” Watson told reporters. “There will be some clunkiness to it cause this is a new and innovative approach and you never get something this large perfect the first time you do it, but I think it is a positive step to what everyone recognizes as a significant problem.”

Somewhere between $400-$650 million dollars, depending on how you calculate the proposal this week from Gov. Lee, make up what would be a record one-year state investment in education from Tennessee lawmakers.

Two senators from each party symbolized the questions raised in various degrees beginning with the $250 million endowment to help school kids with mental health issues.

The yearly interest of the $250 million investment is envisioned going to schools.

“It will end up being around $8million a year maybe in a good year,” Yarbro said, who tosses out another number about what’s needed. “If you are just trying to get a counselor in every classroom you are talking about $75-100 million proposition.”

That would yearly say the Senate Democrat leader, but the Senate’s Republican finance chair while raising some questions maintained the school mental health endowment is innovative.

“You recognize a need. You fund it,” added Sen. Watson. “And then sometimes you have to figure out your way on how you are going to execute the funding you have and I think that is where we are with this kind of innovative approach.”

Questions have also been raised specifically about if the money proposed for 4% K-12 teacher raise is really enough to reach that amount or if the amount proposed for the raises will all get to teachers.

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