Gov. Bill Lee delivers first State of the State address

Governor Bill Lee

On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivered his first State of the State address and presented budget priorities to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chamber.

Gov. Lee proposed a strong, conservative budget with a record-breaking deposit to the Rainy Day Fund that will lift the state savings account to a historic high $1.1 billion. The proposed budget does not take on any long-term debt and manages to cut more than $40 million in costs without compromising services.

Key highlights are listed below and the full speech as prepared for delivery is available on Governor Lee’s website. The proposed budget is available on the Department of Finance & Administration website.

In addition to previously announced education initiatives including the governor’s Investment in Vocational and Technical Education (GIVE), the Future Workforce Initiative and measures to improve school safety, Gov. Lee announced the following plans for 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.

“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.

School choice is a key theme in Gov. Lee’s first year agenda with proposals for both doubling public charter schools and establishing a new education savings accounts program. More students in Tennessee will have access to high-quality education through:

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.

Gov. Lee also outlined additional plans to improve public safety through a smart approach to crime.

“As I’ve said many times, the punishment for violent crime must be swift and severe, but we must also get better at helping those who will be released prepare to re-enter society and not re-enter prison,” said Lee.

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.

Gov. Lee further outlined plans for modernizing health care and improving the affordability of services.

“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.

• Crackdown 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.

Finally, Gov. Lee announced plans 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.”