Tenn. to funnel $650M toward public schools

Last updated on February 20th, 2020 at 02:28 pm

Nearly one million students attend Tennessee public schools, and they can expect a new, state-funded push to improve their reading skills. (photo courtesy of Adobe Stock)

Gov. Bill Lee recently announced Tennessee’s public schools would receive $650 million to improve student literacy, support school mental health services, and boost teacher pay and professional development.

The state says a significant portion of the funding will be used to purchase high-quality reading materials for elementary-school students and to provide teachers with evidence-based training for literacy instruction. Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said the state continues to lag behind in teaching kids to read.

“We know that only a third of our kiddos are on grade level, reading on grade level in fourth grade. And 27% are on grade level in eighth grade,” Schwinn said. “And so, we feel an incredible sense of urgency to ensure that every single child has what they need to become proficient readers.”

According to the latest federal data, Tennessee ranks among the 10 states in the nation with the lowest per-student spending, at around $8,500 per student. The national average is more than $11,000 per student.

Schwinn added the new investments come at time when the state is focused on economic growth and developing a future workforce.

“Tennessee, 11 years ago, was ranked in the bottom five states related to performance and proficiency, student achievement in the country, the bottom five,” she said. “And now, what we’re seeing is that Tennessee is in the middle of the pack. We rank somewhere between 25th and 35th, depending on the grade level and content area.”

The governor also proposed pay raises for Tennessee’s teachers, promising to boost their starting minimum annual salary from $36,000 to $40,000 over the next two years.