Recently, Gov. Lee unveiled his proposed Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget during his State of the State Address. This year’s budget builds upon the recent gains we have made improving the academic trajectories of our students under Republican leadership.
Because we have invested over $1.5 billion in K-12 education, and because we have made the largest combined investment in teacher salaries than at any point in state history over the past eight years, Tennessee students were recently named among the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading, and science.
To build upon these improvements this year — including reading proficiency increases of eight percentage points between 1998 and 2015 according to the Nation’s Report Card — the Governor’s proposed budget calls for $600 million new dollars for public education. This includes an additional $117 million in teacher salaries. To ensure Tennessee continues to compete with other states in educator recruitment and retention, the Lee administration has also recommended moving minimum salary ranges for teachers from $36,000 to $40,000 over the course of the next two years.
Other key investments as part of our continued commitment to education include the creation of a K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund through a one-time $250 million investment to support mental health services for students through an evidence-based, holistic approach. Additionally, the budget calls for the enhancement of the school-based behavioral health liaison program from 36 counties to now include every Tennessee County.
We cannot accept that two-thirds of our students are not reading proficiently by the fourth grade. This is why my colleagues and I are also examining the implementation of new public elementary literacy training and instruction standards, as well as improved literacy supports and interventions for K-2 students.
Additionally, there is funding in the proposed budget that calls for the creation of the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship to support the academic journeys of 1,000 future teachers every year, a $4 million investment in professional development and career advancement for educators and academic leaders, and the establishment of the Tennessee Teacher & Leader Institute. This initiative will allow us to gather ideas from across our nation in order to build the best educator preparation program in the entire country.
Together, we have made considerable progress solidifying the academic foundations of Tennessee’s current and future generations. Despite our many successes, we must always want more for our children. By continuing to focus on, to support, and to invest in our students, teachers, and schools this year and in future years, we will ensure Tennessee’s future remains bright, and that this state continues to lead our great nation.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, as well as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.