Tennessee education department seeks more funding from Gov. Bill Lee
The initial look at the Tennessee’s proposed education budget includes increases to areas that have been priorities in the past, including the state’s ACT retake program and money for charter school facilities.
So far, it’s unclear how Gov. Bill Lee will put a stamp on education funding going forward, and changes to the department’s proposed budget could be possible.
Education officials went before Lee on Monday during a budget hearing to outline its spending plan for the 2019-20 year.
Lee said last week education is one of his five key areas he wants to focus on in his upcoming spending proposal. After the hearing, Lee said he wants to invest in the classroom and suggested there might be an increase for teachers, although the new governor stopped short of committing to either proposal.
The proposed budget from the Tennessee Department of Education includes $69 million in spending increases in the 2019-20 fiscal year. The department also outlined $7 million in possible cuts.
The majority of the funds — $46.2 million — will cover the costs of student enrollment growth and overall inflation.
The education department is also looking to continue supporting projects that have been in place for a number of years, including funds for priority schools, charter school facilities and the ACT retake program.
In total, the three would cost the state about $12.8 million.
Interim Tennessee Education Commissioner Lyle Ailshie said the ACT program, in particular, provides a big return for students.
“Not only did … it raise scores for more to access the HOPE scholarship, but those with lower scores that did raise them were able to avoid remediation in college,” Ailshie said.
The state is also looking to provide funding for early college and career opportunities in high school, which drew interest from Lee. Most of the money will be for grants, Ailshie said, and would look to help low-income and rural students.
Other priorities include:
- $8 million for a program that provides services to kids with disabilities and developmental delays.
- Creating a new charter schools position and portfolio project coordinator by repurposing funding from other positions. This wouldn’t cost the state any money.
- The State Board of Education is also requesting $50,000 to help with its licensure discipline hearings and $284,000 for new positions.
During the hearing, Lee also asked the department about school security.
“We have to keep our kids safe; that is the reason that I asked about the way school safety funding was distributed and how it is we do an even better job of that,” Lee told reporters after the hearing.
He also said his administration doesn’t yet know where it is on the issue of school choice, including education savings accounts, which provide public money for parents to pay for private school or home school.
Ahead of Monday, Lee and his finance commissioner Stuart McWhorter said their estimated $37.8 billion proposal will prioritize five key areas.
That included education as well as criminal justice, mental health, health care and rural economic development.
Absent during the hearing was Lee’s newly appointed Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, who begins the job on Feb. 4.[Read more at the Tennessean]