The 109th Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up its work this month in Nashville, and this session provided a lot of good news for our state.
For starters, we saw another balanced budget passed, which is constitutionally required in our state but a sign of fiscal restraint we should never take for granted.
The greatest aspect of this year’s budget is that we were able to make the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in Tennessee’s history, including more than $100 million for teacher salaries, nearly $30 million to fund the 12th month of insurance for teachers and $15 million for technology for our schools.
Those are important investments showing the priority we make of education, how much we value our teachers and our commitment to providing resources to schools — which will ultimately result in a strong workforce. Another important element of legislation this year for education was the Basic Education Program Enhancement Act, which will strengthen the funding formula for K-12 education. One of the things we should be most proud of as a state is our investment in public education over the last five years, and this act helps us maintain that commitment.
We are working hard to prepare students for college, and we made great strides this year with the Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act. This law reorganizes the existing higher education structure in Tennessee.
It includes the creation of local boards for the four-year state universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents System. This provides those boards the ability to concentrate specifically on the needs of a particular school, rather than the entire Board of Regents, which until now has been comprised of those six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.
The FOCUS Act means the Board of Regents can concentrate even more on those 30 community and technical schools, which are absorbing a high percentage of new students thanks to the Tennessee Promise and other aspects of our Drive to 55 initiative.
The FOCUS Act also enhances the role of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to provide greater coordination on capital project management and higher education finance strategy across the state. Our state’s future in economic development depends on us having a workforce ready for high-skill, high-wage jobs, and the FOCUS Act puts us on that path.
We are grateful to the legislators for their hard work and dedication to the state – and most of all for their continued support of education.