NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The K-12 state education commissioner made passionate pleas Friday for teacher and reading help.
“When we are talking with districts, when we are talking with educators, when we are talking with families, we hear of the urgency for boosting literacy support in the state,” Commissioner Penny Schwinn told Governor Bill Lee on the final day of his weeklong budget hearings,
She cited examples like almost three-quarters of 8th graders not being able to proficiently read their textbooks on the first day of high school.
The education commissioner also pleaded to increase teacher pay which lags below the national average.
“I think having a really strong statement saying ‘this is the place in the country come and remain as a teacher ‘ that is our moonshot, then this conversation is going to be incredibly important as a state,” Schwinn told the governor.
While most educators call teachers the number one thing that impacts a child’s education, the governor was supportive of the pay increase while not giving any figures.
“Specific dollar amounts will come together as we look at all 23 department requests and get funding board estimates,” said Governor Lee. “We need to make sure that we align the pay for our teachers with the job that they do and to be competitive with other states.”
The education commissioner also requested $12.5 million in funds for implementing Governor Lee’s signature education savings account (ESA) program providing vouchers to help kids in lower-performing schools in Nashville and Memphis attend private schools.
The amount is design to offset funds the schools would lose with students leaving for those private schools.
The governor was asked if the ESA program is on track to start in the 2020-2021 school year.
“It will either move expeditiously and we will get there next fall or we’ll have another year to get it done,” added the governor.
Similar budget hearings will be conducted by the Tennessee House within the next six weeks.
Governors typically release their budgets during the State of the State speech at the start of yearly legislative sessions.