Watch the full SOTS address above in the video player
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gave his first State of the State address Monday in front of a joint session of the General Assembly.
The Republican governor covered an array of topics, among the most notable, however, was the topic of education.
Lee announced new initiatives for public education, including a $71 Million pay raise for teachers across the state and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
“My ESA plan will strengthen public schools and provide choices for parents at the same time,” Lee said. “Creating competition will provide a new incentive for schools to improve and provide new opportunities for thousands of students.”
As it stands, the ESA would provide approximately $7,300 to eligible, participating students. The eligibility is limited to low-income students within districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools.
Enrollment will be limited to 5,000 students in its initial year, but the cap will increase by 2,500 students if the enrollment maximum is met.
Lee also announced during his speech that he will be making the biggest contribution to the state’s rainy-day fund in Tennessee history.
“When this budget is implemented, our Rainy-Day Fund will be $1.1 billion – the largest it has ever been in both real dollars and as a percentage of our overall revenue,” said Lee.
Tennessee Democrats though did not completely get behind the governor’s budget. In particular, the issues of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare and ESAs.
Tennessee Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini released a statement in response to the State of the State speech, saying in part:
I don’t know which part of Tennessee Governor Lee is seeing with his “own eyes,” but he’s got on some rose-colored glasses. He’s not seeing the Tennessee where disparities in income and public education are growing wider. He’s not seeing the Tennessee where rural hospitals are collapsing. He’s not seeing the Tennessee where a staggering 40% of cannot pay for the basics of middle-class life.
Governor Lee needs to ask the people of Ducktown and Copperhill, who are living without an emergency room for the first time in 50 years if they are feeling “hopeful, prosperous and strong.
The most recent rural hospital to close was Cumberland River Hospital in Celina, TN. Democrats argue that expanding Medicaid, something that Lee has spoken out against will get more Tennesseans covered and save rural hospitals from closing.
But Lee revealed his own plan to combat health care costs.
“Tackling fraud in Medicaid is particularly important as we work to prevent the fraudulent distribution of opioid medications,” Lee said during his speech.
The governor announced he would be creating 24 new positions in the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
The governor also covered criminal justice reform including reducing recidivism and establishing a mentorship program to prepare people in jail for re-entry into society.