Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


Governor’s 2020-21 budget leaves Tennessee in the bottom 10

Proposal continues to build state reserves while public schools starve for resources.

While Gov. Bill Lee outlined millions in important new K-12 investment, our public schools need $1.2 billion to get to the southeast average and out of the bottom 10 in funding. Tennessee is 45th in the nation in what we invest per student.

“It is something our state can afford, and it’s the best investment our state can make,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “Continuing to build the state’s reserves while our schools are starving for resources is like choosing to feed your children only two meals a day in order to save money for some undefined purpose in the future.” 

A January report revealed another $1.2 billion in revenue surplus was added to state reserves, bringing the total to $6.7 billion in unrestricted cash.

Included in the governor’s $600 million proposed new spending for K-12 is $117 million for teacher salaries. Legislators understand that this increase must include safeguards to ensure the raise actually shows up in paychecks.

“The proposed $117 million for teacher salaries breaks down to about $1,450 per teacher, or approximately $28 a week,” Brown said. “The governor said he wants Tennessee to be the best state in the nation to teach, and we agree. The governor and General Assembly can and should do more to make teaching a professionally paid career.” 

Tennessee teachers on average spend $500 out of their own pockets for necessary classroom supplies, and teachers make 22% less on average than other Tennesseans with a similar college degree.

The budget also includes increased funding for new mental health and literacy initiatives (see article on pages 1 and 6), and leadership and professional development programs.

“In addition to falling short of the investment public education needs and the state can afford, we also have concerns about other priorities highlighted in the governor’s budget,” Brown said. “Increased line items for the failing Achievement School District, charter school facilities and private school vouchers all take money away from the public schools our state is constitutionally required to adequately fund.”

In total, the proposed budget includes more than $64 million in new spending for privately run charter schools and other privatization schemes.

“Educators are not ungrateful for the increased investment the governor has proposed. Every dollar counts,” Brown said. “However, when you read about billion-dollar surpluses, proposed tax cuts and increased spending for initiatives that weaken public schools, it can be difficult to buy into the administration’s proclaimed commitment to make Tennessee’s schools the best in the country for both students and educators.”

Educators, parents and all public education advocates are encouraged to join TEA members on Monday, March 16, in Nashville for the Rally for Our Schools to fight for the funding our students deserve. Details can be found on the TEA website, TEAteachers.org/Rally.

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