Gov. Bill Lee vows $117 million investment for teachers in State of the State address

Updated: Feb. 3, 2020 at 11:12 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee told lawmakers he wants the Volunteer State to be the best place in America to be a teacher.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee’s second state of the state address has big impacts for teachers. If the budget is approved by lawmakers all of the state’s educators will be getting a raise.

Walking into cheers Gov. Lee made education a primary focus of his state of the state address Monday night. Lee vowed a $117 million investment this year to hike teacher salaries by 4 percent.

“Teaching is a calling. We know it is passion that brings teachers to the classroom but we know our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work they do,” said Gov. Lee.

Lee told lawmakers he wants to set aside $250 million in a fund to support placement of mental health professionals at the most at-risk schools.

“We will seek private donations to grow the fund over time and use the earnings to make investments for years to come,” he said.

Lee briefly mentioned his education savings account or voucher program pushed through the legislature last year. This year’s budget has $14 million in it with $25 million from last year to pay back districts who lose funds because students use a voucher to enroll in private schools.

“Disruption is hard and sometimes controversial but we can’t expect extraordinarily different outcomes without extraordinarily different inputs,” said Gov. Lee.

The program only applies to low performing schools in Shelby and Davidson Counties. Democrats say the state is throwing money away.

“Just imagine how much more we could afford it we weren’t wasting money on private school vouchers,” said Senator Jeff Yarbro.

The governor touted the state’s economy and added jobs and promised to work with Republicans to bring forward legislation banning abortions in the state when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Democrats called the abortion restrictions divisive and unnecessary.

After the governor’s hour-long address, lawmakers have the final say on the governor’s budget. Now begins the hard work of going through it in the weeks to come.

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