Haile In Print: Volume 1, Issue 11


In this Issue:
The General Assembly Reviews the Budget
Education Committee Receives TNReady Update
On the Record: On Finance and Education

The General Assembly Reviews the Budget

The 109th General Assembly met this week to form and pass the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

Working off of the Governor’s budget, released earlier this year, the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee and the Appropriations SubCommittee worked long hours to evaluate all of the proposed amendments and requests for funding to develop the current draft of the budget bill, SB2653, formally sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.

As the sponsor, Norris is the man responsible for bringing the bill to the floor, but every member has played a role in bringing the $34.9 billion budget to its current state. And this budget comes completely out of current revenue, with no new debt placed on the State of Tennessee.

The budget provides for an unprecedented increase in funds to Education. Governor Bill Haslam earmarked $261 million in his proposed budget, the largest increase in Education funding without a tax increase in Tennessee history, and the General Assembly offered even more.

Funding for education includes a $100 million increase in teacher salaries and $25.9 million in funding for the 12th month of teacher insurance, marking the second year of insurance investment. The budget also provides for increased funds to English Language Learning teachers.

The General Assembly also funded a dramatic $4.25 million increase to the Governor’s $20 million Drive to 55 Capacity Fund.

The Tennessee Budget further provides for tax relief efforts through allocated funds. The Hall Tax will see a 1% decrease this year with the intention to decrease it steadily over a period of years, so that it can be done in a fiscally responsible manner.

Appropriations have also made possible an increase in property tax relief to disabled veterans, when their disability is due to active service, and it has provided for the increase in the income cap for the elderly in regards to property taxes.

Senators balanced new funding with restoring funds removed in years passed. $142 million was placed in the state highway fund to replace money borrowed from that fund in the past. $100 million goes into repaying funds. The remaining $42 million will go to local governments to meet their transportation needs, including projects in the 18th District.

In healthcare, Senate appropriations have provided for the restoration of provider rate reductions in the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

Locally, the 18th District was not left out of the Senate’s mind. The Hermitage will receive funds to install a fire-safety sprinkler system. The district attorney will receive funds for elder abuse education and training.

An education appropriation is especially exciting to the schools of Sumner County. LEAs with student growth of 1% will receive BEP funding in this budget, which will provide for a notable increase in funds to Sumner County education.

Senator Haile also signed on to SB 2538, which enacts a rural assist program and which receives its funding through the Senate appropriations.

The budget passed in the Senate on Thursday. Once it is passed by the House it will be ready to transmit to the Governor for action and mark another year of Tennessee enacting a balanced budget, a tribute to the state’s diligent work.



Education Committee Receives TNReady Update

The Senate Education Committee received an update on TNReady on Thursday, the committee’s last meeting of this Assembly.

The Department of Education’s Commissioner Candice McQueen appeared before the committee to provide them with updates on how the testing distribution has gone this year and what changes the department predicts for next year’s test. She also addressed several of the concerns expressed by committee members, teachers, parents, and administrators.

Commissioner McQueen expressed the department’s concern for balancing the content of the test and Tennessee standards with appropriate testing time for each grade level. She explained the department’s intention to adjust testing times and test content to be in line with standards while being more amenable in the classroom.

Another concern that the committee expressed during the first meeting with the Department of Education, after the technological failure earlier this year, was how early the tests were being taken relative to the amount of time teachers had to prepare their students. Responding to those concerns, the department plans to eliminate Part I of the Math assessment, which was taken in February this year, and instead integrate Math I and Math II to allow teachers more time to cover each grade level’s material.

Many other concerns were met by smaller revisions. Questions of test clarity will be addressed by the re-working of some question groups and the addition of guiding questions, particularly in the English Language Arts sections.

Social Studies changes have not been finalized, and Science sections will not see any revisions.

The department expects to have decisive answers regarding the format of next year’s test, but shared that they are committed to the online format, whether that happens next year or not.

In her closing moments with the committee, Commissioner McQueen conveyed her dedication to upholding the Tennessee standards the state has asked for while respecting our classrooms across the state and providing a beneficial learning space for our students.



On the Record: On Education and Finance

I have had the distinct pleasure of serving on the Education Committee and the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. And as session comes to a close, I truly enjoy getting to see the culmination of that work, especially as it is reflected in the state budget that we passed this week.

Senator Mark Norris praised the legislative body on the Senate Floor on Thursday while the budget was being considered for their dedication to balancing the budget. I want to share his praise for my colleagues. It is not an easy task, especially when we have surplus revenue, to save money and hold ourselves back so that we can balance our state funds.

It is not all about sacrifice, though, and I think we proved that with the budget allocations to education, to tax relief efforts, and to programs like the Rural Assistance Grant.

Education programs have been very important to me, so I’m glad to see the state’s concerns with making Tennessee a thriving state for educational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.

The General Assembly has worked hard to manage state funds responsibly while still operating in a way that benefits the state and will lead us to growth in education, economy, and opportunity, and I am blessed to have been a part of that this year. As this legislative session ends, and the committees I serve on close for the year, I hope I have reflected your concerns in this and that I have served you well.