The Below Opinion Submission is from the Professional Educators of Tennessee:
We have not always seen eye-to-eye with Governor Lee on the administration’s vision and education priorities. However, there are few priorities as significant as committing to public education in rebuilding our state economy that has been stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all work together for education to succeed in this state.
Education was a strong theme. The Governor has pledged to fully fund the BEP funding formula. The BEP needs much work both short-term and long-term. Governor Lee understands that educators, on the frontline, are critical to all efforts to improve public education. So, we are pleased he is committed to making public education a priority. As we are aware in policy circles: “the governor proposes and the legislature disposes...” We look forward to advocating and adding input as education legislation makes its way through the Tennessee General Assembly. There is an incredible amount of work left to do to improve student learning and make Tennessee the number one state in the nation for public education.
The Governor has set aside an additional $120 million for teacher compensation in the 2021-22 budget. A salary increase, with recurring funds, is certainly welcomed and needed. We believe that Tennessee must outpace ALL states in salary and benefits to attract needed teachers moving forward to retain quality educators and so that others will choose education as a career path. We have much work left to do for benefits and compensation for our principals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, and support staff. The efforts tonight are a step toward that goal.
We share the Governor’s belief that our citizens and students need better civics education. Investments in broadband will be helpful to students and educators across the state. We must improve both the college-going and college success rate of students, so we are excited about this program. We also applaud the renewed continued commitment to public education and STEM programs. We also support additional tutoring and technology for students in our urban areas. Governor Lee is correct students should be “prepared for life beyond the classroom.”
One of the critical proposals is that Governor Lee has recommended: “$6.5 million in our mental health safety net which will be focused on providing services for school-aged children struggling with mental health issues.” Mental health is a major issue for children and adults, and a priority for our association. The problems brought on by the pandemic has created many stressors for kids and adults, and exacerbated the crisis, and exposed a weakness in the mental health safety net for children. Statewide K-5 school counselors, teachers, social workers, and others are seeing an increase in children's mental health issues. This is an opportunity to help existing school counselors, teachers, social workers, and others be more effective at addressing the needs of kids.
All policymakers and stakeholders must continue to be proactive and aggressive in easing the overwhelming challenges that our school districts, educators, parents, and students face moving forward. The state must send a clear message that it supports our educators, students, and parents, now and in the future. Public education must remain a critical priority for the State of Tennessee.
Tennessee must strive to be the best state in the nation for education and in turn, the best place to raise a family. Governor Lee made several proposals in education that have merit, and deserve consideration by the Tennessee General Assembly.
All comments above may be attributed to JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, or the association, Professional Educators of Tennessee.