State of the State: Education

Tennessee's Senators joined Representatives on the floor of the House chambers to listen to the Governor's speech. Credit Stephen Jerkins.

Tennessee’s Senators joined Representatives on the floor of the House chambers to listen to the Governor’s speech. Credit Stephen Jerkins.

Governor Bill Haslam devoted roughly a third of this year’s State of the State to education, and he wasn’t just talking about children.

Right now, 32 percent of Tennesseans have an college degree of some sort; Haslam set a goal of making that figure hit 55 percent by the year 2025. He also wants to set up an endowment for certain scholarships, to invest in new technology for local schools, and allocate more money for teacher salaries.

The speech did not flesh out any details of how a school voucher program would work in Tennessee.

After touting the last several years of reform efforts in Tennessee’s public schools, Haslam said the next step is, quote, “another option in school choice,” although he never actually used the word “vouchers.”

He did offer a preemptive defense of his plan to let families apply public school funding towards a private education.

“I’ve heard the argument that this will drain resources from schools that need them the most, but we’re focusing resources on those schools.”

The state gives tens of millions in extra funding to the bottom 5-percent of its public schools. Haslam indicated that would more than make up for any money diverted towards vouchers. It’s not yet clear what limits would be placed on a voucher program, or which students would qualify.

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