NASHVILLE - Stung by criticism from the state's teachers union, Gov. Bill Haslam today defended his record on education spending, saying teacher pay and education spending have increased well above national rates since he took office.
"There's only six states in the last year that have consistently increased education funding, Tennessee being one of those six," said Haslam, who earlier this week scuttled his proposed 2 percent pay hike for teachers because of a state budget shortfall.
Haslam said the state has the fourth highest funding increase among any states. Despite having to scratch the teacher pay raise, Haslam said, his budget still increasing overall education spending for local schools by $60 million.
The National Education Association's own figures show state teachers' salaries "have increased at double the national average in Tennessee since we've been in office," Haslam told reporters.
"So somehow, the idea that we haven't been doing our part in education when we've really been leading the country, I think is a misconception I wanted to clear up," he said.
On Monday, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford, a Sevier County math teacher, sternly admonished Haslam over his scrapping the pay raise.
"Accountability -- that is all we hear from the governor and other state officials when it comes to public education," she said in a statement. "Where is their accountability?"
State leaders, she said, "need to be held accountable for the abysmal job they are doing in taking care of our students and teachers. The governor's cuts to teacher salaries and higher education continue the state's race to the bottom in education funding."
Tennessee's per-student spending is near the bottom among states, she said.
"The state tops only Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah," Summerford said. "It seems the goal is to make sure Tennessee is dead last in public education investment."