After a whirlwind final week of session, the 109th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for the year on April 22, achieving a great deal for the citizens of Tennessee. Having had a couple of weeks to reflect on the work that was accomplished by my colleagues, I think there are several overarching points to be taken from this session, namely: investment in education, fiscal stability and economic opportunity.
Our state is making the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in Tennessee history this year — $261 million to be exact, including $105 million for both teacher raises and implementation of policies to extend the Drive to 55 initiative as we work to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college degree by 2025. The General Assembly also passed timely legislation allowing teachers across the state flexibility in using certain TNReady Assessment requirements. Tennessee teachers will now be allowed to choose to include results from the 2015-16 TNReady and TCAP tests as part of the student growth component of their annual evaluations, depending on whether the results would benefit them.
From an economic perspective, I am grateful and feel extremely fortunate to live and work in a state where we annually pass a balanced budget and have financially positioned ourselves to fund priorities and substantially add to our Rainy Day Fund, all without taking on any new debt — a claim that the vast majority of states cannot make. Hard work and conservative fiscal strategies employed by the General Assembly have led to Tennessee being recently ranked as the number one state in which to be a taxpayer based on our monetary decisions, our low tax structure and other key fiscal indicators. We now also have the lowest debt per capita of any state in the country — something of which I am exceptionally proud.
Moreover, Tennessee has situated itself at the forefront of economic opportunity and growth for the coming years. The economic momentum in the state has allowed us to rapidly expand job opportunities. In fact, Tennessee is currently ranked number one in the Southeast for job growth, and our private sector has created more than 325,000 new private sector jobs since 2011.
Today, more Tennesseans have a job than at any point in our state history, and as a result, our most recent unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is well below the national average and the lowest it has been in Tennessee since June of 2007.
All of these good things do not just magically happen.They are a product of tough decisions that Tennessee has had to make and because our leaders understand the importance of an efficient government that manages taxpayers' finances in a reasonable way — like it's their own. As a state, we are constantly working to keep taxes low, to keep spending in check and to keep state finances in order.
On a personal note, I was profoundly honored to pass legislation that provides in-state tuition to any postsecondary institution operated in Tennessee for children whose parents die as a result of a targeted attack on Tennessee soil. The in-state tuition will be available to these children regardless of their domicile or place of residence during the child's enrollment in the institution. Spurred by the horrific attacks we experienced here in Chattanooga last summer when a terrorist opened fire at two military installations, I believe this is an occasion for Tennessee to show its gratitude for the service of the men and women who gave all.
As we close the books on the 2016 legislative session and turn our eyes toward next year's General Assembly, I look forward to once again being your representative and following your instructions as we move forward with a common-sense vision for Tennessee.
Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Republican, is the House majority leader in the Tennessee General Assembly.