NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is expected to announce increases in teacher pay and other education improvements during his annual State of the State address Monday evening.
But the question for educators is how far the Republican governor will go in his second budget in terms of improving teacher pay. Tennessee last fall was ranked as the nation's 43rd "worst" by WalletHub in terms of "opportunity & competition" for teachers, a category that includes competitive salaries and job security.
In selected excerpts of the Republican governor's remarks, released in advance of his 7 p.m. (EST) speech, Lee will say "make no mistake: we will do whatever it takes to make Tennessee the best state in America to be a student, and that means making Tennessee the best state in America to be a teacher.
"That means better pay, as we've said, but it also means better training and professional support, so that our teachers can perform at the top of their trade," the address reads.
Lee, whose wife Maria is a former school teacher, also will say that "no teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay. Teaching is a calling. We know it is passion that brings teachers to the classroom, but we also know our teachers deserve to be paid more for the important work they do."
In WalletHub's report last September, titled "Best & Worst States for Teachers," Tennessee scored low — 41st overall based on 23 indicators the consumer website said are "key" measure of "teacher-friendliness." Data ranged from teachers' income growth potential to pupil-teacher ratio and teacher safety.
Tennessee did rank better on "academic & work environment," nabbing the No. 29 spot among the 50 states and District of Columbia.
But the state dropped in overall rankings because of its 43rd-place showing in the "opportunity and competition" category, which was given far more weight in the overall rankings.
WalletHub noted "in some states, however, teachers are more fairly paid and treated than in others. Those states are less likely to face a revolving door of teacher turnover." The consumer website said its purpose in compiling the stats was to help America's educators "find the best opportunities and teaching environments."
Speaking with reporters last week, Lee said, "our public school systems are the foundation, the future of this state. If we invest in them significantly and we invest in school teachers, which we plan to do, and we invest in school leaders and we recognize that if we want to lead the country, we're going to have to lead in education."
In other released remarks from the governor's speech to the General Assembly, Lee says, "to me, education isn't just about a test score.
"Assessments are valuable tools, but if the adults in education are doing their job correctly, they won't just see academic statistics improve, they'll see the most important stat of all improve: That our students are prepared to become productive members of society, whether that's entering the workforce, attending college, or earning a high-quality industry credential," the governor will say.
The governor, who has previously stressed the need for early childhood reading, says, "literacy is the foundation for a student's educational journey. And if we can't get early childhood literacy back on track, our other investments and work in education will always be limited."
Lee is also stressing the need for criminal justice reform, at least some details of which will announced Monday. Last year, he had a criminal justice reform panel look at the issue of sentencing and it came back with recommendations for education, job training, mental health and substance abuse treatment and other programs designed to keep former felons from returning to prison.
"That's why I've made criminal justice reform such a large priority, because every person in Tennessee wants and deserves to live in a safe neighborhood. When properly implemented, criminal justice reforms save taxpayer dollars, shrink the size of government, properly punish wrongdoers, and make our communities safer."
The governor, now in his second year, is also touting Tennessee in 2019 being named "for the first time the #1 best fiscally managed state in the country.
"We've been named as the best business climate in the country. We're #1 in the U.S. for advanced industry job growth and the best state for small business growth."
The governor said in the last year Tennessee has announced 108 project commitments by companies to create 16,500 jobs and $3.6 billion in capital investment.
"And while we still have more work to do on rural economic development, I'm also proud that more than half of these projects have been announced in rural counties," the governor will say.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.