Recently, there has been much discussion related to House Bill 939, a proposal creating an Education Savings Account (ESA) pilot program in Tennessee. Because this initiative has generated concerns from our teachers, superintendents, school board members and parents, I knew we needed to have a seat at the table during negotiations with Gov. Bill Lee and House leadership as this measure evolved and advanced through the committee process in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
My greatest concern has always been whether or not our schools would be impacted by this proposal because I am committed to their success, and I would never support legislation that would harm them in any way. During my conversations with the governor, my colleagues and I were able to successfully offer an amendment to House Bill 939 that completely removes our school systems from this legislation.
In fact, this amendment ensures the ESA pilot is limited to four Tennessee counties — Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Shelby — and that the program is capped at 15,000 students. These school districts historically have been recognized in the bottom 10% of all schools in the state and across our country. It is also important to note that this pilot program cannot be expanded beyond the counties included in the legislation. Additionally, HB 939 now includes grant funding to support our local schools so they have access to additional resources that will enable them to support the academic goals and dreams of our current and future leaders.
I appreciate the governor and House leadership taking into consideration our concerns, as well as those of our other rural Tennessee communities. Significant changes made through this amendment to HB 939 will enable us to better address the needs of our students, teachers and schools, while also creating a new solution that targets the poorest children in the worst of the worst schools so they have a fighting chance at obtaining a high-quality education.
This proposal is a small part of our much larger Republican-led commitment to education that includes a total investment of $11.3 billion for fiscal year 2019-20. Of that total investment, $6.5 billion will directly benefit K-12 education in our public schools — including $71 million in pay raises, approximately $46 million to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) to cover growth and inflation in the funding formula, and another $50 million to help better secure our schools.
Education is the cornerstone in the foundation of Tennessee’s future leaders. When our students, teachers and schools have access to resources they need to succeed, we all benefit, and Tennessee’s future is bright. I will always make sure our interests and values are represented in the House chamber. It is an honor to fight for our students, teachers and schools, and I will never stop fighting for these important groups or for you.