TCSA Capitol Update: April 3 - 6, 2023
The major development at the General Assembly this week was the presentation of the administration’s final proposed budget on Tuesday to the Senate and House Finance Committees. Much of the discussion in the Finance Committees focused on new school security proposals that were quickly developed over the weekend.
Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson noted that this budget was still designed to weather potential economic weakness in the coming year by spending significant recurring dollars on non-recurring expenses. He reported that the state now had about $520 million additional funds in both recurring ($470 million) and non-recurring revenue ($43 million) to spend. The bulk of these funds come from around $180 million in agency under-spending and $260 million in higher than anticipated interest earnings.
School Security Funding
In the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, the final budget proposal from the administration now also includes significant new investments in school safety. Bryson noted that the earlier proposed budget already included $20 million for school facility upgrades and nearly $30 million for additional homeland security agents to assist with monitoring and investigating potential threats of violence. He commented that these additional positions will increase the amount of security assessments those agents can assist with. Currently Homeland Security can only assist with about 130 security assessments each year. The additional positions will allow them to work with all schools, including private.
As far as new spending proposed in this updated budget, it includes:
- $7 million non-recurring for grants for private schools for facilities improvements
- $140 million recurring to fund an SRO in every public school
- $8 million in additional funding to expand the K-12 behavioral health liaison program
The funds for SRO and the expansion of behavioral health would be outside of TISA. The SRO grants would not require a local match. They would be approximately $75,000 per school to cover the costs of a position for each of the states’ 1800+ public schools. When asked by committee members about school districts that already fund SROs, Bryson responded that if the LEA already provides SROs, the state grants could be used to fund an additional position or could replace local funding for those positions and free up that money for other uses.
Commissioner Marie Williams testified that the $8 million for K-12 behavioral health liaisons will allow the Department of Mental Health to provide 114 additional positions to assist with group therapy, individual therapy, training for teachers on identifying warning signs and teaching techniques for intervention to prevent violence.
Outside of the significant new investment for school security, the updated budget includes nearly $40 million in additional K-12 Education funding. These funds include:
- Tutoring in ELA - $7.65 million
- CTE grants for combined middle and high schools (These 58 schools got $500,000 last year. This proposal intends to provide them another $500,000 to match what high schools received) - $29 million
Innovation instruction models pilot program - $3 million (Replicating best practices from top performing charter schools. This program was funded by a federal grant which is about to be cut.)
In the area of transportation, the new budget proposal includes additional investments in the state’s five major airports and 73 general aviation airports as well as a $20 million appropriation for a new pedestrian bridge in Knoxville.
Related to health care, the proposal included funds to replace certain federal health care funds with state dollars, a rate increase for behavioral health services, $5 million in funds to create two more crisis stabilization units for children and $10 million in children’s hospital infrastructure grants. The proposal also includes funds to help stabilize nursing home revenues.
For the department of correction, the budget includes a little over $42 million in additional funds for the following:
- $5 million for a violent crime intervention unit
- $3 million for the Core Civic South Central facility contract extension
- $13.5 million for contract renewals - behavioral health, medical, pharmacy
- $20.5 million for capital investments at the South Central facility
New Capital Spending
The budget also includes other capital outlay spending for:
- Historical Commission - $2.9 million
- TBI - $4.2 million
- Old Library and Archives planning - $7.3 million (begin the design phase for renovations)
- State parks - $10 million
- Veterans Services - $2.25 million to acquire space for 4,800 new burial plots
County Government Month
The Senate passed a resolution Monday night to recognize County Government Month and all the important services counties in Tennessee provide to their residents. TCSA President Ron Berry was on the floor with his Senator, Ken Yager, who carried the resolution.
The proposal to streamline the process for county officials to get their bonds at the start of their term passed on the House floor Monday night. The bill (HB1134/SB1034) had already passed the Senate, so it will now go to the governor for his signature.
Sales Tax Administration Fee
The bill to reduce the state’s administrative fee on local option sales tax was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee and was referred to the Finance Committee. The bill (SB385/HB419) had previously been placed “behind the budget” by the House Finance Subcommittee as the bill was not funded in the proposed budget. With the significant new investments in school security in the Governor’s additional budget proposal, it still does not provide funding for reducing this administrative fee. Whether the General Assembly will provide funding for the proposal remains to be seen as it reviews the administration’s proposal and finalizes the budget.
In various committees several significant educational proposals saw new developments this week. The bill (HB1214) to authorize new forms of charter schools for home school students or boarding schools was taken off notice in the House as the bill was not moving in the Senate. Likewise, (HB959) that would have required school systems to have a policy to allow for out-of-district students to attend school was also taken off notice after facing significant opposition. (HB433/SB12), which proposes to expand the Education Savings Account (or private school voucher) program to additional counties, was also discussed in the House Education Admin committee. The bill passed the Senate earlier in the session in a form that added Hamilton County to Shelby and Davidson (the only two counties where the program is currently in place).
In the House Committee, a different amendment proposes to add both Hamilton and Knox into the bill. Significant questions were raised about the bill, including several requests for the Department of Education to explain how the program affects local funding for schools. No one from the Department was available to answer the questions, so eventually, the sponsor rolled the bill to next week. Finally, (HB1202) which would allows teachers in public schools to go armed, was recommended by the Education Admin committee on Wednesday, despite testimony opposing the legislation and numerous protestors in attendance. The bill was deferred to 2024 in the Senate Judiciary committee.