G.O.P. rejects budget proposals to boost K-12 student funding, state employee and teacher pay raises

NASHVILLE — Before approving next year’s nearly $53 billion state budget today, Republicans rejected amendments from Sen. Jeff Yarbro to increase K-12 school funding by a billion more dollars and match state employee and teacher pay raises to inflation.

“It turns out the most important part of a funding formula is funding and in Tennessee, we’re underfunding education by a lot,” Yarbro said. “A billion dollars added into education, where we are in Tennessee right now, we are only catching up on underfunding from the past decade.”

Currently, Tennessee ranks 45th in the nation for student funding per pupil. Under Republican-controlled state budgets over a decade, Tennessee now ranks second to last for student funding in the Southeast.

Sen. Yarbro said he was proposing an amendment to invest a billion dollars in public school students this year because the classroom funding is urgently needed now. The funding formula overhaul proposed by the governor, known as TISA, if approved, would not kick in for two years.

“This amendment makes sure we get badly needed funding into classrooms right now,” Yarbro said. “We could put a billion dollars into schools this year with a plan to put a billion dollars into schools next year and have just as conservative, just as tax-cutting, just as sound and safe a budget as we do right now.”

Sen. Yarbro said an investment of $2 billion over the next two years would be “making a generational investment, a game-changing investment in public schools.”

The Senate’s Republican majority killed the amendment on a vote of 25 to 4.

Boosting teacher, state employee pay raises

Sen. Yarbro’s second budget amendment would have invested an additional $350 million in pay raises for teachers and state government workers to ensure their salaries keep up with inflation.

“There is a four percent salary increase for state workers in this budget, there is a 4.7 percent salary increase in salary for the governor, the attorney general and judges because they actually have salaries adjusted by CPI or inflation,” Yarbro said. “But we don’t keep up with inflation for our actual employees — and we should.”

Yarbro said the amendment was necessary for teachers and state employees to maintain buying power at their current salary, but also to mitigate a crisis in hiring and worker retention.

“It’s a genuine crisis in state government if you look at our ability to hire people,” Yarbro said. “We’re losing teachers… we’ve been losing DCS case workers, this has been happening across state government and once we lose people, it’s hard to get them back.

“We have an urgent need when it comes to keeping teachers and state employees on the job,” Yarbro said.

The Senate Republican majority voted 26–4 to kill the amendment.

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