Cigarette-Tax Increase to Raise School Funds
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2006 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Education initiatives dominated this year’s legislative session in Tennessee, keeping with an agenda outlined in January by Gov. Phil Bredesen to increase funding for public schools while demanding more accountability from them.
A tripling of the state tax on cigarettes, approved by lawmakers this month, is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for public education. Much of the revenue is to be spent at schools that serve high numbers of children deemed at risk of failure, such as English-language learners and low-income students. The 42-cent-per-pack increase, a priority for Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, will boost the per-pack tax to 62 cents.
Lawmakers closed out the session last week with a vote to approve a $27.9 billion state budget for fiscal 2008. The spending document includes $25 million to expand Tennessee’s prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds by 250 classrooms statewide, bringing the total to nearly 800 classrooms.
The additional tax on cigarettes will pay for overhauling the state’s Basic Education Plan, the complex funding formula used to calculate the state and local shares for financing public schools. The new revenue will be used to help increase standards for student achievement, and provide for earlier interventions in schools that are failing to meet testing benchmarks. Some of the money also will be directed to fast-growing districts.
“We are raising the bar for education in Tennessee with these important reforms and the adoption of a funding source to sustain this progress,” the governor said in a statement.
The newly approved budget, which takes effect July 1, includes money to pay for a 3 percent pay raise for teachers around the state. Lawmakers also added $200 to student awards under the state’s lottery scholarship program, raising the award to $4,000 a year for four-year colleges and $2,000 a year for community colleges.
Vol. 26, Issue 42, Page 27