Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen last week called for $343 million in new education spending, outlining an agenda that would triple the cigarette tax to pay for an expansion of voluntary prekindergarten, college scholarships, and other programs.
In his fifth State of the State address, the second-term Democrat pledged to use the proposed cigarette-tax increase to provide $120 million to schools that serve many children deemed at risk of school failure, such as English-language learners and low-income students.
Roughly half of Tennessee’s 921,000 schoolchildren are identified as “at risk.” The governor said the state should shoulder more costs borne by districts to provide special programs for those children.
Gov. Bredesen could face opposition to the proposed cigarette-tax increase—to 60 cents per pack from 20 cents—from a new Republican majority in the state Senate. He promised that the new cigarette-tax revenue also would provide $27 million for rapidly expanding school districts trying to keep pace with enrollment growth.
“The argument for a cigarette tax is straightforward: Our schools need more money,” Gov. Bredesen said in a Feb. 5 address that was devoted almost entirely to a slate of new and ongoing education initiatives.
The governor said he would push a proposal to require high school students to take four years of mathematics. He also wants to create new community-college scholarships for C students who score at least 19 (on a scale of 1 to 36) on the ACT college-entrance exam.
The state’s voluntary prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds would receive a boost from the increase in cigarette taxes, the governor said. The program, which currently enrolls 10,580 children, would get $25 million to serve an additional 3,800 children.
Gov. Bredesen also wants to tap into the state’s $100 million lottery surplus to help school districts finance new construction and renovation projects.
This fiscal year, Tennessee is spending roughly $4.9 billion on its basic education program for K-12. Proposed spending levels for the 2008 fiscal year will be detailed later this month when Gov. Bredesen’s releases his new budget document.
Read a complete transcript of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s 2007 State of the State address. An audio version of the speech is also available. Posted by Tennessee’s Office of the Governor.
A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2007 edition of Education Week