In his seventh State of the State Address this evening, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reported a state surplus that includes new recurring...
In his seventh State of the State Address this evening, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reported a state surplus that includes new recurring revenue of $957 million: double that of the previous fiscal year. Before a joint session of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly, Haslam proposed spending a significant portion of this surplus on one of the largest education funding increases in Tennessee History for Fiscal Year 2017-18.
This proposal includes $200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP) including $100 million for teacher salaries and $22 million for English Language Learners. In addition, Haslam is proposing an expansion of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship under the Tennessee Reconnect Umbrella. The Tennessee Reconnect Act will establish a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free. With this extension of the Drive to 55, which comes at no additional cost to taxpayers, the goal is for every Tennessean to have the opportunity to enter or reenter public higher education with no tuition expenses.
We appreciate the Governor's ongoing commitment to public education and plans to invest in our schools and teachers. The Tennessee Disability Coalition would like to respond to the impact some of his Fiscal Year 17-18 budget decisions will have on citizens with disabilities.
While Governor Haslam's higher standards for public education have all of our children in mind, implementation must be fair and equitable for students with disabilities. If the goal is to provide more opportunities to students and returning students, then those opportunities must be offered to all, including those of us with disabilities.
Unfortunately, in our state fewer than 30% of working-age adults with disabilities have jobs, compared to 75% of those without disabilities. Many Tennesseans with disabilities want to work and one of the barriers our community faces to finding quality jobs are the barriers to education after high school. The proposed Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget dedicates a new investment of $78 million in higher education. We hope that making this a priority will also mean expanding access to higher education for students with disabilities.
Notably, the Governor addressed increasing funding to Employment and Community First CHOICES Program to serve an additional 700 people with disabilities in fiscal year 2017-18 on top of the initial 1700 spots made available the first year. We appreciate the work of this Administration to provide the opportunity for Tennesseans with developmental disabilities to qualify for services for the first time through this program. It is employment initiatives from the state that will help us gain a foothold in the workplace.
To health care funding, the Governor announced a $130 million non-discretionary increase to TennCare.
Importantly, an additional $18 million has been proposed to fund community mental health services for crisis services, early intervention and support services, rehabilitation, recovery services and criminal and juvenile court ordered evaluations. The program will also offer basic mental health services through the mental health safety net.
Though unmentioned in the Governor's speech, we would like to address an item from his written budget proposal. We appreciate the work of the Department and Commissioner Debra Payne to preserve funding for the Family Support Program that serves over 4,000 Tennessee Families. This cost-effective program keeps individuals with disabilities in their own homes and communities. For the majority of these individuals this is the only assistance they receive and it keeps them from needing more expensive services.
While unfair wages of service providers for Tennesseans with disabilities were not addressed, an increase to providers through the Department of Children’s Services was included in the Governor’s Budget Proposal. Unfortunately, unless pay increases are also implemented for those who provide care for the disability community, a growing workforce crisis will continue to threaten quality of life for some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable.
Many aspects of state government impact the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities. Funding for needed services is determined by the amount allocated in the state budget each year. We will continue to analyze the Governor’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2017-18 as it becomes available.
Full text of Governor Haslam’s January 30th, 2017 State of the State Address is currently available at: http://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/state-government/article/20850574/...
Later this evening, complete text of the governor’s speech, an archived video of his speech and budget documents will be available at: http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state