Tom Humphrey reports on the most recent budget projections which predict a surplus of between $300-$400 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.
This money, combined with the $600 million surplus from the fiscal year which ended on June 30, 2015, means the state will have about $1 billion in unanticipated, uncommitted revenue.
On top of that, economists are projecting growth in the $400-$500 million range for the upcoming budget year.
What’s not being mentioned?
Despite a pair of lawsuits contending the state’s school funding formula, the BEP, is inadequate, lawmakers and the Governor are not rushing to suggest significant new investments in Tennessee schools.
This in spite of the fact that after a one year bounce on NAEP results, our state is now holding flat. Maybe that’s because Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham is suggesting our state aspire toward “mediocrity” while holding a forum on disastrous (and expensive) school voucher schemes.
If the state invested half of the available surplus on the BEP formula, that would be a $500 million injection of funds to local schools. That would be a sure way to hold down local property tax increases while also beefing up the resources school systems have to provide an education. The revenue projections for the 2016-17 fiscal year indicate an investment of this magnitude is sustainable. And, by holding a portion of the surplus in reserve, the state could ensure against any unanticipated shortfalls.
All of that would still leave $200-$300 million available to spend on one-time costs like road projects.
Will Tennessee put its foot on the accelerator and invest in schools so our students have the resources they need to compete with the rest of the country? Will Bill Haslam use the surplus and projected new revenue to truly make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay?
The General Assembly will have answers to these questions starting in January.
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