On February 6, Governor Bill Lee continued to prioritize education as he delivered his fifth State of the State address and presented budget and legislative proposals for the upcoming year. During the address, he outlined a continued commitment to education and recommended investments in a number of proven strategies that should prepare more Tennesseans for careers.

The governor’s budget allocates an additional $350 million for the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA), $83.75 million for summer learning camps, and support for higher education summer bridge programs, including $625,000 for HBCU programs and $500,000 for Tennessee Promise programs. These initiatives are a priority for SCORE as we strive to support students in academic acceleration, reduce summer melt, and prepare students for postsecondary education.

We are particularly encouraged by Governor Lee’s proposals to expand the recurring investment in Tennessee’s new K-12 public school funding formula, to substantially increase investment in our technical colleges, and to strengthen workforce development. Tennessee leaders must prioritize these critical policy areas, among others, to ensure that all students are prepared for the future workforce.

Titled “Tennessee: Leading the Nation,” the governor’s message also noted the great strides Tennessee has made in education: leading initiatives in early literacy, a reimagined and modernized education funding system, significant investments in career and technical education, and the support of high-quality public charter schools serving some of our state’s highest-needs students.

While these efforts are important steps in Tennessee’s journey to becoming a national leader in education outcomes, we also know we have more to do as a state to fulfill our commitment to students. For example, only one-third of our students in grades three through eight are meeting grade-level expectations for math and reading, and only half of the students attending a Tennessee public college or university are completing on time.

That’s why SCORE has identified research-informed policy and practice priorities to support Tennessee students. Tennessee should build on the state’s strong policy foundation by prioritizing initiatives to advance high-quality instruction for every student, urgently address the state’s college-going rate decline, and double down on preparing all Tennessee students for work. 

SCORE looks forward to continuing to work with Governor Lee, K-12 and higher education partners, and the members of the General Assembly this year to ensure all Tennessee students are prepared for success.

David Mansouri is SCORE’s president and CEO.