By BRIAN GRAVES
Cleveland and Bradley County took some prominent roles both on and off the stage as Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his seventh and final State of the State address in Nashville Monday night.The most …
Cleveland and Bradley County took some prominent roles both on and off the stage as Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his seventh and final State of the State address in Nashville Monday night.
The most significant of the roles were words the governor did not use in his speech, but were in the proposed budget he left behind.
That budget includes a $25.5 million capital outlay program for Cleveland State Community College. Those funds will be used to build a new $20 million health and sciences building as well as a $5 million renovation of the Mary T. Barker Humanities Building.
Cleveland State was the only community college to receive capital outlay funding and this will mark the most significant campus improvement project in its 50-year history.
CSCC President Bill Seymour told the Cleveland Daily Banner Monday night, it is a “new day” and a “game changer” for the college.
“It will help ensure our continuing commitment to serving our local communities in East Tennessee,” Seymour said. “We are working hard to raise our required 10 percent match to leverage these funds. We still need the help of gifts, both large and small.”
“The first words I said to the governor were, ‘Thank you,’” said state Rep. Kevin Brooks who, attending his final State of the State joint session before coming home to run for mayor of Cleveland, was selected by House Speaker Beth Harwell to be one of those who escorted the governor to the podium of the House chamber.
“I can’t overstate the hard work and perseverance of Dr. Bill Seymour and his team at CSCC,” Brooks said. “Countless hours were spent working on budgets, plans and presentations to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Board of Regents for this funding. I am thrilled to be here for this one last session, honored by the speaker to escort the governor, while this funding dream became a reality.”
The governor’s funding recommendation comes as a reinforcement of what has proven to be his signature pieces of legislation during his term of office — Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect — which aids students and adults to attend college.
Haslam announced a new higher education initiative Monday called “Complete to Compete,” which he said “through appropriate levers and resources to students, will ensure that they start strong, receive support to stay on track, and make it to graduation day.”
The governor also noted the major strides made in K-12 education.
“If the budget I am proposing for next year is approved, together we will have added nearly $1.5 billion to K-12 education, with more than $500 million for teacher salaries,” Haslam said. “These are unprecedented increases and anyone who claims this administration or General Assembly is not fully committed to public education is simply ignoring the facts. We have supported our educators and public schools and we will continue to do so. But we will do it in a way that improves student outcomes, not one that erases the gains we have made.”
“As an educator, I am always excited to have continued and increased support for our teachers and students,” said Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash.
“I support new funds that are coming to support K-12 education in our state,” said Cleveland Director of Schools Dr. Russell Dyer, noting districts across the state have ongoing needs which continue to need to be addressed.
Dyer said he appreciates the governor “recognizing that education is a priority for his education” and looks forward to seeing the details in the new budget.
“I also support any new funds that come in to support the work our wonderful teachers do each and every day,” he added. “Any new dollars we can put toward their salaries is recognition of their hard work.”
Haslam took the opportunity to reflect on the past seven years, working with the General Assembly to create a strong commitment to jobs, education and conservative fiscal policy that has resulted in significant accomplishments: lowest unemployment rates in the state’s history and a job growth rate greater than 17 percent, with nearly 400,000 net new private sector jobs created; the fastest-improving students in the nation across math, reading and science, and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen; with the proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, nearly $1.5 billion invested into K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries; more than $500 million in tax cuts to Tennesseans, including a 30 percent cut on groceries; and a cut in year-to-year spending by more than a half billion dollars; and tripling the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
The governor’s proposed $37.5 billion budget continues his focus on jobs, education, and efficient and effective government.
Notable budget highlights investments include: more than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation; nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives; $128 million for job growth investments, including programs that target rural communities; and increases to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to $850 million.
The governor’s budget proposal reduces state spending overall by more than $200 million, continuing Haslam’s focus on efficient and effective government. Over Haslam’s tenure, annual state budget growth is only 2 percent, which is the lowest growth rate of any administration over the past 40 years.
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