These are prosperous times in our state.
Tennessee’s finances are the healthiest in state history with the lowest debt per capita in the nation and zero road debt. We were recently recognized by U.S. News and World Report as the most financially stable state in the nation.
Tennessee’s Rainy Day Fund — the state’s emergency savings account — has a record-high investment at $1.1 billion. Unemployment is at a record low.
When you factor in zero state income tax, our beautiful landscape, unique culture and friendly people it’s little wonder why so many new people and businesses have been migrating to Tennessee.
The stampede may not be slowing down anytime soon for Rutherford County. Projections show our state’s population will grow by more than 1 million people over the next 20 years. Most of that growth is predicted to happen right here in Middle Tennessee, according to a study published by the University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in December.
Another recently published story suggests the population is growing more rapidly in Williamson and Rutherford counties than in Nashville.
Murfreesboro and Tennessee’s other high-growth metropolitan areas and surrounding counties are already experiencing new challenges due to the influx: heavier traffic, more expensive housing and more students in our schools.
As a father and educator, I’ve always felt that providing a superior education for the next generation is our most important obligation. We must ensure every student has the same resources and opportunities.
That is why I have proposed legislation to support these fast-growing school districts. The Tennessee Local Education Capital Investment Act, House Bill 2121, would help provide additional funding for schools experiencing rapid growth.
Any school district with a minimum of 2 percent average daily student population growth over a five-year period would qualify. This funding would not take money from other school districts nor would it be part of the Basic Education Plan.
The goal is to put a process in place that provides additional funding before our classroom growth becomes unmanageable. It should be no surprise that overcrowding in schools has adverse effects on student learning. Increased classroom size reduces instruction time, diminishes classroom resources and leaves teachers with less planning time.
Student health is a vital component of student achievement. Healthy children learn better. Our school nurses are valued professionals who work hard each day to bridge the gap between a child’s overall health and their education. They help identify and minimize health problems that impair learning; they help educate our children about health concerns and provide intervention. They assist with referrals and screenings and help to reduce health-related absenteeism.
Currently, the Basic Education Plan formula provides one nurse for every 3,000 students. I have joined with State Sen. Dawn White to introduce House Bill 2123/Senate Bill 2061, which would provide one nurse for every 2,500 students. I feel it’s important to provide more of these health professionals for our schools to help keep our children healthy, safe and in school.
I’m happy to say our students are making great progress. Tennessee students have been among the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading and science. Because we’ve invested more than $1.5 billion dollars in K-12 education, and we’ve made the largest combined investment in teacher salaries than at any point in recent history over the last eight years, we are seeing transformative results.
Let’s not just keep up the pace. Let’s work together to continue to improve student achievement and success. An investment in Tennessee schools is an investment in economic prosperity of the future.
Charlie Baum is a professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Murfreesboro and serves the 37th District in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Baum serves on the Education, Finance, Ways and Means, and Consumer and Human Resources committees.