Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Thanks Governor Bill Lee, Praises Historic Investments in Public Education

Monday, February 03, 2020 | 06:16pm

Monday, February 3, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT: Victoria Robinson

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Thanks Governor Bill Lee,
Praises Historic Investments in Public Education

State of the State Education Agenda includes Major Supports for
Early Literacy, Mental Health and Teacher Prep

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn praised Governor Bill Lee and his second State of the State Address in which he announced historic investments in public education in Tennessee, including major initiatives to improve early literacy, to establish a quarter of a billion dollar endowment to support mental health services in our public schools, and to build the best teacher preparation program right here in Tennessee.

“Tonight we heard a State of the State that will lead to meaningful change for our state’s public school system with a nearly $650 million investment to support a comprehensive, cohesive plan for improving outcomes for Tennessee students,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “The state’s Best for All strategic plan is fundamentally about ensuring high academic expectations and outcomes, supporting the needs of the whole child, and bolstering the success of our state’s educators and school leaders. Governor Lee has made clear his commitment to these priorities by proposing critical investments that will make it possible to put all students on a pathway for success.”

Governor’s Lee’s budget includes a $68 million investment to help improve early literacy rates and help our youngest students meet this critical learning milestone. The budget proposes funding for 1) schools and districts to purchase high-quality instructional literacy materials for K-3 students, 2) to support the professional development supports and training for educators to ensure evidence-based, effective implementation and utilization of high-quality materials in their classrooms, and 3) support for educator preparation programs to align training for future teachers with evidence-based approaches to literacy instruction.                                                                                                                    

“Early literacy is a foundation for setting Tennessee children on a path for life-long learning. Currently, only 37 percent of third graders can read on grade level,” said Lisa Coons, Chief of Standards and Materials at Tennessee Department of Education. “Increasing early literacy is an urgent education priority for our state, and tonight, the Governor showed our state is unequivocally committed to rapidly increasing the percentage of students who are able to read proficiently.”

A $25 million recurring investment in the state-run Achievement School District will help accelerate the urgent work to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter where they live.

“All students in Tennessee deserve access to a high-quality education, no matter where they live, and the Achievement School District continues to serve as the state’s most intensive intervention,” said Eve Carney, Chief Districts and Schools Officer for the Tennessee Department of Education. “The first-ever recurring investment to support this critical intervention enables our state to build on lessons learned and success to promote stronger student achievement gains for our highest opportunity campuses.”

Governor Lee is also investing in programs and services that support the whole child, announcing a $250 million endowment to help provide mental health services in our K-12 public schools. In close coordination with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the funding will help build on Coordinated School Health and aims to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, and social development.

“Across this state, we’ve heard from teachers and school leaders that some of their most pressing needs include mental health resources,” said Katie Houghtlin, Chief of Whole Child Supports. “The Governor’s quarter of a billion dollar endowment will be a game-changer in ensuring all students have access to the foundational resources they need to flourish academically for years to come.”

Because the most fundamentally important thing in front of a student every day is his or her teacher, the Governor’s budget also supports educators, including $117 million direct investment to the instructional component of the Basic Education Plan—the largest dollar investment in state history.  Other investments in innovative educator-focused programs, such as the new Teacher and Leader Institute, the Grow Your Own initiative, and the Governor’s Fellowship Initiative, will ensure Tennessee is the best state to become and remain a teacher.

“Every student in Tennessee deserves to learn from a great teacher in every classroom, so we must ensure future educators are prepared to be successful,” said David Donaldson, Chief for Human Capital. “The Governor made clear Tennessee is setting a new path for the education profession and will become a national leader in preparation programs for our educators and our school leaders.”

For questions additional information about the Department’s strategic plan, Best for All, please contact