In his first State of the State address, Gov. Bill Lee unveiled a legislative agenda that called for investments to the state's reserve fund, and reforms to the state's criminal justice, health care and education systems — including his support for a $25 million school vouchers plan.
In front of an energetic audience that included both chambers of the General Assembly, the Tennessee's 50th governor's message was well-received on Monday as he told lawmakers the state remained in good standing, despite the work ahead.
"This is a remarkable state with remarkable people, but past success should not be taken for granted and future success should not be assumed," he said.
Republicans and some advocacy groups praised Lee's address and his push for greater school choice. But Democrats expressed hesitation and teacher groups began raising the alarm about diverting money way from existing public schools.
Lee said among the state's challenges is ensuring a quality of education for all students in Tennessee.
As such, he touted his support for school choice. The governor said his plan includes bolstering state funding of an already launched charter school initiative and creating an education savings account program.
If approved, the ESA program would utilize $25 million in state funds for private education in an effort to serve 5,000 participating students in low-performing school districts across Tennessee.
Lee said the ESA program will create competition.
"Members of the legislature: now is the time," he said. "Let's make sure this is the year that every student in Tennessee has a chance at a great education, no matter where they live."
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