Republicans To Push “Education First”

Governor Phil Bredesen is expected to strike a bipartisan note in his State of the State address tonight, but some partisan issues are ready to spring up. House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower says his party will call for “Education First.”

Republicans have fought for several years to make education, specifically K-12 education, a item separate from the entire state budget. In fact, Representative Mumpower wants to see a separate vote for schools.

He argues that last minute tax increases, meant to balance the state’s budget, are always blamed on school costs.

“The unfortunate thing is, over the recent years, and over the last ten years, probably, education funding, people give it lip service and talk about it as a priority, and then save it for last, in terms of funding, and then try to sell tax increases, and other revenue-enhancing measures, on the backs of the children, and the students of Tennessee, and that’s what we want to prevent.”

Democrats – including administration budget officials – worry that setting a separate budget for schools will derail all other spending. They fear some lawmakers might vote for schools but against the rest of the budget.

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The state budget as drafted is actually a two-part document – not only a spending plan, but an authorization for the revenues that fund it. Those revenues are officially expected to be awful next year.

Bredesen is expected to treat the budget very briefly tonight. He has said the administration needs to see more detail on the proposed federal stimulus package before making final adjustments to the pressured state budget.

The funding for K-12 is about eighteen percent of the total budget. But when you look at purely state tax dollars, not counting federal funds, education spends 42 cents of each state dollar.

Mumpower says that’s why his party is taking the “Education First” stand.

“In a budget year like this, priority is the key word, and the Republicans are making education Priority Number One. Therefore there’s really no reason we shouldn’t vote on the education budget first. We put education first as Republicans and we are going to be leading a charge to vote on education first.”

The current fiscal year’s state budget “Fact Book” (pdf file, 53 pages)

has the K-12 budget of $4.9 billion on page 25 and the entire budget laid out in graph form on printed pages 1 through 3 [pdf numbering — pages 5 through 7]. More than $4.3 billion of education funding comes from revenues already dedicated to education funding (see page 8).

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