Education The Focus of The State of the State Speech

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Governor Phil Bredesen addressed Tennesseans Monday night in his State of the State address, making it clear his focus is on education. In fact, the new budget includes nearly $350 million earmarked for our schools..

Volunteer TV's Whitney Daniel sat down with the Knox County School Board to hear their reaction to the governor's plan for our students.

The governor says health care as been at the forefront for ten years. Now he says it's time for education to take top priority.

"Budget will include $25 million additional to continue to add pre-K classrooms throughout the state," Bredesen said.

"We need buildings to have it, we need classrooms to have it, and that's an issue for us," school board chair Karen Carson said.

One issue Bredesen says we can't ignore is three of four students lose their scholarships before graduating, and he is calling for a review of the entire program.

"I'm concerned that we're being too narrow in who qualifies for help, and I'm concerned we're being too quick to jerk help away when students stumble," Bredesen said.

"Your worst semester in college is usually your first one. A lot of kids drop below 3.0 and lose a scholarship and after that you have a 2.5 and lose that scholarship forever," school board member Robert Bratton said.

The Governor wants to set higher standards, starting with a four year high school math program.

"We're hearing loudly from the business community that in mathematics we aren't prepared," Carson said.

That's exactly what Knox County is working on.

"I think a lot of people's perception of four years of math is that you have to go through calc and trig and we're not saying that. We're saying have math every year so you don't slack off on it," Carson said.

To make all this happen, schools need to be properly funded. Bredesen hopes to do this through a statewide bond pool to give individual school districts access to capital at the lowest costs.

"I hope that just doesn't go to the same counties that's getting the lion's share of the BEP," Bratton said.

He also wants to provide full funding for at-risk students and for growth.

"This will help the students who need extra and will help other students as well by stopping the 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' that goes on now," Bredesen said.

And by increasing the lottery scholarships by $4,000, he hopes to help make college more accessible and affordable.

"Every student who wants to and is ready to go to college deserves some help, not just the ones with the highest GPA," Bredesen said.

Governor Bredesen also wants to increase the cigarette tax by 40 cents. Ninety percent of that will go directly into the classrooms and colleges. Ten percent will go to agriculture and anti-smoking programs.