Tennessee State of the State Address 2007

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 5 Following is the prepared text of Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) 2007 state of the state address:

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Speaker Naifeh, Speaker ProTem DeBerry, Members of the 105th General Assembly, Constitutional officers, justices, friends, guests and my fellow Tennesseans.

I stand before you tonight for the fifth time — tonight is four plus one — and I want first of all to say “thank you” to everyone for having me back.

To our new Lieutenant Governor, Ron Ramsey, I offer my congratulations and my commitment to work with you constructively. To our returning Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, I offer my thanks for your continuing friendship. To the new members of the General Assembly, I offer my welcome, and to all my returning colleagues from last year, I say “Welcome back.”

There is hardly a speech given in Washington these days that doesn’t feature
“bi-partisanship” as if it were a new idea. As I look out over this chamber tonight, I am proud indeed that bipartisanship is not a new idea in Tennessee; we have been practicing it and getting results with it for our state for a long time ... and I want to thank all of you from both sides of the aisle for putting the needs of our state first.

I know each of us is mindful that, while we will finish our business and go home to our families and friends, there are a great many Tennesseans serving our nation in its military services at home and abroad who do not get to go home.

Since I last spoke to you in these chambers, twenty-two more of our fellow Tennesseans have been killed in combat, and thousands of others remain far from their homes and loved ones. I’ve asked some representatives of these Tennesseans to be with us tonight, and would like to recognize three of them:

Major Dale Oldham, who served in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan as a member of Tennessee’s 196th Field Artillery Brigade.

Major Rhonda Keisman, who was deployed to Diyala Province in Iraq with our 278th Regimental Combat Team until July of this past year.

Captain Darrin Haas, who commands the 269th Military Police Company. He will deploy to the Mexican border in Arizona with 250 troops on the 17th of this month, and he previously served in Iraq.

Please show your appreciation to these soldiers.

There are many Tennesseans who face equally dangerous jobs right here at home. Already this year, one of our law enforcement officers has been killed in the line of duty: state trooper Calvin Jenks ended his watch on January 6th.

In memory of Trooper Jenks and to represent all those Tennesseans in law enforcement and emergency services who put themselves in harm’s way here at home, I have invited Trooper Jenks’ mother Jane Whittaker, his father Norman Jenks, and here on the floor of the chamber, his wife Sara Elizabeth Jenks to join us tonight. Would you please stand.

Sixteen days ago, I stood on a stage outside this Capitol with many of you and took my oath of office for the second time. I talked about the future, and about my belief that it is the job of every adult to make things better for the next generation. When you’re grown up and out of school and established, then you turn your attention to helping the ones coming behind you. I spoke then about ideals and goals, and tonight I want to speak about strategies to get there.

On this occasion, I report to you on the state of our state, and tonight I tell you that the state of our state can be described in one word: Ready. Tennessee is ready; we’re ready.
We’re ready to lift our sights even higher. We’re ready to look farther down the road.
We’re ready to take the next steps to seize that future for ourselves, for our children and for our children’s children.

I know how much we all believe that, to do this, we must start with education and tonight, I want to start there as well. There are many other issues facing our state, and we’ll talk about them and work on them on future occasions. But tonight there is only one subject: educating our children.

I want to begin by speaking directly to the children of our state: “It is our job as grown-ups to help you get ready to take your place in the world. I am going to use my office as Governor of our state in every way I know how, to the very best of my ability, without hesitation, without fear, to do that work. And then it is your responsibility to give your best back in return, and to do the same for your own children when your time comes to do so.”

To each of you here tonight: We all know there are problems with education. Within the last week, there was a report released about our lottery scholarships. Were you as taken aback as I was to read that 3 of 4 students will lose their scholarships before graduating?

It’s tempting to think that there are silver bullets to fix things, a simple solution, a new law or two. I don’t believe in silver bullets; I’ve never seen a complex problem solved with one. And if there were a silver bullet that actually worked, it would have already been used many times over all across America.

What I do believe in is rolling up your sleeves and tackling problems one by one and most of all I believe in being willing to try things and to change things. The number one rule of management is to remember that “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.”

We need to do four things differently:

First, we need to make sure that our children are ready to learn; that they’re healthy, and that they are intellectually and socially prepared to be in the classroom. Second, we need to raise standards and expectations, not just for the college-bound but for everyone.
Third, we have to fund education properly and we have to make sure that that funding goes where it makes a difference, in the classroom itself. And fourth, we need to make college more accessible and affordable.

With regard to the first - making sure that our children are ready to learn - we are already making significant changes and progress, and I won’t dwell on this. Books from Birth is up and running in all 95 counties, and 160,000 Tennessee children ranging in age from birth to five years old look forward to receiving a book each month in the mail.
Our effort to offer Pre-K to every child is well underway and is a national leader—widely seen as a blue chip program.

The budget this year will include an additional $25 million to continue to add Pre-K classrooms across our state, and the goal of having a classroom available to every child in Tennessee whose parents want them to attend is within reach on my watch. We are making significant and nationally recognized new investments in children’s health to make sure they are healthy and that any problems that might hinder their schooling are identified and treated early.

Second, something I believe - something I've learned as a father - is that children are very good at responding to expectations. If we set them low, they respond low, if we set them high they respond in kind. I spoke at my inaugural about wanting Tennesseans to expect and demand more; what better place to start than with our schools and the children they teach. We need to raise standards and expectations in our school systems.

When you receive my budget two weeks from now, you'll see I have included resources so that all eighth and tenth grade students take the appropriate ACT test; this benchmarking will allow us to make individual plans for each student so that they make the best of their high school years. Where a young man or woman needs help, we give it. Where they are strong, we challenge and push them even more. We have to look at our children less as statistics and more as the individuals they are.

It is hard to imagine any career in today’s world in which a strong foundation in math would not be a plus. While the details might be different depending on a student’s plans, I want every high school student in Tennessee to begin taking four years of high school mathematics.

We need a statewide curriculum that is rigorous and is aligned to the real demands of higher education and the workplace. I will ask our State School Board and the Department of Education to undertake a top to bottom review of Tennessee’s school curriculum to make it more specific, more rigorous, and better aligned with what our children really need to succeed in college or the workplace.

We have some great teachers and great students in Tennessee; it is our responsibility to tell them clearly what we expect them to teach, what we expect them to learn, and then to fairly measure what happens. We need to and we are going to start raising standards and expectations.

First of all, children ready to learn. Second, higher standards and expectations.

Third, and please listen carefully to this, we need to provide enough money to do the job.
This is usually the rub: we’re quick to criticize, we’re quick to philosophize, we’re quick to give tests, but we’re slow to pull out the checkbook. Tennessee is ready to step up to the plate here, and I’d like us to begin in three areas: full funding for all the costs of at-risk students - the most urgent need for many school systems, full funding for school systems with rapid student growth and meaningful help with financing school construction and renovation.

Let me take these one at a time.

Every school system has students for whom we have both legal and moral obligations to give additional help; the shorthand description of such students is “at-risk”, although I dislike that phrase because I believe it over-simplifies and that in fact every child is “at-risk”. About half of all of our students in Tennessee are categorized this way, and with remedial programs and other help, we spend about sixteen percent more on such students.
This is not just an urban issue; some of the largest percentages of “at-risk” students are in our rural school districts.

Today, we leave most of the extra costs associated with extra help to local government, to handle as best they can. Too often, local school systems are forced to shortchange other students in the process. A great deal of the debate in Tennessee, a great deal of the friction involving local school systems, centers around the funding for our “at-risk” students.

I want to put that debate behind us tonight. I want a public education system where students are not put into bins based on their parent’s finances, but in which there is sufficient money to meet the needs of each and every student as an individual. If you need remedial reading, we’ll help; if you can handle an advanced placement course, we’ll help there too. No school should have to choose between its students.

It’s time—we’re ready—to address this: I will place in this year’s budget full state funding for a school’s additional responsibilities to “at-risk” students, all students, all grades. This has a price tag of about $120 million annually. This will help the students who need extra, and it will help other students as well by stopping the robbing Peter to pay Paul that goes on now.

Each year we have school districts that experience strong growth in the numbers of students attending their schools. This is particularly a problem in some of our suburban areas, because the state doesn’t pay its full share of that growth as it occurs.
Those new students have to be taught, and once again it falls on local school districts to accommodate this extra expense in some way.

Tennessee is ready to address this too: I will place in this year’s budget full state funding for all student growth, in the year in which it occurs. This has a price tag of approximately $27 million annually.

Tennessee calculates how it funds education through a set of formulas developed as a part of the Basic Education Program, the BEP you hear about. This approach has worked well over the years to ensure that the growth of state funding realistically reflects the real costs of running our schools, and the concept of “fully funding” the BEP formulas has had strong and persistent bipartisan support for many years. These two items—money for at-risk students and money for growth—are intimately tied up with the BEP formulas, and I want to address this issue head on here.

We all believe there are issues that have arisen over the years that need to be addressed in the BEP; this has been pointed out by members of the General Assembly and by various local officials across our state. Early in my term as governor we addressed one of them—the disparity in teacher pay in rural school districts. The proposals I have just laid out address two other significant shortcomings.

While there have been calls for a radical overhaul of the BEP, I don’t think this is wise.
We are litigation-free at the moment, we’re evolving the formulas as conditions change, and I believe—and the BEP Review Committee has independently come to the same conclusion—that it is a better strategy to build on and improve what we have—to continuously identify specific needs and shortcomings, both urban and rural, and address them.

The proposal I have set before you—full funding for both at-risk students and growth—is a major step forward for our state. It helps resolve inequities in state funding between school districts, and it is also simply the right thing to do. I want to move on now and discuss school construction and renovation.

There is an opportunity, as our constitution allows, to leverage some of the surplus that has been built in our lottery to jump start renovation of older schools and construction of new ones. This session, I will ask the General Assembly to pass legislation to enable us to set up a state-wide bond pool which will give individual school districts access to capital at the lowest possible cost—the lowest possible transaction cost and the lowest possible interest cost. This will particularly help smaller rural districts.

In order to give that pool the credit it needs to borrow as inexpensively as possible, I will ask you to transfer $100 million from the lottery reserves—about a quarter of the total—to this bond pool for use in enhancing credit; getting the best possible bond rating and interest rate.

I understand there are districts and local governments who may prefer to finance school construction in other ways; in the bond markets directly, or through pools set up by others. The Tennessee Municipal League has offered a pool to local governments and school boards for years, for example. I intend that the credit enhancement from these lottery reserves be offered to those other financing approaches as well, so long as they meet the basic requirements of long term, competitively bid, fixed rate debt.

Like any financing transaction, this is complicated. The bottom line is that we will create a level playing field among school districts in building schools, and we will use the lottery reserves and the state’s ability to consolidate financings to reduce costs and increase the availability of capital. When you approve this approach, it will facilitate about $1.1 billion of school construction.

I described to you a four part strategy for education: make sure children are ready to learn, raise standards, adequately fund, and make higher education more accessible and affordable. I have addressed the first three; let me now talk about higher education.

I have spoken previously about offering free tuition at community colleges for any students who demonstrate a reasonable level of readiness - including our “C” students.
I will ask you to fund those community college scholarships, out of the lottery, which is an appropriate place for it. Every student who wants to and is ready to go to college deserves some help, not just the ones with the highest GPA. I will also ask you to increase the original lottery scholarships to $4000 annually to reflect the rising cost of tuition.

I want to say to students and parents alike, I know how difficult it is to finance a college education - I couldn't have gone to college myself without help from a lot of places ... and I know how important it is to keep tuition under control. It has been too tempting to minimize the state’s contribution to higher education over the years because we know our colleges can always get the money they need through tuition increases. This year’s budget will contain full funding for the state’s share of the growth, a total of about $48 million annually.

I am also asking that we review the entire lottery scholarship program this year. Our lottery has been a great success, which gives us some options. I’m concerned we are being too narrow in who qualifies for help, and I’m concerned we are being too quick to jerk that help away when a student stumbles—remember the three out of four students who might lose their scholarship.

The reality is that many—most—students have their ups and downs in college, and we need to find ways to support them through those times rather than pulling the plug on them. Let’s open the doors to college a little wider here in Tennessee.

Tennessee is ready to take the next steps with its schools and colleges. Among other strategies, I have proposed significant increases in our funding for education. I’m certain it is obvious to you that I have proposed more than can be accommodated in a normal budget, about $200 million annually more, to be specific.

Because of the importance of doing these things, I propose to you tonight also a way to pay for these improvements—an increase in the cigarette tax by forty cents. Over 90% of this increase will go directly into the classroom and into our colleges and the remainder - about $21 million - will go into support for agriculture and anti-smoking programs.

Since this is the first time I have proposed any kind of a tax increase to you, I want to be clear: I am not saying that this is needed for the continuing operation of our government; I am committed to the discipline of living within our means even if it means tough cutting, and I have shown my willingness to do this.

I am not proposing this with our backs against the wall: with or without these investments, the underlying budget is sensible and balanced; today’s BEP is fully funded, TennCare and Cover Tennessee growth is accommodated, our employees are supported, and a number of new initiatives—including the next $25 million for PreK classrooms and the community college scholarships—are proposed and funded.

The argument for a cigarette tax is straightforward: Our schools need more money.
We all talk the talk about public education; we need to walk the walk as well.
Our cigarette tax is among the lowest in the nation, it has room to grow, and even after such an increase, will still be well below the national average. And not least, higher prices for cigarettes definitely reduces teenage smoking.

I know there will be other thoughts about where new money might go. Health care will come up, but I ask you to remember that for a decade now health care has shouldered aside education, and we now spend a quarter of our state budget on TennCare alone; health care has eaten well at our table. I know there are many on both sides of the aisle who would like to reduce the sales tax on food; so would I. But our job is to choose among good things.

Our state is already one of the very lowest taxed in America—among the states it is number 48 in combined state and local taxes. Our future is vastly more tied to good schools than in trying to become number 49.

I have struggled so much these past four years with entitlements and how to find the money for them—you know how agonizing TennCare was for us all. Sometimes I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could turn that upside down so that the number one entitlement in Tennessee, the first place our money went, the number one entitlement in America, is that every child is entitled to the best education we can give them?”

In my inaugural address sixteen days ago, I told the story of the old man and the boy who were walking in the woods and come upon a big old oak tree. The boy says he’d like to get to the top of a tree like that some day, and the old man tells him there are two ways to do that: “You can climb to the top,” he says, “you might fall, you will certainly get scratched up. Or you can sit on an acorn and wait for it to grow.”

I ended the story by saying that, when it comes to getting our kids ready for the world they will live in, I want us to be tree climbers and not acorn sitters. We are ready to start climbing, and these proposals I’ve presented tonight are my way of grabbing for the first branch.

My message tonight has been about educating our children, and at its heart has been simple: Tennessee is ready—ready to lift its sights, ready to look farther, ready to seize the future. Tennessee is ready; the question is, are we?

Four years ago, I asked Alf Sharp, who is a Tennessee woodworker who lives in Woodbury, to make a new desk for my Governor’s office. I wanted him to carve in that desk some thought for me to leave to the future. Here is what I wrote, what I had translated into Cherokee, and what is carved in that desk in my office: “Remember the land of undiscovered shores, where the world is young and dreams are new, and the night wind brings visions of great deeds.”

I’ve talked tonight about lifting our eyes to the future. When we leave here we’ll be back in the land of the present; of egos and lobbyists and posturing. I ask you as we navigate that land together to remember with me that there are far deeper and more profound truths in this world than the politics and pressures of the moment: “Remember the land of undiscovered shores, where the world is young and dreams are new, and the night wind brings visions of great deeds.”

I ask you to remember with me that Tennessee is still a land of undiscovered shores, that our world is still young, that God blesses every child with brand new dreams, and that in the real America the night wind still brings visions of great deeds.

Thank you, and may God continue to protect the children of Tennessee and the land in which we all live.

All State of the State Addresses for Tennessee :