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As we begin a new year, it’s a good time to look back at where we’ve been and ahead to where we’re going.
In Tennessee we have a lot to be proud of. We balance our state’s budget each year and do so without raising taxes. We have the lowest debt of any state in the nation and the third lowest overall tax burden per capita. Tennessee ranks first in the Southeast and 10th in the nation for personal income growth and second in the Southeast and eighth in the nation for job growth.
One of our top priorities has been to make Tennessee the number one state in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and we have a lot of momentum. Since January 2011, more than 130,000 new private sector jobs have been created here.
And while I don’t believe government creates jobs, I do believe it is state government’s role to make sure Tennessee offers an attractive business climate to attract new investment and encourage existing businesses to grow and expand.
Last year, we updated our worker’s compensation laws, streamlining the process and making it more equitable to both employees and employers. That came on the heels of overhauling our tort laws to provide more certainty to business and other efforts such as expanding captive insurance opportunities for companies.
Part of an attractive business climate is also a well-trained an educated workforce. Tennessee has become a national leader in education innovation. Last November Tennessee was named the fastest growing state in the nation in education gains. After years of ranking in the 40s in education, we’re solidly in the 30s and getting close to reaching the national average, so we still have a lot of work to do.
As we’ve asked more from our students and teachers, we want to be sure we’re compensating the leaders of our classrooms to reflect the professionals they are. Now that we’re the fastest improving state in academic achievement, our goal is to be the fastest growing state in raising teacher compensation.
Our state’s commitment to education is preparing more Tennesseans for high-quality Tennessee jobs, but we still have more work to do. Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a certificate or degree beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025 that number needs to be at least 55 percent to keep up with job demand.
That’s why we launched our “Drive to 55” initiative last year, which includes the following:
The launch of WGU Tennessee, an online competency-based university aimed at the 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree.
The creation of a $47 million endowment from the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) designed to provide nearly $2 million each year for “last dollar” scholarships to fill the gaps between students’ financial aid and the real costs of college that include books, supplies, room and board.
The launch of the SAILS program (Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning Support) that prepares students for college by intervening and eliminating the need for remedial courses – a program that will save students time and money while raising their likelihood of completing college work.
Legislation by Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) that created the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) to better coordinate key stakeholders on the state and local level to address workforce readiness issues.
New online learning innovations through partnerships with edX and Coursera.
You will hear more from us in the coming weeks about our Drive to 55.
We have enjoyed a strong working relationship with the legislative branch, and as the return of the 108th General Assembly approaches, we look forward to working with legislators on the important issues that matter to Tennesseans including jobs, education and a more efficient and effective state government.
There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and I am committed to building on our progress in 2014.