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Read Gov. Bill Lee’s annual budget address to state lawmakers here

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee is making his fifth State of the State address to state lawmakers on Monday evening. Read his remarks as prepared for delivery here:

Thank you very much. Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 113th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, cabinet members, staff members, friends, family: Thank you for being here. I’m proud to serve the people of Tennessee with you.

And to those of you who are new to this General Assembly, I want to welcome you. You have accepted a call to serve, and I have come to realize how valuable and important that is. Whether or not we agree on everything, I genuinely look forward to working with you. You’ve accepted a high calling, and I want to say thank you.

Being governor of this state is the honor of my life. And it’s infinitely more rewarding to serve with a wonderful first lady by my side. Maria wishes that she could be here tonight. We’re getting ready for the next stage of her journey, and we want to thank all of you – in this chamber and across the state – for your prayers and support. It means the world to us. From her heart and mine, thank you.

Two weeks ago, I took an oath to uphold and defend the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States of America. As I said on Inauguration Day – this halfway point is a good time to reflect, but it’s an even better time to plan. Because our state is leading, the nation has great expectations for us. What will future generations say about Tennessee in the year 2023 and beyond?

As a seventh-generation Tennessean, I often think about the role that our state and her people have played in the great turning points of American history. From the courage of early settlers and abolitionists, to the leaders of Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights, Tennesseans have long served as a guiding light in our nation’s moments of transformation.

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Read Gov. Bill Lee’s remarks on the occasion of his second inaugural

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gov. Bill Lee was inaugurated to his second term as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Saturday. Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to every person here – for being here today to celebrate our great state and her rich history.

Lt. Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, members of the General Assembly, constitutional officers, Justices of the Court, members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, Governor Dunn, Governor Alexander, Governor Bredesen, Governor Haslam, members of the cabinet, members of our staff…

My family, of whom there are many here today, some from far away… My friends and fellow Tennesseans. Thank you, not only for being here, but for who you are and what you do to make this the greatest state in the greatest country in the world.

Tennessee reminds people in this country that America hasn’t lost her way. That idea is reflected by every person here today, and it’s why our state motto – America at its Best – adopted many years ago, is so appropriate, especially today. Tennessee is leading the nation, and it’s good that we reflect on that and celebrate it.

But before I go on, there is one more person I want to acknowledge – someone who embodies the Volunteer Spirit of the people of our state with courage, strength and service. These last few months have been hard on our family, but God is faithful. Maria and I have cherished your prayers for healing. We are grateful for everyone who has supported us, and I’m grateful she’s here today – my wife and our First Lady, Maria Lee.

While Maria and I are in a time of struggle, we know that we are not alone in these hardships. In fact, the last four years have brought unexpected challenges to many of us in this state – floods, wildfires, a pandemic, tornadoes, even a bombing on Christmas morning – in addition to personal challenges you could be facing right now that your fellow Tennesseans don’t even know about. It doesn’t take away the tragedy, difficulty or fear, but in times of struggle, we can find great hope.

We saw that when Tennesseans converged on the Cumberland Plateau to help their neighbors after those devastating tornadoes. We saw that when six brave police officers put their very lives on the line to protect their fellow man from that bomb on Christmas morning. We saw that in Waverly. I was there the day after the floods, and wept with, prayed with and embraced people who had lost everything, even their loved ones.

Maria was there a few days later to help clean up homes that had been reduced to rubble. For Waverly, that is clearly part of the story – tragedy, difficulty, and fear. But I was also there one year later, as the community gathered in remembrance of all those lost. Once again, we wept, prayed and embraced, but this time, something was different. We also recognized the remarkable transformation that occurred in that community over the past year. It was a stark picture of redemption and hope. Quite frankly, it’s a picture of Tennessee since our founding.

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Read Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Thank you very much. Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 112th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers.

I first want to acknowledge someone who for the last three years has been a steadfast partner to me in this journey.

She has also been a faithful friend to Tennesseans in distressed counties through her Tennessee Serves initiative.

I’m so proud of the work she has done to provide underserved Tennesseans hundreds of thousands of meals, thousands of backpacks, and thousands of shoes for school children.

Tennesseans are proud of you, and I’m proud of you, Maria, our First Lady.

A spirit of humble service matters in times of trial, and it matters in times of prosperity. So I also want to thank members of my Cabinet and staff who are here tonight who have served Tennesseans tirelessly over the last year. I’m thankful for each one of you. Thank you.

To everyone here and to everyone listening across this state, it is the highest honor I have to serve as your governor. I am grateful that you have allowed me to serve in this position.

We stand here today in a different place than we were a year ago, but our gratitude to Tennesseans is unchanged. You have kept this state moving forward.

Tennesseans like the members of the National Guard who have met the worst of circumstances with grit, and yet also provided comfort. Nurses and other health care workers who have cared for the sick. Teachers and administrators who have taught our children. Troopers and police officers and sheriffs deputies who patrol the roads and keep our neighborhoods safe.

Small businesses who have kept their doors open and workers who have worked extra hours to keep our economy moving. You are what makes Tennessee exceptional.

Last June, we commenced Untold Tennessee, a celebration of how the ordinary makes us extraordinary, to commemorate 225 years of statehood. Folks along the way this year have shared with me the deep connection they feel to Tennessee.

Folks like my friend Wally Childress, whose family owns a century farm, Childress Farms, in West Tennessee, and has grown thousands of acres of crops since 1906. Wally and Tracy are with us here tonight. We thank you for representing generations of families that have helped make Tennessee what it is. Please stand up, Wally and Tracy Childress.

For 225 years, Tennessee has been a beacon to those who wanted something more and needed a frontier to build their American dream. In 1965, the General Assembly recognized this and passed a resolution to adopt the state slogan: “Tennessee – America at Its Best”.

Over the years, leaders have reminded Tennesseans that America at Its Best is more than our slogan – it’s our north star. However, America at Its Best means something different today than it did in 1965 or even in the  last decade.

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Lee speech shorter, but hardly short

Frequently used terms in Gov. Bill Lee’s three State of the State addresses (via MonkeyLearn)

Bill Lee’s third State of the State address clocked in at 42 minutes on Monday evening. That was still on the long side of budget addresses for Tennessee governors, but a good deal shorter than his previous two speeches.

Lee’s first State of the State in 2019 was 5,994 words long and lasted 57 minutes. Last year’s address came in at 5,493 words. But this year’s speech totaled 4,506 words as prepared for delivery.

For some historical perspective of State of the State speeches, see this TNJ: On the Hill analysis of a couple years ago:

A word cloud analysis processed through MonkeyLearn reveals Lee’s most frequently used terms over her his last three speeches:

  1. State (162 times)
  2. Tennessee/Tennessean (157 times)
  3. Year (126 times)
  4. School (71 times)
  5. Students (57 times)
  6. Teachers (56 times)
  7. Budget (43 times)
  8. Dollars (36 times)
  9. Investment (33 times)
  10. Health care (15 times)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s special session address to lawmakers

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is the full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s speech to lawmakers Tuesday, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Lt. Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro-Tem Haile and Speaker Pro-Tem Marsh for the opportunity to convene on behalf of our students. 

I also thank Leader Johnson, Leader Lamberth, members of the education committee who have worked closely with us, and I want to thank all the members of the General Assembly. 

We have a shared belief that the foundation of our state is the strength of her people. 

As we approach the one year mark of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Tennessee and facing the number of other challenges in this state and on the federal level, it’s a common refrain to hear “this is a historic time”, or an “unprecedented time” or “never before have seen a challenge of this magnitude.” 

In many ways, that’s certainly true, and I’ve found there has been no greater place for COVID to cause sweeping disruption than in our K-12 school system.

This disruption has left students to navigate unprecedented challenges without the routine of learning in a classroom, with classmates and a trusted teacher. 

We’re meeting today because it’s time to intervene for our kids who are staring down record learning losses, that in the short-term, mean an inability to read at their grade level or understand basic math. 

But in the long-term, those learning losses mean higher incarceration rates and poverty as adults. 

Our work here this week bears great significance on the safety of our neighborhoods and the prosperity of our state for a generation. 

Big challenges require decisive action, which is why we have agreed to meet this week in an extraordinary legislative session. 

We cannot wait, because our students cannot wait. 

It would be much simpler to hope or to assume that disruptions to school caused by COVID will just come out in the wash. 

But unfortunately, the data – the science – tells us that isn’t true. 

Data suggests there are very real consequences to keeping students out of the classroom for this long. 

Nationally, that looks like a 50% drop in reading proficiency and a 65% drop in math proficiency with third grade students. 

That sort of forecast is forcing an unacceptable future on our kids and it’s why we are proposing a series of reforms around learning loss and literacy. We are also proposing a pause around some aspects of accountability. 

These data points are important, and indeed we have used data to make all decisions impacting our schools. 

Months ago, when critics were loud and the scare tactics were louder with all the reasons why we couldn’t safely return students and teachers to the classroom, we traded that speculation for science. 

We followed that science down a path that would make us one of the first states in the country to get students and teachers back in the classroom this fall across 145 of our 147 districts. 

Tennessee has thus become a national leader in embracing the courage to get back in the classroom and show that it can be done. 

I commend those districts, those local leaders and educators for not settling for the path of least resistance and hiding behind month after month of virtual learning with no end in sight. 

Instead, we saw the vast majority of our schools, led by determined superintendents put in the work that was needed for one reason: their students were counting on them. 

And kids have a lot to say about in-person learning or the lack thereof. 

In a survey of more than 20,000 school kids across nine states, only 39% of students in grades 5 through 12 reported that they ‘learned a lot almost every day’ during the shutdown.’[1] 

64% of students overall reported experiencing distractions at home that interfered with schoolwork.

And worse so, Black and Latino students reported facing more obstacles to learning at home than white and Asian students.

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t say “follow the science” and keep schools closed. 

You can’t say “I believe in public education” and keep schools closed. 

And you can’t say you’re putting the needs of students first and keep schools closed. 

Kids do better in school: we know that – parents know that. 

That’s why I’m so proud of our districts who have kids in school, and to those who remain closed, I would offer this simple encouragement: follow the science. 

Getting kids back in the classroom is imperative. But the reality is that the impacts from COVID would require us to act urgently even if every student was back to in-person learning tomorrow. 

First, let’s talk about learning loss. 

Paired with a full return to the classroom, we are proposing a targeted intervention to reach those kids who are falling behind in reading and math. 

Existing laws have created an environment of too little, too late when it comes to helping kids before third grade. 

We are proposing a third-grade reading gate which means that we make sure students are prepared before we pass them through to the fourth grade. 

When we stop the cycle of passing without preparation, we give kids a better chance at succeeding in middle school and beyond. 

Our proposal also includes a full-time tutoring corps, after school camps, learning loss bridge camps and summer learning camps. 

Upon passage of our proposed legislation, we will be prepared to execute and administer these targeted interventions beginning this summer. 

Now, let’s talk about literacy. 

So much of our success in K-12 hinges on building better readers. When only 34% of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by fourth grade, and that’s pre-COVID, something isn’t working and it’s time to get back to the basics. 

We need to teach our kids to read with phonics. 

It’s the way we learned to read. It’s the way we taught our kids. 

With this proposal, kindergarteners through third grade will be taught phonics as the primary form of reading instruction. 

And to make sure our progress is on track, we’ve developed a screening tool to help parents and teachers identify a struggling student more quickly. 

Simple methods like phonics serve our kids better – Commissioner Schwinn knows it and I know it and that’s what we’re going to use in Tennessee. 

We believe that these tools will work for our students but we have to have a clear picture of their starting point to get a window into the progress that they’ll make. 

So we will keep TCAP testing in place for the 20/21 school year so that parents and teachers know where students stand. 

However, there will be no negative consequences associated with student assessments so that the focus can remain on getting firm footing back in place after the uncertainty of time away from the classroom. 

To be clear: no teacher will be penalized due to test results this school year. But we’ll be relying on teachers and districts like never before to help us get these kids back on track. 

This approach isn’t going to be easy but as leaders we must do what it takes for our kids. 

We’re pursuing both bold interventions and a return to the basics and for any of these goals to come to fruition, we have to account for our teachers. 

We are proposing additional funding through both an appropriations bill this week and our upcoming budget to give a pay raise to every single teacher in Tennessee.

We are proposing to increase the salary component of our funding formula by 4%. This is not just about compensation – it’s an investment in better outcomes for our kids and we should all place an expectation on school districts that these dollars get passed directly to our teachers.

In the last decade, our students have made great strides in both reading and math and yet the events of the last year stand to threaten that progress. 

We aren’t where we want to be as a state but we have a tremendous opportunity here and now to not only stave off a monumental crisis but to forge a new path. 

Our new approach isn’t just about making up the losses.

These changes to our education system will actually educate our kids better in the future than we did before the pandemic. 

And that is a redemption story for our education system that will have ripple effects on our students’ lives for decades and well beyond the classroom. 

Thank you for your time today and careful consideration to each of these proposals. We should not miss this opportunity and together we’ll change the future of Tennessee. Thank you.


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