Image Credit: Hamilton County Pachyderm Club / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
State Senator Bo Watson met with the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club on Monday, where he encouraged continued literacy improvement in schools, advocated for criminal justice reform, and discussed the future of Tennessee.
Watson issued a challenge to Hamilton County Schools as the state works through its second year of the new third-grade retention law.
Watson noted that the recent changes to the law forced the school system to acknowledge and report that nearly a quarter of Hamilton County third graders would potentially have to repeat the grade based on their scores on the literacy section of the TCAP test.
“There’s going to be some pain in this,” Watson said, “We can do this for ourselves if we choose to commit to do it.”
According to Watson, there is “nothing more important than a child be able to read and read proficiently and read at grade level.”
Members of the Pachyderm Club told Watson that they wanted schools to be a priority for the state legislature when they go back into session in January. Areas they would like to see be a focus include greater school security, the school choice program, curriculum, public prayer in schools, and federal funding for public schools.
When it comes to a reform of the criminal justice system, Watson said he would work for more mandatory sentencing that would require convicted criminals to complete their entire sentence.
He acknowledged the additional costs involved in those full prison sentences but said that the state had already earmarked $50 million in this fiscal year to go towards those expenses.
“Whether you like it or not, you got to pay for it,” Watson said.
Watson also discussed inflation in Tennessee, noting that federal stimulus funds were just about gone. He said that the state has cut $1 billion in taxes over the last decade, and the state continues to provide incentives such as the current grocery sales tax holiday.
“We are the least-taxed state in this country,” Watson said.
Georgia currently ranks number one in friendly business taxes, but Tennessee actually pulls ahead by having no state income tax.
According to Watson, about 40-45% of Tennessee’s budget comes from federal funding, being funneled primarily into children’s services and education. He warned that Governor Bill Lee’s refusal of millions of dollars’ worth of federal money could come back to hurt the state.
“That’s Tennessee taxpayer dollars going to other states,” Watson said.
However, Watson says Tennessee is in pretty good shape, coming in as the state with the least amount of debt in the country and considered one of the top five best-managed states when it comes to fiscal responsibility.