(March 10, 2023) - The Education Committee this week passed a bill I am sponsoring to increase the number of special education teachers in Tennessee amid an ongoing shortage. There are over 1,200 teacher vacancies in school districts across the state, and most of them are in special education.
The Tennessee Special Educator Scholarship Act would provide scholarships to college juniors and seniors who work as an educational assistant to a special education teacher at a Tennessee public school. The scholarship amount is $750 per semester, and those who receive it must agree to work as a special education teacher at a Tennessee public school for at least three years following graduation.
There are currently about 9,300 special education paraprofessionals in Tennessee and an estimated 500 of them would be eligible for the scholarship program outlined in the bill. Bailey said the idea for the bill came from his son, who volunteered his time to help special needs students when he was in high school because his school didn’t have enough special education teachers.
Major legislation to cut taxes advances
The Tennessee Works Tax Reform Act of 2023 is advancing in the Senate and cleared the Senate Revenue Subcommittee with a positive recommendation on Tuesday. This legislation, proposes a number of changes to Tennessee’s tax code to lower the tax burden on businesses, boost Tennessee’s economic competitiveness, promote entrepreneurship and small business formation, and provide targeted relief to families. This is one of Governor Bill Lee’s top legislative initiatives for 2023.
The tax cuts would provide significant tax relief to small businesses by lowering the burden of the franchise and excise tax as well as the business tax rate. Under the proposal, over 23,000 small businesses in Tennessee will have their excise tax liability reduced to zero by exempting the first $50,000 in income from the state’s excise tax. It also exempts up to $500,000 of business property from franchise tax liability. The tax cuts would exempt 140,000 Tennessee businesses from the business tax by raising the threshold for business tax exemptions from $10,000 to $100,000 of gross receipts. In addition, it reduces the highest business tax rate from 0.3% to 0.1%.
The proposal will also help Tennessee lead the nation in economic competitiveness, while prioritizing Tennessee businesses. It incentivizes businesses to hire Tennesseans and headquarter in Tennessee by changing the way the excise tax is calculated to favor businesses with a higher percentage of their properties and jobs located in Tennessee than in other states. It also ensures state tax deductions for research and development (R&D) expenses – which help companies grow, innovate and produce superior products and services. This move comes after the federal government ended yearly R&D tax exemptions for businesses. The measure also removes unfair taxes on certain manufacturing facilities with unsold inventory.
Finally, the proposal will deliver for working families by creating a three-month sales tax holiday on food during August, September and October 2023. It also seeks to incentivize businesses to provide paid family leave to employees by establishing a state paid family leave franchise and excise tax credit on wages paid for a two-year pilot period.
Strengthening election integrity
In the Senate, we approved legislation to strengthen election integrity in Tennessee by putting protections in place to prevent abuse of “fail-safe balloting.” Under this process, if the address on a voter’s ID does not match his/her current address, then that voter casts a fail-safe ballot and signs an affidavit stating that he/she does live at the address where the vote is being cast. Senate Bill 854 would allow a candidate to request a list of all the voters who changed their address at the polling place to vote in the election along with copies of the fail-safe affidavits. This bill also states that in the event of a recount, the state election commission must verify the addresses of all fail-safe ballots.
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