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New Comptroller Report Looks at TN Education Administration Spending

Press release from the Office of Tennessee’s Comptroller of the Treasury; August 15, 2014:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has found that school districts with higher rates of administrative spending are more likely to be very small or very large districts, and to be municipal or special school districts rather than county districts.

Based on spending data from the 2012-13 school year, school districts in Tennessee spent 10.5 percent of their day-to-day expenditures (not including capital or debt service spending) on administration, which includes local school boards, central district offices including the directors of schools, and principal offices at each school. Tennessee administrative spending has increased over the past five years in relation to total spending (from 9.8 percent to 10.5 percent), but was below administrative spending rates for school districts in the Southeast and across the nation. The majority of districts’ administrative spending (57 percent) is at the school level for expenditures in the principals’ offices.

Individual district expenditures on administration ranged from between 6 and 17 percent of total current spending. About one-fourth of districts (33) spent more than the statewide rate of 10.5 percent on administration in 2012-13.

  • Seventy percent of these higher administrative spending districts are city or special school districts, which tend to be smaller than county districts and are likely to have additional sources of local tax revenue.
  • About two-thirds of the higher-spending districts fall into the bottom fifth or the top fifth of districts ranked by enrollment size.
  • Seventy percent of the higher spending districts had central office administrator-to-student ratios above the statewide median of 4.4 administrators per 1,000 students enrolled.

The report did not analyze the cost-effectiveness of districts’ spending, where district or school outcomes–like student academic achievement and graduation rates–would be compared in relation to administrative expenditures. Without further analysis of such outcomes, identification of above-average administrative spending by itself cannot be evaluated as appropriate or inappropriate.

OREA is an agency within the Comptroller’s Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.

To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

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Education Featured

TN Education Reforms Hailed in New U.S. Chamber Report

Changes in the state’s Department of Education since the Tennessee General Assembly voted to adopt the Common Core standards for education a few years ago are being highlighted in the summer issue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quarterly magazine, Free Enterprise.

According to the magazine, the USCoC recently completed a follow-up to their 2007 report, Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, which indicates a “growing problem” of a less-than-sufficiently educated and skill-prepared labor force.

But Free Enterprise notes that Tennessee has been lauded by experts for its willingness to tackle the problem, most notably by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has praised state politicians and elected leaders for sticking to their “controversial but common sense decisions” in the face of pushback against reforms.

Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber, said in the article that the commitment to reform policies under both Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, have given Tennessee’s students “the promise of opportunity and success beyond high school.”

Interviewed for the article, Bredesen told Free Enterprise, “Education reform has got to be about picking a course of action and sticking with it over a long period of time, not just letting it flow back and forth when you get a new governor.”

Changes in the way Tennessee teaches kids in public school and measures their performance  has more and more become an area of political controversy. In particular, the nationwide effort to implement the Common Core Standards in Tennessee has over the past year created some odd bedfellows among those who’re becoming reform-weary.

The Obama administration are big fans of Common Core, as are big-name Tennessee political figures like Gov. Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former U.S. Senator and GOP majority leader Bill Frist

On the other hand, skeptics and out-and-out opponents include both conservatives and liberals, teachers’ unions and anti-tax activists. There’s even a stand-up comedian working criticism of Common Core into his schtick. Conservatives fear that the standards complicate the ability to learn and will lead to liberally biased textbooks. On the left, there’s a worry that the curriculum and standardized evaluations will add to classroom pressures on both teachers and students, which isn’t conducive to enhancing a productive learning environment.

The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national non-profit conservative political advocacy group is big in to the battle here in Tennessee. The state’s AFP arm announced this week  it’d spent about $500,000 in the past six weeks “bringing the issues with Common Core to light.” AFP claims its illumination of the issues impacted outcomes in several state primary elections last week.

In its 2014 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed by Haslam, to halt implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, and do some price-comparisons on others in the meantime. The Volunteer state will continue to use the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — or TCAP — until the 2015-16 school year.

The state’s largest labor group that represents teachers, the Tennessee Education Association, has claimed it’s lobbying efforts this past session resulted in lawmakers delaying the testing program, which is affiliated with Common Core. The Washington Post called the TEA’s effort’s “instrumental” in passing the delay.

Rep. Glen Casada is a vocal opponent of Common Core whose positions usually don’t line up with the wishes of teachers’ unions. He, too, has claimed responsibility for putting PARCC on the back-burner, and he also hopes that in the interim lawmakers will decide to scrap it altogether.

Casada sought to play up the downsides of Common Core up as much as possible in his Williamson County district’s primary race against a local school board member, Cherie Hammond, who was generally regarded as more politically centrist than the veteran House Republican caucus chairman. Casada won handily.

Casada told TNReport this week he’s not entirely convinced the gains the state’s posted in student performance of late can be attributed in any significant way to anything having to do with Common Core. For example, given that Common Core is still more-or-less in a rollout phase, it’d be a stretch to suggest last year’s big nationwide testing gains for Tennessee touted by both Gov. Haslam and Education Secretary Duncan had a whole lot to do with it, Casada said.

The Franklin lawmaker, who isn’t facing a general election opponent, said the state’s teachers and students posted testing gains that actually appeared to have emerged during a two-year “interim period” when Tennessee public schools got out from under No Child Left Behind and before Common Core Standards were being pushed in earnest.

Casada interprets that to mean, “When no large bureaucracy was guiding what teachers do, we excelled.”

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Press Releases

Alexander, Kline Call on GAO to Study Dept of Ed ESEA Waiver Policies

Press release from the Office of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander; August 12, 2014: 

Washington, D.C., Aug. 12 – Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) today requested a study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver policies.

In a letter to GAO, they wrote, “In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.”

The lawmakers noted the supporting documentation required to obtain waivers in their home states, which ranged from more than 700 to more than 1,000 pages. “However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver,” they wrote. “Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.”

“Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on ‘high risk’ status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.”

The full text of the letter is below:

August 12, 2014

The Honorable Gene Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

We are writing to request a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act(ESEA) waiver policies. In 2011, the department began issuing waivers to states regarding specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA waivers. In order to receive waivers, these states were required to comply with a new set of requirements, not authorized by Congress, related to standards and assessments, school accountability, and teacher and principal evaluation systems.

For Tennessee, the supporting documentation required for its waiver request resulted in a binder that was more than one thousand pages thick. Minnesota’s approved application is more than 700 pages long. However, Congress has little information about how the department utilizes the data required of these and other states to grant, deny, renew, or revoke a state waiver. Additionally, Congress has little insight into how states are impacted by the time and cost associated with applying for and implementing these waiver requirements.

Finally, the department has recently altered various requirements for certain states regarding implementation timelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems. At the same time, other states have had their waivers put on “high risk” status, and Washington recently had its waiver revoked, over issues related to teacher and principal evaluation systems. The department has provided no justifications for these seemingly contradictory decisions.

Accordingly, key questions we would like GAO to explore include:

1. What processes and criteria does the Department of Education use to approve, deny, renew, and revoke states’ ESEA waiver applications? How does the department use the data it requires states to provide when applying for and renewing waivers?

2. What changes have states made in order to meet the department’s conditions for the approval and renewal of a waiver?

3. What issues have selected states, including states that have not applied for a waiver, had waiver applications rejected, and had approved waivers revoked, faced in deciding whether to apply for and implement an ESEA waiver, such as time and resources used to produce waiver and waiver renewal applications and the possible need for legislative changes?

4. To what extent are states able to implement accountability and evaluation systems consistent with existing state laws and policies? What barriers exist for states and districts in adapting accountability and evaluation systems to their unique needs?

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander                                             John Kline

Ranking Member                                              Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on Health,            U.S. House Committee on

Education, Labor and Pensions                 Education and the Workforce

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Press Releases

OREA Report Examines Effectiveness of Extended School Hours on Learning

Press Release from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, Feb. 6, 2014:

Many schools across Tennessee are increasing their classroom hours, but it’s difficult to measure what effect that’s having on student achievement, a new report from the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) indicates.

The report, which was released today, examines common practices, funding and effectiveness of extended learning time and profiles Tennessee schools that are using it.

Extending the length of the school day or increasing the number of school days are strategies low-performing schools sometimes use in an effort to boost student achievement. That may increase students’ time in school anywhere from 90 to 300 additional hours per year.

OREA’s report found that 79 traditional schools in 38 districts in Tennessee were using some level of extended learning time in 2012-13 school year. In addition to the traditional schools, 49 charter schools – which typically offer extended learning time as part of their education models – were operating in Tennessee that year. This year, 15 more traditional schools and numerous charter schools have implemented extended learning time.

Because extended school hours are often implemented in conjunction with other education reforms such as improving the quality of instruction, using existing time effectively and developing data to pinpoint student needs, the effect of extended learning time on student achievement is difficult to isolate. Researchers have yet to establish a strong link between extended hours and student achievement.

Research has indicated, however, that academic benefits are most likely to come from additional time that is structured and focused with students fully engaged in learning. Disadvantaged students are most likely to benefit.

Many schools currently implementing extended learning time are doing so through the use of federal school improvement grants. These grants – intended to help the lowest performing school improve academic achievement – require numerous reforms, including extended school schedules.

OREA is an agency within the Comptroller’s Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

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Press Releases

Haslam Awards TCAT-Murfreesboro $625K Equipment Grant

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; December 3, 2013:

MURFREESBORO – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a grant of $625,007 to fund equipment needed at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro.

The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.

“The purchase of this equipment for TCAT-Murfreesboro will allow the school to provide high-tech training to meet workforce needs in the Murfreesboro area,” Haslam said. “This will not only help train Tennesseans for skilled jobs but minimize the necessity for area employers to seek skilled workers from out of state.”

The grant for TCAT-Murfreesboro at the school’s Old Fort Campus will address needs for equipment for instruction in mechanical systems, electronics, industrial motor controls, hydraulics, pneumatics and wiring. The school will be able to purchase several pieces of high-tech training equipment.

The purchase will help align the school’s advanced manufacturing training programs with area industry. Graduation from the industrial maintenance program as well as the machine tool and HVAC programs prepare students for the workforce and provide up to 30 credit hours to transfer to a community college toward an Applied Associate Degree in General Technology.

“Currently only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025, that number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands,” Haslam said. “These workforce development grants help us directly meet workforce training needs.”

These strategic investments resulted from the governor meeting with businesses and education officials across the state last fall to better understand workforce development needs. One of the most common themes Haslam heard was the lack of capacity and equipment at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges to meet job demand, so these grants are aimed at addressing those gaps.

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Press Releases

TN Students Show Fastest Improvement on 2013 NAEP Nationwide

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; November 7, 2013:

MOUNT JULIET – Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Tennessee had the largest academic growth on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of any state, making Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation.

The NAEP results also show that Tennessee had the largest growth of any state in a single testing cycle since NAEP started nationwide assessments a decade ago.

“These historic gains are a result of years of hard work by a lot of people across Tennessee: our teachers, students, principals, superintendents, parents, lawmakers, school board members, business leaders, and many others,” Haslam said. “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

The governor was joined for the announcement by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Wilson County Director of Schools Timothy Setterlund, Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher at Rose Park Magnet Middle School in Nashville, state legislators, business and community leaders, and students, faculty and staff of West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet where the event was held.

Commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” NAEP assesses students in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. All 50 states have taken NAEP since 2003, and the results are regarded across the country as the best way to compare educational outcomes across states. Tennessee students’ combined growth on all four tests in 2013 exceeded the growth of all other states. For data on Tennessee’s NAEP results, visit: http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2013.

The state improved in overall national ranking in each of the four tests. For fourth-grade students, Tennessee went from 46th in the nation in math to 37th and from 41st to 31st in reading. Tennessee also had very strong growth for African-American students, and the state saw gains in overall results while significantly increasing the participation of special education students on the test.

“This administration’s goal has been to be the fastest improving state in the nation by 2015,” Huffman said. “We’ve asked a lot of our teachers and students, and they have delivered; they deserve the thanks for this progress. Dramatically improving results for kids is hard work, but this is what hard work can do.”

Tennessee has also seen three years of continuous growth on its state assessments, also known as the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Since 2010, 91,000 more students are on grade level in math, and 52,000 more students are on grade level in science.

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Haslam Announces Statewide Program to Produce ‘Highly-trained Principals’

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; October 29, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a new preparation program to build a pipeline of highly-trained principals for schools across the state.

The state will work with Vanderbilt University and local districts to nominate, select and train up to 30 participants a year in the school leadership program.

The program is aimed at closing achievement gaps in lower performing schools and maintaining high levels of achievement for all students.

“Principals are responsible for hiring and retaining great teachers, being the instructional leaders of their schools, creating positive learning environments and managing complex operations within their buildings,” Haslam said. “Successful organizations have great leaders at the top, and one of the most important things we can do to transform our schools is to have each one led by a great principal.”

“Tennessee has many great principals already, and we want even more,” Haslam added. “There are also some important efforts already underway in the state around principal preparation, but I want to thank Vanderbilt University for working with us on this significant step toward using an innovative approach to strengthen education in Tennessee.”

Local districts will nominate candidates for the program and provide placement during the program as assistant or associate principals with effective principal mentors.

Vanderbilt University, which has the No. 1 ranked education school in the country in Peabody College, will combine in-person and online instruction with mentor training and a school-based clinical experience to train future school leaders.

“Tennessee has become a test-bed for school improvement, and Peabody College has long been a resource for leadership practices in education,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody. “We are excited to engage with promising school leaders statewide to help close achievement gaps and strengthen Tennessee schools.”

The program will use identified best practices and promote the use of these practices in other existing leadership preparation programs.

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Press Releases

Senate Education, Government Operations Committees to Review State’s Textbook Selection Process

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus, Oct. 28, 2013;

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on the Tennessee Textbook Commission next week in collaboration with the Senate Government Operations Committee, according to Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville).

The hearings will take place on Monday, Nov. 4 at 1:00 p.m., and Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 9:00 a.m., in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

Gresham said the hearings are being conducted for the purpose of seeking clarity regarding the structure and function of the State Textbook Commission. The Commission is scheduled to be evaluated under the state’s Sunset Review process. Departments and agencies of state government are subject to the periodical sunset review process to determine whether the entities are functioning properly and if they should be retained, modified, or abolished.

“Parents and community leaders across the state have raised concerns regarding the process of textbook selection because of the content and bias found in textbooks in a local school district,” said Senator Gresham. “We will be looking at the structure and function of this commission to help ensure that textbooks used in this state are tools of education, not indoctrination.”

The Textbook Commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.

The commission is composed of 10 members whose responsibility is to recommend an official list of textbooks for approval of the State Board of Education. Local school systems choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list for a six-year period.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Teachers Warming to In-Class Observations

Tennessee teachers view the state’s new evaluation procedure more favorably now than when implemented, a recent survey from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College suggests.

The study found teachers are more receptive to classroom evaluations when they see them as a tool for improving teaching, not as just a way to judge performance.

“Teachers who viewed the evaluation process as focused on teaching improvement tended to engage with the system to a far greater extent than teachers who saw the process as one aimed only at judging their performance,” said Nate Schwartz, director of the Tennessee Department of Education’s Office of Research and Policy.

The new evaluation system was implemented in 2010 after Tennessee was awarded more than $501 million from the federal government to reform its public education system. Among the reforms adopted as part of the grant were: adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments for students; building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

The main reform that concerned teachers was a change to teacher tenure laws that ties student performance to classroom evaluations. Since the change to tenure laws, the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development has contracted with the TDOE’s Office of Research and Policy to study teacher opinion on the reforms.

And those opinions look to be changing, according to state education officials.

“Through multiple survey measures (First to the Top being one of them), we have seen that teachers in Tennessee feel that the evaluation system has been implemented with fidelity,” said Kelli Gauthier, communications director of the Tennessee Department of Education.

That faith has translated to a better perception of the state’s teacher evaluation system from both teachers and observers. The most recent study, which asked 26,000 teachers about the First to the Top reforms, suggests both teachers and observers like the teacher evaluation system better in 2013 than in previous years, but half of the teachers surveyed are still unconvinced of the evaluation’s overall value.

But when teachers do find value in the process, they respond more favorably to the current observation system. The value is found in feedback and instructions for improving teaching methods, rather than observers judging their classroom performance, according to the study.

Dan Lawson, the superintendent of Tullahoma City Schools, said most teachers welcome a chance to improve and hope teacher observations are part and parcel of improving learning, rather than quantifying teacher performance.

“Teaching is a complex process integrating relationship building, content knowledge, the craft of instructional delivery and the art of interacting with children. As much as some love the idea of quantifying everything, I fear that such a practice tends to diminish the complexity of my profession,” said Lawson, who has long been critical of Tennessee’s education reform initiatives.

Lawson said the evaluation process was developed as a way to improve teaching quality, but that observations are not “sufficient to identify a quality teacher.” He is also concerned the reforms encourage teaching to the test.

“Teachers may be led to better ‘scores’ on the rubric, but those scores may be negated by a single (student) test score. This challenge leads many to ask a pertinent, but in my mind misplaced question: ‘How do I get my kids to earn higher TCAP scores?’,” he said.

Regardless of how administrators and teachers feel about the evaluation process, Tennessee students have seen growth on state assessments.

“While we attribute that growth to a variety of things, we absolutely believe that Race to the Top initiatives, such as our teacher evaluation system and the extensive professional development we have given to teachers through the grant, played a part,” Gauthier said.

Tennessee has seen three years of growth on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, Gauthier said. She cited more than 20,000 more students are performing at grade-level in math now than in 2010 and “nearly 52,000 additional students are at or above grade level in all science subjects, as compared to 2010.”

Add improving teacher attitudes toward the evaluation to growing TCAP scores and Tennessee’s education system is moving in the right direction, she said.

“Tennessee has been recognized nationally as a leader in improving public education, and in many ways, Race to the Top created the environment for us to accomplish this work, with broad support from a variety of stakeholders,” Gauthier said. “I believe that our results speak for themselves.”

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Press Releases

Northeast State Receives $843K Grant for Advanced Technology Programs

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; October 22, 2013:

BLOUNTVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a grant award of $843,000 for Northeast State Community College to fund needed equipment for advanced technology programs at the school.

The governor proposed and the General Assembly approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges, part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.

These strategic investments resulted from the governor meeting with businesses and education officials across the state last fall to better understand workforce development needs. One of the most common themes he heard was the lack of capacity and equipment at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges to meet job demand, so these grants are aimed at addressing those gaps.

“This grant will provide equipment that will assist in Northeast State’s mission of training workers for the modern workplace,” Haslam said. “We will need qualified Tennesseans to fill skilled positions, and Northeast State is playing a significant role in meeting that goal.”

Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025 that number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands. Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative is designed to address that workforce need on several fronts, including the funds for the state’s colleges of applied technology and community colleges.

The new equipment for Northeast State Community College will allow the school to expand its robotics manufacturing training lab, add a mechatronics training lab and upgrade equipment for its welding and machine tool programs. More than 200 advanced technologies students a year will benefit from the enhanced training capabilities provided by this grant.

Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly included almost $33 million in the state budget this year toward building a technical education complex at Northeast State.