For teacher pay, Lee proposed an extra $71 million that, if approved, would continue Tennessee’s climb in compensation. During his last term in office, then-Gov. Bill Haslam shepherded an extra $500 million to raise salaries. But the bump didn’t always reach educators’ paychecks because the state’s funding formula gives local districts discretion in how to use money for instructional needs if they already are paying their teachers the state’s average weighted salary of $45,038.

In all, Lee proposed an increase of $211 million for K-12 education as part of his $38.6 billion state spending plan, about 17 percent of which would go to K-12.

Lee’s voucher plan drew a standing ovation from state lawmakers, praise from “parent choice” groups, and groans from voucher opponents — a foreshadowing of the debate to come.

“Expanding education savings accounts will increase school choice, encourage innovation, drive competition, and open doors for children who have for too long been failed by a bureaucracy that does not meet their unique needs,” said Shaka Mitchell, director of the pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children.

But Beth Brown, president of the state’s largest teacher group, said education savings accounts are simply “vouchers with less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse.”

“Let’s support Tennessee students and teachers by directing taxpayer dollars to our public school classrooms, not vouchers that harm student achievement,” she said.

In Arizona, where lawmakers approved education savings accounts in 2011, the program has been marred by fraud. A recent audit reported that parents who used the program misspent $700,000 from their 2018 accounts on banned items that included cosmetics and clothing.

Accountability issues have tripped up past voucher proposals in Tennessee’s legislature, and key lawmakers have said those concerns must be addressed to get their support this time around.

“You’ll see accountability provisions,” promised Tony Niknejad, Lee’s policy director, who spoke with reporters about the voucher plan earlier in the day but declined to describe those provisions.

JC Bowman, who leads the Professional Educators of Tennessee, called vouchers the “most problematic” part of Lee’s first-year agenda.

“By targeting districts that are lower performing, Governor Lee may be able to pass it through the Tennessee General Assembly,” Bowman said. “Nevertheless, [education savings accounts] do not guarantee improved school effectiveness or outcomes, better parental involvement, and certainly no increased systemic investments in public education.”

The governor plans to deliver regional addresses later this week. A State of East Tennessee speech is planned for Tuesday in Knoxville, and a State of West Tennessee address is scheduled for Thursday in Memphis.