State Senator Bo Watson on Thursday said legislators included $71 million for education salaries across the state and meant for it to go to classroom teachers.
He said it includes language referencing "classroom teachers", but is not binding on school systems who have the final say-so on how it is spent.
Hamilton County Schools are planning a 2.5 percent across-the-board pay increase for all school employees.
Board member Rhonda Thurman said when that happens it "widens the gap" between the amount earned by teachers and higher-paid administrators.
Senator Watson, who spoke to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, said his fellow state senator, Todd Gardenhire, has been working on a legal definition of "classroom teachers." Senator Gardenhire was in attendance at the Convention Center.
The speaker said Tennessee is one of the most fiscally sound governments in the country. He said the Legislature was able to add $225 million to the rainy day fund, pushing it to $1.1 billion. He said the state needs a hefty savings because "a recession can be just around the corner."
He said, "It is important to keep saving in the good times."
Senator Watson, a local physical therapist who is chairman of the Senate finance committee, said as of May state revenue collections remained far ahead of budget targets.
He also said the General Assembly was able to achieve $45 million in tax cuts - and $850 million in such cuts over the past nine years - "yet our revenues are the highest they've ever been."
Senator Watson said challenges include dealing with the effects of the opioid crisis, criminal justice reform, and re-integrating those coming out of prison into the job market.
To provide needed workers, he said, "We need to close our skills gap and our knowledge gap."