VOL. 133 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 10, 2018
What Do Statewide Candidates Say About Education in Tennessee?
Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly have invested in education during the last eight years. Has that been a good investment and should it continue? What do the candidates propose for the next four to eight years?
Each of the major candidates for governor and U.S. Senate were asked to tell our readers about their views on education.
Diane Black: We have the opportunity to strengthen education, build a strong workforce and keep our rural communities intact.
Educational success in K-12 can be going to college or getting a job to start your career. One of my goals is to ensure that our kids don’t have to leave their small town to earn a living. If students are credentialed when they graduate from high school, we can keep our rural communities intact and maintain our Tennessee culture.
In short, we can’t let our kids graduate without a skill or a pathway.
My plan is a bottom up approach. As governor, I want to incorporate an aptitude inventory in the middle school years to help children think about their career paths. We should adopt a duel track diploma system to provide students with more options and make it easier for students to get a license to practice a trade the day they graduate from high school. I know that our state is stronger than the challenges we face, and as governor, I will ensure a pathway to success for Tennessee students.
Randy Boyd: I am running for governor because I believe Tennessee can be the smartest state in the South by 2025.
I was fortunate to be the architect of Drive to 55 – the state’s goal of making sure at least 55 percent of Tennesseans have job-ready skills. When Gov. Haslam asked me to reimagine what might be possible in higher education, we were at 32 percent. Now we are at 39 percent. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. I’m passionate about getting there because it will mean an additional $9 billion in the pockets of Tennessee families. If we reach our Drive to 55, Tennessee will be the smartest state in the South.
I helped create Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect to build clear pathways to a better life. As governor, I am committed to making sure every high school student has the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma, a job-ready credential and a sense of what is possible for their future path.
To ensure students are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities, we must continue pushing forward on the fundamentals that helped us become the fastest improving state in the nation in education. Every student deserves a superstar teacher in every classroom, every year. There must be a great principal at every school creating a great teaching and learning environment. In every school, early literacy must be a priority, testing must be fair and reliable, and every child should benefit from a network of community support.
Beth Harwell: We have increased education funding more than ever before over the last eight years I’ve been Speaker of the House. We’ve invested in our students and teachers, and it has paid off, as evidenced by the gains we’ve made. As governor, I would evaluate the needs in education year by year, and if additional funding is needed to achieve something, I would budget for it.
If I could wave a magic wand and do one thing, I would close achievement gaps. This is something we talk about a lot in the legislature, and I don’t believe it’s talked about enough in the mainstream. We have made great gains in Tennessee, but we need to make sure that every child is learning and thriving. In my own family’s experience, each child learns differently, so we need to work toward making sure we are meeting those needs and all students are mastering the material.
Literacy is so important, and we still are failing some students in this area. Ensuring children can read is one of the most important things that determines their future academic success. Additionally, we need to promote those areas of study that will help students get the jobs of tomorrow–we have some excellent STEM programs across the state, and we should try to replicate those in other schools.
I also think vocational and on-the-job training is important in middle and high schools. Not every student needs to go to a traditional four-year university, and the Tennessee Promise offers students a free education at our TCATs across the state. Similar programs in our middle and high schools can help steer students into the profession that is right for them.
Bill Lee: I have three major priorities in education:
• Supporting jobs by bringing back real vocational education into our schools;
• Supporting our teachers by reducing the testing burden and improving the working environment;
• Supporting parents with meaningful school choice.
For a lot of candidates, vocational education is a talking point, but for the last 35 years it’s been my life. I run a 1,200-person company that employs skilled craftsmen. Ten years ago, even though we were labeled one of the best places to work by the Tennessean, we struggled to fill the jobs we had. To address it, we built our own trade school, helping over a thousand men and women advance their careers.
I believe the way forward on vocational education isn’t a massive government project, it’s through a more effective partnership with the hundreds of industry leaders across the state who are ready to work with the state on new goals for apprenticeships, instructor training and curriculum design. Industry should be more than a beneficiary of our education efforts, it should be a key part of the solution.
As an employer, I know that a CEO’s job isn’t to micromanage, but to create an environment where employees can thrive. That’s the approach I’d take as chief executive of this state when it comes to our teachers. I’ll lift up the teaching profession, with competitive compensation, meaningful opportunities for professional development, and reducing the testing burden to provide more freedom to exercise their craft. Our teachers are on the front lines and we need to set them up for success.
As a parent, I believe it’s not the type of school or who owns the building that matters, but whether the school is providing a quality education for our kids. We have choices in every other aspect of our lives, and I think Tennessee families deserve choice in education too.
Karl Dean: I think Tennessee has benefited from Gov. Haslam’s and Gov. Bredesen’s commitment to making public education a priority but we need to continue to increase education funding. Lack of resources should not be a barrier to student success or to teacher retention and recruitment.
I started my career in the Nashville Public Defender’s office and learned a lot about how important a quality education is. My clients were overwhelmingly high school dropouts, so I saw a direct connection between public safety, economic success and education. All children in Tennessee deserve access to a high quality education.
As mayor of Nashville, I worked with the Metro Council to:
• Increase funding for Nashville schools by 37 percent.
• Increase new-teacher pay from 30th to third in the state.
• Invest $629 million in school buildings and other capital infrastructure for the school district.
• Graduation rates increased by nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2015.
• From 2009-2016, 18 percent of MNPS students have advanced at least one achievement level on annual state assessments.
As governor, I will do the same for the state by:
• Making education a priority in every budget while I am in office with an emphasis on paying our teachers more. We should also make sure that teachers have the support through professional development and teacher prep programs to continually receive updates and training to help them in the classroom.
• Being open to changes to the BEP (Basic Education Program) to increase funding for districts that do not benefit from the sales tax base larger cities do.
• Making an investment in expanding pre-Kindergarten and early literacy programs.
• Investing in expanding vocational and technical programs.
• Fixing TNReady issues by calling for an extensive analysis of what went wrong and putting a plan in place to prevent mistakes in an open and transparent way with the help of teachers and parents.
Craig Fitzhugh:Education is always a good investment; unlike material goods, it is the one thing that cannot be taken away from an individual. I applaud Gov. Haslam for his work (along with the legislature) on Tennessee Promise and the Tennessee Reconnect programs. The financial barriers for starting and finishing a college education in Tennessee are dwindling, and companies wanting to locate in Tennessee, or companies that are here but want to expand will have a larger and more prepared workforce at their disposal. As technology advances, we must make sure that our colleges and TCAT’s have the latest equipment, and the next governor must lead the charge on keeping our schools current, not only for traditional college students but also for returning adults and workers looking to retrain for new careers.
In the next four to eight years, we must make sure that when students graduate, they are prepared for college and the working world. Students need to leave high school with the academic readiness to begin college and not have to take remedial courses that will not count towards their education. We must invest in universal pre-K. Children who attend pre-kindergarten programs and can read at grade level by the third grade are much more likely to succeed in school than those children who cannot. Also, investing in education means investing in our teachers and paying them for the good work that they do. In many cases, teachers spend more time with children than their parents do, due to work, commutes, etc. They have a huge impact on the lives of our children. We want the best professionals in our classrooms, and we must allow teachers to inspire a child’s desire to learn, not just to take tests.
Marsha Blackburn, Republican
Every student in Tennessee should have the opportunity to reach their full academic potential and attend schools that educate them for 21st-century challenges and opportunities. When our students graduate, they should be prepared with skills for life and ready for whatever path they choose.
For too long, poor performance hurt our next generation of Tennesseans, but Gov. Haslam has been a transformational leader in education. We must continue to build on the foundation he has laid. To do so, we must get the federal government out of the classroom and send control back to the states.
Our children receive the best education when we empower those who best know what they need–not only teachers, but also parents and local communities– and so we must send authority back to them. What works best for students in Chattanooga might not work for students in Memphis, and what works in Tennessee might not work in California–that is why we need flexibility at the state and local level to let those closest to the students make the decision about what is best to do.
Tennessee’s conservative common sense approaches should be applied to education, and that includes: expanding school choice, increasing charter school options, making homeschooling easier, and supporting state and local control of education.
When I talk with teachers, they tell me how they are forced to comply with unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. We should eliminate that paperwork burden for our teachers and streamline the testing process. Doing so will allow teachers the ability to teach children in a way consistent with how they learn.
Treating education as a one-size-fits-all system shortchanges the next generation, and it is imperative to send resources and control back to the states on this issue, so that leaders, like Governor Haslam, have the opportunity to improve the education our next generation receives.
Philip Bredesen, Democrat
While I’m currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate, I was Tennessee’s governor from 2003-2011 and have a track record of strong support for Tennessee public education. I will continue that commitment in the U.S. Senate.
Every candidate for public office pledges their support for education. The real test though is this: after the election, when there are choices to be made, when there is political capital at stake, where does education actually end up in their priority list?
I’m proud of what we achieved on my watch:
• When I took office in 2003, I inherited a fiscal crisis which was dealt with by cutting every department of government by 9 percent, except K-12 education. K-12 was not cut.
• Even larger cuts were required during the Great Recession, again, K-12 education was the only area which was not cut.
• Tennessee became a leader in the standards movement. Our standards went from being rated “F” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to being ranked second in the nation.
• We increased teacher pay, especially in rural areas.
• We instituted a broad, statewide Pre-K program.
• When the “Race to the Top” competition was announced by the Department of Education, Tennessee was one of only two states to win in the first round of judging. The result was a grant of $500 million to support our strategy for excellence.
These changes were made with bipartisan support in the Legislature and support from business and community leaders across Tennessee. Gov. Haslam has continued to build on, add to and improve these reforms, and Tennessee achieved the status of being the fastest-improving state in the nation in its test scores.
In the U.S. Senate, I will join with Tennessee’s next governor to keep the momentum alive. Our kids deserve nothing less.