In other states, student-focused education policy has turned out to be a passing fad and attention is turning to other issues. In Tennessee, the hard work of improving student achievement is continuing to drive discussion and action. This is what it will take to help Tennessee students become among the best in the nation.
Early in a tenure of new leadership in Tennessee, education is continuing to get the attention it deserves. Governor Bill Lee’s first major legislative proposal was about education, and his State of the State address not only put education at the top of his budget priorities but received the most attention and time in his remarks.
SCORE’s annual State Of Education In Tennessee report identified four priorities for 2019: reimagining college and career readiness, maintaining the foundations of Tennessee’s historic student achievement growth, supporting teachers and school leaders, and finding innovative answers to long-standing problems. Governor Lee has proposed to focus on and invest in each of those areas.
The Lee administration wants to significantly increase career readiness with two innovative programs. The Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) will support regional efforts to increase work-based learning and apprenticeships and expanded dual-enrollment courses for high school students. The Future Workforce Initiative will increase STEM and early postsecondary courses across the state. The future prosperity of Tennessee depends on ensuring all students graduate high school ready to start postsecondary education, military service, or a career.
For a decade, the foundation of Tennessee’s unprecedented academic progress has been what we call the Tennessee way – high standards, meaningful statewide assessment, and a commitment to accountability. Serving students well requires all three parts of the Tennessee way to work together seamlessly. It was heartening to hear Governor Lee strongly endorse the value of statewide assessment and the urgency of getting test administration right.
Because teachers and school leaders are the two most important in-school drivers of student achievement, we have continued to call for improving teacher pay and better supporting principals. The governor’s budget adds $71 million for teacher salaries, a 2.5 percent increase. It also continues funding to support students and teachers in priority schools and the Rural Principal Network. Investment in teacher salaries is critical if Tennessee is to be the best place in the nation to teach.
In addition to innovative approaches to postsecondary and workforce readiness, the governor is proposing to double the facilities funding for public charter schools among other priorities aimed at supporting innovation and options for students and parents. The governor is also pledging to support, in his words, “making it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close bad ones.“ Tennessee has some of the highest-performing public charter schools in the country in terms of student outcomes, so it makes sense to better support these schools by lowering hurdles like finding adequate facilities and uneven approval processes.
Throughout the election year, SCORE worked to elevate education issues in the minds of voters and candidates. It’s clear that work has helped keep student-centered education policies at the top of the public agenda.
David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.