Tennessee’s economy is on the move. Amazon, Ernst & Young, Volkswagen, Nissan, and FedEx are just a few of the companies that have created thousands of new jobs in the past 10 years by moving to our state or expanding existing operations. These high-skill, high-paying jobs mean that the quality of life for Tennesseans is improving every day. This is great news for the Volunteer State.

Our fast-growing economy demands an answer to this question, though: Who will fill those jobs in the future? The answer that SCORE works toward, and hopes for, every day is this: The students who sit in Tennessee classrooms.

We know that economic independence, the type of independence earned through the dignity of work in a good-paying job, begins in the classroom. The staggering truth is that far too many students are leaving Tennessee high schools unprepared for postsecondary education – which means they are choosing not to attend, taking multiple remediation courses, or dropping out of school.

According to Tennessee Department of Education figures, the average annual income of a recent high school graduate without a postsecondary credential or degree is less than $12,000. This remarkably low figure severely limits chances of success in life, including quality of life and good health. That is not economic independence.

These facts add urgency to SCORE’s work in advocacy, which is centered around fighting for policies that ensure student success from kindergarten to postsecondary. The advocacy team is passionate about this work because there are few things more impactful to life success and human flourishing than a great education.

Based on years of national and Tennessee-based research, we know what works, and we know what leads to success for students.

At a foundational level and as an example of how we advocate for certain policies, we know that great educators make all the difference. Educators drive the top two in-school factors that are most likely to lead to student success – first, effective teaching in classrooms, and, second, effective school leadership. When a child has a great teacher in a school led by a great principal year after year, the opportunity for success is virtually endless.

Research, like that mentioned above, informs every step of our advocacy. The impact of educators on student success leads SCORE to advocate for dramatically improving teacher preparation, increasing funding for high-quality literacy training for teachers, increasing teacher pay, improving the quality of principal preparation programs, ensuring high-quality teaching and leadership in high-need schools, and much more.

As we expand into the postsecondary policy arena, SCORE will continue to advocate for policies and ideas along the entire kindergarten-to-postsecondary spectrum that focus on putting students first. When we center the conversation around what is best for students, there is clarity and focus on what needs to happen.

SCORE is excited to continue working with partner organizations throughout the state in advocating for policies and innovative ideas that will help prepare all Tennessee students for economic independence and success in the workforce.

Taylor Hall is senior director of public affairs at SCORE.

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