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Candidates for Governor Weigh in on Higher Ed

With lawmakers on the cusp of approving major education reforms this week, candidates for governor gathered in Nashville Thursday to offer their views on education.

Hosted by the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, SCORE, gubernatorial hopefuls addressed issues ranging from pre-K programs to college graduation rates, improving teacher quality to linking jobs to education. Sponsored by NewsChannel 5 and other organizations, the entire one-hour forum can be viewed here.

The seven candidates — four Republicans and three Democrats — had all raised at least $250,000 for their campaign fund prior to Thursday’s forum at Belmont University.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat in his last year in office, called lawmakers into Special Session this week to approve his proposals to reform education in light of a pending grant proposal for $485 million worth of “Race to the Top” federal funds.

The highly competitive grant rewards states with the most creative and innovative education reforms.

Bredesen also asked lawmakers to review how the state treats higher education, an issue not specifically related to the RTTT competition. He wanted lawmakers to tackle that subject as well, but members have agreed to push off that issue until the regular session this spring.

Candidates at the forum tackled the topic anyway, offering 1-minute explanations on how they would improve the two-year and four-year college graduation rates.

“We have to combine, we have to partner between our educational institutions and our work force development efforts in our state,” said Kim McMillan, former Tennessee House Democratic leader.

“Part of the problem is that we have a lot of out students entering in college who aren’t prepared. They’re spending a lot of money on remedial courses at the college education level,” said Bill Gibbons, Shelby County District Attorney General who is running for the Republican nod for governor.

Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman running for a space on the Democratic ticket, said Tennessee Diploma project is the key to improving higher education.

Congressman Zach Wamp, a Republican, said he wants to see high school students get “fired up about the future” with the help of distance and online learning.

Maybe the problem is too much red tape, said state Sen. Jim Kyle, who leads the Democratic party in the chamber.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican, said students should be able to transfer more classes from their community college classes when switching to a four-year university.

Bill Haslam, Republican Mayor of Knoxville, pointed to two programs in his own city as examples of what the state can do.