Statement Published on Facebook and in the Editorial Sections of the Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal by Gov. Bill Haslam; Mar. 21, 2011:
It is Time for a Conversation About the Future
The people of Tennessee expect us – Republicans and Democrat – to make the tough decisions when times are difficult and the choices are hard.
We are in those times.
I said in the State of the State address Monday night that we are reevaluating the role of government, and in these times of limited financial resources, governments at every level are forced to make hard decisions when setting budgets.
We have to make equally difficult decisions about setting our priorities. My main goal is to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. That means our primary objective must be providing a quality education to every student.
The key to developing our state’s long-term economic potential lies in continuing to raise our education standards. The foundation built in the classrooms across our state from kindergarten through college will determine whether we are ready to compete and win in the race to provide high quality jobs.
Students, parents, teachers and those elected to serve in state and local government must realize what is at stake and provide the best for our children.
Those of us in elected office typically run in partisan races, and after the election we are asked to work together. That does not mean abandoning the principles that we hold. I was elected Governor as a Republican, and those principles are what guide me as I lead the state.
There are, however, also times when partisan barriers should be lowered, and that time is now in Tennessee as we shape our education reform agenda.
The one-year anniversary of Race to the Top, the federally funded program that will provide millions of dollars for school reform in Tennessee, is at the end of this month.
Nearly 14 months ago, bipartisan votes in the House and Senate quickly moved an education reform bill through the General Assembly and ushered in changes as to how teachers are evaluated and how the state addresses failing schools. That legislation put Tennessee in position to win the Race to the Top award.
Somewhere along the way since then, a partisan tone emerged. There will be disagreements as the details are worked out, but the issues that divide us cannot be allowed to sidetrack the education reform path that we are on.
Every discussion we have about education should always begin and end with what is best for the child in the classroom.
There is nothing that makes as much difference in a child’s academic progress as the teacher in the classroom, and we make sure the best are in the classroom by recognizing and rewarding them, implementing the right measuring tools and having the flexibility to award merit pay and grants for those who meet the assessment standards.
At the same time, I believe in local control. Our local school boards are in the best position to determine how to work with teachers in setting base pay and benefits.
Earlier this week, I hosted a roundtable discussion about education at the LEAD Academy in Nashville, a charter school. A student’s mother grabbed me by the arm after the event and said, “I don’t understand the politics of any of this. I’m just really glad my child gets to go to school here.”
It is time for a conversation about the future – our children and their education – and to set aside political misgivings and mistrust. That is what the people of Tennessee elected us to do.