The future of Tennessee lies with our children. And the future of our children is shaped significantly by our public schools and teachers.
I support increasing funding for and innovation in public schools as we continue to find ways to improve educational outcomes for all our students.
Increased Funding for Public Schools
We must fully and equitably fund our public schools and support our teachers to ensure that all kids, regardless of socio-economic background or ability, get the best education possible. We must make sure that our public school system lives up to the vision of Horace Mann, a pioneer of American public schools in the 19th century, that education be the “great equalizer” rather than a divider that advantages some while leaving others behind.
Bridging the Digital Divide
Innovation includes making sure that all students have electronic devices and internet connection to continue their education at home during unprecedented times such as these. We must reduce the digital divide now and going forward to ensure all students have equal access to online and digital learning opportunities. While closing the digital divide is especially important during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, in general, technology should be used to support and complement in-person instruction by a teacher, not replace it. The instruction and relationships that students build with teachers cannot be replicated by a computer.
Support for Community Schools and Magnet School Programs
Effective innovations like the Knox County Community Schools model leverage community involvement and resources to help address challenges some students, families, and communities face outside of school – such as hunger, violence, and poverty – in order to improve the students’ focus and performance in school. I support promotion and expansion of the Community Schools model where appropriate.
Magnet schools are another innovation that provides exciting educational options within our public school system. In fact, magnet school L&N STEM Academy in downtown Knoxville was ranked the 9th best high school in Tennessee by U.S. News & World Report for 2020, and in 2019, Beaumont Magnet Academy was recognized by the US Assistant Secretary of Education as one of the top exemplary schools across the nation. While magnet schools provide a unique and beneficial educational experience within the public school system, it is important that the administration of magnet school admissions and other policies are carried out in a way that ensures magnet schools are equally accessible to all students.
Oppose Vouchers and Charter Schools
Made in the name of innovation and choice, private school vouchers don’t live up to their hype. Vouchers rarely fund the full amount of private school tuition and private schools are not required to accept all students. As a result, the most vulnerable students get left behind, while the public schools that serve them are drained of much needed funding. This undermines the equalizing force of our public school systems and erodes the ability of our public schools to provide quality education for all students. I oppose vouchers and support repeal of the law authorizing Tennessee Education Savings Accounts.
Likewise, charter schools are not the right solution for Knox County. Too often in Tennessee, charter schools are used as a gateway to privatizing our public school systems. They lack sufficient voter and community oversight and often fail to equitably serve all students. They also compete on an un-level playing field with public schools, receiving exemptions from regulations and school board oversight that enable them to unfairly siphon students and funding from public schools that face stronger accountability and regulatory measures.
Expand Career and Technical Education Options
We should also continue to innovate in our traditional curriculum as well as long-standing educational programs such as career and technical education (CTE) to ensure that they evolve in step with our rapidly changing globalized economy and workforce needs. Expanding and promoting career and technical education at all grade levels is one of my top priorities, as it will be crucial to ensuring our students have the skills they need for jobs of the 21st century. Given my background working with manufacturing companies across Tennessee that often struggle to find workers trained in skills they need, I am prepared to advocate for CTE in the state legislature.
It is also important to ensure that CTE is promoted as an option for any interested students, and that it is not posed as an alternative to college or a track for under performing kids. CTE education and careers can be just as fulfilling and well-paying as college-track education and careers. It should be about expanding options for the students so they can find the educational and career path that best suits them.
Educate the Whole Child
While I strongly support CTE, I also believe in educating the whole child, and the arts, humanities, and physical education are crucial to doing that. Expanding options for all students to benefit from CTE should be done in a way that does not diminish the importance of these other areas of learning and personal growth. Our students need a broad range of knowledge to prepare for their personal and professional lives, including critical and creative thinking, problem solving, cultural competency, and more. Some students also need support navigating personal, emotional, and other challenges they face outside of school in order to get the most of their in-school experience. As a result, I support hiring more mental health professionals, guidance counselors, social workers, and nurses in our schools, especially as students, their families, and schools navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s work together – and innovate together – to ensure all our kids get the best education. They deserve it.