Senate Democrats Discuss Education Options

Thursday, February 17, 2005 - by Andy Spears, Senate Democratic Press Secretary

NASHVILLE -- On the heels of a national study which ranked Tennessee’s high school graduation rate of 57% one of the worst in the nation at 48th, Senate Democrats discussed possible options for improving the state’s schools.

“The numbers in this study are disappointing and unacceptable,” said Senator Don McLeary of Jackson, who serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Education should be a top priority of state government. There is no time to waste in finding ways to improve our schools.”

The study was conducted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. In addition to ranking Tennessee 48th in high school graduation rates, the study noted that Tennessee had one of the biggest declines in graduation rates since 1991. In 1991, the graduation rate in Tennessee was 69%, 12 points higher than the current level of 57%. Additionally, Tennessee’s rate is 14 points lower than the national average of 71%.

One long-term solution to the problem of low graduation rates is an expansion of pre-kindergarten education programs. Democratic Senators noted that numerous studies indicate that students who have completed pre-k programs are more likely to graduate from high school, complete college and find a stable, good paying job. While the impact of pre-k won’t be fully felt for years to come, expanding the program certainly would lay the groundwork for a stronger educational system.

“The Governor has proposed spending $25 million on pre-k in this year’s budget,” Sen. McLeary said. “We already know the pilot program is showing good results. With a new commitment to pre-k, we can expand the program on a voluntary basis and give more children the fair start they need.”

Democrats also noted that for too long, a lack of viable options after high school has fostered a lack of hope among students. Tuition rates have increased at nearly 10% a year for the last four to five years. Additionally, especially in rural areas, a lack of good jobs means students sometimes feel there is no reason to earn a high school diploma.

“We’ve got to get the message out to students that there are options after high school,” Sen. McLeary said. “We have too many students suffering from a lack of hope. When four out of ten ninth graders are not finishing high school, we’ve got a huge problem.

Sen. McLeary said that the lottery scholarships were one step in the right direction.
“When we enacted the lottery scholarships, we took a bold step in the right direction,” Sen. McLeary said. “Now, students have a positive incentive to stay in school and earn good grades. They know that a college education is within reach if they simply stay on track.
The next part of this equation is slowing the rate of tuition increases. We need to make a commitment to improving our state colleges and universities. Again, this year, we should be taking a step in that direction with a commitment of $127 million in capital maintenance and construction.”

Attracting and retaining jobs is the next part of improving education in Tennessee. Democrats made the case that there is a strong link between education and jobs that runs both ways.

“We’ve got to be sure that students in school know that there are jobs out there for them when they graduate,” Sen. McLeary said. “If they see a lack of opportunity after high school, they will see little incentive to stay in school. What this means is we must continue to do all we can to attract and retain good jobs in our state. Tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and just plain good salesmanship are the keys to a successful jobs agenda.

Sen. McLeary said he looks forward to more dialogue about both programs and noted that a renewed commitment to public education is long overdue.

“It’s about time for Tennessee to be getting serious about education,” Sen. McLeary said. “We have the opportunity to make a long-term commitment to education that will make a difference not only in graduation rates but also in a better quality of life for all Tennesseans.”


Gestamp To Host Manufacturing Week Event In Chattanooga

TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd will visit Gestamp on Tuesday as part of Manufacturing Week. Commissioner Boyd will hear from students involved with Gestamp’s work-based learning programs as well as Hamilton County and Cleveland city high school students enrolled in robotics-certification classes.  Gestamp Chattanooga 3 (Chassis) is at 4120 Jersey Pike. (click for more)

Lee’s Fall Convocation To Begin Sunday

Lee University students, faculty, and staff will soon come together for a time of personal reflection and spiritual growth during this semester’s Convocation. The seven-service event will take place over a period of four days. President Paul Conn will open the series Sunday, Oct. 2.  “I always enjoy Convocation week each semester,” said Dr. Jimmy Harper, Lee’s campus pastor. ... (click for more)

Naked Man Involved In Collision On Highway 111 Taken Into Custody

A naked man who was involved in a wreck on Highway 111 late Friday morning is facing numerous charges. At approximately 11:40 a.m., Hamilton County Sheriff deputies started to receive numerous reports that a vehicle was driving erratically on U.S. Highway 111 and that the driver was stopping his vehicle and at one point got out of his vehicle in a naked state. According to ... (click for more)

City Council Incumbents Anderson, Gilbert, Freeman, Hakeem Pick Up Papers Seeking Re-Election

Four City Council incumbents have picked up papers for the March 7 city election. The latest getting qualifying petitions are Russell Gilbert in District 5, Chris Anderson in District 7 and Yusuf Hakeem in District 9. Moses Freeman in District 8 picked up earlier. Anthony Byrd is a possible challenger. Former District 7 Councilman Manny Rico has already qualified. Others ... (click for more)

Chattanooga's Citizens Are The Best

Today, when I finished my shift, my wife and I had a rare kid-free time where she and I could enjoy a nice quiet dinner. So, when I left my extra job and she left her job, we met at a neat local place in St. Elmo. She and I had been looking forward to and planning this dinner all day. You see, between my work with the city of Chattanooga, my many hours of extra jobs, and our responsibilities ... (click for more)

My Garden In October

Just when you thought the weather would never break, the heat was on low this morning as Tide and I stepped from the house to study our October garden. Falling leaves and the dog’s dirty tennis balls aside, let’s praise the Lord that, as a new month dawns, we are still blessed with orchids and onions galore. The dog asks that I include the fact October is National Pet Adoption month ... (click for more)