It’s delicate to talk about another nation’s or state’s politics and decision-making as a foreigner. But I have found that people in the U.S. tend to be more open to strangers and potential citizens’ opinions about such matters than other countries. I have been here for five years and have studied here for four before that. I’m young, but I appreciate that I have somewhat of a voice. Perhaps it’s because of the relative youth of the nation. The easy movement of people--in this case I mean completely legal movement between states-- that give people a sense of belonging that doesn’t get threatened as easily as in older countries.
Having said what is hopefully an acknowledgement of respect for --and a desire to show love to -- Hamilton County, Tennessee, and the United States of America, as an immigrant from the UK, I also hope the readers of this comment will grant me the grace of being a sojourner in the lovely county, state, and country I find myself in. I hope for all of this while offering some criticism regarding the funding for public education in Hamilton County. Our schools need more funding.
I have worked at the national and international level in policy for elected representatives. After graduating high school as a missionary kid in Slovakia, I studied at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain. I live in Hamilton County. I went to public school in Austria and then later Slovakia. I came to Chattanooga to study at a private college, where I was offered -- before I arrived -- a very generous scholarship. After graduating I had the privilege of working for a year in the European Parliament for a member of Parliament who was elected to their seat from Northern Ireland. He was conservative. As was, and is, my politics broadly speaking.
Later I was asked to work for a member of Parliament at Westminster in London. Again for a conservative. I mention my political heritage here because what I will say later in this submission relates to my politics and the people I worked with in the past. In other words, I am not a paid-for mouth piece that tends to side with progressive/liberal voices because they are in vogue, or supported by funding from people who have those political leanings. I do love and often engage with people who have a different view from my own. Those friends know who I am and appreciate my willingness to interact. We have our disagreements, but we also work together towards the common good. Now is such a time.
The discussion about raising taxes to support public education in Hamilton County is a complicated one. Various positions have been heard. The School Board and the County Commission voted. The School Board voted for the increase in Hamilton County spending on public schools: supported and asked for by both the mayor and the school superintendent. The county commissioners voted against the budget raise by a margin of one vote. The decision is a tight one. I cannot question motive and will not. What I do want to add to the debate is an observation.
My middle and high school experience in Slovakia, which was in public school, and 17 years ago, makes me think that Hamilton County schooling is underfunded. While this statement comes anecdotally, I have seen the quality of some of the classrooms in our county. I have volunteered at middle schools and high schools and know that what my experience was like, in a post communist country 17 years ago, was sometimes better supported financially than the experience of students here in some of our Hamilton County schools. If you want to compete with Eastern European countries or even with states within the U.S., we all need to do better.
I cannot speak to the details of how the money raised through a tax increase would be spent in our county. But I trust the mayor and the school superintendent and the School Board to make those decisions well. Given that the vote for a tax increase was so close I would also trust our Commission to make the appropriate decision on broader details. After all, that's why we have them: to extend accountability. Democracy needs elected officials. But she needs them to do the right thing at the right time. Thankfully, taxation in the U.S. comes with representation, as we have recently observed.
Speaking as a political conservative and as somebody who has come through the dying days of a socialist school system, I can say with no regret that I would support a tax increase of what would amount to about $16 a month for our household in order to help the public school system in Hamilton County.
As somebody else has said, and because I am a deacon in a conservative Anglican Church, I wholeheartedly agree with the statement: “budgets are moral documents.” We need to increase the budget of our public school system. We need to work together, whether as individuals, families, businesses, churches or other intermediary institutions, to help the students -- our children -- succeed. Money is one of the ways we will be able to help them. Lets not capitulate on this issue. The children need our support. As a political conservative, as a conservative Christian and as somebody who has seen the state of our schools, we need to increase public school funding.
The cynics will say the public school system cannot be saved. Please think again. They can. Money will help.
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“I cannot speak to the details of how the money raised through a tax increase would be spent in our county. But I trust the mayor and the school superintendent and the School Board to make those decisions well.“
I don’t know what “conservative” means in Europe, but in Tennessee it certainly doesn’t involve blind trust and blank checks. Money without accountability got us into exactly the pickle we’re in now: near the top in spending but near the bottom in achievement.