Education reform … working in Tennessee

Ron Ramsey

Ron Ramsey

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is now a featured author at FAB!  (OK, he just blasted out this e-mail, but what the heck.)

Boldness in Education Policy is the Only Answer
by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

When I first arrived in the state Senate in 1996, Republicans were in the minority. That fact didn’t bother me in the least. I’ve embraced challenges all my life. So when I got to the Senate, my primary goal was to build a conservative majority in the state Senate.

The guardians of the status quo had other ideas. Democrats, of course, pushed back against us. But even those on “my side” warned that talk of a GOP majority was “dangerous” and that I shouldn’t upset the apple cart.

It took a lot of hard work, but today we have not only a majority in the Senate but also a supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly.

Our road to a conservative majority comes to mind often when I am engaged in battles on education policy in Tennessee. The guardians of the status quo, it seems, are everywhere.

While our state is featured frequently at the top of various “best of” lists, there is one area in which Tennessee has historically lagged behind: education. We have ranked near the bottom of states by various different metrics. When Republicans finally got our majorities and captured the governor’s mansion, we moved quickly and deliberately to change that history. And we have.

We abolished the teachers union monopoly on collective bargaining so that teachers, not union representatives, have a voice and a seat at the table. We made test scores part of teacher evaluations so that our best teachers can be rewarded for their hard work. And parents now have more choices in education thanks to our expansion of the state’s charter school law. Most importantly, we have ended the tenure entitlement for teachers.

Results have been encouraging. Already, our schools have posted three consecutive years of gains on state assessments in all areas. Nearly 150,000 more students are proficient or advanced in elementary and middle school math and science than in 2010. And we are one of only two states making double-digit gains in high school graduation rates.

None of this could have been done without the outstanding education reform team we have in place. One member of that team has drawn the ire of the enemies of innovation and the defenders of the status quo.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has been under fire for advocating a new salary schedule for teachers which, for the first time, would reward our very best or highest-need teachers with truly competitive pay. No longer would low-performing teachers receive higher salaries and benefits just for punching a clock. To the old education establishment, this is a revolutionary concept. To most people, this is just common sense.

I find it amazing that just because Commissioner Huffman stands up to special interests to create a better Tennessee for our school children, he gets pilloried.

Opponents can claim that teacher pay will be cut, but the truth is just the opposite. Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly have added $130 million for teacher salaries over the past three years, compared with $22 million over Gov. Phil Bredesen’s last term.

Tennessee is changing the game when it comes to education — and change is not easy. The inertia of the status quo is strong. This “Race to the Top” is not a sprint; it is a marathon.

Fortunately, we Republicans are not immune to hard work. We thrive on it. I’m proud of our governor, our Republican legislators and especially our education commissioner for being willing to battle complacency and strive to do better.

This is about our children. It is about their future and the future of our great state. Boldness in education policy is not just one option among many. It is the only option.

Originally published in the July 20, 2013 edition of the Nashville Tennessean newspaper

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