Four main GOP candidates are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Bill Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.
The Republican nominee will be chosen on Aug. 2, with early voting July 13-28. The winner will square off Nov. 6 against the candidate picked by Democratic voters.
Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they want an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.
We asked the candidates about their own educational experiences and choices, how they would address the state’s troubled testing program, how to expand pre-K progams for Tennessee’s poorest children, and more.
Below, find their answers, which have been lightly edited for grammar, style, and length. You can sort by candidate.
Also, read the responses of Democratic candidates here.
About the Candidates
Diane Black, 67, has been a U.S. representative since 2011 from Tennessee’s 6th congressional district, comprised of 19 counties across Middle Tennessee. She was a member of Tennessee’s Legislature from 1999 to 2010, serving in both chambers. A registered nurse, she has an associate’s degree from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland and a bachelor’s degree from Belmont University. She and her husband, David, have three children and three grandchildren.
Randy Boyd, 58, served for two-plus years as Gov. Bill Haslam’s commissioner of economic and community development. He is founder and chairman of Knoxville-based Radio Systems Corp., which has 700 employees and more than $400 million in annual revenues. Its brands include Invisible Fence and two minor league baseball teams. Boyd has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee. He and his wife, Jenny, have two sons.
Beth Harwell, 60, is the first woman elected speaker of Tennessee’s House of Representatives. A former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, she has served in the Legislature since 1988 representing Nashville and Davidson County. She also taught political science at Belmont University. Harwell received her bachelor’s degree from David Lipscomb University, her master’s from George Peabody College, and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt. She and her husband, Sam, have three children.
Bill Lee, 58, is president of Franklin-based Lee Co., a $250 million home services business with more than 1,200 employees, and is active in Triple L Ranch, a fourth-generation family cattle farm, both founded by his grandparents. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University and served on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the board of trustees at Belmont University. He and his wife, Maria, have three children and five grandchildren.
Tell us about the kinds of schools you went to, what school was like for you, and how that influences your education policy today.
Much of my thinking about education comes from my experience in public high school. My parents didn’t have more than a ninth-grade education. I spent the first years of my life in public housing. One of my most vivid memories is when a classmate told me I lived on “the other side” of the railroad tracks. I never thought college was an option, but a high school guidance counselor saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I went on to community college and became a nurse. The most important part of an education isn’t just getting a high test score; it’s about learning about yourself and what you want to do with the rest of your life. My education policy focuses on having thoughtful, high-quality educators in schools to mentor our kids and open their eyes to possibilities, regardless of what side of the tracks they live on.
I started at Head Start in Knoxville and went to public schools in South Knoxville, where I had many inspirational teachers. At Doyle High School, we were offered “shop” or vocational education that provided pathways to an economically and academically diverse class. I was active in Boy Scouts and sports, lettering in five sports. I graduated high school at 16 and the University of Tennessee at 19, having paid my way through by working two 12-hour shifts each weekend running injection machines. I often think I learned as much working my way through school as I did in school. Today, I want to ensure all students have the opportunity to have a great public education, an opportunity for quality and effective pre-K like I did, apprenticeship and other work opportunities, and multiple paths to success like vocational education.
I went to public schools from kindergarten through high school. My parents always taught us to make our education a priority, and they led by example. They made sure all of their children understood that a good education can lead to a better, more prosperous life. I also always enjoyed school, especially reading. For college, I attended Lipscomb University and thrived there. I was very young when I went to college, so being in a small, tight-knit community was something I appreciated.
I attended public schools in Fairview, a rural community near Fernvale, where I still live today. I entered junior high school just a few years after integration of our school system. Those circumstances gave me a keen awareness of the serious achievement gaps in our system, which are leaving behind students in our rural communities and inner cities. To me, the primary causes have been a reliance on big-government, top-down “fixes” to education. Whether it was the massive push away from vocational education to college-prep in our rural areas, or the unabated growth of central-office bureaucracies in the inner city, we have failed to serve the needs of children in these communities. Closing the gap will require fresh ideas, and while some may be controversial, I’m less afraid of change than I am of doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results.
When it came time to choose schools for your own children, did you choose private schools? Public schools? District-run? Charter? And why?
My children attended public schools, and one attended a private school for a time to work on a learning disability. Each child was unique and thrived in different learning environments. I chose what I thought was best for each of them, just as any parent would.
I believe there are great quality schools whether public, private, or charter. My first son began in public school, moved to a private school for a few years which wasn’t a good fit, and then moved back to public schools. My youngest son attended the same private school from kindergarten to 12th grade. In each case, we wanted to find the school that provided the best environment. Having the freedom to choose was important to my family and is a freedom we would want to ensure for others in Tennessee.
Our children attended private schools for K-12. However, they did not all attend the same schools. Each of my children learned differently, and had different strengths, so we were fortunate to be able to send them to the school that was the best fit. Two of my children chose public universities, and my youngest—who is just heading off to college in August—chose a small private university.
We exercised different choices at different times for our children’s education. We sent them to public school, private school, and we even home-schooled them for a time. As a family, we made individualized assessments of our children’s needs, and we did the best we could to meet them. I think that’s what every parent tries to do, and we should support the ability of parents to make those decisions.
If you could make one change to improve K-12 education in Tennessee, what would it be and why?
We should bring back aptitude tests and help every student determine their God-given skills. By matching results with interests, we can help students understand and know what careers are available for someone of their talents. It doesn’t help a student to finish school and spend money on college without knowing what field they want to pursue.
It would be the historic investment we are going to make in career and technical education. We will work with TCATs and community colleges to offer a grant program much like the LEAP and Drive to 55 Capacity Building Grants to create satellite campuses on high schools. We will make dual enrollment free and unlimited. The result will be that every student will have the opportunity to graduate from high school with a diploma and a certificate or degree in a job-ready skill. Other priorities in my administration would be quality and effective pre-K, piloting more full-service community schools, providing more career path counseling in middle school, rewarding our superstar teachers like superstars, making Tennessee the best place in the Southeast to be a teacher, and creating great principal leaders are all top priorities.
I would work to close achievement gaps. This is something we talk about a lot in the legislature, and I don’t believe it’s talked about enough in the mainstream. We have made great gains in Tennessee, but we need to make sure that every child is learning and thriving. As I said with my own family’s experience, children learn differently, so we need to work toward making sure we are meeting those needs and that all students are mastering the material.
I’d push back on the idea that any one single change could fix K-12 education. I think every parent and teacher is tired of politicians claiming that they and only they have the one solution to solve our education problems. The reality is we have a lot of complex issues in education that require different solutions. For instance, our teachers are undervalued, both in salary and in the work environment we provide for them. The next governor should lift up the teaching profession with competitive compensation, meaningful opportunities for professional development, and more freedom to teach. As a businessman, I know our workforce problems are really an education problem. We need new solutions for vocational, technical, and agricultural education and maintain fiscal responsibility at the same time. At my company, we responded by building our own trade school. We have countless companies across our state who have capacity to help, and we should be pushing for those private-sector partnerships that make industry part of the solution, rather than just the beneficiary.
For 16 years and through two administrations, Tennessee has had the same general blueprint for improving education by 1) raising academic standards, 2) adopting an aligned test to measure student progress, and 3) using the results to hold students, teachers, schools, and districts accountable. In your administration, would you stay the course? Why or why not?
Tennessee has made tremendous strides in recent years, but it’s time for a shift in perspective and, with that, a shift in priorities. For too long, our state has focused on the four-year college experience, often at the expense of career and technical education. My administration will prioritize investment in career and technical education.
We need to stay they course, improve where we see results, abandon what’s not working, and look to innovate along the way. We get better by having high expectations that are articulated clearly and fairly to students, teachers, and parents. Tennessee standards must be aligned to getting students prepared for college and a great career. Though there has been a failure in the implementation of TNReady, the aligned test itself is necessary and helpful to the student, teacher, and parent. We must get the implementation of the test right, but we need an aligned test. Finally, just like in business, we must have accountability at every level. Let’s be clear what we are asking of students, teachers, principals, and directors of schools; give them the autonomy and proper support to do the job; and hold each other accountable in fair and transparent ways.
We need to stay the course by maintaining our higher standards, and using that data to make determinations about where work is needed. The tests certainly need to be aligned, but we’ve struggled to deliver a reliable test and testing method for a few years now. This is something on which I would focus, in addition to perhaps reducing the number of tests our kids take. I hear over and over from teachers, administrators, and parents that there is too much testing. And although much of this can be at the local level, we need to communicate with local school districts about this so that we are not over-burdening teachers and students.
This general blueprint can be condensed even more generally to: “Have high standards and work to achieve them.” We use the same blueprint in business. Everyone can agree on high standards; it’s what those standards are and how you get there that is really the question. For me, testing is a tool. But if you get the metric wrong or you confuse the measurement for the goal, we can lose sight of the real objective: Raising up successful adults. I think we can push for high standards while reducing the testing burden and focusing on a testing protocol that is more meaningful to our teachers and parents.
The state and its testing companies have struggled to administer TNReady effectively, exasperating school communities and prompting emergency state laws that made this year’s scores inconsequential. Would you work to fix TNReady, or start over? How central to accountability systems would standardized testing be under your administration?
TNReady is failing our kids. We test too much, the testing we have doesn’t work, and it is unfair to hold our teachers accountable for the shortcomings of the system. For too long, we’ve taken a top-down, government-driven view of education with a substantial increase in testing. Unfortunately, the failures of TNReady have eroded the trust between parents, students, and districts and the state Education Department. We need to measure academic progress, but we must have a reliable testing instrument. We need to reestablish trust.
If the scoreboard is broken, you fix the scoreboard; you don’t quit keeping score. Though there has been a failure in the implementation of TNReady, the aligned test itself is necessary and helpful to the student, teacher, and parent. Let’s make sure we separate these two issues. We need to get the implementation of the test right, but we need an aligned test. Having a reliable, consistent, meaningful, and straightforward test allows us to intervene swiftly, make teacher placement and compensation decisions, reallocate resources, inform parents with more accuracy, support teachers with valuable professional development, and be more targeted in our strategies.
We absolutely must work to fix these issues. I don’t think the problem is the content; it’s the delivery system. That needs to be evaluated, and I was pleased when Gov. Haslam and Commissioner McQueen recently announced they would issue a request for new vendors to submit proposals. We need to get this right because having the data is important, and there does need to be accountability — provided the test is working and the process is fair.
I’d ask my education commissioner to lead an open and transparent dialogue about how we define our goals in education and ensure we have the proper tools in place to get us there. If nearly two-thirds of teachers don’t believe the test helps them improve educational outcomes, then we need to have a conversation around what it is we really want to achieve in education. If the current assessment process isn’t meeting that goal, then let’s make a change. I don’t think anyone thinks “no testing” is the answer, but we can certainly streamline those tests and make them more meaningful for students, teachers, and parents.
Much of the frustration over TNReady has been the state’s bumpy transition to computerized testing, and the state has again reset its timeline for that switch. Should Tennessee forge ahead with online exams, or revert to paper?
As governor, I will ask my commissioner of education to lead a thorough review of our online testing platform with input from teachers, parents, and students about what works and what doesn’t. I want to hear from every district if they have the capability of taking the test online and if they are comfortable doing so.
I’d like to keep moving in the direction of online testing if there is growing confidence in the technology and the delivery. As governor, I’d want to do a top-to-bottom review on the current testing situation, including what critical decisions were made along the way to find out where and how the failures occurred. The advantages to administering the test online should not outweigh the potential for practical problems at the school level. We have to be perfect.
I think the right decision was made recently to move elementary students back to paper and pencil, while still having older students take the test mostly online. Online exams are prevalent across the country, and we do need to move in that direction. But we do not need to do it until we are absolutely certain widespread failures won’t occur as they have in the past.
Ultimately, we’re talking about measuring a child based on a few days of exams. If we can’t have confidence in the administration and grading, then people will lose confidence in the assessment itself. We need to take some serious steps to address the issues in our testing administration and focus on rebuilding trust with parents and teachers.
Of all of the state’s strategies aimed at improvement, incorporating student growth scores in teacher evaluations has been among the most controversial. Would you stick with that plan? Why or why not?
We need a way to know how effective teachers are, but we can’t base that evaluation off a flawed system. Factoring in the results of TNReady after days of failure during the time reserved for testing is unfair, and I believe our General Assembly made the right call in adjusting the amount student growth factored into teacher evaluations this year. But instead of scrambling to adjust the formula every year after tests fail, we need to find a new method.
Yes. We need to make sure our teacher evaluation system is fair, transparent, meaningful, and productive. Any evaluation system’s first priority should be to articulate specifically to the individual teacher how to improve his/her craft. Great teaching is about improving, supporting, and growing students over the course of the year. Fair and effective evaluation, including student growth measures, can show whether and where teachers are moving students forward. But a good teacher evaluation system should rely on multiple measures, not just one component such as student growth scores.
If we expect our students to be accountable for their performance, I think it’s important that we also hold our teachers accountable. With that being said, I believe we must have a testing system in place that is reliable before we allow those scores to affect a teacher’s evaluation. If we can’t trust that the test is working properly, then it is unfair to use that to measure our teachers.
I’m in a business where we create very detailed construction plans ahead of time. Sometimes in the middle of the project, we’ll find that implementation is going to be more challenging than planned, but we make adjustments to serve the client. As the testing protocol has failed, we’ve made adjustments to hold teachers harmless. We now have an opportunity in this period of transition to look back at what we’ve learned and see how we do better in using student growth to actually help our teachers learn and improve. The point of measuring student growth isn’t to create a scoreboard for teachers. It’s to give our teachers the tools to see where they can grow. I’d like to see student growth scores rolled into a more cooperative model of peer coaching and professional development, and use it in a way that helps our teachers come back stronger every year.
The state is being sued by a handful of districts over the adequacy of school funding through the formula known as the Basic Education Program, or BEP. Does Tennessee need to spend more money on K-12 education? Why or why not? If the answer is yes, where would you get the money?
I think our state needs to make sure the money we are spending is going to the right places before we commit to more funding. As governor, I will reevaluate our BEP formula and see where more investment is needed.
We have an antiquated and arcane funding formula that is over 25 years old. We need to design a funding approach for the next century that reflects our modern needs for students in Tennessee, e.g. special education, facilities, charter schools, priority schools, dual enrollment, technical training, and workforce apprenticeship opportunities. Education = Jobs, and education is a top priority for me. If more resources are needed to continue our improvement trajectory to be the smartest state in the South, I am confident that we can find a way to re-purpose, cut in other areas, or look for innovative public private partnerships. I will work to find a way to make sure we have a funding approach that is modern, effective, efficient, and student-centered.
We have increased education funding more than ever before over the last eight years I’ve been Speaker of the House. We’ve invested in our students and teachers, and it has paid off, as evidenced by the gains we’ve made. As governor, I would evaluate the needs in education year by year, and if additional funding is needed to achieve something, I would budget for it.
We need to be smart with how we use the dollars we have, and we have to make sure they are being spent effectively. I’ve managed a quarter-billion-dollar budget in a low-margin business, while also being named the best place to work in Middle Tennessee. The key is prioritizing your “needs’ before your “wants.” Like any government body, education is susceptible to wasteful spending. I’ve called for the creation of a new inspector general to proactively seek out waste and abuse in the system. I’ll push for more transparency around education funding, identify “use-it or lose-it” spending requirements that drive waste, and ensure that funding for education is spent exclusively on education.
Should Tennessee expand school choice further or do more to restrict it — and how would either be accomplished? Should Tennessee use public money for private school vouchers? Should any new restrictions or rules be placed on charter schools?
When it comes to education, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We should give parents more opportunities to choose the best education options for their children. Several states have had a positive experience with voucher programs, and I am open to that conversation. But school choice debates in the legislature won’t interfere with my K-12 education goals: 1) provide a safe learning environment for all students; 2) prepare teachers and support them in the classroom; 3) measure progress with a reliable, consistent testing regimen.
My priority will be on making sure we identify proven, high-quality charter and choice options like vouchers and expand and scale wherever the demand exists. The real question is where does quality and proven excellence exist? Let’s replicate and grow what works, and let’s quickly shut down what isn’t working for our kids. I want us all to make an effort to sincerely discuss what is in the best interest of all children in terms of teaching and learning. It’s time for the adults to stop arguing about the school label and focus on great practices.
There hasn’t yet been a proposal that seemed to be right for Tennessee that can win the support of the legislature. I think Tennessee is in a good place right now on this issue. We have successful public charters operating, we’ve expanded homeschool rights, and we’ve improved our traditional K-12 public schools. We just need to stay the course on working to improve what we have now.
I don’t think it’s the type of school or who owns the building that matters. What matters is whether or not it’s a quality school. When parents have the freedom to choose, not only is their child’s trajectory improved, but the introduction of choice and competition raises the bar for everyone. We have choices in every other aspect of our lives, and Tennessee families deserve choice in education too. Our vision for education should be inclusive of high-quality charter schools and innovative Education Savings Accounts which help parents customize their child’s education.
Research indicates the importance of educating and socializing children at a young age, even from infancy. How should Tennessee make preschool more accessible to children in poor families?
The best teacher is a parent. Much of the research surrounding pre-K has shown it to be ineffective. Spending more money on a program that isn’t proven is a waste, and our kids would be better served if that money went to paying our K-12 teachers more right now. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options available for low-income families. For example, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends an age-appropriate book to all registered children once a month, at no cost to the family.
We have a voluntary pre-K program in Tennessee that prioritizes at-risk students, but there have been some questions around its quality and outcomes. The brain research is clear that the early years are important to academic development and learning. As governor, I would like to place an emphasis on defining and proving quality in the voluntary program, scaling what works, and making sure pre-K programs are connected to strong early literacy strategies. I would continue the prioritization of at-risk and poor children.
Our current voluntary pre-K program enrolls children who come from low-income families first before considering any other families that apply for a spot, and the federally funded Head Start program is only available to families who fall under federal poverty guidelines. There are limited spots available, so we do have room to improve, but my focus would be on making sure that our K-12 funding needs are all met before expanding the preschool programs we have in place. If there is funding available to expand those programs, I would want to make sure that our pre-K program is high quality and is seeking to close achievement gaps in elementary school.
Early childhood is such a critical period for a child’s development and we’ve seen that high-quality Pre-K can work. The issue has been delivering that quality. Currently, Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program costs nearly $100 million annually, but recent reports find that we only meet five of 10 benchmarks for quality. Inconsistent quality is one of the reasons cited in studies for why the growth from Pre-K can fade by third grade. Before we can have a conversation around expanding this program, I believe we owe it to taxpayers and parents to focus first on how we can improve quality to ensure that any gains are sustainable. That begins by working with our state universities and colleges of education to ensure they are driving quality training for early childhood educators, while at the same time working with local education agencies to set goals for improvement, and identify best practices across the state.
It’s been five years since the state launched its Achievement School District to turn around low-performing schools. But the district hasn’t moved the needle on student achievement. In fact, a recent Vanderbilt study says ASD schools don’t perform any better than low-performing schools that have not had any interventions. What is your position on the ASD? Should it be changed, expanded, or cease to exist? Explain.
If the ASD isn’t working, it’s time we move on because kids in low-performing schools deserve better. We need to look at where reform efforts have been successful, such as the Innovation Zone in Memphis. There, iZone schools have outperformed ASD schools, showing just how important a team approach and strong leadership are to effective intervention. We can’t give up on our low-performing schools. The state should be a partner and work with the district and individual leadership at every school to make custom intervention plans with the state’s support in implementation.
As governor, I’d like the opportunity to immediately launch an internal assessment of all matters relating to ASD operations. I believe in local school control as a fundamental philosophy, but there are circumstances, guided by statute and policy, where the state must step in and intervene. We need to learn from the ASD experience and think about the most effective ways to create a state-level accountability strategy; that is a critical part of any turnaround school work. I am committed to finding the right solution. One thing we have learned in recent years is that turning around schools is hard work. It takes time and the challenges are huge and pervasive. I believe we can apply principles of the community schools concept like we’ve done in Knoxville, making the school the hub of the community to address many of these problems.
It was recently announced that there are changes underway at the ASD, which are long overdue. I agree that there are problems that need to be corrected immediately. If changes don’t yield results, then we need to look for a solution that will. Our students are too important to continue failing them.
We’ve already seen some pretty big shifts in how the state administers the Achievement School District, so change is already happening. Looking forward, I’m hopeful we can work with the operators and school districts in Memphis and Nashville to create a space for innovation and new ideas. The Shelby County I-Zone is trying new ideas that are working and informing the ASD, and these shifts probably would not have happened in the absence of the ASD in the first place. Similar reforms are already informing a new and much-needed effort in Hamilton County. Whether we call it the ASD or a Partnership Network, or however we move forward in crafting a cooperative solution, we have to maintain a focus on supporting LEAs to take decisive action in chronically low-performing schools. Allowing the system to continue to fail students is not an option.
The future of work is changing quickly, and schools are challenged to keep up to equip students for the workforce. What is your plan for making sure that Tennessee’s students will be prepared for jobs of the future?
We need a new education focus that expands and embraces career and technical education and gives every new high school graduate the opportunity to do what they want with their God-given talent. As governor, I would work to recruit businesses to rural communities, offering a pipeline from school to work based on the needs local industry. I will incorporate community college and TCAT curriculum into the high school years so students who want to go to work can start their career and those who want to go to college can have an advantage when they get there. I propose a dual tract diploma system that allows seniors to graduate with a credential or certificate so they can enter a trade immediately upon graduating. I will also reform the dual enrollment and AP policies to allow students to take more classes for college credit sooner. Our students should not be penalized for wanting to get ahead.
As the architect of the Drive to 55 and Tennessee Promise, that’s what we asked: How do we ensure that our children are prepared for the jobs of the future? We identified the percentage of Tennesseans who would need some kind of postsecondary credential by 2025. During that time, we were only at 32% and we set the goal to hit 55% — known as the Drive to 55. We are now one of the only states that can commit to every Tennessean that they can attend a technical or community college free of charge, without new or increased taxes. As governor, I want to make sure we deliver on this Tennessee Promise, seeing that every child and family in Tennessee understands there are no more financial barriers to college and that getting a job-ready credential beyond high school is the first step in creating a better future.
First and foremost, literacy is so important and we still are failing some students in this area. Ensuring children can read is one of the most important things that determines their future academic success. Second, we need to promote those areas of study that will help students get the jobs of tomorrow. We have some excellent STEM programs across the state, and we should try to replicate those in other schools.
For a lot of candidates, vocational education is a talking point. But for the last 35 years, it’s been my life. I run a company with 1,200 employees, mostly skilled craftsmen, many of whom don’t have a degree, but still have an amazing career in the trades. Ten years ago, what we found is that even though we were one of the best places to work in Tennessee, we couldn’t fill the jobs we had. To address it, we built our own trade school, helping over 1,000 men and women advance their careers. We have a long list of private sector partners who are ready to partner with our schools for apprenticeships, instructor training, or curriculum design, but they need a shared vision and a willing partner on the other side. As governor, I’d bring the private sector together with school leaders across the state and start a fresh dialogue on how to more effectively partner with the business community in developing a skilled workforce.
Tennessee’s children are the heaviest in the nation, according to a recent scorecard by the The Commonwealth Fund. How would you attack this public health crisis, including how you would get schools to help?
Last year, Tennessee ranked as the nation’s sixth most obese state, and it should come as no surprise that our children are following in our footsteps. Schools play a role in providing healthy lunches, nutritional components to health classes, and opportunities to exercise in physical education classes. As governor, I will make sure schools are offering children the best foundation possible for healthy lifestyles. But ultimately, parents are responsible for their children. Parents must teach their kids how to make healthy choices, eat balanced meals, and take care of their bodies.
I am a firm believer that physical health is an important part of learning and growing as a child. Education is about growing and exploring, intellectually and physically. We must be committed to finding the way for schools to provide the backbone for meaningful and relevant health education and physical education. The real challenge will be connecting health and physical education at school to the students’ outside world. I believe we have the public and private will, resources, and creative minds to find these solutions. We also have to look at the connection between physical health and mental health. About 31% of our high school seniors self-report they are depressed or very sad. If they are, the likelihood they’re physically healthy is low. Providing more mental health counselors for our youth is one of the ways I believe we can address health as a whole.
We must make sure we are starting young and working to increase awareness about these issues among our students. There are ample opportunities in our schools to educate our kids about nutrition, healthy habits, regular activity, and exercise. Often, what is taught to our children in school comes home to the parents as well. I think we need to make sure our schools have adequate funding for nurses, who can make sure that kids are learning healthy habits and nutrition plans. The legislature enacted a new law last year to give more control back to the local districts on how to structure recess and physical activity in their schools. There hasn’t been enough time yet to gauge the effectiveness of that change, but our next governor will need to make sure that students are getting enough activity throughout the school day.
The obesity rate has grown at an alarming rate in the past 30 years. As governor, I’d seek out smarter engagement in the health system rather than a top-down, government-first approach. Throughout this campaign, I have talked about the need to engage more in public-private partnerships with the faith-based and nonprofit communities, because in many cases, they are already addressing community needs like this. I chaired the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, which has been a leader in wellness education for adults and children. Supporting local schools in developing new community partnerships with health-minded organizations like the YMCA can have a much more effective impact in health outcomes than simply passing a new unfunded government mandate. In Tennessee, we have an amazing natural resource in the form of our nonprofit and faith community partners. Working with them more effectively is a great place to start improving health in our state.
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