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Karl has pledged to make public education his top priority as governor. He made the same commitment as Mayor of Nashville and fulfilled it through every operating and capital budget he proposed. During his eight years in the mayor’s office, he worked with the Metro Council to increase funding for Nashville schools by an astounding 37 percent and invested $629 million in school buildings and other capital infrastructure for the school district. The graduation rate increased, the dropout rate went down and test scores improved.
As governor, Karl will do the same for the state. He will make education a funding priority every year he is in office with specific emphasis on:
While Karl believes in school choice, he opposes the use of for-profit charter schools and vouchers. Private school vouchers would allow taxpayer dollars to fund private schools, taking money directly away from Tennessee public schools. And while many nonprofit charters are among the highest performing schools in the urban school districts of Memphis and Nashville, Karl believes charters with a profit motive can’t focus on doing what’s best for their students. Karl believes nonprofit charter schools have a role to play in large urban districts, but they’re not a silver bullet. However, he believes rural areas do not have large enough student populations for charter schools to be an effective tool.
Karl knows that education is closely linked to economic opportunity – for individuals and communities. When young people are prepared to successfully go on to college and career, the communities in which they live and the state as a whole is positioned to see economic opportunity expand. And it all starts by giving children the high-quality public education they need and deserve.
Research shows that the quality of a teacher in the classroom has the greatest impact on student learning over any other school-level factor; salaries play an important role in recruiting and retaining quality teachers. The average teacher salary in Tennessee is nearly $10,000 less than average teacher pay nationwide. Karl knows that teacher pay in Tennessee has to be competitive with other states and other fields of work in order to attract the best and the brightest to teach our children.
Karl worked with the Nashville Board of Education and school district leadership to fund a significant raise in teacher pay while Mayor of Nashville. Tennessee has made some gains in recent years with increasing teacher pay, but not all teachers have benefited from it. Some districts choose to use the funding to hire additional teachers instead of raise pay. Having enough teachers and paying them well is a choice no community should have to make. As governor, Karl will work to ensure all school districts get the resources they need to hire great teachers in every classroom.
An ongoing study by Vanderbilt University on Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program has highlighted that simply offering pre-K is not enough. Programs must be high quality and provide age-appropriate instruction. Tennessee has responded by developing pre-K quality standards with greater emphasis on things like professional development for pre-K teachers and engaging families to support student learning. Karl supports this shift in approach.
He also recognizes that Tennessee’s pre-K program isn’t meeting demand despite its growth over the last two decades. Many school districts receive interest from more pre-K applicants than they can accommodate. As governor, Karl will work to increase access to pre-K and further ensure all state-funded pre-K programs are high quality.
From his time as a public defender, Karl knows firsthand the importance of providing support for students outside of school time, especially for low-income families. Unsupervised time right after school puts children at greater risk of being involved in juvenile crime and becoming victims of crime. Access to affordable, high-quality afterschool programs also helps parents stay employed, and it helps their children do better in school.
President Trump’s budget threatens to eliminate federal funding for afterschool programs, which would negatively impact over 22,000 students in more than 550 communities across Tennessee. The risk of losing federal dollars makes state and local funding for afterschool programs that much more important. As Mayor of Nashville, Karl created a public-private partnership with nonprofits and foundations to provide free afterschool programs for middle school students most in need. As governor, he will use the same practical solutions to benefit our state.