While funding remains in question, members of Hamilton County's state legislative delegation say they're committed to moving forward with improvements to public education.
Legislators, school board members and county and city officials met with parents Wednesday morning at Hixson Middle School for a forum hosted by the Hamilton County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.
Most of the conversation was shaped by questions from area parents, who wondered about test scores, funding and parent involvement in local schools.
Officials all assured parents of their commitment to public education.
"There has been a real concerted effort to address the educational deficiencies we have in the state of Tennessee," said Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.
He pointed to legislation in the spring that made it more difficult to get teacher tenure and that also changed how teachers are evaluated.
With the reform efforts, Watson said the state has set an immediate goal of becoming the highest-performing state in the Southeast.
"Tennessee is seen by every other state in the country as leading the way in education," he said.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said more than 60 percent of the county's budget is spent on education.
The county is asking for full funding of the state's Basic Education Program, Tennessee's funding formula for local school systems. But Coppinger said leaders here realize the tough position the General Assembly is in because of the poor economy.
"I want to be sure we don't beat up on our state delegation, because they are doing what they can on that," Coppinger said.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, agreed with one parent who said parental involvement is a key to school success. But he noted there's no real way to mandate that all parents are active in their children's schools.
"Can you legislate parent involvement?" he said. "That's what the school board here deals with. That's what we deal with."
Though the BEP is still underfunded, Berke noted the state has increased education money.
"We've been reducing funding for all our services, with the exception of education," he said. "We are increasing funding for education."
Local officials said there was no immediate plan to open a new vocational high school here, but school board members Rhonda Thurman and David Testerman said they're supportive of vocational programs such as those at Sequoyah High School and East Ridge High School.
"I know you can make a living with your hands," said Thurman, who works as a hair stylist. "Not everybody needs to go to college."