There are 40,000 students in Hamilton County public schools who are counting on you today.
Today is the most important day of the year for parents, teachers and students. It is important because it is the first day of school, but it is even more important because it is the day Hamilton County voters go to the polls to elect Board of Education members and county commissioners who make critical decisions about how our schools are run.
Commissioners make the ultimate decision about how much of county taxpayer dollars go to our schools. And school board members set the course for how those resources are allocated.
Most voters -- no matter their party -- agree that education is critical to our community's future and we need to do better. State testing data released last week shows that while some test scores are up, about half of all third- to eighth-graders are scoring below proficient on reading and math tests. Too many of our schools are not doing enough to prepare our children for success in college, career and life.
A survey conducted earlier this year found that county voters ranked improving public schools as their top priority -- more important than reducing crime or creating jobs. And that same survey found that most voters believe that not enough funding is going to public education and the school system needs to do a better job ensuring that funds are not wasted.
Improving our schools will take hard work from students, parents, principals and teachers. But it will also take leadership from the officials elected to make decisions about how to get it done -- not just in one classroom or school, but across all of the schools in Hamilton County.
Someone once said that 90 percent of life is showing up, but so far just over 21,000 registered voters have cast early ballots in today's election out of more than 206,000 registered voters countywide. If only 10 percent of teachers or 10 percent of students showed up on the first day of class, we would be outraged. It is just as important that Hamilton County voters show up today to vote for leaders who will work to make our public schools the best in the Southeast, if not the nation.
But, you may say, I don't know enough to vote. Take the time today to learn the views of the different candidates for school board and commissioner. For the last half year, candidates have been reaching out to voters. Local news media have provided guides that outline candidate positions and qualifications. Organizations like UnifiEd and the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute have sponsored candidate debates and surveys. UnifiEd has also made thousands of calls and knocked on thousands of doors of voters throughout the county.
So take an hour today to decide who best will represent your views on the school board and county commission, who has the right ideas and experience to stand up for our children and our community's future. Then go vote. And then stay involved by holding your elected officials accountable for results. Ask questions and expect answers. Your elected officials are available and expect to be challenged on the decisions they make.
School is open and so are the polls. If you care about the 40,000 children in our public schools, take the time to become informed and be a voter.
Alison Goldstein Lebovitz is a Chattanooga author, television host, speaker and nonprofit executive. Linda Mosley, a former Hamilton County Board of Education member, is vice president at Regions Bank.