Smith: Teachers speak out about funding, needs

Amy Smith, board member of the Hamilton County Educators Association and a member of the association's Fund for Children and Public Education. / Contributed photo

As I hope you know, this August's election, for which anyone in Tennessee can apply to vote absentee, contains not only state and federal primaries, but also county Board of Education races in districts 1, 2, 4, and 7. School boards affect everyone in a community, whether or not they participate in the public school system. An educated populace drives economic investment, which in turn raises overall quality of life.

There are some stark differences among some of the candidates in this election. Some support keeping Hamilton County Schools vibrant and robust, while some promote the idea that some of our schools should be taken over by charter management organizations. Some candidates support increasing teacher pay; some do not.

Let's get one thing straight from the onset: public schools in Tennessee are woefully underfunded at the state level. Here's what Tennessee considers appropriate staffing for a "basic" education: 1 social worker per 2,000 students; 1 psychologist per 2,500 students, 1 intervention teacher per 2,750 students, and 1 nurse per 3,000 students. What's worse, though, is that when you consider the fact that the basic educational program in Tennessee does not include specific funding for arts, music, or foreign language teachers, the program aims at an average class size of about 30 students. Here in Hamilton County, 33% of our students come from poverty, nearly half of students have suffered an adverse childhood experience, and nearly 1 in 10 high school students report having attempted suicide.

Any funding to go on top of the Basic Education Program must come from either federal or local funds, though most of it is local. It is the school board that is the primary driver behind increased funding, though it is up to the county commission to make the final decision.

Here's the thing: we are making gains in Hamilton County. In fact, we are making them faster than any other district in the state. These gains were made possible by Hamilton County's teachers and the work of school board members who are dedicated to the students and community above their own political aspirations. We are grateful that the school board has chosen to invest in us.

Last year, we were dismayed when the county commission did not share the board's conviction to support teachers and were happy to compromise with the school board to provide our students and teachers with the best possible conditions for teaching and learning, including the hiring of 180 vital support positions and other considerations.

Here's another fact: The governor clearly does not plan on investing in teachers. He removed teacher raises from the budget, yet maintained funding for a voucher program that has already been found unconstitutional and included a raise for himself, though he has promised to donate his raise to charity this year. We can understand a smaller pay increase than originally intended, but to leave Tennessee's teachers off the table is an unwise move. We therefore need a school board dedicated to supporting students and teachers.

Fortunately, there are some folks running for school board who are true public education champions. Steve Vickers, Marco Perez, Tiffanie Robinson and Joe Wingate have demonstrated that they have the will and the competence to see Hamilton County Schools through the tumultuous times ahead. These champions of public education are the right people to get the job done.

We invited every candidate to meet with us and pledged to give each a fair shake. Three candidates, including one sitting board member, didn't sit for an interview. We think this speaks volumes about integrity, honesty, and service.

If you're interested in helping us as we share information about our public education champions, please reach out to us on social media.

And, whatever you do, vote.

Amy Smith, a music teacher, is a board member of the Hamilton County Education Association and a member of the association's Fund for Children and Public Education.

photo Amy Smith, board member of the Hamilton County Educators Association and a member of the association's Fund for Children and Public Education.