survey says

Tennessee voters want an education-minded governor in 2018, says new survey

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his 2016 State of the State address in February, including his proposal to increase funding for K-12 education for the 2016-17 year.

Tennessee voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate for governor who promised to boost teacher pay and expand school choice, according to a new survey.

The statewide poll was commissioned by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that has pushed for test-based teacher evaluations and new academic standards and works closely with the Tennessee’s Department of Education. The poll, SCORE says, shows continued support for the state’s education reforms among both Republican and Democratic voters.

Still, only a little more than half of voters surveyed said they would be more likely to support a candidate who backs tougher statewide testing, and improving education came in third place as voters’ most pressing issue.

The results come one year before Tennessee’s 2018 gubernatorial primaries, and the state’s next leader will follow several governors who have sought to overhaul Tennessee’s K-12 schools.

Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, ushered in reforms with funding from the federal Race to the Top award. His Republican successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, has mostly continued those strategies, including raising academic standards, instituting more rigorous state testing, tying teacher evaluations to student performance, and intervening to improve low-performing schools.

Haslam, who has championed two significant increases for teacher pay, has frequently said he wants to be remembered as an “education governor.”

The poll found that voters surveyed from both parties positively viewed Haslam and his education policies, with 75 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats saying they were satisfied with the governor’s work.

“We’ve conducted similar surveys for the past 10 years, and Tennessee voters have consistently stood by policies that are focused on improving academic achievement for our students,” SCORE President David Mansouri said. “As we move into an important election cycle, this poll shows us that Tennessee voters continue to support the innovations that have been introduced to help students learn at higher levels.”

The survey finds there’s plenty of more work to do: Around 40 percent of voters from both parties said they thought K-12 education in the state is stagnant, while about 30 percent from both parties said it’s declining.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.