Tennessee candidates for governor discuss education

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (photo: Belmont)

Belmont University, the State Collaborative On Reforming Education (SCORE), the USA Today Network – Tennessee, and NewsChannel 5 partnered to host the first televised, statewide gubernatorial forum of the 2018 election, focused exclusively on education.

“We are eager to support efforts like this one that complement our mission to empower students to engage and transform the world,” Belmont President Robert C. Fisher said. “We are honored to be partnering with SCORE on events across our state to engage Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates in this discussion that is vital to Tennessee’s future.”

“More than half of all fourth graders in Tennessee are not reading at grade level, and only one in five high school juniors in our state meet all the benchmarks that measure college readiness,” former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the founder and chairman of SCORE, noted to begin the evening. “Tonight’s forum offers an opportunity for Tennessee’s candidates for governor to share their vision for education and how they plan to ensure that every Tennesseean has the knowledge and skills necessary to live successful, fulfilling lives.”

Belmont is hosting this gubernatorial forum and several debates in 2018. The campus hosted the 2015 and 2011 Nashville mayoral debates, the 2010 gubernatorial debates and the 2008 Town Hall Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. Primary debates will be held in June separately for the Republican and Democratic party candidates. After August’s primaries, Belmont will host one of three general election debates. Election day for Tennessee’s next governor is November 6, 2018.

Co-moderator Rory Johnston of News-Channel Five emphasized, “This is a forum not a debate.” David Plazas of the USA Today Network – Tennessee also served as co-moderator.

The two men alternated posing over a dozen questions to the candidiates, and two guests also posed questions midway through the forum: Cicely Woodard, Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year and Mike Winstead, Maryville City Schools Director and Tennessee Superintendent of the Year. Questions posed addressed teacher salaries, testing, immi-grant in-state college tuitions, school shootings and security, private vs public schools, charter schools, career and technical education, Drive to 55, Tennessee Promise, and closing achievement gaps.

Five of the eight gubernatorial candidates participated in the event, two Democrats and three Republicans. Karl Dean, (D) the mayor of Nashville between 2007 and 2015, formerly Nashville’s Director of Law, and the city’s public defender. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, (D)- Ripley, Democratic leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives, CEO and chairman of a small bank chain in Ripley. Randy Boyd, (R) Knoxville businessman and owner of the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, also chairs ‘tnAchieves’, a partner to the Tennessee Promise. House Speaker Beth Harwell, (R) – Nashville is the current Speaker of the House in the Tennessee House of Representatives, where she has served since 1989. Bill Lee, (R) chairman and former CEO of Franklin-based family home improvement and maintenance company known as Lee Company, has no formal government experience but has a campaign platform of jobs, education and public safety.

Invited but not participating were three other women Republicans: Sen. Mae Beavers, (R) – Tennessee Senate for the 17th district and member of the National Rifle Association. U.S. Rep. Diane Black, (R)Tennessee’s 6th congressional district since 2011, previously a Tennessee senator for five years and a representative between 1998 and 2005. Kay White, (R) is a realtor from Johnson City whose key issues are supporting law enforcement and fighting against funding education for illegal immigrants.