Education group encourages gubernatorial hopefuls to boost early childhood learning

Rick Wagner • Oct 8, 2018 at 5:00 PM

KINGSPORT — A bipartisan Tennessee education advocacy group is pushing for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean and Republican counterpart Bill Lee to give a clearer picture of how each proposes to improve public education outcomes. The group wants a focus on boosting early childhood learning.

Lee and Dean will square off in a debate Tuesday, Oct. 9, sponsored by the presenting sponsors Eastman Chemical Co. and Ballad Health, as well as sponsorships by the Kingsport Times News and Johnson City Press. It will be at the Toy F. Reid Eastman Employee Center.

“It is encouraging that both candidates for governor have expressed a commitment to prioritize education,” said Mike Carpenter, executive director of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE). “But with the majority of Tennessee’s third- through 12th-graders not at grade level in English and math, we’re hoping to hear more about the candidates’ plans to give children a better foundation by improving early learning achievement before third grade.”

Tickets for the free event have all been given out, but it will be livestreamed at timesnews.net and johnsoncitypress.com, and PBS stations across the state will carry it live. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. to the building and 5:45 to the auditorium. Metal detectors will be used, and no large purses or bags are allowed. All are asked to be seated by 6:45 p.m., with the debate broadcast and livestreaming starting at 7 p.m. and completed at 8 p.m.

“Recruiting new businesses to our region depends on a skilled work force. Development of essential work force skills begins in the earliest years of a child’s life when the brain is developing the most,” Beth Rhinehart, chief executive officer of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said in a TQEE news release.

“Communities in the Tri-Cities area — like all Tennesseans — want better education outcomes,” said Miles Burdine, president and chief executive officer of the Kingsport Chamber and TQEE board member. “They support a robust system of quality education for children from birth to third grade to build on reforms that are working and to accelerate progress so that we can help all Tennessee kids get a smart start in life.”

TQEE is urging the next governor to adopt a more concentrated, comprehensive four-part early education policy agenda:

— Engaged and empowered parents “through evidence-based home visiting programs, parent-teacher partnerships in child care and elementary schools and school-community partnerships that expand families’ access to local resources.”

— High-quality, affordable child care to “support the 300,000-plus young children in Tennessee with working parents.”

— Excellent early grades teaching by better aligning pre-K to third-grade learning “with best practices” — including “improved instructional materials, investments in training for early grades teachers and principals and expanded pre-k where quality is demonstrated in existing classrooms.”

— Stronger accountability and continuous improvement in early education. “Tennessee should commit to a birth-5 early learning data system, developmentally appropriate methods to measure and improve instructional effectiveness in pre-K to second grade, and better support for early grades teachers to use student data to improve learning outcomes.”

A Sept. 12-16 statewide survey by TQEE found 92 percent believe a quality educational experience from birth to third grade provides individuals with the necessary building blocks for all learning; 94 percent want Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program expanded as an option for all 4-year-olds;  93 percent support increased state funding in programs that could ensure all Tennessee children are proficient in math and reading by third grade; and 90 percent believe child care has a major impact on children’s kindergarten readiness and that policies to improve child care in the state has wide, bipartisan support.”

TQEE is comprised of business, law enforcement, faith, education and civic organizations and individuals across Tennessee. The group’s website is www.tqee.org. 

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