Letter to Lamar Alexander from Big Four Chamber CEOs
The Big Four Chambers (Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Memphis) sent the following letter on Feb. 2 to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander urging education funding.
The Honorable Lamar Alexander
455 Dirksen Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Alexander:
Thank you for your leadership in pursuing the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As you know, Tennessee’s business community has been a strong advocate for K-12 education improvement. In addition, concerns over whether our communities will have the skilled and knowledgeable workforce necessary to sustain economic prosperity are now top of mind for a growing number of our chamber members.
In response to your invitation to comment on your draft legislation, we offer the following observations:
- Testing and Accountability: while the previous reauthorization of ESEA (“No Child Left Behind”) had a number of flaws, we believe its requirements around annual testing and accountability catalyzed much-needed reform in K-12 public education. While we support the rights of states to choose their own assessments, we are deeply concerned about proposals that move away from the requirement of annual testing of all students in grades 3-8 and high school. We believe decisions on assessments should be made at the state, rather than district level, and that all states should have an assessment that evaluates whether their high school graduates are college and career ready. We also believe that a four-year graduation rate for all students does not fairly reflect the real value of an English Language Learner or special education student graduating with a regular diploma beyond a fourth year of high school.
- Flexibility of federal funds: We support the draft’s emphasis on granting states and districts greater flexibility on the use of federal funds, including allowing Title I dollars to serve the entire student population within eligible schools.
- Early childhood education: we believe that investments in high quality Pre-Kindergarten and early childhood education are critical to improving student outcomes. We urge you to include a dedicated funding stream to improve access to high quality early childhood education for low- and moderate-income families in the ESEA legislation.
- Teacher quality: if, as studies indicate, the teacher is the single most important factor in student achievement, then the move of many states (Tennessee included) toward annual teacher evaluations tied to student performance is one of the most important levers to improve education. If the federal government continues to fund programs related to teacher quality without insisting that states evaluate teachers using student data, we would view that as a significant lost opportunity.