By Steve Hunley

How many times have you heard someone complain politicians don’t do what they promised during the campaign?  I’ve griped about it myself and cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve heard that same complaint from others.  Bill Lee promised during his campaign to do his very best to fix what ails our failing schools and he’s offered a program to the legislature.  The legislature has tinkered with that program in an effort to make it a little better and it has passed the General Assembly.  Bill Lee kept his word to Tennesseans and fulfilled his campaign promise.

It’s clear to me that Bill Lee is a man of integrity and for those folks who wish people elected to public office would keep their word once they are in office, the governor ought to stand out like a beacon of light in the dark.  Likewise, Bill Dunn has consistently supported choice for families since he first went to the legislature in 1994.  Dunn is now the Speaker Pro Tem of the Tennessee House of Representatives and is better positioned than anybody else in the Knox County Legislative delegation to do things for our community.  Bill Dunn is sincere, effective and carefully tends to the folks back home.  Bill Dunn has been Knoxville’s voice in Nashville, not Nashville’s voice in Knoxville.

House Speaker Glen Casada succeeded Beth Harwell at the beginning of this legislative session and has proven to be a worthy successor to the first woman to hold the job.  Casada understands the rough and tumble of politics and knows how to get things done.  The Speaker also has shown he won’t be bullied, which is a wonderful quality in today’s atmosphere.  Casada, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and Bill Dunn deserve special credit in helping to pass Governor Bill Lee’s Educational Savings Account legislation.  The legislative leadership, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Glen Casada worked hard to promote the new governor’s plan and their contribution to its ultimate success cannot be understated.

As pointed out in this edition of The Focus, the special interests surrounding the teachers’ union has not been dealt such a blow since the education reform package was approved by a Democratic legislature during the administration of Governor Lamar Alexander.  The teachers were riled about the notion of merit pay, step raises and the like back then.

I have always believed in community schools and agree with the Knox County Board of Education inasmuch as every child ought to go to the school closest to him or her.  Like most members of the board of education, I did not like the imperial administration of Dr. James McIntyre.  Unfortunately, most of those board members opposed to McIntyre were not upset by his overspending, but his habit of attempting to hold teachers accountable.  Unlike one former teacher who loudly proclaimed on social media recently that WE, meaning teachers, run the school system.  Any organized group is a special interest in politics, especially when compared to the people who pay the freight: the taxpayers.  Too many of the sitting board members think they represent teachers and not taxpayers.  The voters will have the chance to weed out those who prefer representing a special interest to doing what’s best for families and children.

Imagine your child being trapped in a failing school.  School systems invariably rely on their own bureaucracies and the only fix they ever seem to have is to cry for more and more money.  We are spending more than ever before and the results are worse than ever.  The bureaucracy continues to grow, fostered by most members of the Board of Education who are certainly not conservative with the taxpayers’ dollars, with the glaring exception of Mike McMillan.  The number of assistant principals in the Knox County School system has steadily risen and since Dr. McIntyre’s arrival here in 2008, we are spending almost $3 million more on assistant principals.  Generally speaking, one million dollars equates to a penny on Knox County’s property tax rate.  The number of teacher coaches has doubled since McIntyre’s arrival in Knoxville and the spending has increased by more than $2.5 million.

It took a great deal of political courage for public servants like Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Bill Dunn, Glen Casada, Martin Daniel, Jason Zachary, and Dave Wright to stand up to the bully brigade who tried to intimidate me as well.  Becky Duncan Massey and Richard Briggs proved they would cave under pressure from the unionists.  A bright child trapped in a failing school is like being locked inside the darkest dungeon.  It would be a miracle for that child to reach his or her full potential inside a failing school.  Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly have opened the door to helping those children have a brighter future, reach their full potential and become a productive citizen.

Those who have opposed the ESA legislation haven’t done so because they adore your children or even care about your kids; they have opposed it because they are afraid it will work.  If it does, so much the better and if it doesn’t, we can end this pilot program in a few years’ time.  Goodness knows simply pouring more money into the public school system and an endless bureaucracy hasn’t fixed the problem yet and never will.