August 14, 2020
Every election day brings the possibility of changing course in the Tennessee General Assembly. This year was no different – especially as our world faces unprecedented disruptions caused by the global pandemic that continues to impact our day-to-day lives. In this time of uncertainty, we must deliberately reinforce policies and principles that contribute to student-centered outcomes and ensure every student, in any zip code, has an equitable opportunity for success.
Last week’s election outcomes represented a transformative moment for student-focused public education advocates. Election night results speak to the continued strength of the education reform movement across the Volunteer State and a demand from voters that their elected officials embrace and defend its core policies. It is critical that those we elect to represent us support the ideals that helped make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation for public education. The combined demand for student-focused representation and a decade-long leadership desert collided with candidates Rebecca Keefaver Alexander and Tim Hicks who understand, embrace, and prioritize a robust and stable set of policies that put kids before adults.
Last month, Tennesseans for Student Success (TSS) released extensive statewide polling that showed improvements in education and supporting Tennessee students as a top priority for voters. Knowing this, we doubled down on our advocacy of policy priorities that have improved student outcomes. TSS launched a comprehensive issue advocacy and voter education campaign ensure voters understood where candidates stand on higher standards in education, aligned assessments to those standards, protecting accountability in schools, promoting public school choice, and securing economic freedom for all.
This year, TSS’ digital and grassroots campaign garnered nearly 9 million impressions and voter contacts across various mediums and helped elevate education-focused candidates on the ticket. We are on the frontlines executing independent, year-round comprehensive education reform campaigns, leveraging research and sophisticated data modeling to build authentic political power, engaging voters around the issues they are the most passionate. Our work supporting public education operates to aid in key districts around the state as demonstrated from the primary victories from both political parties held last week. In every competitive district we engaged, the candidate who supported a student-focused policy agenda successfully won their party’s nomination.
In alignment with our issue advocacy work, each year, TSS releases the TNSuccessCard which tracks the General Assembly’s education priorities. Annually, a detailed analysis of each legislative session, its impact on education outcomes, and an easy-to-understand report on how each member of the legislature voted on policies that drive student achievement, is released.
Tennessee kids deserve the best. It’s clear the message that rings loudest among Tennessee voters is improving education. We are duty-bound to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed and every state policymaker must be committed to that work. Though last week’s primary election represented a significant victory for continuing our advances in education, it was only an opportunity to do better. We must not sit on our laurels. Our ceiling to education greatness in Tennessee is as high as the boundless potential of each of our students.
Adam Lister is the president and CEO of Tennesseans for Student Success.