Randy Boyd is CEO of Radio Systems and PetSafe
Kevin Clayton is CEO of Clayton Homes.
“Why School Funding Matters”
Randy Boyd and Kevin Clayton
Published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Knoxville is a great place to live and do business. As the CEOs of two Knoxville-based businesses, we appreciate the low tax base, right to work laws, central location, good work ethic and other things that contribute to the strong pro-business climate. A good job is still the best anti-poverty program ever created.
Knox County also has good schools, and our hats go off to the many fine teachers, principals and parents who make that possible. But we want great schools. We need great schools if our community – and our children – are to reach their full potential. That doesn’t mean college for everyone. Skilled labor and technical trades are still very important. But it does mean college-and-career “readiness.” Today’s craftsmen must be able to read complex instructional manuals and handle a computer as proficiently as a wrench. The gold standard for such readiness is an ACT composite score of 21 or higher. Currently, less than half of our Knox County graduates meet that standard.
Here’s what we know. The world has changed. In today’s information-based, technology-driven economy, education drives economic development. Worldwide, the Gallup organization tells us there are 3 billion adults wanting employment, yet there are only 1.2 billion full-time jobs. That means that companies will locate in the communities that have the best workforce, and that means the best schools.
Our county commission and school board seem to understand this. Just weeks ago, they wisely set a goal of creating the best school system in the southeast. Now, Superintendent McIntyre and the school board have put forward a budget to get us there.
Investing in such things as teacher pay, more instructional time and technology are essential to a school system’s success. Yet Knox County’s education funding over the last four years has been essentially flat. At the same time, property tax rates have been reduced by sixty cents over the last ten years due to an obscure Tennessee statute (TCA 67-5-1701) that requires the same net tax revenue – absent improvements – after property reappraisals. So, as property values went up, this statue required that tax rates be dialed down. While public officials are generally wise to hold the line on excessive taxation, restoring at least a portion of these reductions is not only reasonable, it may be essential.
We can get some helpful perspective on the relative size of our educational investment here in Knox County by comparing ourselves to the ten highest performing school districts in the state. On average, they outspend us by $1,500 per student per year. That comes to around $90 million per year for a school district our size. Oak Ridge outspends us by twice that amount. Not surprisingly, Knoxville loses some of its best teachers to Oak Ridge.
Superintendent McIntyre may have undershot the mark by asking for an increase of only $35 million, but we’re willing to trust his judgment. For those who may doubt the wisdom of this relatively modest increase in per capita spending, we can only offer this word of warning. Time is unforgiving. Windows of opportunity close. Knox County has the leadership, strategic plan and chance to do something extraordinary - create the finest large public school system in the southeastern United States. Let’s hope we have the wisdom to recognize the moment and seize it.