special section: Craig Fitzhugh Thank you for taking the time to share with our educators today. On behalf of our members, I would like to say we are grateful you are offering yourself for Governor. Please share with educators a little about who you are, and why you are running for Governor. I am running for governor because I want the same opportunities that I have been granted to be there for my grandchildren and for every child in Tennessee. At every level of my education I have received a top-notch public education. From primary school through law school, the people of Tennessee have allowed me to live my personal and professional dreams. Strong public schools are the backbone to a thriving society. It is a social contract with one another. By investing—and not just money, but time and interest—in our schools, we pledge to our children that they will have the opportunity to be productive citizens, and that we acknowledge that the future is just as important as our present. While there are great differences in our communities when it comes to resources, Tennessee students do have a basic component in the BEP, which some states do not have. I also greatly believe that the HOPE Scholarship and the Tennessee Promise are game changers in the lives of our students. We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade - some necessary, some debatable. What are we doing right? The first thing we need to do is to stop spending time talking about vouchers. At the beginning of every legislative session we take time and resources to keep vouchers from taking money from our public schools and give them to private entities, leaning predominately on districts and counties that are more financially vulnerable. We should take that time and energy and instead focus on making our public schools the best they can be. Second, we need to make sure our teachers are recognized as the professionals that they are. Teachers mold and shape our most important resource—our children. They need to be paid for their experience, education and effort. Lastly, we need to find a way to address issues outside the classroom that can affect a child’s ability to learn. A child may spend 7-8 hours a day at school, but the other two-thirds of their day is very impactful on their ability to learn. A child that is hungry or doesn’t have a stable place to live and sleep or do homework cannot learn, no matter the efforts we have in the classroom. There isn’t an easy answer, but we must keep asking the question on how to we provide stability for our kids. In your opinion, what are the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee? We need to listen our local school districts: our administrators, teachers and parents. I think we have moved away from listening to the people in our communities when we make decisions in Nashville. We trust our kids to these men and women daily—we can trust them to make decisions in their best interests. Another way we can make sure that we are doing our part in state government is to fund programs outside the BEP. This past session I sponsored the Education Investment Act, which will distribute funds to school districts to spend on programs not covered by the BEP, such as school nurses, reading enrichment programs, etc. This allow those closest to the issues facing our schools to target their own unique needs.