Education has been an important part of my life. In addition to being a physician, I am also a medical educator having taught medical students and obstetrics/gynecology doctors in training for over 25 years. I have guided medical education experiences in nine countries outside the U.S. My wife also has an MD degree and my daughter has a PhD in biochemistry. Clearly, education has been critical in my family’s journey toward achieving our dreams.
Both my parents were first generation college graduates, and in fact only one of my grandparents
finished high school. My mother was a public school teacher, my father was a county extension agent, and they both instilled a drive for educational excellence in me and my sisters within the public school system which we all attended. Educational excellence has therefore been critically important in my family and I recognize that Tennessee First District families want access to educational excellence for the opportunities it provides. Tennessee ranks 36th in our nation for its public education*. Even so, Tennessee ranks 11th in the US for its public school graduation rate, a tribute to hard working students and teachers. ** An annual report from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, however, points out that college availability in the face of dwindling state appropriations creates challenges for Tennessee’s future economic development.**
Our challenge for the future is to improve the educational experiences in both public schools and
higher education in Tennessee. We can’t do this if funding cuts occur. Supporters of voucher programs point out that such programs allow families who are dissatisfied with public schools to receive government stipends to send their children to private or religious schools. But the problem is that voucher programs take money away from public schools, and I can’t support any program that takes money away from public schools. An additional problem is that accountability for public funds is also lost. If a voter is unhappy about the way money is spent in public schools, the voter can go to a Board of Education meeting to speak or can vote for a new Board member in the next election. Such options are limited for voters unhappy with the use of public funds in voucher programs. Education is a cornerstone of the American experience and is a foundation for future economic growth. Moreover, excellent education attracts new businesses while suboptimal educational environments repel new potential employee recruits from moving to a region. We must ensure that the importance of educational excellence is conveyed to policymakers and governmental leaders.