By Tennessee State Representative Mark White
As Chair of the Tennessee General Assembly House Sub and Full Education Committees since 2013, I have spent many thousands of hours studying and looking for ways to best educate and challenge the children in our State.
The latest figures show that our 89.1% high school graduation rate is the highest in our state history. Even with that positive statistic, still fewer than half of these graduates are ready to move into higher education or the workforce without remediation in English and/or Math.
Another startling statistic: Only 37% of our students in third grade are reading on grade level. This is a critical and very disturbing statistic: “if you cannot read you cannot learn!”
That means grades 4-12 and beyond will be difficult for these students. The inability to perform in School results in drop out, truancy and little or no skills to compete in todays workforce.
Funding has improved for education, but our outcomes are still low
So, what is the answer? Many say, “just add more money and we will improve.” But time has proven that, even though money is a factor, it is not the solution.
In 2010, Tennessee was the recipient of $500 million “Race to the Top” dollars from the Federal Government.
Tennessee put that money in many excellent programs but still we struggle, as the 37% third grade reading statistic indicates.
Also, Tennessee has been on an education reform movement for the past 10 years. We have added $1.5 billion new dollars to our state education budget and over $570 million new dollars to teacher compensation since 2013.
Tennessee Public Schools K-12 Education Budget for 2019-2020 School year is $6.6 billion dollars. Because of our reform and our funding, Tennessee has the title as the “fastest improving state in education” in the nation. But there is a critical piece of the equation that is missing – a piece of the equation that money and the best teachers cannot remedy.
Why dads matter in the lives of their kids
It is now time that we address with seriousness why so many of our children are coming to school without the foundation to learn. In 2007, I authored a book titled: “May I Call You Dad? Why Fathers are needed in the Home.”
We must realize that fathers are necessary in the lives of children, and that their absence in the home life of a child is bringing disaster to every fabric of our state and nation.
In 2017, 43.6% of children in Tennessee were born to single mothers. It is a fact that more poverty exists in single parent homes. Last year 1,000 new children were admitted to Tennessee Department of Children Services because of drugs and other addictions.
Domestic and sexual abuse in the home has risen so drastically that we now spend millions of dollars addressing the issue known as “Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE.”
This is the new study on how a child’s brain is prevented from developing properly because of the constant trauma in their home. With enough ACE experiences from birth to age 5, the neuron connections in brain development are so damaged that the act of learning and simple behavior development is challenged.
We are now spending billions of dollars trying to do in school what the home is failing to do for children.
“Communities in School Programs” provide wrap around services for school age children, RTI or Response to Intervention Programs, mandated by the state but without adequate funding, attempts to put a second teacher’s aide in the classroom to help with children falling behind.
Our local school districts are trying to fill the funding gap but the demand is greater than funds available.
A few staggering statistics we should know are:
63% of all youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
85% of all youth in prison are from fatherless homes.
71% of all high school dropouts are from fatherless homes.
Positive factors related to education include:
Children with fathers are less likely to repeat a grade in school.
Children with fathers are more likely to get A’s in school.
Children with fathers are more likely to enjoy school and engage in school activities
The question is asked: “Have we lost a generation and now must find a way to change moving forward?” I refuse to accept such a pessimistic attitude.
This is why we are looking for programs and budgeting state dollars to fill the gap where the home is failing. We must challenge and teach every teen and young adult that bringing another life into the world carries with it the responsibility of building a safe and loving fortress (Home) around that child.
It is the role of the father to be the provider, protector, guide, role model, listener, stabilizer and hope giver for the future of a child. Let us resolve to renew this commitment to our children on this Father’s Day.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, chairs the House Education Committee in the Tennessee General Assembly.