Gov. Bill Haslam addresses a room of more than 300 business and community leaders.

BY: AMY NOLAN

Gov. Bill Haslam challenged business and community leaders to not lower the bar on their expectations and not let up on reforms that have made Tennessee one of the fastest improving states in public education.

“It is an incredibly rapidly changing world,” Haslam said, “and what we used to be able to provide in a trained workforce doesn’t come near to meeting the standard that it needs to today.”

The governor ticked off a list of milestones the state has made in education, including providing free tuition to community colleges and technical schools; the highest high school graduate rate in state history; and rapid increases in graduation rates from four-year universities.

But he cautioned the more than 450 people at the March 19 luncheon not to forget the “hard decisions” by political leaders that made that progress possible.

“We haven’t just improved education in Tennessee because we got lucky,” he said. “There were some hard, but specific steps that people took long before I got here that made a huge difference.”

Those steps included raising standards for when students are considered proficient in subject matters; annual assessments tied to those standards; and teachers’ evaluations that include student outcomes.

“I worry about people not realizing that those things got us here, and that people will start taking those for granted and let those start drifting away,” said Haslam, who has about nine months remaining as governor. “The challenges out there still exist, and my fear is when you go through a battle and see results, people don’t see the battles that became before them.”

The governor also worries about income inequality, which he said people from all sides of the political spectrum should acknowledge is a problem. He believes education is the answer, and noted his administration added $1.5 billion to K-12 public education, the largest increase in any eight-year period in the state.

Haslam also heaped praise on Knoxville, where the former mayor and his wife, Crissy, will return to live after their tenure ends in Nashville.

He recalled that 15 years ago Knoxville residents would say they wished the city was more like Chattanooga, Atlanta, Asheville or “pick your city.”

“Since that time, due to a lot of great leadership…there is this sense that we have learned to be our own city, and to take pride in what we have,” Haslam said, highlighting the redevelopment of downtown.

GovLuncheon

(from left to right) Wes Stowers, president at presenting sponsor Stowers Machinery Corp., Rachel Kinney, Gov. Bill Haslam, Lisa Rothman and Ed Rothman.

The Governor’s Luncheon was sponsored by Stowers Machinery Corp., with support from Kramer Rayson and Edfinancial Services. Watch a video from the event below.