Jason Martin, the Nashville doctor and Democratic nominee for governor, advocated for more education funding and anti-poverty wraparound services at a sparsely attended event near the Tennessee State Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
At the event, attended mostly by teachers, campaign staffers and media, Martin said he opposed private school vouchers and charter schools, both supported by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
Martin also criticized a law that empowers parents to protest books in school libraries, which has forced teachers across the state to digitally catalog every book in their classrooms.
“We’ve choked our public schools and that’s led to them not delivering the results we want,” Martin said. “It’s not our teachers’ fault.
“If you want to do something about crime, you have to do something about poverty,” he said. “If you want to do something about poverty, you have to invest in education.”
He also pushed for expanded physical and mental health care.
When Lee and the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a new school funding formula earlier this year, they increased education funding by $1 billion.
While an unprecedented increase, it wasn’t enough to move Tennessee past some neighboring states in terms of per-student funding or teacher pay. Martin said that “speaks to the depth of neglect that has taken place in this state.”
The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA) sets a base level of funding for each student, plus “weights” for students in poverty, English learners, students with disabilities and students in rural districts.
It’s expected to bring much more money to Memphis-Shelby County Schools, where many students live in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Critics say TISA puts too much power in the hands of the Tennessee Department of Education, is too favorable to charter schools and will require local jurisdictions to raise taxes in a few years.
Martin referred to TISA as “a weapon to get charter schools in your community, whether you want them or not.”
He didn’t specify how much more money he would give to schools, but he said the state can afford it.
He said millions in surplus dollars that accumulate every quarter due to conservative budget estimates have put the state government in an unprecedented financial position.
Should the state need to raise more revenue, though, he said it should legalize and tax marijuana.
“We actually have plenty of money on hand to do the things we want to do,” Martin said.
Early voting begins Wednesday, Oct. 19, and concludes Nov. 3. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
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