By Reginald Stuart

A new report on people running for key state and higher education leadership positions across the South, suggests many of the politicians support diverting more state tax dollars toward paying for private school at the expense of public education.  

The report, titled “Voting for Justice in Education,” was issued this month by the well-known Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a non-partisan no profit Atlanta-based organization that has promoted public support for education for all inhabitants of the 11 southern states for more than 150 years. 

The report, based on responses to surveys of political candidates by the SEF and reviews of official candidate information, provides readers with brief, precise highlights of the candidates’ political positions and views on nearly a dozen key issues confronting voters next week. 

Like a mixed bag of treats, some enticing and some repugnant, the report’s results are aimed toward enriching public comprehension of the candidates and their positions, yet the SEF takes no for-or-against stance on the candidates.

“Given the critical moment in our nation’s history regarding public education, I believe it is imperative that voters are well informed of the positions of those persons seeking election to offices at the state level that would have major influence on education policies and practices,” said Raymond Pierce,’ president and chief executive officer of the SEF.

Like a mixed bag of treats, some profiles were inviting yet also included some sour tastes, depending upon one’s thinking. 

Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee proposed more than $1 billion in his 2023 state budget, the SEF report says. He has also proposed and implemented programs providing state funds for vouchers to pay for private schools. 

Gov. Lee also signed into law a legislative bill that limits how educators can discuss race and racism in the classroom, a response to outrage stirred in Virginia during last year’s state election over unfounded claims by extreme conservatives that critical race theory was being discussed and taught in elementary and secondary schools. The SEF asserts in its report critical race has not been taught in schools across the region in K-12 education systems.

The report is also filled with nuggets from other southern states painting a broad picture of governance trends and practices.

“We have some candidates who reduce funds for public schools in a highly detrimental way,” said the SEF’s leader. Pierce, once an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said there is no time for voters to skip next week’s elections or wonder for a minute whether their vote counts. 

Tennessee is among a dozen states being heavily courted this week until election day by Democrats and Republicans, with the outcome of elections in those states likely to impact control of the United States Senate and House of Representatives. 

Numerous colleges and young adult groups have launched voter education and registration campaigns, hoping to energize voters sitting on the decision fence.

Pierce and others acknowledge the voting landscape is cluttered with myriad conflicting issues—from the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer on abortion rights to appeals to the high challenging the use of race in college admissions.