The leader of Tennessee’s largest school district is supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee, education news website Chalkbeat reported.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Lee would be “open-minded and solutions-oriented” on issues important to him such as “improving testing, raising teacher pay, supporting students’ social and emotional needs and adopting multiple strategies to improve public education in Tennessee.”
Hopson’s endorsement is his first. Memphis reliably votes Democrat in an otherwise Republican state. However, Hopson has in recent years reached out to Republican lawmakers. He has disagreed with the Tennessee Department of Education over whether to pause the flawed TNReady testing.
Lee, a businessman and farmer, touted Hopson’s support during a debate last week against his opponent Karl Dean, a Democrat and former Nashville mayor.
Lee praised the Innovation Zone, a school improvement program in Shelby County Schools that has boosted test scores for students at chronically low-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods.
Hopson said Lee reached out to him to meet about a year and a half ago when Lee was considering running for governor.
“We routinely discussed faith, family, government and education issues,” Hopson told Chalkbeat. “I appreciated the thoughtful and humble way that he sought my input.”
Hopson’s endorsement has caused some anger in Memphis, and there are still a few diversions between Lee and Hopson on issues, Chalkbeat said. Hopson re-emphasized his yearslong stance against public funding for private school tuition, which Lee supports.
Lee wants to reduce the current level of student testing while Dean, the former Mayor of Nashville, thinks the current levels of student testing are just fine, The Tennessee Star reported in August.
Dean says his administration would generally continue Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s education policies, which are a holdover from Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen’s, Chalkbeat said. Chalkbeat points out that Haslam has stuck with a controversial policy to include student growth scores from state tests in teacher evaluations.
Hopson said Lee asked him to serve on an education coalition but he is not using his endorsement to seek a job or political office, WREG reported.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.