Governor-elect Bill Lee sat down for a twenty minute interview with Tennessean reporters Joel Ebert and Natalie Allison in that publication’s Grand Divisions podcast, which was also included in a story published at the Tennessean on Tuesday.
Ebert pressed Lee on his commitment to supporting school choice in Tennessee, a central theme of the campaign.
Lee said he was committed to school choice, but refused to promise that vouchers or school choice would be part of his first year agenda as governor.
Sources tell The Tennessee Star that, at the moment, the Lee administration remains committed to school choice, but does not plan to make school choice an agenda item in his first year. This interview appears to confirm those sources.
Here is the transcript of that portion of the interview:
Ebert: Let’s go to the next subject. While you’ve been campaigning you’ve talked about giving parents choices you know and you’ve mentioned that includes charters schools, school vouchers, um, and saying how those things will improve the state’s education system. Of the handful of people you’ve added to your administration or announced that will join your administration, two are pro-voucher advocates, do you see in your first year vouchers being a part of your agenda?
Lee: You know, I developed a real interest in education by working with an inner city at risk youth organization and mentored a young man coming out of a very troubled neighborhood. And I spent one evening a week with that young man for five years. And in the process of our relationship I worked with his grandmother to have him moved, who he lived with, his grandmother, have him moved from a traditional public school system, that was, he was failing every class into a neighborhood charter school, into his neighborhood where he began to succeed.
And in fact that kid is now in college and you know what I realized in that process was that every kid has the opportunity to succeed and should have a high quality education as a part of their growing up in Tennessee. Every kid deserves to have a high quality education. And I watched, because he had a choice, I watched his education outcome improve and it is what really drove my thinking about parental choice.
You know whether it’s a charter school or a whatever choice a parent has, not only is that individual child’s outcome improved, but I think the system is improved. Specifics about what we’ll do going forward? I do believe when parents have a choice the system is improved and competition is brought and transparency is more evident.
And the specifics about education proposals, we haven’t gotten there yet. But I am an advocate for choice and I think you’ll see going forward that I will advocate for parent school choices.
Ebert: So that doesn’t sound like a straight up yes, we’re definitely going to do it in the first year. But you’re certainly open to the idea.
Lee: I’m open to the idea, yes.