Bill Gates says he will continue to pour his foundation’s money into Tennessee education initiatives and he seemed to endorse a proposed 17 percent Hamilton County property tax increase, according to an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The interview is available here.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given more than $2.7 million to education initiatives in the Chattanooga area, the Times Free Press said. Gates told the newspaper his foundation does not take positions on school vouchers. He met with Gov. Lee and other state education officials in Nashville, the Times Free Press reported, to see if the governor and the state had placed a priority on education. As a result of his meeting, he said the foundation will make more investments in the state, having already spent about $34 million in Tennessee.
Chattanooga officials hope to receive word of another Gates Foundation grant later this summer.
Gates also spoke to the Times Free Press about the proposed property tax increase in Hamilton County.
“How else do you get more resources for your school system unless the business community thinks, ‘OK, this is going to pay off for us,’ because they are the ones who are going to pay the property tax,” he said.
Meanwhile, one local education official has said more money and staff are not the answers.
Hamilton County School Board member Rhonda Thurman, one of two on the board who voted against the tax hike plan, shared her concerns with The Tennessee Star, saying many of those jobs are unneeded. The County Commission has not yet voted on the plan to tax property owners by an extra $34 million.
The new jobs would include counselors, graduation coaches, a data warehouse programmer, a testing coordinator, a director of social and emotional learning, new assistant principals and 15 new truancy officers.
“We already have 10 truancy officers. That (addition) will get us 25. They’re just going to drag kids back to school who don’t even want to be there who then misbehave when they get back,” Thurman said.
“All we do is keep adding on to them. No one ever loses their job or is held accountable. All this great and wonderful stuff that is supposed to happen, and they tell us how these positions will improve everything. Then that doesn’t happen,” Thurman said.
She also blamed parents for students’ bad behavior, which she said is driving teachers away.
Gates and his foundation are not the only advocacy groups pushing education reform in Hamilton County along with politics.
Hamilton County education advocacy group UnifiEd says it wants every class to have a “great teacher” and give “equal opportunity to all students,” The Star reported in March.
But, Thurman and another board member accused UnifiEd of politicizing the district’s desegregation debate. Also, the organization had promised it would never become involved in politics but reneged in 2017 when it created the UnifiEd Action PAC lobby and endorse candidates, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.
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