Hunt is an alderman for the city of Bell Buckle. Her campaign website can be found at JennyHuntfor- StateRepresentative.com.
Hunt was asked: With the State budget continuing to be a central focal point in 2011, please rank the following 5 categories in respect to state funding priority (1 being the highest priority): TennCare, K-12 Education, Higher Education, Roads, and Prison Systems. Briefly explain why.
1. K-12 Education
We need to continue to put stock in our education system. In a time when competing for industry and new jobs is the top priority, it is crucial to have a good education system to be able to attract new businesses to Tennessee. The Race to the Top funds will hopefully give our students a chance at a better education. The strength of our education system in the years to come will rely fundamentally on tedious planning, budgeting and implementation.
The current fiscal year budget provides full funding for the Basic Education Plan. BEP is crucial to Tennessee’s education system progression, and I was glad to see the program fully funded though it meant the growth in capital outlay had to be frozen. This was a common sense approach to a tough problem. Currently for every 100 incoming 9th graders, Tennessee produces only 19 graduates with either a 2 or 4 year degree. This is not acceptable. I am pleased to see more emphasis placed on professional development as great teachers make great classrooms and ultimately great learners. One of the goals in the Race to the Top program is that our system will eventually be strengthened by providing a better assessment of achievement both for the student and the faculty. Standardized testing should be one of the functions of education not the definition of it. Educational goals are also not merely meant to improve literacy and numeric skills but to inspire, achieve, and progress to become life long learners and productive, caring citizens. In conjunction with Tennessee’s Diploma Project, the BEP has raised academic standards, focused on assessment and accountability, and most importantly, prepared students for post-secondary education, work, and citizenship.
Hand in hand with K-12 is higher education. A quality education not only gives students a better opportunity to earn a living, but it affects our local economy by providing a skilled workforce. Our economic future depends on graduating more of our students from our colleges and universities. However, care must be taken that the number of graduates is not as important as the education itself. Funding must be awarded based on retention and graduation rates along with adequate measures in place that hold to high standards rather than a number game just to inflate graduation numbers. Exit exams should be considered as a prerequisite for graduation. With a growing number of students entering college in order to be more competitive in the work field, emphasis should be placed on enhanced courses and career development to better streamline course prerequisites and majors. Implementing programs that pin down areas of interest choices may help students make tough decisions on college career choices earlier in the higher education process resulting in less time and money spent exploring too many career field options. It is also imperative to strengthen our two year institutions and technology schools to help solidify varying interests and make for a more diverse workforce.
Everyone should have the opportunity for affordable health care. In Tennessee, 10% of the state’s population is uninsured. Recently statistics have show that overall satisfaction with TennCare is high with the number of uninsured children decreasing and only a slight increase in the number of uninsured adults. Those who did not have the advantage of TennCare’s managed care approach were more prone to seek initial health care at emergency rooms. Research shows that a higher percentage of TennCare patients seek medical care more often than other people. Some indications are that TennCare has raised a higher level of preventive medical care which many times results in lower long term medical expenses when people are offered the opportunity for affordable health care. However, growth of the program must be carefully managed and stay within the program’s $7 billion budget. Reasonable benefit limits must be continuously reviewed along with balancing enrollments.
A healthier population is better for our children, schools, work force, and economy. Encouraging an active lifestyle, promoting healthy habits, and proper immunizations will make for a stronger and healthier Tennessee.
With our interstate system being almost 50 years old, it is imperative that we plan properly for maintenance and improvements in our road systems. Roads and bridges must be properly inspected and maintained to ensure public safety. Good roads enhance our communities. Benefits include better access and potentially increasing economic growth by attracting more business industry that need access roads and service roads to operate more efficiently. Other benefits include less congestion and shorter commutes through better transportation options and mobility.
It is imperative that we focus on bringing in new business and capital investment. In order to do that we have to have a strong infrastructure. No business or industry will ever consider us if we cannot provide adequate water, sewer and roads. Transportation infrastructure, existing work force skills, and state and local tax schemes are three factors deemed critical in creating an attractive business climate. Good forward thinking, planning, and budgeting will make Tennessee the competitive advantage for future businesses and industry.
5. Prison systems
The most practical way to handle a tough situation is to not spend what you don’t have. Stimulus money helped to preserve some jobs that would otherwise had to have been eliminated immediately and gave the state time for proper planning for the budget to minimize the negative impacts. Cuts have had to be made in many departments with the Department of Corrections taking a 1 percent budget reduction. However with tough times truly calling for tough measures to be taken, the new Joint Offender Management Plan was developed and has helped reduce the number of repeat offenders by helping them rebuild their lives through treatment services, enhanced case review committee options, and other programs. Implementation of this plan has resulted in large savings reducing the need for new prison construction. I believe that plans such as these that work to rebuild lives and help offenders enter a more productive environment and lifestyle are better than early release programs that offer no assistance and commonly result in another incarceration.