Opinion » Editorial

Tennessee Report Cards

The Volunteer State gets failing grades in education and healthcare.


Ours is an age when "outcome-based" is increasingly attached to public-policy initiatives and testing of various sorts is very much in vogue, not only in education but as a measure of success or failure in other ways as well.

This week, Tennesseans can consult brand-new studies to see how the state is doing in K-12 public education and how it could be doing in health care.

First, a freshly released Rutgers University study, entitled "National Report," grades the 50 states on the extent of their financial commitment to public education. At a time when officials of the Haslam administration and the governor himself cite various other studies as proof of the success of their education initiatives, the Rutgers report tells another story.

While the report awards Tennessee a "B" for the equity of its fund distribution — i.e., in giving poor districts a fair share of the financial pie — it gives the state a flat-out "F" in determining the size of the funding pie itself. 

In measuring teacher compensation against pay for other vocations in the labor market, for example, the report has this to say: "Wages are least competitive in Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, where teachers make around 30 percent less. Wage competitiveness worsens as teachers advance in their career."

Keeping in mind that the ability of Tennessee's teachers to change their economic lot for the better was undermined by the General Assembly's abolition of their collective-bargaining rights in 2011, a long-term improvement would seem to be disproportionately dependent on the good will of state political authorities.  

On the issue of health care, a couple of reports issued during the past week by the White House eschew the course of fault-finding with Tennessee per se in favor of underscoring what the state is giving up by its failure to participate fully in the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

What the White House makes clear in a "Fact Sheet" released this week is that Tennessee — despite itself, frankly — is reaping enormous advantages already from the ACA. These include the reduction of insurance premiums for participating Tennesseans, the elimination of out-of-pocket expenses for a variety of testing and screening procedures, the prohibition of "pre-existing illness" restrictions, and the elimination of the infamous "donut hole," whereby Medicare prescription benefits disappeared at a certain level.

That and more constitute the high side. But what the two White House reports also make clear is that, by declining to follow through on Haslam's proposed "Insure Tennessee" program, the General Assembly has doomed the state to an annual loss of $1.77 million in ACA Medicaid funding for health care, and to the relegation of 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans to the kind of emergency-room care that has proved ruinously expensive to the state's over-burdened hospitals. 

The White House issued no grades as such for Tennessee state government's performance in providing health-care opportunities on its own or in taking advantage of those provided by the federal government, but it seems clear that, at best, the state has earned an Incomplete and, at worst, another "F."

Failing grades in education and health care? Those are unacceptable report cards.

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