Gov. Bill Lee’s stop in Grainger County Wednesday was more like a campaign stop than a speech.
Lee, along with State Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station and State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, provided an update on his agenda in Nashville.
“You all are fortunate to have these two men representing you at the Capitol,” Lee said. “It makes a difference if they have a relationship with the governor, as these men do. I’m honored to serve with these two men. We work together to truly do things that are positive and that impact people’s lives for good all over this state.”
Lee said that Tennesseans are fortunate to be where they are and where they are headed.
“There are so many good things about where Tennessee is going, a lot of which I’m beginning to come to understand in my new job, which, by the way I’m really liking,” he said. “I’m being able to actually be part of something that impacts people’s lives. That’s very important to me. The Lord gave me great favor to put me in this place.
Lee said that skilled labor is a very important part of our economy.
“Because of that, I’ve always known that we haven’t had enough vocational-technical education in our school systems. We lost it 30 years ago by taking that out,” Lee said. “The impact that has on workforce development in our state, I’ve carried it around in my heart for a long time. What an honor to work with these men to pass the GIVE Act, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Act. It is a substantial financial investment in creating vocational, technical and agricultural pathways in high school, dual credit enrollment that guides kids (toward these fields). At the very least, it puts these kids close to employment with a skilled trade by the time they get out of high school.”
Lee also said that the future depends on education of our children.
“In Grainger County, in downtown Nashville, the future of Tennessee depends on what we do with education,” Lee said. “Now, I’m the governor. What an opportunity to invest in public education in a significant way this year. Charter schools and individual savings accounts are things some didn’t understand, but I did. They’re going to bring about some best practices for us to learn, understand and challenge the worst schools in this state.
“I have a deep commitment to the public school systems in this state. Fully funded them this year, increased funding, and increased funding for teachers’ pay raises. It’s about how do we create the best and brightest teachers and attract them in this field in a greater way,” Lee said.
Lee wants to take Tennessee to better than 38th in the nation in educational outcomes.
“That’s not good enough for me, we need to move this forward to the higher end of that range so our kids will have a better opportunity to be successful going forward.”
Lee also highlighted rehabilitation efforts in prisons.
“A person with a certificate obtained in prison is 40 percent less likely to recommit a crime. I’d rather pay for their education than for their reincarceration,” Lee said. “That’s the kind of movement that is happening in this state thanks to these men.”
Lee worked with at-risk kids in the cities.
“One of the things I got interested in is mentoring a kid one night a week for five years. I got involved in his education. He was in a failing school, wasn’t going to be given an opportunity and would likely end up on the criminal justice side of the equation. I found myself saying that something needs to be done to improve the lives of these kids in the inner city.
“This is an honor to have Gov. Lee to come speak to us,” County Mayor Mike Byrd said as the activities began.
Niceley went on to explain that Grainger County had two black marble quarries in the world that provided marble to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. He also went on to explain that the main route from Washington to New Orleans also came through the county. Also, 100-plus mineral springs in Clinch Mountain were used for their medicinal powers to heal.
Byrd presented Lee with a case of Grainger County tomatoes from County Commissioner Darrell Stratton as the activities concluded.