A special session to address transportation?

I was at the gas station in Nashville putting gas in my Jeep when the gentleman next to me asked if I had ever seen gas prices like this.

“Of course not,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone has.”

Inflation is rapidly exceeding wage growth. Gas prices are up 48.7-percent since last year, and 4.1-percent just in the last month. According to AAA, a gallon of gas currently costs $4.99 on average, and diesel is now $5.75. Medical care, electricity, household furnishings and operations, recreation, and clothing costs are rapidly increasing.

Shelter, gasoline, and food are the largest contributors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet, the tone-deaf Tennessee Department of Education is currently engaged in a summer bus tour across the state of Tennessee.

In the current economic conditions and loss of purchasing power that most Tennesseans are now experiencing, it begs the question: Who in the executive branch thought a bus tour to talk about accomplishments by a department was a good idea?

And if feedback was the goal, a fully staffed Department of Education not working remotely to answer and return telephone calls may be more prudent.

Fiscal constraint and fiscal responsibility are a cornerstone of conservative economic principles.

For too long, politicians and bureaucrats on both sides of the political aisle have proved driven by self-interest rather than the interests of those who elect them. They never miss an opportunity to promote themselves or pet projects. Therefore, trust and confidence in elected leaders are at all-time lows.

Citizens do not believe the government is “careful with taxpayer money,” or “responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans.”

Ronald Reagan argued that we “must have the clarity of vision to see the difference between what is essential and what is merely desirable.”

In the middle of some of the worst economic times many Tennesseans have faced, a bus tour is not, and was not, essential.

From an education perspective, we need to start thinking ahead. If gas prices continue to climb, transportation costs will skyrocket and may not be containable. Districts and schools will reduce or combine some school bus routes to save money.

Keep in mind that there is already a bus-driver shortage in many communities across the state and nation. Escalating fuel and transportation maintenance costs will affect schools and districts moving forward.

Student transportation will not be the only thing affected by increased fuel costs. As the cost of food deliveries increases, additional expenses will be passed along to schools and districts.

So, food costs will increase, also affecting budget priorities. A new survey of school districts nationwide, conducted by the School Nutrition Association, reveals that 97-percent of meal programs reported challenges with higher costs. Also, 98-percent acknowledged problems getting some menu items.

Food security and higher costs must be addressed for all students, especially low-income students.

Across the state, some educators have asked if some districts or state leaders would consider a four-day school week to help contain costs or reduce expenses until economic conditions improve.

It is a worthy idea to explore with stakeholders, including parents with children. In 2019, an estimated 560 districts in 25 states allowed at least one of their schools to adopt a four-day school week, with most moving to a Monday-to-Thursday schedule, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. That number has probably increased.

Considering economic conditions, should the Tennessee General Assembly call a special session to address looming gas issues, and suspend the gas tax for a period to provide some small economic relief to our citizens?

Should legislators in Tennessee address additional funding needed for transportation and food cost increases in our schools for when school resumes in mid-July?

Should districts and schools consider a four-day school week?

Individuals must stay resilient during tough economic times. The government also must look at ways to reduce unnecessary expenditures.

Together we should examine how we have solved similar economic issues in the past, and find the will and the resources to identify solutions.

Anticipation of an issue and addressing problems before they occur is good leadership. Bus tours by state leaders in the middle of an economic crisis were not a wise use of our limited resources and sent a wrong message to Tennesseans.

J.C. Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teachers’ association headquartered in Nashville.