A new coalition of Davidson County parents and stakeholders is gearing up for what it perceives as a fight to both protect local autonomy and defend public schools from outside special-interest groups during the legislative session that commences Tuesday, according to The Tennessean. This army of primarily mothers, calling itself “Standing Together 4 Strong Community Schools,” is focused on defeating what are expected to be two of the most controversial education proposals state lawmakers will consider this year: allowing students to access publicly funded “opportunity scholarships,” more commonly known as vouchers, to attend private schools and a separate measure to hand the state authority to approve charter schools, which would effectively bypass local school boards.
“For so long, special interests have been controlling legislation regarding public schools, and parents essentially have been left out of the mix,” said Jennifer Croslin-Smith, who has helped steer the group’s foundation. “We’re usually the last to find out what’s going on.
“As the direct consumers of this, I feel like we should be the first to hear about this legislation; we should be informed; we are the ones who should be speaking to the legislature.”
The group, which organizers say includes dozens of supporters at this early stage, launched a website last week, strongcommunityschools.com, where supporters plan to list dates and times of committee meetings, organize events and gatherings and discuss the issues at hand.
Members say they don’t plan to register as a political action committee or a lobbying organization, but could opt to apply for 501(c)3 (tax-exempt nonprofit) status in the weeks ahead.
— Note: The group’s website is HERE.
Gov, Bill Haslam said today he has decided against the establishment of a state-operated health care exchange and will allow the federal government to oversee the clearing house for insuring Tennesseans.
Haslam said he would have preferred for several reasons to set up a state-run exchange but, “I’m sad to say and sorry to say, we won’t.” He said the federal government has been so unclear about the rules that it is not practical.
“More and more I’m convinced they are making this up as they go,” Haslam told a Nashville Rotary Club audience. “It’s scary, quite frankly.”
Haslam said 800 pages of proposed regulations — as part of the Affordable Care Act — have been received from the federal government since the Nov. 6 election and those are draft proposals subject to change.
While he knows some would say he is making a politically based decision, but that isn’t the case, he said.
“If it was a political decision, we would have made it months ago,” he said. “The politics have always been pretty clear on this.”
Several Republican legislators have declared they would oppose Haslam if he tried to set up such a state-run exchange in Tennessee. The governor acknowledged that getting legislative approval for a state exchange “would have been an uphill battle,” but said that was not the deciding factor.
Haslam said it’s possible that the state could revisit the issue in another year or two.
“When we’re convinced they have their ducks in a row, then we’ll take a look at it,” he said, adding that federal officials as recently as Friday had declined to answer state questions about how things would function with a state-run exchange.
“The face they couldn’t or wouldn’t was really bothersome,” Haslam said.
— Note: Text of the letter Haslam sent Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announcing his decision is below.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A nonprofit that campaigns against drunk driving could lose its specialty Tennessee auto license plate if more drivers don’t buy them.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/L2CGer ) reported Mothers Against Drunk Driving has until June 30 for 66 more vehicle owners to buy the plates or no more will be issued.
Tennessee Department of Revenue spokesman Billy Trout said if the specialty plates are canceled, people who already have then would be issued a standard plate at their next yearly renewal. To retain specialty plates, nonprofits must have 500 vehicle owners buy the extra cost plates. Drivers who order them pay a premium on top of the state tax and local option wheel taxes.
The sale of the plates provides about $15,000 annually to the organization. The revenue allows volunteers to provide services to victims of drunk drivers and their families.
Flint Clouse, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lost his grandmother when a drunk driver hit her car nine years ago, something he called a “preventable crime.”
He said that if the organization loses its specialty plate, he will have to cut programming time and spend more time on fundraising.
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled against several losing candidates who filed suit against the Shelby County Election Commission claiming the 2010 county election races were rigged.
The appellate court on Monday said the candidates failed to show that “fraud or illegality so permeated the conduct of the election as to render it incurably uncertain.”
The unanimous opinion upholds the ruling of a lower court in Shelby County.
All but one of the losing candidates ran as a Democrat, the other running in a nonpartisan judicial race. They filed the lawsuit after Republicans, who control the county election commission, unexpectedly won the races.
The lawsuit asked a court to void the election and prevent the winners from taking office.
A survey by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) has found that 80-percent of its membership opposes Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to tie school funding to larger class size, reports WKRN-TV. “The request from TOSS is not to take any action on the bill,” said Williamson County’s School Director Dr. Mike Looney.
“We feel like we have most of this figured out on how to impact students in a positive way, so we don’t need a lot of state intervention to get the work done,” said Looney who is a board member of TOSS.
As superintendents push hard for changes in the governor’s class size bill, House Speaker Beth Harwell acknowledges the pushback from schools even though the bill gives superintendents more flexibility in paying teachers.
“I do have a number of members who are concerned that it is not being well received back in their home school districts, so I think all of this is still a work in progress,” Harwell said.
Democrats said the governor’s bill could eliminate 2,000 teachers statewide.