A bill entitled “Classroom Protection Act,” better known as the “don’t say gay bill,” died quietly and without debate in the House Education Subcommittee Tuesday.
No representative on the nine-member panel would make the necessary motion to second the bill before it could be considered. The chairman, Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, declared the bill dead for lack of a second and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, simply said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.”
Ragan had prepared an amendment rewriting the bill (HB1332), sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, but never got to explain it to the panel.
From the Tennessean: The measure’s sponsor, state Rep. John Ragan, expressed disappointment, saying he planned to present an amendment that turned the bill into a plan to deal with schoolhouse shootings — not homosexuality.
The developments appeared to put an end to this year’s fight between gay rights groups and conservative lawmakers over how to discuss same-sex relationships with schoolchildren. It fell on a day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage, with few activists on hand for the bill’s demise.
In its original form, the bill would have prohibited lessons or planned discussions about homosexuality before high school. Guidance counselors also would have been required to notify parents if students told them of any potentially risky behavior.
Gay rights groups saw the bill as an extension of “Don’t Say Gay” measures they have fought in previous legislative sessions. They said the bill would chill discussions between students and teachers or administrators by creating a reporting requirement.
A House vote Monday night sends to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that has inspired a controversy the governor says he knows little about.
The legislation (HB368) sets guidelines for classroom discussion of evolution and other scientific theories and declares that teachers cannot be disciplined for permitting such discussions.
Sponsors say it will encourages development of “critical thinking skills” by students. Critics say it encourages discussions of creationism as an alternative to evolution.
Haslam was asked his views on the bill last week after announcing plans to use federal funds to build three new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools in the state.
“I don’t know that I have any great insight there for you on that one,” Haslam said, adding that he had heard of the bill but knew little about what was involved. The governor said he plans to ask state Board of Education officials about it.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he’s abandoning his proposal to do away with average class size restrictions in Tennessee.
The Republican governor’s decision came as a growing chorus of educators and parents — and the lawmakers who represent them — criticized the idea, fearing the change would hurt teaching standards because more classrooms would be filled to capacity.
Haslam said in a press conference in his Capitol office that his plan was thwarted by the challenge of explaining that the measure’s goal is to give school districts more flexibility to hire high-priority teachers.
“When the reason to do something takes you four minutes to explain, but the reason not to do something — you can say large classes bad, small class sizes good — takes five seconds, it’s a difficult process,” Haslam said
The governor noted that Tennessee is the only state that places caps on both the total classroom size as well as on average school-wide enrollment.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged Thursday that his class size proposal has received with “mixed reviews,” but vowed to press ahead with the measure intended to help schools fill high-priority teaching positions.
The Republican governor said in a speech at a luncheon hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association that his administration is still working to build support for the measure that would do away with average class size restrictions.
“It has been met with mixed reviews — I guess that’s a charitable way to say it,” the governor said in a speech to state editors and publishers.
Under current law, elementary school classes are capped at 25 students, but schools can maintain an average of no more than 20 students per class. Haslam says getting rid of the latter provision would free up money for schools to pay more for teachers in key locations or subjects.
“We think that flexibility is very, very helpful,” he told reporters after his speech. “The answer is not, I agree, to just increase class size to free up more money to do other things. That’s not the right answer.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said the proposal has met with some resistance.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Democratic Party launched Wednesday an online petition drive opposing Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to eliminate average class size requirements at public schools. Chairman Chip Forrester released this statement to accompany the petition:
“Parents and teachers know first hand what difference small class sizes make in improving student learning. It’s common sense; the fewer students in a classroom, the more time a teacher can spend with each individual student.
“If our goal is to improve student learning, Governor Haslam’s plan to increase class sizes is the wrong way to go. It’s a bad idea that shortchanges our kids’ future.
“We can’t afford to settle for anything but the best in Tennessee’s classrooms because the countries our kids will be competing with for the jobs of the 21st century — China, Japan, India — aren’t settling either.
“In tough economic times, education is an easy target for cuts, but nothing could be more short-sighted. When parents are stressed at home because they’ve lost a job, children need more strong, effective teachers, not less. When jobs are scarce, there’s no better time for young people to get that degree or for workers who’ve been laid off to go back and re-train.
“It’s time to recommit to our kids, our workers, and our future by making sure Tennessee has the best educated children in the nation.”
The Tennessee Democratic Party will deliver the petition and comments to the governor’s office in the coming days.
Online at: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s op-ed column, sent to media after appearing in the Commercial Appeal:
It’s your daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She’s excited, but also scared to be leaving Mom and Dad. You tell her it will be all right, that her teacher will take care of her and that she’ll make lots of new friends.
But as you open that classroom door, you’re shocked to see dozens of other children, all going through the same emotions as your daughter. Some are crying, some are yelling and several are trying to run out of the room. You wonder how your daughter will get the attention she needs from her teacher, who will struggle simply to find space for everyone. Suddenly, you’re feeling the same nerves as your daughter — but for an entirely different reason.
A proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam would permit public school districts in Tennessee to create classes with larger numbers of children and, as a result, would decrease the individual attention our children receive from their teachers. The plan could also result in thousands of teacher layoffs, unbearable financial burdens on local governments and a reversal of the progress we have made in our schools.
We support the governor’s efforts to enact meaningful reform and provide the education our children deserve. That’s why we passed Tennessee’s Race to the Top legislation two years ago, enabling our public schools to measure performance, better train teachers and support innovative ideas.
But the governor has made a mistake by pushing this year to allow larger class sizes in elementary and middle schools, a move that members of his own party have opposed. Removing the state’s average class-size requirement means schools would put more students in every classroom, while laying off thousands of teachers at a time when we need them the most.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
MOUNT PLEASANT, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lift a cap on class size averages is meeting resistance from educators, but the Republican calls the proposal a key element to his effort to allow school districts to raise teacher pay.
Haslam told reporters after a visit to a Maury County middle school Tuesday that Tennessee is alone in setting both maximum total and average class sizes.
“We’re the only state that does that, so I think that’s worth looking at,” he said.
Removing the average size requirement would allow schools to have larger classes, meaning the total number of teachers could drop.
“Lifting the maximum average class size would give local school boards, if they wanted it, some flexibility to pay some teachers more, but no teacher would be paid less,” Haslam said. “That ability to pay some teachers more for hard-to-teach subjects in hard-to-teach places is very important.”
Republican legislators representing Rutherford County say a proposal by the governor that could raise the average classroom size in Tennessee schools is getting a cool reception in the General Assembly, reports the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. State Sen. Jim Tracy told members of the Murfreesboro Education Association and Rutherford Education Association “the brakes” have been put on that legislation because of lawmakers’ concerns it could negatively affect classroom performance.
Tracy’s comments came during a legislative forum Thursday at Blackman High School where local educators raised questions about new laws and bills affecting education, and opposition to increasing the number of students in the classroom was a common theme.
Rutherford County Schools finance director Jeff Sandvig told the Rutherford legislative delegation that the move to eliminate requirements for average classroom sizes will lead to larger classrooms here and, ultimately, fewer teachers.
Gov. Bill Haslam, in his recent State of the State address, introduced a plan to free up money for higher teacher pay by changing the requirements on classroom sizes. Haslam also wants to eliminate the state salary schedule for teachers and give local systems authority to set up pay structures based on student test scores and evaluations.
The Basic Education Plan funding component will increase by $3,500 per teacher, but K-8 class sizes would increase by five students, which will lead to 200 fewer state-funded positions in Rutherford County schools, Sandvig said.
…Earlier, state Rep. Rick Womick told the audience he is not in favor of raising the average classroom size.
State Sen. Bill Ketron agreed that the proposal is complex because it took Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman 25 minutes to explain it at a recent legislative breakfast….(Ketron also said the legislation “may be premature.”