The data on 31 children whose lives had at some point intersected with Department of Children’s Services workers before they died this year have been released in response to requests by The Tennessean and by Democratic state lawmaker Sherry Jones.
Jones had made repeated requests over the past two months for the information.
Ten children died in Tennessee during the first six months of 2012 while they were the subjects of ongoing investigations by the Department of Children’s Services. None was more than a year old.
An additional 17 children who died during the same time period had at some point been brought to the attention of DCS. At the time of their deaths, however, their case files had been closed.
And four children ages 18 and younger died in state custody during the same period of time.
…In releasing the data to Jones and the newspaper, DCS attorney Douglas Dimond acknowledged that the state agency charged with protecting children had been violating the law for seven years in its reporting of child deaths.
A 2005 law requires DCS to inform lawmakers of each child death or near-death in their district within 45 days.
“Although the statute was enacted in 2005, it does not appear that the Department has been generating individual notifications to legislators at any time or under any version of the statute since then, but the Department will certainly begin doing so immediately in compliance with the statute,” Dimond wrote.
State legislators seem pleased on a bipartisan basis with the way Tennessee’s campaign finance watchdog agency performs, but one concerned citizen, Mike Hart, wonders if that’s not the equivalent of foxes being pleased with oversight of the hen house.
That agency, the Registry of Election Finance, on Wednesday will be dealing with a complaint from News Sentinel contributing columnist Pam Strickland over “irregularities” in financial disclosures of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
“They are accessible, responsive to questions and they seem to be well-organized,” says Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who serves as Senate speaker pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. “They just run a good operation.”
“They’re not set up over there to do witch hunts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. “They try to accommodate candidates who, they understand, can make mistakes. They’re going to make sure you get it right, but they’re not going to persecute you.”
News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office:
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced that 2012 geographic redistricting data can now be accessed and downloaded online.
Geographic information system (GIS) users can now download the redistricting data in either Esri .shp files or Google .KML formats. Offering the data in these formats will allow users to overlay the boundaries in certain programs and to extrapolate statistical and other data from each district.
The electronic availability of these data products, in addition to the street-level statewide Google maps unveiled last week, is another first in the history of the state of Tennessee redistricting efforts.
“The release of this data is in continuation of the House of Representatives’ commitment to provide the most detailed, accurate, and accessible redistricting information to the citizens of Tennessee,” said Speaker Beth Harwell. “All of this information can now be accessed from the General Assembly’s redistricting map website or from the State’s TNMap portal.”
Detailed individual district maps will be available in PDF format in the coming week.
Citizens can access the new GIS data here: http://tnmap.state.tn.us/portal2/download.asp
The street-level statewide Google map data can be accessed here: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/districtmaps/redist.html
‘Bad policy’ on Charter Schools?
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says it’s “bad policy” for school districts to systematically deny charter school applications, whether for financial reasons or because the community is in upheaval over a pending school merger., reports the Commercial Appeal.
“We need to get out of the business of believing that (the per-pupil) funding belongs to the school system, that our goal is to preserve funding for that school system,” Kevin Huffman told The Commercial Appeal editorial board Thursday.
Instead, he said, the mindset should be that “parents should have a role in figuring out where their kid is going to go to school, and it is appropriate for funding to move with the child to a new public school.”
He was responding to last week’s decision by the unified Shelby County Board of Education to deny 14 applications for new charter schools. Officials said the fiscal consequences of opening so many schools would endanger the viability of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. Last spring, the state legislature gave districts the prerogative to reject charters if the schools would have a “substantial negative fiscal impact” on the school district.
Praise for Student Teacher Data Sharing
Tennessee is one of only six states giving feedback to its colleges of education on how their graduates are doing in the classroom, reports WPLN, and that has won praise in a study out from the Data Quality Campaign.
The annual survey shows Tennessee and most other states now have all the numbers they need on teacher effectiveness in the classroom. The problem is convincing states to make the information public, says the Data Quality Campaign’s Paige Kowalski.
“Sharing in general is just difficult because you just don’t know what the recipient is going to do with it, and they could do something that’s going to put the data provider in an awkward situation.”
Kowalski says Tennessee is pushing through the awkwardness and leading the country in some respects. This year the Tennessee Higher Education Commission started releasing a report on the effectiveness of teacher programs.
TEA Membership Down, PET Membership Up
Enrollment to the state’s largest teachers’ union is on the decline after the state OK’d sweeping changes to collective bargaining laws, but TNReport notes that a rival educators’ association says their ranks are growing.
Professional Educators of Tennessee say their association has seen a 10.6 percent membership uptick in the last year. Meanwhile, several Tennessee Education Association chapters in Middle Tennessee have collectively lost 24 percent of their dues-paying members on automatic payroll deductions, according to statistics first reported by the Tennessean.
“I’m just glad that we have injected competition into the system,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who sponsored the Education Professional Collaborative Conferencing Act this spring. The law gives school districts the autonomy to set education policy without the approval of a teachers’ union.
“No one organization or one union should have an explicit right to negotiate on behalf of all teachers,” he said. “I’m not surprised. I’m ecstatic.”
The TEA represents the lion’s share of public school teachers in the state and is affiliated with the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union.
The TEA says it will have official membership numbers later this month, but admits membership is dropping.
“I think the whole intention behind this legislation was to try to hurt our membership,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the TEA.