Some teachers may think they’ve lived through a roller coaster of educational changes in recent years reports Kevin Hardy in a Tennessee education reform review. But they haven’t seen anything yet.
An excerpt: Already, classroom standards are more rigorous. Evaluations are tougher and more regular. And accountability is no longer a catch phrase, but a component of many parts of a teacher’s career.
On Friday, the Tennessee School Board opened the door for teacher pay schemes that link salary to performance. And state officials rolled out plans that will make it tougher to become a teacher and harder to stay in for the long haul.
State officials argue that collectively the changes will aid their quest to get more Tennessee students to meet academic standards and thus help build a more competitive workforce. And to do that, officials say, teachers need to be put under the microscope. Their performance must measure up.
Last week’s action by the state board was just the latest in a host of reforms redefining what Tennessee expects of students and teachers.
The board approved a new minimum pay schedule that de-emphasizes a teacher’s education level and years of experience, and passed a rule requiring every district to develop some kind of differentiated pay plan. Districts could decide to pay more for higher test scores, or give more to teachers in hard-to-staff schools, or even offer more money based on the subjects or grade levels they teach, depending on local plans.
But Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman wants to go even further. In addition to stiffer requirements for first-year teachers, he wants to make license renewal dependent on a teacher’s performance, as determined by an evaluation and student test score data. The board approved a first reading of that policy; another reading is needed for final passage.
While monumental themselves, the changes enacted and unveiled last week are just pieces of a larger reform movement, based on Huffman’s premise that education practices of the past must change to have real improvement in student performance.
The state in recent years has revamped the teacher pension system, quashed collective bargaining rights, made it tougher to achieve tenure and tied teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Altogether, the changes lay out a new vision for Tennessee education, one that eliminates some of the guaranteed stability long enjoyed by teachers and treats them more like private-sector professionals.
And that’s a sea change that states like Tennessee are leading, said Sandi Jacobs, state policy director at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and policy group that advocates for education reform.
Here are two news releases distributed to Tennessee media as the U.S. Senate considers a landmark immigration bill:
First, from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:
Nashville – According to the results of Harper Polling, an independent polling firm, over three-fourths of Tennessee voters support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and families already here. Over three-fourths also think the bill currently in Congress is tough but fair, and want Senators Alexander and Corker to support it.
The poll offered several questions relating to immigration reform, including “How important is it that the U.S. fix its immigration system this year?” to which 91% of respondents answered “important” (71%) to “somewhat important” (20%). Tennesseans overwhelmingly showed support for an earned pathway to citizenship if undocumented immigrants meet certain requirements, with 77% of respondents showing “strong” (46%) to “somewhat” (31%) support for a legalization process that includes citizenship. The bill is being considered and debated today on the floor of the US Senate.
The following is a statement from Stephen Fotopulos, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition:
“The will of Tennessee voters is clear. We want Congress to do its job, make sense of our immigration laws this year, and finally bring order to the system. Undocumented immigrants are already in our state working hard and raising families, just waiting for the chance to get in line and on the books, and start the long, tough path to citizenship.”
Next, from the American Federation for Immigration Reform:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Twenty-one leaders of Tennessee’s colleges and universities have sent a letter to the state’s two U.S. senators urging their support for immigration reform that will allow more graduates to remain in the country after they finish their education.
The letter dated Wednesday asks Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to back a bi-partisan plan that would ensure foreign-born students educated in U.S. universities will have a clear path to work in this country after graduation.
The educators say current immigration policy threatens “America’s pre-eminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity” because of its inability to retain skilled foreign-born graduates.
Some members of Congress want a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, an idea that’s been met with deep skepticism by some lawmakers.
— Note: A list of those signing is below.
The House gave final legislative approval Wednesday to legislation intended to eventually end Tennessee’s status of having the nation’s highest beer taxes.
The bill was approved 87-2 by the House on Wednesday without debate beyond sponsor Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, describing it as “simply replacing an antiquated 1950s tax structure.”
The Senate approved SB422 last week, 30-1, under sponsorship of Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it.
The bill transforms Tennessee’s 17 percent tax on beer at the wholesale level to a flat-rate tax of $35.60 per barrel.
The Senate Monday night approved, 30-1, legislation that will switch Tennessee’s wholesale beer tax to a levy on volume rather than on price.
The current system has left Tennessee with the highest beer tax in the nation, according to the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, which has been pushing SB422 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
The state’s present 17 percent wholesale beer tax amounts to about $37 per 31-gallon barrel and has increased 30 percent over the past ten years as beer prices have risen.
The bill effectively freezes the tax at current levels, avoiding future increases as prices rise.
“This bill will increase jobs in the brewing industry and help consumers by leading to a better selection at lower prices,” Kelsey told colleagues.
Who said the “traditionally we have taxed things in Tennessee based on their sales price” and questioned why beer should be treated differently.
Kelsey noted that beer is also subject to the state sales tax, which will continue to rise as beer prices increase, and said the legislation is needed to make Tennessee more competitive with other states in recruiting breweries.
He said the present system is particularly hard on microbreweries, which typically sell their brew at higher prices because of low volume. The tax now makes their products even more expensive, he said.
Campfield abstained on the final vote. The sole no vote was cast by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet.
The bill is up for a House floor vote on Wednesday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Attorney General is defending a state law that caps damages in civil cases in a lawsuit filed by the husband of a Brentwood woman who died after getting fungal meningitis from tainted steroid injections.
The lawsuit was filed by Wayne Reed over the death of his wife, Diana, against the owners and operators of Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, which administered the shots produced by the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center.
Diana Reed died on Oct. 3 and was the primary caregiver for her husband, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and uses a wheelchair. The lawsuit accuses those who ran the outpatient clinic of being negligent and reckless for using compounded drugs from NECC.
More than 700 people have gotten sick from the injections and 50 have died across the country stemming from the outbreak that was first discovered in Tennessee last fall.
Wayne Reed’s complaint asks for $12.5 million in compensatory damages, well above the maximum amount that plaintiffs can receive under a Tennessee law that went into effect in 2011 that caps damages from personal injury cases.
Reed’s attorneys claim the law that caps damages at $750,000 for non-economic damages and $500,000 for punitive damages is unconstitutional. The lawsuit says that it deprives him of his protected right to trial by jury and usurps the powers of the judicial branch.
Attorney General Robert Cooper filed a motion to intervene in the case to defend the state law and a hearing on the state’s request is scheduled for Friday morning in Davidson County Circuit Court.
Gov. Bill Haslam tells Politico that Republicans didn’t do a good job of messaging in the 2012 national elections. He said that President Barack Obama “was able to say, ‘Listen, if you all would just tax rich people, problem solved'” — and that the Republican Party failed to push back successfully.
“We lost the argument,” Haslam said in an interview with POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin.
Haslam said the GOP should do a better job of illustrating the problems generated by debt and other economic woes.
“The one message we haven’t gotten by is, we’re not doing any favors by continuing to pass the debt on down, and we have not done a good job for whatever reason of explaining it,” Haslam said. “The second thing we haven’t done a good job of explaining is this: Unemployment and economic growth are directly related to business investment. Directly related. And we have not been able to make that connection.”
He also acknowledged that the Obama campaign chalked up successes at the ground game level, and called on his party to compete everywhere — not just in GOP-friendly territory.
Haslam, the governor of a deep-red state, also struck a centrist tone on the topic of immigration. When Martin asked about immigration reform, Haslam said he “actually would” like to see a comprehensive immigration reform bill signed. He said he views the issue through the lens of economic development, and senses that there is the political will to move on the subject.
See also Politico’s interview with Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, mostly on the Democrat’s advocacy of gun control, wherein there is this line: During his interview with POLITICO, Malloy also slammed Republicans for not negotiating, he said, on sequestration. But he did have kind words for one GOP lawmaker: Malloy named Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) when asked about his favorite governor from the other side.
(Note: This is a column appearing in the Knoxville Business Journal.)
Jeb Bush, appearing with Bill Haslam at a two-man January education forum in Nashville, offered the opinion that “bigger is better” in a gubernatorial reform agenda.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “If you’re focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time (in state government or the Legislature), you’re going to be tweaking workers’ compensation.”
Haslam promptly quipped in reply: “Careful … Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”
Unbeknownst to the former Florida governor, the present Tennessee governor had been hatching – some folks call the Haslam approach “task forcing” – a plan for workers’ compensation reform for the past year or so.
Haslam formally announced the gist of his proposal in his “state-of-the-state” speech on Jan. 28 to the the 108th General Assembly.
The proposal is pretty big, insofar as workers’ compensation goes in Tennessee. Far more reaching than the last reform effort, presided over and pushed through a Democrat-dominated Legislature by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen almost a decade ago.
Gov. Bill Haslam says that changing the direction of higher education is “more than a battleship,” but that he eventually expects to change its governing structure, according to Hank Hayes report on a meeting with members of the Kingsport Times-News Editorial Board.
An excerpt: “It’s such an insular world. It’s the most insular world I’ve ever seen,” Haslam, a Republican, said of higher education.
After a top-to-bottom review last year, Haslam didn’t push for change in the state’s higher education governing structure.
That governing structure features two big boards — the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees — in addition to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the state’s coordinating agency for higher education.
Haslam admitted he hasn’t figured out what to do with the governing structure.
“There’s as many answers as there are states as to how it should be set up,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think governance structure is our primary issue … (but) I think we address governance structure before we leave here. At the end of the day, it matters.”
In the meantime, Haslam said his administration is “hacking away” at other pieces of higher education in an attempt to entice Tennesseans to get more college diplomas.
His budget proposal calls for a partnership with Western Governors University to offer online courses with a goal of increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.
Haslam has proposed starting a $35 million endowment to provide scholarships to students from low-income families through the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp.
He has also appointed Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd to be the head of an ongoing higher education review effort.
One part of that effort, said Haslam, is expanding college affordability.
“I would love for a middle-income family to send a kid to a two-year program for free,” Haslam said. “We don’t think we’re all that far from coming up with a formula for making that happen.”
State government, Haslam pointed out, is now funding higher education based on college completion instead of enrollment. It’s all part of a work force development strategy.
“We need more engineer majors. We need more welders. We need more computer science majors. You will see us investing in those buildings and places that increase capacity,” Haslam said.
But Haslam indicated the biggest looming issue is how the state will react to the federal health care reform law, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
When he submitted his budget proposal to lawmakers, Haslam deferred one ACA decision — whether Tennessee should expand its Medicaid system.
“We could decide to expand tomorrow, or we could expand it five years from now,” Haslam said of the decision.
ACA’s changing Medicaid eligibility requirements, however, will bring more people into the program and cost the state $150 million to $200 million even without expansion, Haslam said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday TVA could be destroyed if it remains under the federal government control and suggested that the region’s governors could be better overseers of the agency providing electricity to 9 million people in seven states.
“On most days in Washington, I fear the federal government is going to destroy TVA,” Corker told reporters following a speech to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
The senator has previously expressed concern about the lack of corporate executive experience on the TVA board of directors, saying its “entire governance structure” needs to be reviewed. On Wednesday, he elaborated on some possible ways of restructuring while stressing “I’m not proposing anything” at this point.