NASHVILLE – Legislation tying parents’ welfare benefits to their children’s performance in school advanced another step Wednesday despite contentions that it amounts to a “mean-spirited” attack against vulnerable families.
The House Health Committee approved the bill (HB261) on a 10-8 vote after extended debate, including testimony from spokeswomen from a social workers organization and a group advocating for domestic violence victims.
Both opposed the measure, which would cut benefits of parents of a child failing in school by 30 percent in some circumstances.
The measure is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor Thursday. (UPDATE Note: The vote was postpone for a week, until next Thursday.)
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill as amended would apply only to the “worst of the worst” parents. The bill does not apply when a child has a learning disability or a physical handicap. As amended, it also allows the penalty to be avoided if the parent attends two parent teacher conferences, an eight-hour parenting class, arranges tutoring or enrolls the child in summer school.
“What I keep hearing from teachers and educators is that we need to do whatever we can to make parents more accountable,” said Dennis. “This bill does just that.”
But critics argued the bill effectively makes a child responsible for a family’s financial well-being, increasing stress on the youths.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a teacher, said some children could even face physical threats.
“I know it will be putting some of my kids in danger if their grades go down (and benefit checks go down because of it),” she said.
Similar concerns were voiced by Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. She envisioned situations with a mother leaving an abusive situation, causing stress on her children that causes their school performance to plummet – then seeing family income cut to create still more stress.
“It’s just mean-spirited,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville.
But Dennis and some other Republicans on the committee said any pressure will be on parents, who need prodding to help their children get an education.
“I think we’re putting the burden squarely on the shoulders of the parents,” said Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville.
Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, rejected contentions that the bill could leave some children hungry.
“I’m more worried about a child starving for a lifetime (because of not getting an education) rather than for a few days,” Doss said.
All Democrats on the commtttee voted against the bill, joined by two Republicans. All 10 yes votes came from Republicans.
Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, has told reporters he has misgivings about the bill — enough that he would consider vetoing it should the legislation reach his desk.
“Listen, I believe in incentives for the right type of thing,” the governor said. “I’m not sure you have the direct connection there between children’s grades and parents receiving benefits. There’s too many things that can be a disconnect there.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would allow school districts to hire retired law enforcement officers for security advanced in the Legislature on Wednesday after being approved by the governor.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland passed the House Civil Justice Committee on a voice vote before being approved 5-2 by the Senate Education Committee.
The proposal is different from the original version, which would have allowed school teachers and faculty with handgun carry permits to be armed at school. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he’s against such a proposal and others like it being considered this session.
However, a representative from the governor’s office said Wednesday that the governor is OK with the bill that’s advancing.
The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a school policing course. Total raining could require over 400 hours.
A House-passed bill to give children of school superintendents a 25 percent discount on tuition at state colleges and universities could not win a single vote in the Senate Education Committee, leaving it dead for the session.
Currently, the children of certified teachers get a 25 percent discount. The bill (SB402) by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, would give all school superintendents the same discount, even if they are not certified teachers.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, led objections in the Senate committee, noting that Knox County’s school superintendent “makes over a quarter of a million dollars a year.”
“I don’t think he needs a discount,” Campfield said.
Sens. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, offered similar objections. Gardenhire said the bill was setting up a special class and suggested an amendment giving children of firefighters and law enforcement officers a 25 percent discount, saying “no one is more worthy.” He was told by the committee chair that the amendment would not be accepted as is.
In the House, the bill had won approval on a 76-17 vote after defeat of an amendment offered by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.
Fitzhugh’s amendment would have extended the 25 percent discount to all “full-time, noncertified employees” of schools — including people such as secretaries and custodians. His amendment was tabled, or killed, on a 60-33 vote.
Legislation to cut welfare benefits of parents with children performing poorly in school has cleared committees of both the House and Senate after being revised to give the parents several ways to avoid the reductions.
The state Department of Human Services, which worked with Republican sponsors to draft the changes, withdrew its previous opposition to SB132. But the measure was still criticized by Democrats, including Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.
Dennis told the House Health Subcommittee the measure now only applies to “parents who do nothing.” He described the measure as “a carrot and stick approach.”
Johnson, a teacher, said the bill will still put “the burden of the family budget on children’s performance in school” and that would mean a “huge stress on a young person who is trying to do what he can.”
A House subcommittee has killed legislation that could have allowed some counties, including Knox, to elect school superintendents rather than have them appointed by school boards.
Only three members of the House Education Subcommittee supported Rep. Kelly Keisling’s bill (HB417) while six voted against it. After failure in the House panel, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, did not put the Senate companion bill to a scheduled vote in a Senate committee.
Similar legislation has failed repeatedly in past years. This year’s version would have applied only in counties that elected school superintendents prior to 1992, then a law was enacted mandating that all superintendents be appointed.
In those counties, the bill authorized county commissions to set up a local referendum on returning to an elected superintendent system.
Keisling, R-Byrdstown, said turnover of appointed superintendents has been higher in many counties than under the elected superintendent systems. His home county of Pickett is currently paying for two superintendents, one who was fired as well as his replacement.
He also said the bill sets higher requirements for elected superintendents than those now in place for appointed superintendents – mandating a masters degree rather than a bachelor’s degree and requiring at least five years teaching experiences.
A spokesman for the Tennessee Education Association testified in support of the measure while spokesmen for the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, the Tennessee School Boards Association and the state Department of Education spoke against it.
Stephen Smith, speaking for the department, said superintendents should be appointed on the basis of ability, “not limited to someone who happens to live in the distrit and is willing to run.” He also said there is greater accountability to voters with an elected school board and an appointed superintendent. With both board members and superintendents elected, Smith said, accountability is “diffused.”
Those voting for the bill were Reps. Harry Brooks and Roger Kane, both Knoxville Republicans, and Rep. Harold Love Jr., D-Nashville. Voting no were Reps. John DeBerry, D-Memphis; John Fogerty, R-Athens; Debra Moody, R-Covington; Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville; Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro; and Mark White, R-Memphis.
The House gave final approval Monday night to legislation that will require all public schools to allow home school students to participate in their athletic events.
The House approved the measure 69-24 under sponsorship of Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville. It earlier had passed the Senate unanimously with Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, as sponsor and now goes to the governor for his expected signature.
Under current law, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association has developed a policy for home-schooled children trying out for public school teams, but it is left for each school system to decide whether the allow them to participate. Campfield says that roughly half do so. The bill (SB240) requires all systems to open their athletic doors to home-schooled children.
The TSSAA, which is the governing body for school athletics, has opposed the bill. Home-school organizations have pushed the idea for several years.
“This is just making it an even playing ground for everyone who is involved in sports,” said Kane.
In debate, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he was concerned with setting a precedent of giving “the benefits of public schools” to those who are not enrolled in those schools. He questioned whether virtual school students would be next and, if the Legislature enacts a voucher system, whether students with a state voucher attending a private school will be going to public schools for athletics.
Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, said the bill will erode local school board authority in favor of rules developed by TSSAA as body that “nobody elected.”
Kane said the parents of a home-school student “do pay taxes to the state and they do take a burden off the local school system” by not enrolling in it.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, argued in support of the measure. He said that youngsters from all sorts of backgrounds typically play together at younger ages on nonschool teams, “then suddenly when we get into high school we start segregating them” and “excluding children” because they are home-schooled.
“I think we’re here (as legislators) to help kids get benefits,” Dunn said. “If they can benefit, why would we deny them.”
Legislation setting the stage for election of school superintendents in some Tennessee counties faces key votes this week in both the state House and Senate with U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. among its supporters.
“When the state went to appointed school superintendents, it did not take the politics out of the process,” Duncan wrote in a March 14 letter to state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “It simply put political control into a very small group of people.
“The overwhelming majority of citizens who have discussed this with me feel that they should be allowed to vote on this very important position,” Duncan wrote, saying he had been asked to do so by Claiborne County Mayor Jack Daniels.
The Claiborne County Commission has approved a resolution urging passage of the bill (SB916) Niceley is sponsoring. It is among several county commissions that have done so, although the Knox County Commission refused last month with some commissioners saying they wanted more public input and Commissioner Mike Hammond saying discussion of the issue is “a waste of time” until the bill becomes law.
A state law enacted in 1992 requires that all superintendents be appointed by school boards once those in office had served out their terms. Before that, the system for choosing superintendents varied from system to system, but many — including Knox and most other East Tennessee counties — held popular elections for superintendents.
The bill sponsored by Niceley and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, would apply only in counties or cities that had elected superintendents before 1992. In those places, the bill would authorize a local referendum on returning to elected superintendents — if the local county commission, or city council in cases of city school systems, approves the referendum by a two-thirds majority vote.
Tennessee teachers could have gotten annual raises of $8,367 over an almost two-decade period, if school boards had curbed growth in the number of administrators they employ, says TNReport. That’s the message in a new report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, based in Indianapolis.
The bump represents a 17.8 percent increase in pay on the $47,000 salary a typical Tennessee teacher takes home.
Using student population as the benchmark, the foundation examined growth in the central offices in school districts across America, from 1992 to 2009.
The number of non-teaching staff jumped 46 percent nationally, compared to a 17 percent increase in students – or less than half the rate of growth in the administrative ranks.
Tennessee closely followed the national trend line, with administrators and staff increasing 49 percent, compared to a 17 percent increase in students.
“As the dramatic growth of non-teaching staff in public schools shows, throwing more money at education is not the answer,” said Justin Owen, with the free-market Beacon Center in Nashville. The Beacon Center works with the Friedman Foundation to promote school choice.
….Tennessee would have realized more than $543.2 million in savings annually. Nationally, the figure was more than $24.2 billion annually.
To derive the teacher raises estimate, the foundation took the $543.2 million in savings, divided by the number of teachers in the state in 2009.
State legislation that would give local governments the power to create partisan school board elections is dead, reports the News Sentinel. Sen. Becky Massey and state Rep. Bill Dunn, both Knoxville Republicans, confirmed Thursday that because the Knox County Commission tabled a resolution to support the proposal, they will not present the bill (HB420), which they sponsored, before committee.
“I think the plan is that maybe (the commission) will look a little more into it over the next several months, but I’m not going to do anything with the bill,” said Massey.
The senator added that she and Dunn initially agreed to push the bill if the commission “had strong feelings,” but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Officials with the Knox County Board of Education said state lawmakers and the commission did the right thing.
“I’m glad everyone is taking a common sense approach to this,” school board member Indya Kincannon said. “We don’t need more partisanship. We have plenty of issues and challenges that we’re facing in our community and schools.”
School board Vice Chairwoman Lynne Fugate agreed.
“I’m not sure how partisanship would actually improve education for the children in Tennessee,” she said. “Without it . . . helps keep the focus on education and not on politics.”
…After Commissioner Mike Hammond argued last Monday that he wanted public hearings before approving a resolution expressing support of partisan school board races, the commission tabled the matter in a 6-5 vote.
Later, Hammond acknowledged that the board would probably not discuss it further until the state takes action.
But, the General Assembly wants to adjourn by April 19. And the only way for the commission to revisit the proposal within 90 days is if someone on the prevailing side wants to bring it back, and only if the official gets two-thirds support to do so from the 11-member commission.
An article by Cari Wade Gervin takes a thorough look at the lay of the voucher landscape, ranging from a reception for legislators in Nashville to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Knoxville where Rep. Bill Dunn says he’s eyeing an amendment to go further than Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed. There are also a lot of details on how the program would work.
Excerpt: Servers passed around trays of hors d’oeuvres as several members of the House and Senate Education Committees sipped white wine and mingled with lobbyists and concerned parents.
The event was billed as the Nashville kickoff for “National School Choice Week.” A similar event in Arizona a couple of days before had included a performance by the Jonas Brothers; Nashville was not so blessed, but the evening’s panel did include former WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
NSCW bills itself as a nonpartisan awareness group that does not advocate for any legislation or candidates, but it’s clearly well funded. Every chair in the ballroom was draped with a bright yellow fleece scarf embroidered with the group’s logo–graduation caps flying through the air above the words “National School Choice Week”–and an additional table in the lobby was stacked with more scarves, in case you wanted to take some home to your family.
Before the panel began its discussion, it aired a short cartoon about school choice co-produced by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian think tank, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the leading national advocate for school choice. (The two groups have launched a pro-voucher website, ChooseMeTennessee.com, where you can watch the video yourself.)
“It’s just like picking a college. Or a grocery store. Or a shopping mall, car, church, job–you name it,” the video says.
That’s one of the arguments proponents of vouchers like to use a lot–that schools should be just another consumer choice. And maybe that consumer mentality has something to do with Overstock.com’s Byrne’s outspoken advocacy for vouchers, despite having never been married and having no children himself. (He’s the chairman of the board for the Friedman Foundation.) Byrne compared public schools to the Soviet agricultural system and said a market-driven system would breed more educational success.
…But proponents of a universal system, like much of the audience at the NCSW event, think there’s no reason to not make Tennessee a testing ground. At a legislative briefing at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce last week, Dunn, who says he has been a fan of school choice for over 20 years, said he is contemplating an amendment to Haslam’s bill that would open up vouchers to more students.
“I have told [the school choice lobbyists], bring me 55 votes, and I’ll consider expanding the bill,” Dunn says.
Newly elected Rep. Roger Kane, another House Education Committee member, also voiced his support for a wider program.
“It gives a parent a sense of choice. It brings it back to the local level. What’s more local than family?” Kane says. “I think its time has finally come.”