House Speaker Beth Harwell has defended her push to let the state Board of Education – not the local school board – decide on authorizing a charter school in Davidson and Shelby counties. Jeff Woods lays out some of her comments in question and answer format.
An excerpt: Q: The Democrats had a media avail this morning. Mike Turner is upset about your bill. He says you’re trying to resegregate schools in Nashville. What do you say to that? Harwell: That is not my goal at all. If anything, the current charter schools that exist are located in our lower income areas. They are close to about 98 percent minority members. The ones that are doing well are doing exceptionally well. This would have actually made it possible for more diversity within our public charter school system, I believe. … Q: How would the schools be more diverse? You mean more white? Harwell: Yeah.
Q: Republicans say the best government is the one that’s closest to the people. This seems to fly in the face of that. Harwell: No, I don’t think it does. We have a responsibility in this state to allow the most local person to have an option here, and the local person here is the parent. You can’t get much more local than that. I have a lot of parents, not only in my district but others, who wanted this option in our public school system. I am all about promoting and having the best public school system this city can have and right now we’re just simply not there.
A bill allowing charter school applicants to apply directly to the state passed its first hurdle in Nashville Tuesday, potentially setting up a way for Memphis suburbs to have charter schools outside the control of the Unified Shelby County School Board, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The bill would allow charter school operators in Shelby and Davidson counties freedom to apply to the state to approve their charter applications instead of the local school board. The caveat is that if the state denied the application, there would be no appeal.
Under the current protocol, charter applicants that are denied by the school board may appeal the decision to the state Board of Education. The charter schools would report to the state Board of Education, and their test scores would be separate from the local school districts.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark White, R-Germantown, passed 6-3 in the House Education subcommittee. The bill has no fiscal note; it now goes to the full House for further discussion.
See also The Tennessean and Andrea Zelinski’s report, HERE.
State legislators representing Shelby County suburban cities say they may file a bill this week to repeal Tennessee’s 15-year-old prohibition on new municipal school systems statewide, according to the Commercial Appeal.
(Note: The bill filing deadline for the 2013 session is Thursday.) The state legislature last year lifted the ban only in Shelby County, but a federal judge in Memphis ruled a Shelby-only bill violated the Tennessee Constitution.
That municipal school approach is favored by suburban leaders over a plan for converting schools in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington into charter schools under the municipalities’ control. The suburban mayors had focused on charter schools in their negotiations with the County Commission and City Council but ended the talks Friday after declaring an impasse primarily over how much control the suburbs would have. A charter school approach could remain on the legislative table as a backup plan.
If the legislature legalized the creation of new municipal school systems across the state, it could negate the key provision that U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays overturned Nov. 27 — but other issues, including Equal Protection considerations over the possibility of resegregation of schools in Shelby County, are before the judge for review.
Shelby’s suburban state legislators struggled through the 2012 legislative session, especially in the House of Representatives, to win approval of the bill that allowed the suburban cities to hold referendums on creating new municipal districts and elections for school board members after voters approved the new districts. House leaders resisted lifting the ban statewide and eventually limited it to Shelby County.
But with Mays’ ruling forcing them to regroup, suburban mayors and legislators are more confident they can win approval of a statewide repeal because of several reasons:
Richard Montgomery, the Sevierville Republican who chaired the House Education Committee in 2011-12, lost re-election to a GOP primary challenger last August. Montgomery had favored limiting last year’s bill to Shelby County.
The new chairman, Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, participated in a Nashville meeting Tuesday with all of Shelby County’s suburban legislators, the mayors or city managers of the six municipalities, legislative staff attorneys, attorneys for the suburbs and others to lay the groundwork for another legislative push. Brooks could not be reached this weekend but is likely more willing to consider a statewide repeal.
There has been so much turnover in the legislature that few members know why their predecessors in 1998 banned new municipal districts and have no institutional commitment to keeping the ban in place. The 1998 move was part of a comprehensive reform of Tennessee law governing municipal annexations, land-use and urban-growth planning, and when and how new towns can be established.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Leaders of Memphis suburbs are pursuing new state laws that would allow them to run their own schools, bypassing the merger of the Shelby County and Memphis districts.
Officials from Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington met with state lawmakers from Shelby County’s suburban districts Tuesday in Nashville.
Lawmakers told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/XLmba3 ) the meeting was closed to reporters. Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald later told the newspaper they discussed ways to change state law to allow local control.
He said the options included loosening charter school restrictions and letting the suburbs form their own municipal districts.
“What exactly that will look like will just be a matter for debate during the (legislative) session but I think they clearly understand our desire to have some kind of local control,” McDonald said.
The suburbs voted in August to create their own districts after the Legislature passed a narrowly crafted bill that allowed it.
Shelby County officials went to court to stop the new municipal districts, arguing that the law violated the Tennessee Constitution because it to applied to only one county. A federal judge agreed and struck down the law in November.
Another legal challenge raised by the county — that the new districts would lead to a more racially segregated system — hasn’t yet been resolved.
The merger would blend the mostly black Memphis district into the predominantly white district operated by the county.
State Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said after the meeting that new legislation could include altering the measure that was ruled unconstitutional by opening the door to creation of new municipal districts across Tennessee.
“Folks will leave the county over this and we’ll be really hurting then,” Todd said.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Police have arrested former Shelby County interim Mayor Joe Ford on charges of writing a bad check and theft.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/TFy6Iy) reports Ford was lodged on Tuesday morning in the Shelby County jail. A police report says the charges stem from a $1,301.23 check written to Lauderdale Liquors.
Online jail records don’t show whether he has an attorney.
Ford served on the County Commission and was then appointed as interim county mayor from December 2009 until August the next year, when he lost an election to Mark Luttrell.
A proposed change in state law on prosecution of rape cases has been made part of the package of legislation proposed to the Shelby County legislative delegation, according to the Commercial Appeal. Rape carries a statute of limitations of 10 years and aggravated rape has a 15-year statute of limitations. So, even if a rapist is caught and DNA evidence links him to the crime, if the (time set out in the) statute has passed, the rapist can’t be charged.
“I thought, this is so messed up. I don’t know what I can do, but I plan to something about this,” Ybos said.
This fall Ybos became a member of the Victims of Crime Advisory League (VOCAL), a group created in 2009 to help shape public policy to victims of crime. And she wrote a law.
That law extends the statute of limitations by one year from the date that the DNA evidence identifying the defendant is established.
A similar law was proposed in 2006 for all felonies but died because it was too expensive to implement, Ybos said.
Her law, however, would only apply to rape, aggravated rape and the rape of a child.
With VOCAL’s help, that law has been included in the joint legislative package Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton presented to the county’s state legislative delegation for consideration.
“Rape is a devastating crime,” said Ybos, a law school graduate who is studying for the bar exam. “If we have the evidence to solve it, we owe it to the victims to do everything we can to solve that crime.”
Rejecting appeals by state officials, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that three Memphis-area counties, as well as three others in East Tennessee, violate federal air-quality standards for ozone pollution, reports the Commercial Appeal. The decision, issued late Tuesday, means that Shelby, Crittenden (in Arkansas) and part of DeSoto county (in Mississipp) will remain classified as “non-attainment” for ozone standards – a designation that officials say makes it more difficult to attract industry. Anderson, Blount and Knox counties also retain the designation.
Tennessee and Mississippi had filed petitions appealing EPA’s initial decision earlier this year classifying the counties as non-attainment. The appeals cited data showing improvement in local air quality, particularly during a three-year period ending in 2011 during which all Shelby County air monitors met federal ozone standards.
State and local officials had sought to escape the non-attainment classification because of its potentially chilling effect on economic development. New or expanding industries generally are held to stricter pollution-control requirements in non-attainment areas.
And this from the AP:
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner Bob Martineau said Wednesday that the federal agency chose the “most burdensome of several options” in dealing with air pollution in the counties.
“It’s important to note that while EPA’s decision will have long-term negative economic impacts for Tennessee, this decision does nothing to improve air quality,” Martineau said.
Voters in heavily Democratic Memphis and Nashville didn’t necessarily get the memo about U.S. Senate candidate Mark Clayton being disavowed by the Democratic party, observes Michael Cass. Clayton won Shelby County, home of Memphis, by more than 28,000 votes over Bob Corker, the Republican incumbent. He racked up 105,432 votes in Davidson County, losing to Corker by fewer than 6,000 votes.
Some observers said Clayton, who was working for a moving company at the time of his primary victory, was an unknown quantity to most voters. They said he benefited from Democratic turnout for President Barack Obama, who lost the state to Republican Mitt Romney by 20 percentage points but easily carried Davidson and Shelby counties.
“Don’t read anything else into it,” said Van Turner, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party for the past three years and an attorney in Memphis. “Shelby County is a yellow-dog Democratic county. We’re going to support the Democrat in most instances.”
John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said many voters had “never heard of Clayton one way or the other.”
Geer said there also were Democrats who couldn’t bring themselves to push the button for Corker, “even though he obviously was in some sense probably even more representative of Democratic views than Clayton.
“You have two of the most Democratic counties,” Geer said. “It’s no surprise.”
See also Wendi C. Thomas’ column on Clayton: Wasn’t it the party’s job to give Democrats their marching orders: Write in Big Bird if you want, but don’t vote for Clayton?
Not necessarily, asserted Forrester, who wrote in actor Ashley Judd, a faithful Democrat.
“There’s another way of looking at it — voters have a responsibility to educate themselves about candidates,” said Forrester, who isn’t seeking a third term as chairman.
“Obviously, people did not do their homework.”
Good try, but that (yellow) dog won’t hunt.
“That’s a good way for him to try to pin the blame on someone else, but he’s the head of the party, and the bucks stops there,” said Susan Adler Thorp, a political consultant and former political columnist for The Commercial Appeal.
“In politics, you can’t assume that someone else knows something.”
U.S. Justice Department officials will monitor the polls in Nashville and Memphis during Tuesday’s election, the department announced Friday.
From the Tennessean:
Davidson and Shelby counties are two of 51 jurisdictions in 23 states where the nation’s top law-enforcement agency plans to station more than 780 federal observers and department personnel. The Justice Department news release does not say why Davidson was chosen. Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche said it was related to the training poll workers received last month — first reported by The Tennessean — on how to challenge the voting rights of people they believe may not be U.S. citizens.
Asked if he had instructed poll workers to be more careful about applying the law that allows for such challenges, Tieche said, “No, because they’ve never applied it before in the past.”
Tennessee also is in its first year of requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Thursday that voters in Shelby County, where Memphis is located, can use city-issued library cards as a valid photo ID. That ruling applies to Shelby County only.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Shelby County’s administrator of elections failed to properly plan for redistricting, which led to errors in the August elections, a report by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has revealed.
Federal, state and local legislative district boundaries must be updated every 10 years to account for population shifts reflected in new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, for several months, the Shelby County Commission was stalemated on approval of a plan for redistricting at the local level.
In January, the county’s administrator of elections initiated a process for redrawing the county district lines based upon a plan that had been discussed by the commission, but not approved. The county’s elections staff continued work on that process until mid-May, still with no commission-approved plan in place.