News release from House Democratic Caucus:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (July 17, 2013) – The Tennessee Black Caucus released the following statement in response to the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida:
“This was a disappointing verdict that just goes to show we have a long way to go until all Americans enjoy true equal protection under the law,” said Rep. Larry Miller, Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus. “While we mourn and pray with the Martin family, we must also work hard to stop this from happening to innocent children here in Tennessee.”
On Sunday July 14, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators released a statement of support for the Martin family and reiterated the NBCSL opposition to so-called “stand your ground” laws across the country. In December of 2012, NBCSL ratified resolution LJE-13-06 “urging state legislatures that have adopted ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Shoot First’ laws to reform or repeal them and we also support the review and investigation by the United States Department of Justice referencing the Zimmerman case.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate.
Republican state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the Legislature adjourns next year.
The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the daily allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol. It passed the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
Todd called the study unnecessary because the information about costs is already available.
A separate bill would strip the $107 daily hotel allowance from lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol.
The State Board of Education was told Friday that veteran teachers with multiple degrees do no better at helping Tennessee children learn than those with less experience and education, reports The Tennessean. Armed with new research showing that teacher effectiveness is related to neither experience nor advanced degrees, the board asked for a plan that would instead tie teacher salaries to student test scores.
“I think we’ve got to ask the department to take a look at this data and come back to us with a better alignment of pay and performance — a pay system that is based more on performance than some of these other factors,” said board Chairman B. Fielding Rolston.
Facing aggressive goals for raising student test scores, the state has been toying for several years with the idea of linking pay to teacher performance. The concept has met fierce resistance from teachers’ unions. Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam supported an unsuccessful bill to pay bonuses to teachers based on merit or for teaching larger classes.
Traditional pay plans reward teachers for earning advanced degrees and for years of experience, but at least 20 of the state’s 136 school districts have been allowed to experiment with their own pay scales.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman stopped short of saying he does not think teachers should be paid more for additional degrees or experience. But Huffman said he does not believe the state should mandate extra pay for factors that do not drive student performance.
The research, conducted by a new internal research team within the Tennessee Department of Education, was based on teacher evaluations for the 2011-12 school year. It used improvement in student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness.
On average, teachers with less than five years in the classroom were just as likely to be effective as those with more than 20 years of experience, the researchers’ presentation showed. And teachers with only a bachelor’s degree helped students increase their test scores just as well as teachers holding masters or doctoral degrees.
“The fact that the evidence doesn’t show teachers getting better over time is an indictment of professional development,” Huffman said.
Only 35 percent of the state’s teachers were included in the study because the others do not teach subjects measured by standardized tests.
That’s one of the weaknesses of a pay-for-performance plan, said Gera Summerford, president of the state’s teacher union and largest professional organization.
“Pay for test scores is extremely risky,” she said.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Four Tennessee school districts have joined a small but growing group of districts nationwide that are experimenting with alternative ways to pay teachers, a new report released today by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) highlights.
Alternative salary plans base teacher pay increases on positive performance ratings rather than on years of service and graduate degrees earned, which are the basis for traditional salary plan increases. Alternative salary plans allow effective teachers to earn higher salaries more quickly than they would under traditional plans. The report, titled Trends in Teacher Compensation: Focus on Alternative Salary Schedules, details how the alternative plans work, what characteristics they share and how they differ from the more common performance bonuses.
The four Tennessee districts – Johnson County, Lexington City, Putnam County, and Trousdale County – that implemented their alternative salary plans in the 2011-2012 school year are scheduled to be joined by three more districts next fall: Haywood, Lincoln and Polk County schools.
Research suggests that the factors used to set traditional teacher salary schedules – years of service and graduate degrees – have limited value as indicators of teacher effectiveness. Tennessee law requires the adoption a state minimum salary schedule for teachers based on experience and training. However, the law was revised as part of the 2010 First to the Top legislation to allow local districts to develop alternative schedules, subject to state approval.
Alternative salary plans allow districts to recognize more effective teachers based on performance measures such as classroom evaluations and increases in students’ test scores. They are generally considered a more financially sustainable way to reward high-performing teachers than paying performance bonuses on top of traditional salary increases. The new plans restructure the salary schedule, eliminating automatic increases for all teachers to redirect more pay to the more effective teachers.
The report found that most alternative salary plans, including those in Tennessee, also feature individual or group bonuses for specific objectives such as meeting student achievement targets, teaching high-needs subjects or in high-needs schools, performing leadership duties or completing professional development goals. The report includes descriptions of the alternative plans in use in Tennessee and selected other districts and states.
Interest in alternative salary plans has been spurred by federal grants, like Teacher Incentive Fund and Race to the Top, and by private funders. In 2010, Tennessee received grants totaling $72 million over five years from the Teacher Incentive Fund and in 2012, the state received another $5.5 million grant. The state has also directed some $12 million of its Race to the Top Grant for a special fund to support districts that want to design and implement alternative salary schedules.
Officials in the districts using the new pay plans indicate that the new plans are more complex to administer and budget and require adequate data systems. Because alternative pay plans are based on teacher performance, the fairness, accuracy and reliability of teacher evaluations can receive additional scrutiny. Districts adopting these pay plans see them as a better way to target resources to recruit and retain the most effective teachers.
OREA is an agency within the Comptroller’s Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.
To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.
Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.
And that report, which was published in April in the peer-reviewed journal, doesn’t sit comfortably with some people who claim Melungeon ancestry.
“There were a whole lot of people upset by this study,” lead researcher Roberta Estes said. “They just knew they were Portuguese, or Native American.”
In a March 24 editorial, the Wall Street Journal declared Gov. Bill Haslam “the main obstacle to reform” of Tennessee’s inheritance tax. Now Haslam has replied with a letter to the editor of the publication that appears under the headline, “I’m Not the Problem on Death Tax Reform.” The governor has, of course, now embraced the idea of complete repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance tax.
Here’s an excerpt from the editorial: A November 2011 study of tax return data by economists Arthur Laffer and Wayne Winegarden shows how people avoid state death taxes. The study compared Florida and Tennessee high-income returns. Both states have no income tax, but Tennessee is one of only two states that imposes an estate and a gift tax. (Connecticut is the other.)
The authors point out that this year there is a $5 million exemption on the federal estate tax and gift tax (a once-in-a-lifetime wealth transfer for the living), but in Tennessee the exemption is a meager $13,000 for estates and gifts. With a gift and death-tax rate that reaches 9.5%, a Tennessean with a $5 million estate would pay $462,000 more estate tax than someone living in the 29 states with no such tax, such as Florida. Tennessee is a very expensive state to die in.
The Tennessee tax really does cause the rich to flee. The authors found that in 2010 Florida had nearly twice as many federal tax returns with taxable estates (per 100,000 population) as did Tennessee. The average estate is also larger in Florida–$7.4 million versus $4.4 million in Tennessee.
Here’s the kicker: Because wealthy people avoiding the estate tax take their businesses and spending with them, the study concludes that “had Tennessee eliminated its gift and estate tax 10 years ago, Tennessee’s economy would have been over 14% larger in 2010.” They also find the estate tax cost Tennessee state and local governments over $7 billion in tax collections. Could there be a more self-defeating tax?
The main obstacle to reform in Nashville is GOP Governor Bill Haslam, who earlier this year acknowledged damage from the tax, saying “There’s a whole lot of people who used to live in Tennessee who don’t anymore because it’s cheaper to die in Florida.” But he now says the state needs the revenues, however imaginary they might be. This mistaken logic is also being used to block repeal in Nebraska.
Here’s the Haslam letter: Regarding your editorial “Death Tax Defying” (March 24): In early January I proposed legislation to raise the exemption level on Tennessee’s estate tax from the current rate of $1 million to the federal exemption level of $5 million during my time in office. (Note: Actually, the bill did not originally raise the exemption level to $5 million, though the governor declared that as a goal.)
Just last week, I cemented that proposal by recommending doing so in the next three years and worked with House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent to completely repeal the tax in year four.
This is a thoughtful and realistic approach to eliminate a tax that chases capital out of our state as Tennessee slowly recovers from the economic downturn that we continue to carefully manage our way through.
Tennessee is a low-tax state, and I’m working with the General Assembly to lower taxes even further.
If you accept the conclusion of a recent study, Tennessee’s Department of Tourist Development may be seen as a profit-making agency.
According to Longwoods International, $42 million in state and local government tax revenue was produced from state-sponsored advertising that promotes Tennessee as a great place to visit. The department’s budget is $20 million.
Ergo, the department returned more than $2 in tax revenue for every $1 in tax money spent. All that other stuff that Commissioner Susan Whitaker and her staff do, such as operating 14 welcome centers along our interstate highways, is covered by the revenue-generating side of things.
But the Longwoods study, based on 2010 data, specifically addresses just $2.2 million in “direct advertising dollars” — the portion that went to the newspapers, magazines, broadcasting stations and websites that ran the ads. For that portion, the report declares there is a $19 to $1 “return on investment.”
A new study says good-looking politicians get put on TV more often than ugly ones, and it includes this bit of bonus research: Tennessee’s own (and frequent cable-TV guest) Rep. Marsha Blackburn has been rated as Congress’s most attractive member.
The researchers from Israel asked college students — perhaps the world’s shrewdest arbiters of attractiveness — to rate all of the members of Congress outside of leadership, with Blackburn beating out the legitimately handsome South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Florida Rep. Connie Mack. Researchers then figured out how often each member showed up on television and determined that the hotties got more airtime.
“The effect of attractiveness on news coverage, the study found, was greater than the effect of tenure in office, or bill sponsorship,” The New York Times said in a write-up of the study. “Frequency of news releases had no discernible effect on news media appearances.”
Gov. Bill Haslam called Wednesday for a new study of the state’s new teacher evaluation system, the source of multiple complaints from educators, before any changes are made by the state Legislature.
In a news conference, Haslam said an “independent review” would be conducted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), which will “separate the anecdotes from the flaws” and report back June 1. Legislative leaders expect the 2012 legislative session to be finished by then.
SCORE President Jamie Woodson, a former Republican state senator from Knoxville, said the “independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization” would cover costs of the review and make recommendations for change after gathering “robust feedback” from all interested parties.
Haslam said SCORE has a record of supporting strong teacher evaluations and that should be a starting point for a review, which would focus on “is what we have working well.” Note: Haslam news release and a statement from Fitzhugh posted HERE.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group representing brick-and-mortar stores says forgone tax collections from online sales are costing Tennessee more than 6,000 jobs.
The Alliance for Main Street Fairness has been a vocal opponent of the state’s agreement to waive the requirement for online retailer Amazon.com to collect sales taxes on items sold through distributions centers being built in Tennessee.
A University of Tennessee study has projected that the state loses $411 million in sales taxes from items sold online. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that every million dollars spent by state and local governments supports about 15 jobs.
Monday’s report multiplies those two figures to conclude that collecting the sales tax on online sales would result in at least 6,200 jobs, earning a total of $260 million in annual wages.