Gov. Bill Haslam has offered some elaboration on his decision to stall action for at least a year on setting up a school voucher system.
A quote as reported by WPLN: “Whether it be change in tenure, new evaluations, Race to the Top, different standards, a lot of people are saying ‘Give us a chance to catch our breath here.’ Which I thought, given everything that’s going on, was a fair request of them.”
Further from TNReport: Haslam’s administration spent months trying to decide where it sat on the idea by studying how vouchers have been used in other states, whether they have worked well and what kind of effect they’ve had.
“We hadn’t really tried to say what would this look like in Tennessee? How much of the state’s money would go? What would be the ramifications of that?” Haslam told reporters.
Gov. Bill Haslam moved Thursday to block action in the 2012 legislative session on legislation to create a voucher system for school systems in Tennessee four biggest counties.
Instead, Haslam announced he is setting up a “task force” to study the issue until the fall of 2012 and make recommendations on what form the any “equal opportunity scholarships” should take.
Legislation establishing a voucher system in Knox, Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties was approved in the past legislative session by the Senate, but failed in the House.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who is lead sponsor of the voucher bill in the House, said he had been briefed on the governor’s plans and has mixed sentiments – disappointment that there will be no action for another year, but gladness that Haslam is recognizes the importance of the issue and presumably will present a plan he can back in 2013.
Dunn said he is “not going to close any doors” toward possible action without the governor’s blessing, but acknowledged the year-long study likely means a year of waiting for any legislative action.
“While it means another year of children being in places where they not developing as they should, it is at least promising that the governor recognizes this is a very important issue and that we’re going to get it right,” said Dunn. “There comes a time say, if we can get it done in a year, there’s a lot of hope there.”
Haslam said in a news release that the study group will be “tasked with looking at how a program would fit into Tennessee’s overall education reform strategy and that seeks to provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students.”
“I support school choice options and believe that opportunity scholarships could be an impactful tool in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
“We should offer alternatives to low-income students and their parents who may feel stuck in failing schools. Charter schools have been a significant part of that process, and it is appropriate to explore additional opportunities.”
The pending bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would make “opportunity scholarships” available to children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches in state’s biggest school systems. The vouchers would be for half the amount of money now provided for each public school student enrolled in the four systems.
Kelsey said that would mean $4,300 per voucher in Knox County, $5,400 in Memphis City schools, $4,200 in Shelby County achools, $4,600 in Hamilton County schools and $5,400 in Nashville schools.
School boards in Knox, Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties have all passed resolutions opposing passage of the bill.
Kelsey emailed reporters this statement: “I am pleased that the governor feels that this bill is important enough to perfect through meaningful discussion,” said Senator Kelsey. “The more people learn about school choice, the more they support equal opportunity scholarships for low-income children. I am excited that our at-risk children will not have to wait much longer for real help from their state government.”
Note: Text of the governor’s news release is available on earlier post HERE.
News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of a task force to make recommendations on what an opportunity scholarship initiative might look like in Tennessee based on the best available research.
The committee will be tasked with looking at how a program would fit into Tennessee’s overall education reform strategy and that seeks to provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students.
“I support school choice options and believe that opportunity scholarships could be an impactful tool in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “We should offer alternatives to low-income students and their parents who may feel stuck in failing schools. Charter schools have been a significant part of that process, and it is appropriate to explore additional opportunities.
“There is still work to be done, however, in identifying what an opportunity scholarship program should look like here, and I think those discussions need to happen before legislation is pursued any further in this session. First and foremost, any new program must complement our ongoing efforts to reform education,” Haslam continued.
Members of the Governor’s Task Force on Opportunity Scholarships for Tennessee include:
Kevin, Huffman, Commissioner of Education
Chris Barbic, Achievement School District Superintendent
Gary Nixon, Executive Director of the State Board of Education
Ron Zimmer, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education at Vanderbilt University
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s (R-Blountville) designee
Rep. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), House Speaker Beth Harwell’s (R-Nashville) designee
Jamie Woodson, president & CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
A representative from the Coalition of Large School Systems (CLASS)
A representative from the independent school community
The committee will engage a variety of stakeholders including parents, education professionals and business leaders throughout the process and will be charged with presenting recommendations to the governor in the fall of 2012.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A special legislative panel that recommends cutting some students’ college scholarships in half says the move could save Tennessee as much as $17 million a year.
Members of the bipartisan Lottery Stabilization Task Force — comprised of lawmakers, the state’s constitutional officers and higher education officials — voted unanimously Tuesday to reduce by 50 percent the lottery scholarship awards for students who do not meet both the standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
Right now, students must either earn a 3.0 GPA or score a 21 on their ACT to qualify for a scholarship worth $4,000 for each of the four years.
Students who attend a four-year institution and meet one of the criteria would get a two-year award amount, under the plan. Those who meet one of the criteria and retain the award through year two would be eligible for a full award in year three.
Tennessee created a statewide task force on prescription-drug abuse four years ago and never set aside a penny to fund it, reports the News Sentinel as part of a story package on pill abuse. The state Drug Diversion Task Force subsists on volunteer efforts in its battle against Tennessee’s most widespread drug problem.
“Everybody thinks we get money,” said Elizabeth Sherrod, the task force coordinator. “We get nothing. Speakers at our meetings travel at their own expense.”
Sherrod works by day as a senior special agent for TVA’s Office of the Inspector General, investigating waste and fraud. She spends her spare time as nominal head of the task force working to promote awareness of prescription-drug abuse and its dangers.
The task force, created in 2007 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, has no full-time staff and no budget. No state, federal or private grants cover its expenses.
No agents wearing Drug Diversion Task Force badges batter down doors or haul pill pushers away in handcuffs, although its members include law-enforcement agents. Members meet on a quarterly schedule.
“We think of it more as an alliance,” she said. “We bring together law enforcement, health care and other professions. It’s just about the passion of everybody in these communities to come together and fix this problem.”
The task force operates a Web site, www.tndrugdiversion.org, and a tip line, 877-FOR-RXTN. A prevention campaign produced posters but no major radio, television or newspaper ads.
Sherrod said she’s worked for the past few years to organize annual training conferences for police and health-care workers. Those events rely on donated space and can’t offer reimbursement for travel or expenses.
“We offer training to investigators free of charge,” she said. “Eventually we’ll be at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy (in Nashville), covering topics like prescription fraud, addiction, hospital diversion, the drugs that are abused and the way they’re abused.” Note: A summary of the other News Sentinel stories on prescription drug abuse is HERE.
Pam Strickland took a look at Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointees to the Health and Wellness Task Force. She was not impressed. The group, which is charged with finding ways to help Tennesseans improve our bad lot regarding chronic, preventable conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, is overburdened with folks who have CEO, CMO and state bureaucrat in their titles.
There’s not a real person who deals with the nitty-gritty of health issues amongst them — not a nurse practitioner or a school nurse or a diabetes educator or a senior center director.
As a colleague said to me during a Tuesday afternoon telephone conversation, “I kept looking for a Tony Garr,” referring to the policy director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, which advocates for affordable health care and for those who have no insurance or who have only TennCare.
So I called Garr and asked what he thought of the task force.
“I noticed the same thing about how privileged the members are,” he said. “I would have put people on it who are obese and who are struggling with the issues that need to be addressed,” so that the task force would hear firsthand what the issues are and they couldn’t avoid the details of the lives.
He continued, “I would put parents of obese children (on the task force). Those kinds of folks. And I would also provide for a way for them to get to the meetings, because one of the problems is transportation.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the 16 members of his Health and Wellness Task Force, a group charged with developing an initiative to improve Tennessee’s health status by leveraging private and public resources.
Tennessee currently ranks 42nd out of 50 in overall health, according to America’s Health Rankings, an improvement from previous rankings, but health care costs in the private and public sectors continue to hinder potential job growth in the state while also threatening budgets.
The Tennessee Obesity Task Force has made its recommendations for action by the state Legislature in the 2012 session, reports The Tennessean. The group wants to be sure all schools are complying with the state’s 90-minutes-a-week mandate for physical education, a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks and increased fines for speeding in school zones.
Rebecca Johns-Wommack, the state’s executive director of the Office of Coordinated School Health, said her office will spend the school year monitoring complaince with the 90-minute weekly physical activity law and must report back to the legislature in August on which schools are in compliance. Last school year, that was 85 percent of Tennessee schools, she said.
“We’re living in a fiscally conservative environment, so we are currently focusing on policies that do not carry large fiscal notes or that might actually bring in revenues,” said Joan Randall, director of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force. “Our policies attempt to raise awareness and create an environment that supports healthier lifestyles.”
Increasing the fine for speeding in a school zone by $50 could make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school, plus the money would go to the Safe Routes to School program, which encourages exercise through walking or biking to schools.
The soda tax bill, as its been dubbed, would place a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on bottled, sugar-sweetened beverages purchased at convenience and grocery stores, but reduce the state food tax by 1 percent. The bill, which was sponsored by State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, last session, was held up in the House Finance Subcommittee. Stewart plans to present it again during the next session
Majority Leader Gerald McCormick tells Andy Sher he has decided the the House Republican Task Force will continue its work. Last week, McCormick said he was considering a disbanding of the group and focusing next year’s session on economy-related legislation.
McCormick says he decided to continue the group after House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, who is the panel’s vice chair, voiced interest in taking over as chairman.
“I just decided to keep it going,” said McCormick, who weighed over the weekend whether to disband the panel in order to focus more on job-related issues. “I still say it’s not going to be a top legislative priority by any means.”
The former chairman, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Memphis, resigned from the post after his arrest.
McCormick said Todd’s situation also shouldn’t interfere with legislative discussions about expanding places that permit holders can carry their weapons.
“Curry obviously made a mistake, but the issue’s still out there,” McCormick said. “It deserves some attention and shouldn’t be judged solely on the mistake of one individual.”
Todd, 63, was arrested Tuesday night by Nashville police. An affidavit says an officer found the loaded gun of Todd, who is a handgun-carry permit holder, “stuffed” in a holster between the driver’s seat and a center console.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rep. Curry Todd has resigned as chairman of a Republican firearms task force in the state House following his arrest on drunken driving and gun charges.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said Thursday that he accepted the resignation because Todd “has other things to concentrate on.”
McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican, said he will also decide this weekend whether to do away with the firearms panel altogether.
Todd, a retired Memphis police office, was arrested in Nashville Tuesday night after failing a roadside sobriety test and refusing to take a breath test. A loaded .38-caliber gun was found in a holster stuffed between the driver’s seat and center console.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville told reporters he wants to ensure that “no favoritism is paid” in Todd’s case.