By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Preparing Tennessee’s youth to be more competitive in a tough job market requires a collaborative effort from different groups, say state lawmakers in agreement with a recent report.
The report released earlier this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project called on businesses, governments, philanthropies and communities to work together to create opportunities that will benefit young people and build a stronger workforce for the future.
The report showed employment of youth ages 16 to 24 nationwide is at its lowest point in 50 years.
In Tennessee, fewer than one in four youth ages 16 to 19 were working last year, and only about 60 percent ages 20 to 24 were employed, according to the report.
It said part of the blame is the economic downturn that has forced adolescents and young adults to compete for entry-level jobs that older, displaced workers are also seeking.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Delores Gresham said Tennessee has passed education reforms that should help students perform better in school and hopefully be more competitive in the workforce, but she said “everybody has to do their part.”
“It takes every one of us at every level to … create opportunities for our young people,” said the Somerville Republican. “We want our young people to succeed.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy, Tennessee recently enacted a pro-abstinence sex education law that is among the strictest in the nation.
The most debated section of the bill bars educators from promoting “gateway sexual activity.” But supporters seemed too squeamish during floor debate to specify what that meant, so critics soon labeled it the “no holding-hands bill.”
One thing missing from the debate in the Legislature was a discussion of whether the law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last month really would help reduce Tennessee’s high teenage pregnancy rate. Experts say it won’t and warn that it leaves teenagers inadequately educated about sexuality and prevention of pregnancy and disease.
Tennessee’s pregnancy rate among girls 15 to 17 has dropped steadily since the first abstinence-focused sex education curriculum was put in place in the 1990s, according to figures from the state Commission on Children and Youth. In 2009, the latest data available, there were 29.6 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, down from a rate of 48.2 in 1998.
Yet the state’s teen pregnancy rate remains one of the highest in the nation, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization.
The Tennessee Democratic Party is criticizing Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, for his comments during House floor debate on a bill that amends the state “cyberbullying” law. During the debate, Rep. Jeremy Faison spoke out against the bill, displaying a “boys will be boys” mentality towards bullying, and ignoring the public outcry from parents who have lost children to suicide after years of vicious and intolerable harassment. He then went one step further and said that “I will submit to you today, that they didn’t commit suicide because of somebody bullying them, they committed suicide because they were not instilled the proper principles of where their self esteem came from.”
Faison is apparently blaming the parents of suicide victims for their inability to “instill the proper principles” in their children. What a disgrace. Now, of course a tall and burly Faison doesn’t see any problems with bullying, as he admitted, he was perfectly capable of defending himself or dishing out punishment as he saw fit. But many kids don’t have that ability. That is why laws like these need to be passed.
It is unfortunate that some in the Republican Party have become the protectors of bullies.
See also Steve Hale, who has Faison’s apology: “After reviewing my comments on the House Floor today, I regret what was a poor choice of words. My true intent was to protect children from becoming criminals. Suicide has touched my family, and I would never want a parent or family member to feel they were responsible for such an unimaginable tragedy.”
Opinion from Gail Kerr: Two Middle Tennessee gay teens have killed themselves in recent weeks, and friends and family members say both were the objects of persistent bullying in school because of their sexuality.
Which is the best reason Tennessee lawmakers need to examine their hearts and put a screeching halt to the “don’t say gay” bill, which would contribute to a toxic atmosphere in schools. By telling teachers that they cannot discuss homosexuality, the legislature would be endorsing free-for-all bullying of gays.
The bill breeds hostility in the highest halls of power in Tennessee. There’s no excuse for it.
Funeral services were held Monday for Phillip Parker Jr., 14, an eighth-grader at Gordonsville High School. He hanged himself in the upstairs bathroom of his home Friday night. Family members said they complained to school officials about the constant bullying he experienced because he was gay.
In December, Cheatham County High School senior Jacob Rogers, 18, killed himself. He, too, was gay. He, too, complained about being bullied because of it to school officials. He had other troubles as well.
Could any elected official look in the eyes of one of those two teens’ relatives and defend a vote in favor of this horrific “don’t say gay” bill? If teachers and guidance counselors are forbidden from using the word “gay,” how can they respond to bullies?
The suicide of a Cheatham County high school senior should show every Tennessee legislator how devastatingly dangerous the “don’t say gay” law would be, says Gail Kerr. This unnecessary, homophobic law made national headlines last year. Now, Tennessee is in those headlines again. Only this time, it’s for a tragedy: the Dec. 7 suicide of 18-year-old Jacob Rogers, a senior at Cheatham County Central High School. He was openly gay.
“I think it will wake some people up,” said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Nashville committee of the Tennessee Equality Project. “This is the first notable case right next door to Nashville.”
The project works to protect the civil rights of the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. It fought against the “don’t say gay” bill last year and said cases like Rogers’ are exactly why. The bill got so much publicity, “it’s created a chilling effect in Tennessee. A lot of people think the law has passed, and we can’t talk about those things.
The Tennessean’s year-end story on Bill Haslam also has a quote from the governor on don’t say gay (along the lines of what he’s said before): “I don’t think it’s something we need to have,” he said. “In the end, I don’t know that that’s a problem in our schools today.”