In hopes of speeding up debate on numerous education issues slated for discussion during next week’s special session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is adding new members to key committees that will hear proposed legislation.
The goal is to let lawmakers chime in and sound off during committee hearings so they might have fewer questions when the legislation hits the Senate floor, said Ramsey aide Lance Frizzell.
The move gives each of three key committees an 8-5 Republican-to-Democrat ratio, creating “uniformity” in member numbers among the three bodies, Frizzell said.
But the shift skews the political make-up of the key education committee, tilting the scales towards Republicans.
Top Senate Democrat Jim Kyle, of Memphis, says he’s not worried about it.
“This session is not coming down to some partisan vote,” he said. “I expect us to pass the governor’s bill, which I will be the sponsor of.”
The hottest topic of the special session will be deciding how much weight student test scores should have on teacher and principal evaluations, an issue Gov. Phil Bredesen says needs to be resolved in order to score more than $400 million in federal “Race to the Top” grant money.
It is now illegal to use student test scores to evaluate school officials for tenure, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. Lawmakers expect to change the law during special session, though it is an issue of contention with the Tennessee Education Association which is afraid the scores will have too much bearing on teacher evaluations.
“Specifically, we need to unlock that data to make better use of it in our teacher and principal evaluations,” Bredesen told members of the Knoxville Area Chamber of Commerce on Friday. “Additionally, we need to use those evaluations to make better informed decisions on employment decisions, including assignments, promotions and tenure.”
Ramsey, a GOP hopeful for governor in 2010, said he’s confident he can find a way to link half a teacher’s evaluation to student performance and pass it through the Senate.
“I think 50 percent is more than fair,” Ramsey told TNReport.com earlier this week. “I think it’s something that the public is demanding.”
Ramsey expanded the Senate Education Committee along with the Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee from nine to 13 members each. The Finance, Ways and Means Committee grew from 11 to 13 members.
The education committee added Ken Yager, R-Harriman; Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis; and Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. The Republican to Democrat breakdown was previously 5-4.
Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; and Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, were added to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The party margin there was originally seven Republicans to four Democrats.
The Commerce, Labor and Agriculture committee added Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; Doug Jackson, D-Dixon; Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport; Opehlia Ford, D-Memphis; Tim Barnes, D-Adams; and Bo Watson, R-Hixson. The committee typically has a 6-3 breakdown.
Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, were both pulled off that committee to make room for other senators, Frizzell said. Both also sit on the Education Committee.