This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Some teachers may think they’ve lived through a roller coaster of educational changes in recent years. But they haven’t seen anything yet. Already, classroom standards are more rigorous. Evaluations are tougher and more regular. And accountability is no longer a catch phrase, but a component of many parts of a teacher’s career. On Friday, the Tennessee School Board opened the door for teacher pay schemes that link salary to performance. And state officials rolled out plans that will make it tougher to become a teacher and harder to stay in for the long haul.
Gatluakk Thach, a former refugee and child soldier in southern Sudan, can attest to the enormous struggle of getting to English classes. On Saturday, World Refugee Day, Thach spoke at ESL to Go’s public unveiling of its “classroom on wheels” designed to bring English classes to refugee communities throughout Nashville. “The refugees who are coming (to the U.S.) have left their homes because they were destroyed, because they were persecuted,” Thach said. “When I heard about the (mobile classroom), I was almost in tears.”
Middle Tennessee State University’s secondary teacher preparation recently earned a 3.5 star rating from the National Council on Teacher Quality, but that doesn’t mean the university should rest on its laurels, said education Dean Lana Seivers. NCTQ’s report ranks 1,130 institutions and said most education schools don’t train future teachers to manage their classrooms, don’t make sure they know enough about the topics they’ll be teaching and don’t prepare them to deal with a diverse range of students. Before joining the university three years ago, Seivers spent five years as the state commissioner of education.
Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley sounded upbeat when he recently touted progress made on upgrading State Route 126, also known as Memorial Boulevard. “We’re going to get a new road,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, told a Greater Kingsport Republican Women’s luncheon in early June. “It’s going to be a safer road. It’s going to be a new technology road. The state is going to spend between $90 million to $100 million (the project’s estimated cost) right here in the district. … Folks, we’re going to be doing pretty good.” What Shipley didn’t say is he has spent much of this year at odds with the Tennessee Department of Transportation over the project.
Tennessee’s congressional Republicans usually find themselves on the same page as think tanks and advocacy organizations that call for restraining government spending. But when it comes to setting federal agricultural policy for coming years through a farm bill currently making its way through Congress, those organizations find the positions of most Tennessee Republicans unpalatable. “Taken as a whole, this legislation (the House farm bill) is a far cry from the free-market reforms that would allow farming to flourish, give consumers a fair shake and protecttaxpayers from excessive spending,” the National Taxpayers Union wrote in one of its analyses.
The main bulbs in the operating room dimmed Friday afternoon, but a pair of lights persisted. On the ceiling hung two neon rings, glowing and green. And from flat-screen monitors — some on the walls, some on equipment, six in all — a loop of nature scenes played. Here is a waterfall in a forest. Now here is another waterfall in another forest. “When a patient rolls into the room,” said Lisa McCluskey, Memorial Health Care System’s vice president of marketing and communications, “this is what they see.” Soft music, meanwhile, hummed through the new South Tower Surgical Suite.
Rhea County school officials held a Saturday workshop to review immediate needs for 2013-14 and goals for everything from teacher pay scales to curriculum. “We have the autonomy to set our own pay scales” for the 2014-15 year, said Director of Schools Jerry Levengood. On Friday, the State Board of Education adopted a new minimum salary schedule and voted to allow differential pay scales, which means school districts can pay teachers extra based on local needs, such as hard-to-fill subjects or low-performing schools.
After the merger process winds down and schools are open in the unified Memphis and Shelby County school district, members of the consolidated board will get a chance to make a stronger commitment to their off-stated view that it’s “all about the students.” One group of students is preparing to make a serious bid for students on the school board — nonvoting, of course, but with the kind of access that would make sure students’ voices were heard on decisions that they care about. Students are confident the idea will fly, and their representatives on the board will be taken seriously.
A recommendation from the county Financial Management Committee will be sent to the Madison County Commission proposing to reduce the Educational Capital Budget by $911,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. The motion was made and approved to recommend reducing the budget during a called meeting of the Financial Management Committee on Thursday. The recommendation will go the full County Commission, which will vote whether to accept it on July 1, when commissioners also will vote on final approval of the county’s overall budget for 2013-14.
In 2009, TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, published a groundbreaking study called “The Widget Effect.” The study showed how education policies across the country treat teachers as if they are “widgets,” interchangeable parts on an assembly line, rather than individual professionals. The consequences for public education are enormous. Good teachers don’t receive recognition, let alone compensation, for excellence. Ineffective teachers linger, tarnishing the prestige of the profession and depressing compensation for all. In Tennessee, the legislature and State Board of Education have worked together with the Haslam administration to tackle the kinds of issues detailed in the “The Widget Effect.”
As they might say in University of Tennessee financial circles — or maybe math circles, dietary science circles or ornamental horticulture circles — I’m about to compare apples to Big Oranges. Big deal. When it comes to monetary matters on The Hill, nothing ever makes much sense. Nonetheless, I find it astounding that UT’s brain trust can miraculously produce money to lavish on the execs, but then must go hat-in-hand to pay for routine operations. Case in point: The board of trustees recently doled out juicy pay hikes to President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, raising their respective salaries to $465,618 and $434,452.
Tennessee officials are on the verge of violating the law, ignoring the state Constitution and disregarding logic, and no one seems to be putting up much of a fight. No one, that is, except for John Jay Hooker Jr., a Nashville lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor. On June 10, Hooker filed a lawsuit in hopes of blocking the appointment of successors to three state appeals court judges who plan to retire in 2014. Hooker claims that the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which dissolves at the end of this month, has no right to select a slate of candidates from which the governor will select replacement judges.
When the Memphis City Council’s newest member returns to the council-administration budget jousting Tuesday he wants to bring more compromise and sacrifice to the effort to approve a budget and set a tax rate to fund it. Lee Harris is key to that because, due to a long-planned family vacation, he missed last Tuesday’s marathon council meeting, where one of the more contentious budget issues failed on a 6-6 vote: fully restoring the 4.6 percent pay cut the city placed on city workers in 2011. When the council takes up the third and final reading of the budget Tuesday, it is likely that the pay cut issue will be reconsidered.
Has the Gang of Eight (plus two) achieved the impossible? Encouraging news on immigration reform emanated last week from the U.S. Senate — the place where, of late, bills have gone to die despite overwhelming public support. This time could be different, as senators seem to have learned from the way the gun background checks bill failed. Supporters of the immigration reform bill are not merely content to be on the right side of history. They are crafting an offer that only the most obstinate senators can refuse, and sending the House a wake-up call, as well. Before Friday, the Senate bill already was strongly bipartisan, thanks to the work of Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake and Democrats Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet.
We believe the government should not make a huge profit off the back of our nation’s college students. However, the federal government projects a record $50 billion profit on student loans just this fiscal year, according to its own Congressional Budget Office. That’s more money than ExxonMobil made in 2012, when it was listed as the most profitable company in the country with a $44.9 billion profit, according to published reports. The sad fact is that while interest rates on home and car loans are at a historic low, interest rates on some student loans are scheduled to double on July 1. We urge Congress to act quickly before that happens.