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Harwell’s End-of-Session Recap

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, Posted the Following Letter on Facebook, June 3, 2011:

The first session of the 107th General Assembly adjourned late Saturday night, May 21st, after we aggressively worked the last several days to finish our business. We have a long list of accomplishments to point to, proving that it does matter who governs.

Governor Bill Haslam, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and I were united in our belief that in order to make government sustainable, we had to transform the way we did business. We made significant progress this year reducing the size of government, paving the way for job creation, and reforming education.

In addition, we adjourned earlier than we have in the past couple of decades. Compared to last year, our early adjournment saved taxpayers nearly half a million dollars in legislative operational expenses. We have shown that we take the responsibility of governing very seriously, and we will stay true to our principles as we do so.

Our top priority was a balanced budget with no new taxes or tax increases. This year’s budget is $1.2 billion less than last year’s. This includes $82.2 million in specific recurring reductions. The budget also fully funds education, and tucks money away in the Rainy Day Fund for the first time in three years, raising it to $327.7 million.

We had many accomplishments this year, including but not limited to the following:

  • Tort reform – Republicans have also fought for years to see passage of comprehensive tort reform legislation, and this year we were successful in passing a bill that will pave the way for jobs in Tennessee. This legislation will create an environment of predictability and certainty for businesses as they look to expand.
  • Tenure Reform – Our goal is to make sure our teachers are equipped with the best tools possible to educate Tennessee students. We want an effective teacher in front of every classroom, and we want those who are excelling to be rewarded. This proposal is absolutely key to education reform.
  • Charter Schools – Charter schools have a proven track record in Tennessee, and I am delighted that we are giving this opportunity to even more students. Every student in the state of Tennessee deserves the very best we have to offer in education, and charter schools play a huge role in reaching that goal.
  • Collaborative Conferencing – The legislature also acted on a bill that repealed the Education Professional Negotiations Act and moved to a collaborative bargaining process that will open a direct line of communication between teachers, administrators and school boards.
  • Reduction of Meth Amphetamines – We are always trying to stay one step ahead of those who manufacture meth, which is destroying our communities. Utilizing this tracking system will curb the ability of criminals to obtain key ingredients for meth, while not increasing the burden to consumers who need pseudoephedrine.
  • Election Integrity – To ensure the integrity of our elections, the legislature passed a bill to require photo identification to vote. This measure will reduce voter fraud, and make every vote count.
  • SJR 127 – The constitutional amendment will restore the right of Tennesseans to repeal or enact laws governing abortions within federal limits through their elected representatives.
  • E-Verify – This bill helps to ensure that those working in Tennessee are here legally. Illegal immigration has a large financial impact on taxpayers, and this legislation will address this problem.
  • Elimination of a dozen subcommittees – The principles of a limited and more efficient government were a priority this year. To that end, I eliminated a dozen subcommittees that I felt were duplicitous, a reform that helped us to work more efficiently.
  • Elimination of redundant committees – In times of economic hardship, taxpayers demand and deserve state government to be streamlined. To that end, we eliminated 11 “oversight” committees that duplicated the work of standing committees, saving taxpayer dollars.

We started this year with a Republican governor, and strong majorities in both chambers–for the first time in the history of our state. We set forth ambitious proposals for job creation and better schools, and due to the hard work of each state representative, we have done that. This was a very successful year.

As always, I appreciate your support. It was an honor to serve as Speaker of the House, and experience that was both humbling and rewarding. Thank you for placing your trust in me, and let me know if I can ever do anything to assist you.

Sincerely,

Beth

Education Progress Report: Incomplete

Lawmakers have spent much of the year squabbling over education overhauls for how school systems, teachers and their unions operate in Tennessee.

Democrats and leaders with the state’s largest teachers’ union are fighting the GOP-driven proposals but lack the political muscle to pose a serious threat to Republicans who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

Republicans have picked up some education bills and dropped others like hot potatoes. Some of those lawmakers have splintered off and opposed prime education reform bills, thickening the political plot as the legislation inches closer to passage.

Meanwhile, officials with the Tennessee Education Association say teachers feel beat up by this year’s line-up of bills targeting them and their profession.

Here’s a progress report on where the key education bills are in the legislative process:

Leaders Say They’re Done Bargaining Over Collective Bargaining (SB113/HB130):

After four substantial rewrites, the newest version of a bill to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining privileges is now facing a vote on the Senate floor. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House sponsor Debra Maggart — who originally sided with Gov. Bill Haslam in favoring a scaled-back collective bargaining bill — now say they’re both happy with the latest version because it melds drafts from the two chambers and completely bans unions from negotiating teachers’ contracts. Haslam has yet to weigh in on the newest version. The Senate passed the bill on Monday, 18-14.

Teacher Tenure Revamped (SB1528/HB:2012):

Check this one off the list. Haslam signed into law a series of changes to teacher tenure, chiefly by giving schools the ability to take away tenure from under-performing teachers as defined by a new evaluation system. Democrats said they generally agreed with the bill but bitterly fought to delay its implementation until schools can give the newly designed teacher evaluations a test run. Republicans forged ahead anyway and the bill will kick in for the next school year.

Charter School Expansion A Slow Grower (HB1989/SB1523): Haslam is a huge proponent for charter school expansion, but his plan to open up enrollment and lift the cap on the number of charter schools is moving slowly through the Legislature. When we last left this bill, both versions had made their way out of the education committees, however they still face the two Finance Ways and Means committees, scheduling committees, then votes on the chamber floors.

Vouchers Go To Summer School (SB485/HB388): This bill went largely unnoticed until it landed on the Senate floor last week and narrowly won a majority vote. The bill would allow students to switch to a private, parochial, charter or another public school via a state-issued scholarship. Less than a week later, House Republicans kicked the bill into a summer study committee, essentially killing the measure for the rest of the year.

Managing the Memphis Merger (SB25/HB51): The Legislature kicked off this legislative session by passing a bill slowing down the merger between the Memphis City Schools system and Shelby County Schools after Memphis officials decided to disband the district. Democrats loathed it, Republicans loved it, and Haslam has already signed it into law.

Dues Deduction Dead, For Now (HB159/SB136): On top of pushing bills attempting to marginalize the Tennessee Education Association, Republicans also attempted to ban teachers’ automatic payroll deductions to pay their union dues. There’s not enough time to push that bill this year, according to Rep. Glen Casada, who was carrying the bill. The Franklin Republican said he missed the deadline to take up the bill in a subcommittee but vows to bring the measure up again next year.

Political Contribution Confusion (HB160/SB139): A proposal pitched earlier this year that would have banned unions — like the TEA — from giving money to political candidates has since morphed into a bill that allows corporate campaign giving. Casada, who is sponsoring this bill, too, said he backed off the original plan in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a federal ban on corporate contributions. Instead of imposing a ban on unions, like he originally planned, he wants to lift restrictions on corporate giving and allow legislators and the governor to accept political contributions during the legislative session. That measure is still making its way through House and Senate legislative committees.

TEA Serving on Retirement Board (SB102/ HB565): A measure to take away the Tennessee Education Association’s guaranteed seat on the state’s Consolidated Retirement Board has already passed the Senate and is on its way through the House. Like many other education bills, the Senate vote fell on party lines. The measure allows the Senate and House speakers to appoint any teacher they want to the board, regardless of his or her union affiliation.

Haslam Hails New Teacher Tenure Law as ‘Historic Legislation’

Press Release from the Office of Gov. Bill Haslam, April 12, 2011:

NASHVILLE – A crowd of supporters packed the Old Supreme Court Chambers today as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed his tenure reform bill into law, marking his first legislative victory and helping solidify Tennessee at the forefront of education reform in the country.

This historic legislation marks a major education reform milestone in a process that began last year with the bipartisan First to the Top legislation.

“If Tennessee is going to become the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, then it is critical that we improve education because businesses are looking to compete with employees educated for the 21st Century workplace,” Haslam said.

“We cannot remain toward the bottom of the pack if we are going to compete for those jobs, and nothing makes as much of a difference in a child’s education as the quality of the teacher at the head of the classroom,” he added.

The legislation, SB 1528/HB 2012, changes a teacher’s probationary period before becoming eligible for tenure from three to five years as well as links tenure status to performance evaluations, utilizing Tennessee’s extensive student data that is the envy of states around the nation.

The legislation also gives principals the flexibility to keep an non-tenured teacher after the five year period. Previously a teacher would either receive tenure or be fired after three years.

“Our goal in education is to grow the number of college graduates and provide a better educated work force to attract employers, so our effort begins with making sure every child in every classroom learns from a great teacher,” Haslam said. “We have many great teachers in Tennessee, and we can have even more.”

“True tenure reform has been a dream of Republican legislators for as long as I can remember,” said Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey. “I am proud and honored to stand with our Republican governor as we usher in the beginning of a new era in education in Tennessee where the interests of children come first and our focus remains on creating the most qualified teachers in the nation.”

“Our goal is to make sure our teachers are equipped with the best tools possible to educate Tennessee students,” said state House Speaker Beth Harwell. “We want an effective teacher in front of every classroom, and we want those who are excelling to be rewarded. This proposal is absolutely key to education reform.”

“This is the next step in the continuum of education reform,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “Last year, Tennessee made great strides in First to the Top in beginning to address the unacceptably low educational attainment in our state. In step two of these efforts, we once again have the opportunity to lead the nation in education reform by developing a system that treats teachers as professionals and recognizes the critical impact of their work. Effectiveness must be the core criteria for gaining and retaining teacher tenure.”

“Study after study shows when our students have the highest quality teachers leading them, they will reach their full potential,” said state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. “I’m proud to support the Governor’s efforts to identify and protect the best educators in our schools. Ultimately, this law ensures our next generation will be better equipped to enter the workforce and make Tennessee a better place to live and raise a family.”

“The Governor laid out a clear vision for remaking education in Tennessee,” said state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville. “He believes we can raise student achievement by recognizing teachers who are distinguishing themselves as high-performing educators in the classroom. I believe he is correct and this law helps us attain this important objective.”

Other education initiatives for Haslam include an expansion of charter schools in the state as well as allowing HOPE Scholarship recipients to use the money for summer classes.

Haslam Inks Tenure Changes, Questions Fiscal Note on Charter Schools Bill

Teacher tenure will be tied to performance on annual job evaluations beginning next school year, now that Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the first prong of his education reform package.

But it could be a while before he gets the chance to sign his other education bill, which seeks to expand the role of charter schools in Tennessee.

“Personally, I’m pleased this was our first major piece of legislation, and I got to sign it first,” the governor said after signing the tenure bill into law Tuesday. “I think this is too important to keep pushing off until we get it perfect.”

With Republicans running the show in both the House and Senate, the measure easily passed through the legislative process. Democrats didn’t voice much strenuous opposition to the general concept of tenure reform, but consistently voted against the measure all the same, saying it would put too much emphasis on a new teacher job evaluation system that isn’t as yet fully operational.

The new law requires new teachers to work for five years instead of three before becoming eligible for tenure. Once they get to that point, their ability to earn tenure will be directly tied to their performance on yearly teacher evaluations that lean heavily on student test scores.

Charter School Bill Moves Forward

As Haslam’s staff was prepping the Old Supreme Court Chambers for the afternoon bill signing, House Republicans were shepherding a charter school expansion proposal through the Education Committee despite criticism from Democrats that the plan would cost local government too much money and potentially elbow out at-risk students from attending charter schools.

The proposal, also the brainchild of the governor’s office, would allow any student to enroll in a charter school, permit the state to OK some charter school applications and lift the cap on the total number of charter schools statewide.

The bill’s projected price tag indicates local school districts’ funding will be reduced by around $4 million during the 2012-13 school year when the looser restrictions kick in. Since funding for education is based on a per-student formula, as children move into charter schools, the tax dollars will follow them. The reduction to local districts is projected to climb to $24 millon by 2023.

“I’m not sure I understand and accept why the fiscal note is as great at it is, but that’s part of the process. We’ll work through that,” said Haslam. “I think at the end I’m convinced it’s good for education in the state of Tennessee.”

But Democrats are still skeptical.

“We’re going to look around one day, and we’re going to have a charter school on every street corner,” said former Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry before abstaining from the vote. “We’re going to have as many charter schools as we have churches, and that’s not good.

“It gives me heartburn to open enrollment and lift the cap on charter schools.”

DeBerry, who generally describes herself as a supporter of charter schools, said she couldn’t bring herself to vote against giving students a choice on where to go to school. The problem, she told TNReport, is she’s afraid some charter schools are more interested in making money than educating children and will ultimately block out students who come from failing schools or who are struggle academically.

Republicans say those concerns are unfounded, as the legislation requires that charter schools first consider students with low test scores, are currently attending poor performing schools or come from low income families.

Despite DeBerry’s and her party’s objections, Republicans approved the measure and sent it to the Finance Committee, saying that the legislation providing for flexibility of school choice may not be perfect, but they can fix any unintended consequences next year if needed

“It’s not like that this legislation cannot be tweaked if it needs to be tweaked down the road,” said House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, a Sevierville Republican.

The Senate version also awaits a vote in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Frist: To the Top

Tenure reform for teachers has passed both houses of the Legislature, but in the eyes of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, what’s going at the Capitol is part of a much bigger picture.

On Thursday, Frist and his education reform organization SCORE — the State Collaborative on Reforming Education — released a list of marching orders it sees as vital to the effort to transform education in Tennessee. The report on the state of education in Tennessee keeps the pressure on state officials even as some of the organization’s recommended reforms are already gaining ground in the Legislature.

Frist expressed support for Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to reform teacher tenure in an interview with TNReport, and he described education reform in broad, sweeping terms that lend insight into why the transplant surgeon, also formerly one of the most powerful politicians in America, is so involved in education nowadays.

“Within education, you can do Pre-K and do higher education, but then if I have to ask myself based on these experiences of having done a lot of health care and a lot of policy and a lot of legislation, how can you best spend your time, it comes by K-12 education,” he said.

“If you win there, if you can be productive there, you can literally change the course of the history of the United States of America. That’s why I’m there, and not there for a month, not there for a year, but for many years and as far as the future I can see now.”

Frist served two terms in the Senate. He was at one point considered a potential presidential candidate. Frist contemplated running for governor at a time when he basically needed only to announce his candidacy and otherwise potentially serious contenders would have stood aside.

But he chose instead to focus on curing Tennessee’s education ills. The reason, he said, was because that one issue touches so many others — among them jobs, workforce training, rising health care costs, and U.S. global competitiveness — “big problems that really hit the greatness of America.”

Frist said he contemplated how he could have best have an impact. His conclusion: “It all — all — comes back to education.”

Education & Jobs

The SCORE report said Haslam and other leaders must keep education reform at the top of their agenda by emphasizing the connection between education and jobs (pdf). It said Tennessee should focus on developing a pipeline of district and school leaders, saying research has shown that the quality of the leader has a large impact on how much students learn.

The report said the state must place a “relentless focus” on improving instruction, saying that even with debates in the Legislature over tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluations, it’s easy to forget the quality of instruction in the individual classroom.

The report then puts the heat on the Tennessee Department of Education and its incoming commissioner, Kevin Huffman, due to take the job in April. The report said the department must change from a “compliance-oriented” organization to a “service-oriented” operation.

Despite his obvious prominence in the Republican Party, Frist asserts that SCORE is “religiously nonpartisan.”

“Education is a nonpartisan issue,” he said. Frist sees Haslam, a Republican, as picking up where Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen left off.

“What Gov. Bredesen was able to accomplish was getting rid of the hypocrisy of false standards and putting in accurate standards,” said Frist. “What Gov. Haslam is doing is taking the same concept, the same philosophy, to the next step.”

‘Probably Not a Lot’ of Bad Teachers: Frist

The state has been through a lot since the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in education in 2007. It has adopted the Tennessee Diploma Project meant to update standards. It adopted a “First to the Top” reform package in a special legislative session that resulted in, among other things, teacher evaluations being based on student achievement. That package was passed in order to apply for federal “Race to the Top” federal stimulus funds, and Tennessee won $501 million. Half of those funds were allotted to local districts, and half were designated for the state level.

Now, the Legislature is embroiled in an effort to remove the teachers’ union’s collective bargaining power, SB113, an issue Haslam has only recently spoken up on. The governor has sided more with a compromise measure in the House than the hard-line effort in the Senate.

Tenure reform and dramatic changes for charter schools have been high on Haslam’s priorities and have so far seen much smoother sailing in the Legislature.

Frist said he likes the tenure proposal and has made his own video backing the effort. He was asked Thursday if there are too many bad teachers who should be shown the door.

“Probably not a lot,” he said. But if a teacher, year after year, on average leaves students less educated than when they entered the class, the teacher probably should not be teaching, he said.

On collective bargaining, Frist said, “It’s very important for teachers to have an appropriate voice. When that voice becomes so ingrained it hurts students, for example, restricts the number of days a student can be in a classroom — at a time other countries are going in the opposite direction — the system needs to be reformed.”

He said he is “very supportive” of Haslam’s charter school proposals. Haslam has called for lifting the cap on charter schools and allowing a state-run achievement school district to establish charters, rather than just local school boards. A $40 million public/private partnership to expand charter schools was recently announced.

Frist worked on the federal No Child Left Behind law while in Washington and has called for updates in the law, which is up for re-authorization.

“I think it was reasonably successful,” he said. “But what it clearly did is set the stage for what we’re doing in Tennessee today.”

Haslam Statement on House Passage of Teacher Tenure Reform

Press Release from Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam,  March 24, 2011:

“We have many great teachers, and we can have even more”

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statement after the Tennessee House of Representatives passed tenure reform bill SB 1528/HB 2012, 65-32. The amended bill will now go back to the Senate for concurrence.

The legislation changes a teacher’s probationary period before becoming eligible for tenure from three to five years as well as links tenure status to performance evaluations, among other changes.

“I want to thank those in the House and Senate who have supported tenure reform, especially those legislators who helped lead the effort.

“As a state we have to treat teaching like the honorable and important profession it is and make Tennessee a place where great educators feel rewarded and appreciated for their efforts.

“Nothing makes as much of a difference in a child’s education as the teacher at the front of the classroom, and this tenure proposal is an important next step following last year’s bipartisan effort that led to the First to the Top legislation and the Race to the Top award. We have many great teachers in Tennessee, and we can have even more.

“If our goal in education is to grow the number of college graduates and provide a better educated work force for employers looking to relocate or expand in Tennessee, then our effort begins with making sure every child in every classroom learns from a great teacher.”

Senate, House Taking Up Haslam’s Teacher Tenure Initiative

In debates over education reform this year, Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to make it harder for teachers to earn and keep tenure hasn’t been as starkly polarizing as other Republican-backed legislation.

But it is nonetheless provoking resistance from the Tennessee Education Association, the union that represents more than 50,000 of the state’s public school employees.

Eight Republicans and one Democrat in the House Education Subcommittee voted Wednesday to approve Haslam’s tenure reforms. Four Democrats voted against the bill. The full Senate is expected to vote on its version of the legislation Thursday morning. (UPDATE: the Senate bill passed 21-12)

The tenure measure would require new teachers to spend five instead of three years in the classroom before earning tenure, which generally offers job protection. A series of evaluations would determine whether an educator could be put on probation or have her tenure revoked.

The legislation would not affect teachers who currently have tenure. If passed into law, teachers who have tenure as of the next school year would continue to use the current system while those who have yet to receive tenure will be subject to the new rules.

The proposal is a centerpiece to Haslam’s education-reform agenda, which also calls for lifting restrictions on charter schools and allowing students to use lottery scholarships for summer courses.

The governor says it is currently difficult to get rid of public school teachers who aren’t performing at a level of proficiency deemed adequate by their superiors.

According to a 2008 Legislative Brief from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (pdf):

The number of annual teacher dismissals and cost per dismissal hearing cannot be calculated with any precision. The Tennessee Department of Education retains no records of the number of dismissals. Despite a lack of concrete data, the estimated number of dismissal cases is fewer than 50 per year – less than one-tenth of a percent of Tennessee’s total teaching force – according to the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA), with the majority of hearings occurring in the state’s largest school systems. Although only an estimate, this number suggests a very small percentage of Tennessee’s teachers are ultimately dismissed from their teaching duties.

Haslam said Wednesday that OREA’s report — issued when John G. Morgan, now chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, was the state’s comptroller — reveals why tenure reform is necessary.

“I think that does show that maybe the way it’s set up now, it’s too hard to replace teachers who aren’t effective,” said the governor. “I think way more of our teachers in Tennessee are good than are bad. I want to be really clear about that. But we need to have the mechanism to replace teachers who aren’t working well.”

Given the bundle of bills that more directly aim to pare the influence of the TEA — banning collective bargaining, eliminating payroll deductions of union dues, doing away with TEA’s ability to select members of the state retirement board — the prospect of curbed tenure protection has provoked relatively little controversy. When about 3,000 union demonstrators marched on Capitol Hill Saturday to protest the mainly Republican-driven education reforms, tenure was hardly mentioned.

But the TEA is by no means unconcerned with Haslam’s plan — as evidenced by a strong showing of union members sitting in on Wednesday’s hearing and the fact that most of the House subcommittee’s Democrats opposed the bill.

Union leaders worry that the plan will base teachers’ probationary period on a set of largely untested measures. The system will leave holes for teachers who can’t be measured by standardized test scores, known as Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System or TVASS, and may leave other teachers continually in a “probationary” status, TEA President Gera Summerford said.

“Not every student can be an ‘A’ student. And not every teacher can be a top-level teacher,” Summerford said. “It depends on so many conditions, the students that you teach, the environment in which you teach, the community in which you teach.”

She said the TEA is willing to look at some aspects of the tenure law, but wants to make sure teachers still have rights to challenge potential dismissals.

Democrats are too, said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. But they’d like to put off some of the bill’s changes until the state can thoroughly vet the new teacher evaluation system.

Studies in other states show it’s both difficult and expensive to give failing teachers the boot. In Illinois, which is home to some 95,000 tenured teachers, only one or two are fired each year for poor performance, according to one analysis.

Memphis Rep. John DeBerry, the lone Democrat who joined with House Education Committee Republicans in voting for the tenure bill Wednesday, said TEA needs to accept that when they signed on to reforms as part of the state’s desire to win $500 million in Race to the Top education funds last year, they were agreeing to an all-out education overhaul.

“Part of Race to the Top was changing tenure and changing education as we know it,” said DeBerry.

Dunn to Carry Haslam Tenure Bill in House

Press Release from Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville; Mar. 3, 2011:

After Request from the Haslam Administration, Republican Legislator Leads Top Education Initiative

(March 3, 2011, NASHVILLE) – After announcing his legislative package, Governor Bill Haslam’s Administration asked Representative Bill Dunn (R—Knoxville) to guide one of his main proposals for education reform through the General Assembly.

House Bill 2012 is a common sense reform that builds on the work accomplished in First to the Top and ties teacher tenure decisions to teacher effectiveness as measured through the evaluation system. It requires a proven track record of excellence in the classroom before an educator may become eligible for this extra layer of job protection.

The legislation is part of a targeted package to bring accountability to education and, more importantly, make student achievement the top priority for Tennessee.

Governor Haslam stated, “We have many great teachers in our State, and these reforms will serve to elevate the teaching profession, make tenure a more meaningful process that rewards our best teachers, and make it clear that we believe every student in Tennessee deserves a great teacher and a great education.”

Rep. Dunn remarked, “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this legislation through the House and I will make sure we address this issue as quickly as possible with input from all interested parties, including our teachers. Governor Haslam has a strong vision for education in Tennessee. He believes we must promote student achievement and reward teaching excellence. In the long run, this equips our children with the knowledge and skills they will need to make Tennessee a more dynamic and competitive economy.”

The text for HB 2012 can be found here.

Haslam ‘Obviously Pleased’ Tenure Reform Bill Starting to Move

Gov. Bill Haslam was walking at a fairly rapid pace as he made his way Wednesday from the Capitol to an event at the War Memorial Auditorium, so it wasn’t surprising he used the word “rapid” in response to a question about his teacher tenure bill.

A quick question was thrown at Haslam about his response to the Senate Education Committee voting Wednesday to approve his bill to change the teacher tenure process.

“I was obviously pleased to see it pass and come out of there,” Haslam said. “We think it’s an important step, and I look forward to its … you know, rapid, uh … to continue to move through the system.”

Things are moving rapidly for Haslam these days — the committee vote just the latest example that the Legislature appears prepared to give the new governor’s proposals approval and priority.

House Speaker Beth Harwell this week said Haslam’s agenda will probably move ahead of the contentious legislative battle over ending collective bargaining for teachers, with the added intrigue that has surfaced that Haslam may step into that issue.

The tenure bill would change the probationary period for tenure from its current three years to a five-year plan, and teachers would have to maintain high standards once tenure is achieved. They would continue to be watched and could fall back into a probationary period.

Haslam was asked about the vote again Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton, where he attended a Farm Bureau event, then met with reporters. And again, a time element became part of the discussion. One of the most recent issues has been whether the evaluation process for teachers will be ready in time to begin moving forward on reforms.

“I actually have had that conversation about evaluation and how far we are in the process, literally this week with everybody from other governors to President Obama’s education secretary to Bill Gates,” said Haslam, who attended the National Governors Association meeting in Washington last weekend.

“The consensus is this: The perfect is the enemy of good when it comes to evaluation systems. We are involved in a process, but that’s a process that the teachers are involved with in coming up with a system that will work. We can work forever to get the perfect one, or we can go ahead and move forward with what everybody agrees we need to start, rewarding excellence in teaching.”

Advocates for the tenure reform have stuck to the “rewarding excellence” line on teacher tenure changes. Democrats have started to hit back at Haslam, holding a press conference Wednesday saying teachers are being attacked.

One of the points Democrats have tried to make in the last week is that there needs to be the same spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans as demonstrated last year in the special session to make changes in education in the state. The Democrats held a press conference last week bemoaning the lack of jobs bills coming from the Republican governor or from Republicans in the Legislature.

Whether the tenure issue is being rushed or whether the process is being ramrodded is open to debate.

“Any time you have a new system, you continuously evaluate it,” Haslam said. “I come back to this: We can wait forever ’til everybody says it’s perfect, or we can go ahead with what everybody knows now. We should reward excellence in teaching.”

Haslam continues to get the support of former Sen. Bill Frist’s group, SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which has been involved in many of the legislative reforms in the Legislature.

“Tennessee has historically done a poor job of making tenure decisions meaningful,” David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for the Frist group, said Wednesday. “The bill passed in the Senate Education Committee today ensures that teachers are rewarded for being effective in the classroom.

“Every student in Tennessee deserves a great teacher, and tenure reform will be a critical part of improving teacher effectiveness.”

Teachers have fought hard against the Republican education agenda, although their most vehement protests have been over the collective bargaining issue.

The teachers have also won the support of other unions, such as area auto workers, who have presented a picture of solidarity on Capitol Hill. And the debate comes against the backdrop of battles in several states about benefits for teachers and other state workers.

For now, Haslam and his Republican supporters in the Legislature appear to have the upper hand. The vote in the Senate Education Committee fell along party lines. Republicans Rusty Crowe, Dolores Gresham, Brian Kelsey, Jim Summerville, Jim Tracy and Jamie Woodson voted to advance the measure. Democrats Andy Berke, Charlotte Burks and Reginald Tate voted against it.

It’s awaiting hearing in the general subcommittee of the House Education Committee.

A recent poll by Middle Tennessee State University showed 54 percent of state residents say tenure makes it difficult to get rid of bad teachers, while 29 percent said tenure protects good teachers.

MTSU Poll: Tennesseans Don’t Like Teacher Tenure; Split on Eliminating Collective Bargaining; Favor Wine in Grocery Stores

Press Release from the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group, March 2, 2011:

Obama would lose to a Republican opponent, but his low approval rating has stabilized

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Tennesseans take a dim view of teacher tenure but show no consensus on whether to do away with collective bargaining power for teacher unions, the latest MTSU Poll finds.

Fifty-four percent of state residents choose the statement, “Tenure makes it hard to get rid of bad teachers” as most representative of their viewpoint, while 29 percent choose the alternative statement, “Tenure protects good teachers from being fired without just cause” as most indicative of what they think. Sixteen percent say they don’t know, and the rest decline to answer.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of Tennesseans favor “eliminating the ability of teacher unions in Tennessee to negotiate with local boards of education about teacher salaries, benefits and other employment issues.” But a statistically equivalent 41 percent oppose such a move, and a substantial 22 percent are undecided.

“Compared to public opinion about teacher tenure, public opinion about collective bargaining for teacher unions seem to be still taking shape in Tennessee,” said Dr. Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll. “The people most likely to have any opinion at all on the collective bargaining issue are also, based on other measures in the poll, the ones most likely to be politically active and politically knowledgeable. They probably are creating a framework for the debate and soon will start contending with each other for the support of those who are undecided.”

Conducted Feb. 14 – 26, 2011 by Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication, the telephone poll of 589 Tennessee adults chosen at random from across the state has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. Full results are available on the poll’s website, www.mtsusurveygroup.org.

The poll also finds President Obama currently trailing whoever the Republican 2012 presidential nominee might be. Thirty-one percent of Tennesseans say they would vote for Obama if the election were held today, but a 48 percent plurality say they would vote instead for “his Republican opponent.” 14 percent say that they don’t know who they would vote for at this time, and 6 percent volunteer that they would vote for neither candidate.

The downward slide in Obama’s approval rating among Tennesseans seems to have leveled off, though, according to Dr. Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll.

“The president’s approval rating stands at 39 percent in Tennessee, a possible uptick from his 35 percent approval rating in our Fall 2010 poll,” Reineke said. “But, of course, he’s still down quite a bit compared to his 53 percent approval rating in the Spring 2009 MTSU Poll.”

In other findings, three in four Tennesseans considers illegal immigration a “somewhat” or “very” serious problem, and a 42 percent plurality describe as “about right” the new Arizona immigration law’s requirement that police making a stop, detention, or arrest must attempt to determine the person’s immigration status if police suspect the person is not lawfully present in the country. Another 25 percent say such a law “doesn’t go far enough,” and 28 percent say it “goes too far.”

Additionally, 55 percent characterize as “about right” the Arizona law’s requirement that people produce documents proving their immigration status if asked by police. Twenty-three percent say that aspect of the law doesn’t go far enough, and 17 percent say it goes too far.

Meanwhile, closing the Tennessee’s projected budget gap could prove politically difficult for state lawmakers.

A 52-percent majority of state residents think dealing with the budget gap will require either cutting important services (16 percent), raising state taxes (6 percent) or both (30 percent). Despite these attitudes, though, Tennesseans show little support for cuts to any of five of the state’s largest general fund budget categories. Only 25 percent of state residents favor cuts to TennCare, 14 percent favor cuts to K-12 education, 24 percent favor cuts to higher education, and 17 percent favor cuts to children’s services. Cuts to a fifth major budget category, prisons and correctional facilities, drew the most support (44 percent), but the figure is still well below a majority.

Asked about gun regulation, Tennesseans divide essentially evenly on whether laws governing the sale of guns should be kept at their current levels (43 percent) or made more strict (41 percent). Similarly, 45 percent of Tennesseans say they would support a nationwide law banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, defined in the poll question as those that hold more than 10 bullets. But a statistically equivalent 42 percent say they would oppose such a law.

In still other poll findings:

  • Sixty-nine percent of Tennesseans favor letting food stores sell wine.
  • A 50 percent plurality think Congress should repeal the health care law.
  • Support remains high for the religious rights of Muslims.
  • Tennesseans think neither President Obama nor Congressional Republicans are doing enough to cooperate with each other.
  • More Tennesseans approve than disapprove of new governor, legislature, but many are undecided.

For over a decade, the Survey Group at MTSU has been providing independent, non-partisan and unbiased public opinion data regarding major social, political, and ethical issues affecting Tennessee. The poll began in 1998 as a measure of public opinion in the 39 counties comprising Middle Tennessee and began measuring public opinion statewide in 2001. Learn more and view the full report at www.mtsusurveygroup.org.