Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey on Thursday brushed off any suggestion that a desire for political revenge is motivating the solidly Republican Legislature’s push to reform education this year.
The Senate speaker told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday that he finds it somewhat amusing, however, that the Tennessee Education Association, which is generally seen as favoring Democratic candidates in elections, is complaining that Republicans are targeting them now that the GOP is in charge.
So far, the TEA has come out against four education proposals that include limiting the union’s ability to collectively bargain teachers’ contracts with local districts, banning TEA from contributing to political campaigns, ending public-sector union dues-collections by payroll deduction and restructuring the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System board of trustees. The TEA blasted emails to members asking them to call their local legislators and demand they vote against the proposals.
“No, it’s not payback,” Ramsey, a Blountville Republican, said outside the capitol press room Thursday afternoon. “Look at the bills that have been introduced in the past dealing with charter schools, dealing with tenure reform. Those bills were out there, but now there’s a chance of them passing because we have a Republican majority in the state Senate and the state House and the very people that were very political throughout this whole situation are now saying ‘payback.’ That’s hypocritical.”
Ramsey said he is optimistic the Legislature will pass some type of significant education reform this session, even if the TEA calls in all its political IOUs to try and stop it.
“If they get 17 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House, they can stand in the way,” said Ramsey. “But I feel confident with the committees that I have appointed, and the committees that (House Speaker) Beth Harwell has appointed, you’re going to see some changes this year.”
Jim Tracy, a member of the Senate Education Committee and vice chairman of the State and Local Government Committee, told TNReport Monday that he’s not entirely familiar with all the TEA-related bills that have been filed and doesn’t yet have a position on them.
The Shelbyville Republican said he anticipates Gov. Bill Haslam will drive much of the discussion on changes to the tenure system for teachers.
Haslam told reporters Wednesday he hopes there isn’t an “anti-teacher mood” among legislators, but said he was interested in pursing tenure reforms. The governor has yet to release details of his education proposal, but Ramsey said he expects to see new requirements that teachers work four years instead of three before earning tenure. He said he also anticipates that educators will go up for regular tenure reviews roughly every five years.
Tracy, who said he’s run into opposition from the TEA himself in the past with proposals of his own to lengthen the time teachers have to work before becoming eligible for tenure, said he has no interest in trying to lay all the problems of the education system at the feet of teachers.
“We do have to put more accountability on parents,” he said. “We haven’t talked about that much.”
“When I was in school, if I got in trouble in school, I got in trouble at home,” he added. “I’m not sure that is happening today.”
A former science teacher and school board member himself, Tracy said no discussion about education reform is complete without taking up not just the issues of teacher accountability and parental responsibilities, but also the fundamental need for students themselves “to maximize their efforts,” make the most of the opportunities presented to them and take their learning seriously.