Categories
Press Releases

Frist: Haslam’s Pick to Head Ed Dept. ‘Exactly the Type of Reform-Minded Individual TN Needs’

Statement from Bill Frist on Appointment of Kevin Huffman as Tennessee Commissioner of Education, March 3, 2011:

(Nashville) – Dr. Bill Frist, chairman of the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, released the following statement today on the appointment of Kevin Huffman as Tennessee Commissioner of Education:

“Kevin Huffman is exactly the type of reform-minded individual that Tennessee needs to lead its public school system. Kevin’s experience in the classroom, in education law, and in leadership at one of our nation’s most innovative education organizations gives him the unique knowledge and background to make a significant positive impact on behalf of our state’s children. Tennessee has transformed into a national leader in education reform in the last few years, and with Kevin’s leadership we are poised for even greater success.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with state and local governments to encourage sound policy decisions in public education and advance innovative reform on a statewide basis.

Categories
Education News

Haslam Insists Tenure Reform About Improving Education, Not Punishing Teachers

The latest stop of the Republican locomotive on Capitol Hill came Thursday in the form of Gov. Bill Haslam‘s first legislative package, and like the Legislature, Haslam seriously challenged the status quo on teachers.

Haslam proposes changing the probationary time on teacher tenure from three years to five years, a step he said fits in with the overall goal of improving education in the state — which he says is a step toward the broader goal of providing a workforce that will attract jobs.

Haslam said that while the state is making progress on education reform, notably in its First to the Top initiative, it is not where it should be, and he’s convinced changing tenure is one way to improve the system.

His package came only a day after the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 to advance a bill taking away the mandatory collective bargaining leverage teachers’ unions currently enjoy in 91 of Tennessee’s 136 school districts. That meeting drew a crowd of teachers opposed to the legislation, but it moved nonetheless.

The governor sounded keenly aware of concerns coming from the teachers’ corner but insisted on Thursday his moves are necessary to make Tennessee a more competitive state. In that same vein he has proposed tort reform measures that he says will also help the state compete against neighboring states for jobs.

Haslam addressed the media outside the office of House Speaker Beth Harwell, and the scene at Legislative Plaza gave the clear impression that all the reforms the Republicans are advocating are likely to be approved. Republicans are in charge of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction, and there appears to be little the Democrats can do about it.

For his part, Haslam appears to be sticking to the script he articulated in his campaign for office. He has said his first priority is job creation, yet he never suggested a legislative package would be needed for that — only aggressive salesmanship to attract jobs. His second stated priority was education, and his first legislative package proposed removing the limits on charter schools as well as the tenure changes.

He said he hears the question of whether the state is just “picking on teachers.”

“I’d say it’s absolutely not true,” Haslam said. “What we’re doing across the board in education in Tennessee is raising standards.

“Nothing is more important than making certain we have great teachers in every classroom, and we’re going to continue to focus on that.”

Haslam said he wanted to make sure the state doesn’t continue to rank in the 40s nationally in education. He said there has been a lot of conversation with teachers across the state and that the discussions will continue. He said he plans to be with a group of teachers in Upper East Tennessee on Tuesday morning having “specific conversations about what we can do to help them in the classroom.”

Haslam seemed to have immediate support of members of the Legislature.

“I strongly support the governor’s tenure recommendations,” said Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, who is Senate speaker pro tempore and a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Making tenure meaningful is important, and I think it’s important to teachers.”

Woodson said it is helpful to step back and look at the overall education reform process, which began with a special session of the Legislature in 2010 that set the stage for Tennessee’s application for federal Race to the Top funds. Tennessee won $500 million.

“It’s moving student achievement in the right direction. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Woodson said.

David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications for SCORE, former Sen. Bill Frist’s education reform group, approved of Haslam’s recommendations.

“Research has shown that teachers are the most important factor in determining how much a student learns. Governor Haslam makes a critical step in addressing teacher effectiveness by focusing on reforming tenure,” Mansouri said. “The governor’s proposed package will make tenure decisions more meaningful by rewarding effective teachers and addressing ineffective ones.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, has sponsored the House measure over teacher bargaining rights.

“I’ve noticed when you talk to the teachers’ union, no matter what you try to do, they don’t like it,” Maggart said. “That’s why I have this bill.”

Haslam’s package called for tort reform, a recurring issue, as Republicans seek to diminish the impact of trial lawyers where courts issue large sums in damages. He calls for a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and a cap on punitive damages of two times compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

“My opinion is that the trial lawyers have had a lot of influence for decades in the state of Tennessee and that it would be proper to review all the awards,” Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the Republican House leader, said.

“I don’t know specifically what changes need to be made. But I think we certainly need to take a look at it, considering how it’s been out of balance for so many decades in this state.”

Categories
Press Releases

Bredesen, Frist Wrap Up Education Campaign Launch in Memphis

State of Tennessee Press Release; July 21, 2010:

New First to Top Coalition to Raise Standards Awareness

NASHVILLE — Governor Phil Bredesen and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this week are launching the First to the Top Coalition, a statewide alliance of more than 30 business, community and education groups joining together to support public education reform in Tennessee. The campaign is focused on raising awareness among parents about the effects that Tennessee’s new and higher academic standards may have on student test scores, which are set to be released in September.

The coalition and campaign launch will conclude in Memphis on Thursday, July 22 at 11 a.m. Central Time. Joining Governor Bredesen and Senator Frist will be state and local education leaders including Memphis City School Board Commissioner Tomeka Hart and Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. The media and public are invited to attend.

WHO: Governor Phil Bredesen

Senator Bill Frist, SCORE

AC Wharton, Mayor of Memphis

Tomeka Hart, Memphis City School Board Commissioner

WHAT: First to the Top Coalition Campaign Launch

WHEN: Thursday, July 22, 2010

11 a.m. CDT (set up at 10:45 a.m.)

WHERE: University of Memphis Fogelman Executive Center

330 Innovation Drive

Memphis, TN 38152