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TEA Opposes Haslam’s 2012 Education Reforms; GOP Lawmakers Moving Forward Nonetheless

Lawmakers say they’re hearing concerns about the governor’s plan to authorize more local control on class size and teacher pay, but they predict the outcry will not be as heated as last year’s.

“We’re going to work real hard to get some consensus. Everybody may not agree 100 percent, but I think we’re going to be doing some moving here before we do anything to make sure everybody’s kind of on board and is fairly happy with it,” said House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville. “If everyone is unhappy with it, we may have even done a pretty good job.”

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to give local school districts the discretion to disregard existing pay scales based on longevity or degree accumulation and instead set their own teacher salary plan. He also wants each district to have the power to set class size restrictions for itself.

“The change in anything is painful. It is. I understand that. We’re in the middle of some of those growing pains right now. The worst thing in the world to do would be let our foot off the pedal,” Haslam told civic and business leaders in Cookeville Monday.

Lawmakers last year raised the bar on how teachers reach tenure, built in grading scales to measure teacher performance and eliminated mandatory collective bargaining over teacher contracts.

Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said members of her education committee haven’t dug through the governor’s new bills yet, but she’s heard some public criticism of the legislation centered on potential changes, in particular with respect to class sizes.

“Most teachers and parents are concerned about the classroom issue. They want effective teaching, and an effective teacher can just do more with fewer students,” said Senate Education Committee member Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. “People see that more as a direct problem for results than the merit pay issue.”

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, says it’ll push back against the governor’s latest initiatives as vigorously as they did with last year’s GOP-sponsored reforms. In 2011, the TEA held protests and rallies that turned out teachers by the dozens to sometimes thousands.However, the legislation they were protesting passed, albeit without much Democrat support.

“I think it’s a huge political battle that’s shaping up,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA lobbyist. “It caught us off guard. I think it caught a lot of legislators off guard.”