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Education News

House Reverts to Scaled Back Collective Bargaining Plan

House Republicans are, for now, sticking with a bill that limits labor union influence in teacher contract negotiations with local school boards.

But even though House Bill 130 doesn’t entirely eliminate formal collective bargaining, Democrats suspect that’s the direction things are headed once the bill reaches the House floor.

A House Education Committee voted 11-6 Tuesday to advance a measure that restricts the issues teachers’ unions can haggle with school districts over. The unions could negotiate issues such as pay, benefits and working conditions but could not bargain over issues including merit pay — for example, when teachers get paid extra to work at troubled schools.

Rep. Debra Maggart, the sponsor of the bill, shook off criticism from Democrats that she may be watering her proposal down now but ultimately plans to trade the bill in for the more sweeping Senate version later.

“I don’t know that anything here is a ploy. I am just trying to do my job as a state representative,” said the House GOP caucus chairwoman. “I would prefer to ban collective bargaining. That was my original intent, but again, I’m at the will of the body.”

The Legislature has spent weeks juggling multiple versions of the collective bargaining bill — with opposition from Democratic lawmakers like House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who supports the current law mandating collective bargaining in districts where teachers have unionized.

“What does this bill do for our students? It does absolutely nothing except antagonize the teachers,” the Democrat from Covington said.

Naifeh, who has led the charge against the plan, suggested that any effort by Republicans to beef up the bill once it gets to the House floor would be met by even more anger than if they moved it through the committee system.

“That will just make the public even more upset. It will make the teachers more upset, and maybe, if it’s that bad, we can come back next year and fix what we have done,” he said.

The Senate has already passed SB113, which repeals the 1978 mandate that school boards formally negotiate teacher contracts with a union. While the Senate’s bill removes the requirement that school boards collectively bargain contracts with a union, it does require that school boards discuss labor issues with teachers and any unions looking to represent them.

That plan won just enough votes to pass in the full Senate.

In the House, though, the bill has met resistance not just from the minority party but liberal Republicans as well.

Although Republicans have a 64-34 majority, some in the GOP have shied away from the Senate plan, which raises questions as to whether it has enough support to pass.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in the finance committee last week to refer the bill back to the Education Committee, delaying the bill’s progress to any full House vote.

One of the chambers’ highest ranking Republicans, GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, told reporters he was unsure whether the plan has enough support to pass this year. Speaker Beth Harwell later offered a slightly different take, saying she believes doing away with collective bargaining still has a “razor fine margin” of support.

Any rollbacks or restrictions on collective bargaining are staunchly opposed by the major teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association.

The union’s lobbyist said he believes the decision to pass a bill out of committee that still mandates limited collective bargaining is a tactic to keep the issue alive and on the move toward the House floor.

“I believe they clearly are intent on passing something and this was just practical on their part,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s chief lobbyist.

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Education NewsTracker

Haslam Comfortable With Ban On Collective Bargaining

Gov. Bill Haslam says he is now leaning toward plans to eliminate collective bargaining for Tennessee teachers, although he still wants to consult members of the state House of Representatives before endorsing the plan.

“I’d say I’m comfortable with it pending some voice from the House,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday after attending the state’s annual Holocaust Commission Day of Remembrance in the Capitol Building. “We’re going to let everybody have a seat at the table. That was the direction I was comfortable going.”

Collective bargaining has been one of the most contentious issues in the Legislature as lawmakers have swayed between banning unions from negotiating teachers’ contracts and limiting the issues those unions can discuss at the negotiating table.

Early this year, Haslam supported the former. He, along with House Speaker Beth Harwell, helped develop that proposal, allowing unions to continue hammering out issues like salary, benefits and working conditions with school boards.

But Harwell has recently favored a version in the Senate that repeals collective bargaining as long as teachers and their union representatives can still debate labor issues with the school board.

The catch, according to that version of the bill, is that the school board members can still refuse teachers or unions’ requests.

The Senate OK’ed that version Monday, 18-14, largely on a party line vote. The House Finance Ways and Means committee expects to take up the measure Tuesday.

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Education News

Collective Bargaining Bill Clears Senate

Democrats on Monday accused Republicans of “muzzling teachers” and creating a new “unfunded mandate,” but that didn’t stop the GOP-led Senate from voting to repeal an existing state mandate that school boards collectively bargain with local teachers’ unions.

Sen. Jack Johnson, who has spearheaded a Republican-led push to roll back the 197os-era requirement that local districts obtain approval for their workplace policies and contract offers from teachers’ unions, said he is happy with the latest version of a bill to eliminate collective bargaining.

His plan, Senate Bill 113, would require that school boards consult a policy manual and solicit input and “collaboration” from individual teachers and their associations. Locally elected school boards would no longer be bound by law to formally hash out binding labor contracts with a single union representing all the district’s teachers.

“I think where we are now codifying that school boards be statutorily required to accept teacher input, I think that’s a good thing. It’s arguable whether that’s necessary. In my view, if the school board is not listening to teachers, they’re either going to be beaten in their next election or they’re not going to be able to hire very many good teachers,” he told reporters after the hour-long debate in the Senate.

Whether to eliminate collective bargaining, and thus weaken the power of the Tennessee Education Association to negotiate teachers’ labor contracts, has dominated this legislative session and sparked rallies attracting thousands to rally on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, Democrats argued that Republicans have become obsessed with the collective bargaining issue, to the detriment and neglect of other pressing education issues.

“Senate Bill 113 represents the U-turn that we have done on education policy in this state,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. “Last year we had Race to the Top, this year we have ‘Dive to the Bottom.'”

Berke said the bill “divides and polarizes our communities.”

“2011 will be known as the session about the collective bargaining ban — not jobs, not education reform, not infrastructure,” said Berke. “This bill unfortunately moves us backward, not forward.”

In its newest form, the bill would allow the local board of education to “collaborate” or debate with teachers or representatives from the teachers’ union on salaries and wages, grievance procedures, insurance, fringe benefits, working conditions, leave and payroll deductions — but all decisions would be entirely up to the school board.

“Collaboration” is a term added from the House version of the bill which was structured to allow collective bargaining but restrict the topics teachers unions could negotiate. Architects of that version, including House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. Debra Maggart have since embraced the Senate version of the bill and expect to add their language to their version of the plan this week.

According to the bill:

“Collaboration” means the process by which the chair of a board of education and the board’s professional employees or such representatives as either party or parties may designate, meet at reasonable times and in good faith confer, consult, discuss, exchange information, opinions, and proposals on matters within the scope of this part relating to the terms and conditions of professional employee service.

A bundle of topics are completely off the table for discussion, including merit and differentiated pay, how government grants and awards are spent, teacher evaluations, staffing decisions and personnel decisions on issues like filing vacancies, school assignments, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force and recall.

The teacher’s union steadfastly opposes the bill, saying the state shouldn’t replace collective bargaining with a policy manual.

”That manual is your collective bargaining agreement,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, the top-ranking Democrat and a chief opponent to the bill. “The biggest difference between this amendment and the law today is… they have to meet but they don’t have to consider their opinion.”

House Republicans have yet to take the new version of the bill out for a spin but expect to put it before the Finance, Ways and Means committee Tuesday, which will likely be packed at the TEA has asked teachers to sit in on the hearing.

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Press Releases

Ramsey Proud of Senate’s Teacher Collective Bargaining Repeal Vote

Press Release from Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the Tennessee Senate, May 2, 2011:

Bill increases collaboration between local school boards and teachers

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R – Blountville) emphasized his ongoing support tonight for Senate Bill 113, a crucial piece of education reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) which passed on the floor of the Senate by a vote of 18 to 14.

The bill has now cleared the Senate committee system two times after being amended to make explicit the increased collaboration the bill fosters between teachers and their local school boards.

“Union contracts have hamstrung our local school boards for too long,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “More than a year ago our state raced to the top and planted our flag as a beacon for education reform in the nation — but our journey is not over.”

“In 1978 the General Assembly gave a monopoly to one government union and allowed that union to strangle the hope of education reform in this state,” said Sen. Jack Johnson. “This bill rectifies that mistake and gives power back to locally-elected school boards and teachers. The passage of this measure is necessary if we mean to continue on the path of education reform we have embarked upon.”

“We have a historic opportunity to make this session of the General Assembly a landmark for the cause of reform. This bill creates a collaborative environment between teachers and their local board which will ultimately result in putting a quality teacher in every classroom.”

“This bill has been debated extensively and amended effectively,” Lt. Governor Ramsey continued. “I’m proud of the Senate for passing this measure and I trust the state House will follow suit.”

The bill as amended will end long term union contracts that local governments and taxpayers cannot afford and provides for a policy manual that would outline how every local school board will set policies on salaries, wages, benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits, leaves of absence, student discipline procedures and working conditions for teachers.

The companion House bill sponsored by Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) is currently awaiting action in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

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Education Featured News

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.

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Press Releases

Senate Dems Weekly Update, Week of April 24-29

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, April 29

Storm Damage Relief

This week’s storms and tornadoes have left 34 people dead in Tennessee, over 100 homes damaged or destroyed, and thousands more without power, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). Reports of injuries and damages are still coming in, and residents who need assistance are encouraged to contact TEMA by dialing 2-1-1. This line is also available for those would like to volunteer goods, service, or money to aid the relief effort. TEMA strongly suggests that everyone use extreme caution in flooded areas, especially when driving.

Regressive Education Measures

Senate Bill 113, the bill that would abolish the ability of teachers to bargain collectively with school boards, was once again delayed on the Senate floor because of a new amendment that makes significant changes to the bill. As amended, SB113 would require all local school boards to create a personnel policy manual in which teachers, community members and others can submit input for changes. However, it does not guarantee changes will be included. As amended, the bill still repeals the Education Professional Negotiations Act that guarantees teachers collective bargaining rights.

Preserving Military Medals

Senate Bill 572, a bill sponsored by Senator Andy Berke that would preserve unclaimed military medals, passed 7-0 through a Senate committee Tuesday. This bill would require the state treasurer to hold any abandoned military medal until the owner or the proper beneficiaries could be identified for the return of the medal.

“Veterans’ medals are timeless treasures that should never be sold or auctioned,” Berke said. “This bill would ensure that they are given the respect they deserve and are returned to their rightful owners.”

The Senate State and Local Government Committee passed the bill, which will now go to the Senate floor. The House version of the bill awaits a hearing in the Calendar and Rules Committee.

Democratic Response to ECD Shakeup

On Thursday, Chairman Lowe Finney and Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh responded to Governor Bill Haslam’s announcement concerning the restructuring of the Department of Economic and Community Development that will shift focus away from attracting jobs from outside of Tennessee in favor of growing jobs with in-state companies. They highlighted the fact that Governor Phil Bredesen’s efforts brought over 200,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic development to Tennessee, and that to shift the focus of the department now sends the wrong message. The full Commercial Appeal op-ed can be found online here.

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Business and Economy Education News

Senate Version of Ban on Teacher Collective Bargaining Advances

As expected, Senate Republicans had no trouble approving the latest version of a bill to ban collective bargaining among Tennessee teachers.

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 Wednesday to adopt fresh wording requiring school boards to create a policy manual outlining how they’ll determine issues like teachers’ salaries and benefits in an attempt to alleviate concerns about cutting out teacher input.

“This will basically assure statutorily that the door cannot be closed on these teachers and they’ll have the ability to provide that input,” said Sen. Jack Johnson who is spearheading the push to eliminate unions’ ability to negotiate teachers’ working contracts.

The newest incarnation of the bill requires school boards to seek public comment on the policy manuals, which will outline the process for deciding labor issues, including pay rates, benefits, student discipline procedures, working conditions and leaves of absence.

The state Board of Education, Department of Education and Department of Human Resources will all have a hand in developing a sample manual local school systems can adopt.

Democrats remain unsatisfied with the bill, despite the new language. Sen. Andy Berke said the new bill swaps out voices of teachers for input from Nashville “bureaucrats.”

“It would be hard to imagine, but I actually think I like this version of the bill worse than I liked the first one, and believe me I did not think that was possible,” said the Chattanooga lawmaker.

Teachers feel betrayed, according to Tennessee Education Association Lobbyist Jerry Winters, who said the new bill creates “some illusion of input” from teachers.

“We view that no one really is a winner here. Certainly I don’t think school boards are a winner. I know that teachers are not a winner and frankly students are not winners here because what you are doing with this process is taking the biggest advocate for students who are their teachers and actually diminishing, significantly diminishing, their role in policy,” he told the committee.

Berke and the TEA both admit they can’t stop Senate Republicans from voting to ban collective bargaining. But House GOP members have been more skeptical of a repeal and have yet to take up the amendment. The House Finance Ways and Means Committee is set to hear the bill May 3.

The House version allows teachers unions to negotiate scaled-back labor contracts, a concession backed by Speaker Beth Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam and designed to attract broader support from lawmakers hesitant to delete collective bargaining from state code. Harwell hinted earlier this month that she likes the Senate’s amendment.

Haslam said Wednesday he still hasn’t taken a position on the Senate’s amendment but plans to meet with legislative leaders Thursday to discuss it.

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Education News

Ramsey Proposes Public Hearings On Teacher Contracts

The latest compromise in the debate over how Tennessee teachers hammer out labor contracts would require that educators be given a chance to offer public input but would no longer enjoy collective bargaining leverage, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Senate Republican staffers are still working out the details and likely will reveal them next week, but Ramsey said Thursday he expects the fresh language from his chamber will help win over House Republicans who won’t commit to an elimination of teachers’ unions’ collective bargaining power.

“I think that will give the teachers the protection they need and desire, yet don’t have the unions in the middle doing those negotiations,” he said.

The new provisions, which Ramsey said are conceptual right now, would create a “policy manual” for school boards to follow before hashing out teacher labor contracts. It would require public hearings for rank-and-file teachers to air their concerns to the school’s top decision makers.

The school boards would have no obligation to follow the teachers’ recommendations. But Ramsey said the public meetings would keep school board members more accountable to the public.

That sounds like a “glorified faculty meeting,” said Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.

“I can’t imagine any set of conditions under which this gives teachers a voice. Every school system already has the opportunity, and in fact, the right to have whatever meetings they want to have with their faculties,” he said.

The TEA, which represents some 52,000 teachers, said using the public meetings as the main method to work out teachers’ issues of concern would be “unworkable” and “create chaos” whereas using select union representatives to hash out those issues would be more collaborative.

“I hope the lieutenant governor will go back and think about that again,” Mance said.

The amendment would be the second compromise in an ongoing quest by Tennessee Republicans to curb the authority of the Tennessee Education Association and other teachers’ unions to negotiate contracts.

So far, the GOP caucus is split over two competing proposals. The Senate version of SB113, that Ramsey favors, would ban unions from negotiating on behalf of teachers. The House version maintains collective bargaining but shrinks the list of issues that can be discussed at the negotiation table.

The issue is reminiscent of similar discussions in Wisconsin and Iowa aimed at diminishing union power. Proponents say the changes are necessary to save money and dig the states out of budget holes.

In Tennessee, the argument is a philosophical one over whether unions are good for education.

The issue came to a head Wednesday in the House Education Subcommittee. Republican Chairman Mike Harrison stepped away from his party’s platform on collective bargaining and proposed amendments to give teachers more issues and more negotiators to take with them to the bargaining table.

Both attempts failed, and he abstained from voting the bill out of committee.

“If I had voted against it, the bill would have essentially died, but there’s always other bills that someone could amend and bring the collective bargaining back, and I feel like it would probably be even worse if that had happened,” Harrison said.

The Rogersville Republican is unhappy with both the House and the Senate versions of the bill, but said he could go along with the House’s softer reforms if he can add his amendments.

To Harrison, the issue is less about union power than it is about representing teachers in his district.

“Unions in other states (versus) what we have here are apples and oranges. If you don’t have the ability to go on a strike, and if teachers either have the ability to be a member or not a member, I think it’s probably OK,” he said, referring to Tennessee’s right-to-work framework.

Because he was the tie-breaking vote on the committee, the measure should have died, potentially ending for the year’s discussions about teachers’ collective bargaining privileges. Instead, Speaker Beth Harwell stepped in and cast the deciding vote, passing it out of the committee, 7-6.

Harwell, who took pride earlier this year in dismantling the House Education committee to break up the body’s heavy Memphis majorities, said she was not disappointed her hand-picked subcommittee couldn’t pull the trigger on the bill she helped craft without her direct involvement.

“If I’m needed to be called in to keep a good bill moving forward, I’m honored to do that,” Harwell told reporters Thursday. “I think every day we get closer to garnering the votes we need for passage. Every day we’re making progress.”

Tennessee Tea Party secretary Tami Kilmarx said she’s confused about what exactly is going on among House Republicans, and to what extent the bulk of their 64-member caucus will support the Senate’s more sweeping collective bargaining rollback.

“Senators, like us, feel like we want to cut the head off the snake and do away with collective bargaining across the board,” she said.

Ramsey was scheduled to meet with Kilmarx’s tea party group in Murfreesboro Thursday evening to discuss the latest movement on collective bargaining.

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Press Releases

TCPR Appreciative of Speaker Harwell Rescuing House Collective Bargaining Bill

Statement from Justin Owen, President of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 30, 2011:

This morning, the House Finance Subcommittee voted 7-6 to pass HB130, the bill to limit collective bargaining by teachers’ unions. Speaker Beth Harwell used her prerogative to cast the tie-breaking vote, keeping the measure alive. Tennessee Center for Policy Research president Justin Owen issued the following statement on the issue, which has received a tremendous amount of attention in the past few weeks.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has worked since its founding in 2004 to bring about meaningful education reforms in this state that will give parents a seat at the table and children a chance to succeed. As a part of those efforts, since 2009, we have called upon the Tennessee General Assembly to reform our state’s system of teacher collective bargaining, allowing teachers to be paid based on their performance and skills like the professionals they are.

We are therefore grateful for Speaker Beth Harwell’s leadership today in voting to send HB130 to the full House Finance Committee, which ensures that the important discussion of placing limits on collective bargaining continues. But for Speaker Harwell’s tie-breaking vote, we would be talking about the collective bargaining bill that died on the operating table. Fortunately, we still have the opportunity to return control to individual teachers by limiting the teachers union’s ability to stake its claim as the monopoly negotiator in school districts across our state.

This is a very important issue for anyone interested in bucking the status quo that has failed our teachers, our parents, our taxpayers, and most importantly our children, for decades. Collective bargaining is the main weapon used by teachers’ unions to thwart meaningful education reforms in our state. The Tennessee Education Association—the chief lobbying and political arm of the teachers’ unions—has consistently stood in the way of improving our education system.

The TEA has frequently urged lawmakers to press for more “parental involvement” in education. Yet, when a parental choice scholarship bill was proposed just last year to allow parents to choose where to send their children to school, the TEA characterized such measures as “destroying public education,” further attacking school choice advocates like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, saying they “would be perfectly happy to turn public schools over to some corporation and just let them run them.” This empty rhetoric in defense of the failed status quo has become all too common with the teachers’ unions.

But don’t think the unions oppose every cause on Capitol Hill. While they are always on the wrong side of effective education reforms, the unions believe strongly in other things, such as imposing a state income tax on Tennesseans, a measure they supported during the income tax battle a few years ago. Rather than spend their members’ hard-earned dues on improving education for both teachers and students, they are wasting these resources on a radical political agenda that the vast majority of Tennesseans diametrically oppose.

Our education system is in desperate need of reform, and the collective bargaining legislation voted out of subcommittee today will pave the way for reforms that benefit our teachers, our parents, our taxpayers, and above all, our children. Meaningful education reform should not be left to the whim of one political organization more interested in its own posterity than that of Tennessee’s children.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research applauds those, including Speaker Harwell, for keeping the education reform dialogue open with their votes today.

– Justin Owen, TCPR President

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News NewsTracker

Haslam Dismisses Tea Party Dispatch; Ramsey ‘Disappointed’ With ‘Name-Calling’ But Agrees on Issues

Leading GOP state lawmakers are recent comments from the Tennessee Tea Party that the Republican governor is now or in the past has been driven by “socialistic” principles.

Gov. Bill Haslam himself shrugged off the remark and said he wouldn’t engage in name calling.

“I don’t know how to be more clear that we’re trying to focus really hard on things that really matter, and I’ll leave all that stuff to somebody else,” he told reporters after a luncheon with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, generally a fan and a favorite of the tea party, called the comment “absolutely ridiculous.” The Blountville Republican said he’s previously discouraged the group from making what he regards as overheated comments.

The essay, first published on the Tennessee Tea Party website, slammed Haslam and other Republicans for not standing stronger along side efforts to eliminate mandatory collective bargaining among teachers, an issue the conservative activist group is attempting to influence by targeting a handful of House GOP members who are reportedly leaning away from an all-out ban.

“By all accounts he is a progressive who was able to leverage family fortunes towards a victory in gaining the Governor’s seat,” read the Tea Party statement. “One only needs to look at his track record as mayor of Knoxville and his embrace of the socialistic principals such as sustainability and his Agenda 21 initiatives. His two-faced approach towards 2ndamendment freedoms should have been telling.”

The Tennessee Tea Party president said she’s not put off that top Republicans like Ramsey are shunning her group’s comments. “Sometimes he takes to eye-rolling with me,” said Tami Kilmarx.