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Senate Votes to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ Provisions

Tennessee Senators overwhelmingly approved legislation that officially gives No Child Left Behind the boot and gives teachers more leverage to banish unruly students to the principal’s office.

Sen. Delores Gresham, the chamber’s Education Committee chairwoman, sponsored both measures — which passed with little debate — saying the proposals support teachers.

“In other words, Mr. Speaker, one size does not fit all,” Gresham said on the Senate floor moments before the chamber voted 32-0, with one member abstaining, to replace student performance standards under No Child Left Behind. The new guidelines would divide schools into “priority,” “focus” and “reward” categories.

SB2208 officially embraces a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education exempting Tennessee and nine other states from NCLB standards she called “unreasonably high proficiency targets.”

The new guidelines are “ambitious but achievable goals,” said the Somerville Republican. The provisions would reward schools meeting achievement goals and closing the gap between at-risk students and their peers by giving them more financial flexibility and ability to maintain school improvement plans.

The goals were born out of the Legislature’s 2010 special session on education reforms which called for a system for addressing struggling schools and a new way for measuring student growth. Those changes were used to lure education officials in Washington to award Tennessee a $501 million grant called Race to the Top.

Districts not meeting both the achievement goals and closing the achievement gap would either be placed on a list of struggling districts, be required to adopt a plan of action or develop an analysis on how to meet those measurements.

Passage of the bill came the same day as Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced a $5 million boost to three schools that will be focusing on science, technology, engineering and math — which also fall under the state’s Race to the Top education reforms.

The measure waits a vote in the House Education Committee Tuesday.

Lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly, 31-0, to ban principals from returning disorderly students back to the classroom without the teachers’ permission.

“You would think that would be common sense.” Gresham told TNReport.

She said she heard several stories of school officials sending students back to class after a teacher removed them from the room.

To address that, the SB3122 requires all school districts to set policies for how principals deal with students exiled from class. At minimum, principals could not send students back to their teachers that same day without the instructors’ permission.

After three documented removals, the principals can’t send the students back to class at all without the teachers’ OK. If the teacher says no, the director of schools would be required to step in and decide whether the student should be returned to that teacher. The measure is up for a vote in the House Education subcommittee Wednesday.

”Some of those stories are anecdotal, but when they come in numbers and come from across the state, it becomes more than anecdotal,” Gresham said.

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Press Releases

State Gives 7-Day Warning Against Illegal Camping

Press release from the Department of General Services; March 2, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of General Services Commissioner Steve Cates today announced that notices are being posted statewide to inform the public about a new law that prohibits camping on state-owned property, except for areas specifically designated by the appropriate department or agency, such as the Department of Environment and Conservation that oversees state parks.

“These notices are designed to inform citizens and visitors to our state about the new law and its impact on state-owned facilities across Tennessee,” Cates said.  “Although the legislation calls for an immediate prohibition of unauthorized camping on state property, we believe a seven day notification period, beginning today, is an appropriate time frame to make sure the word gets out.  After that time, the state will be prepared to enforce the statute.”

The law, HB2638/SB2508 sponsored by Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland) and Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville), makes unauthorized camping on state-owned property a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense, which calls for the maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.  It also subjects items associated with illegal camping to seizure and forfeiture.

The General Assembly approved the measure by a vote of 67 to 21 in the House of Representatives and 21 to 9 in the Senate.  The governor signed the bill into law today.