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Redistricting Discussions Set to Get Formal, Go Public

Tennessee lawmakers are about to take up an issue that’ll impact elections for the next decade — where to draw legislative district lines.

State House Republicans, who plan to release their proposed new district maps to the public Tuesday, say they drew the lines in hopes of gaining the most GOP seats — and not in a way to protect incumbents against potential primary election rivals.

“As far as I know, no one drew a line based on a potential challenger,” said House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Republicans in the House expect to vote on their new map in a redistricting ad hoc committee Tuesday morning, then again in the State and Local Government subcommittee later that day with hopes of moving the bill to the full committee and chamber for a vote next week.

The General Assembly’s regular session for the year is scheduled to commence Tuesday.

Democratic leaders who say they have only a short glimpse at the complete House map say Republicans lumped their members together unnecessarily.

As many as nine seats could be up for grabs, according to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, Old Hickory. But Turner said his caucus would lose four seats in the November election in a “worst case scenario.”

“What really concerns me about this map is that the African American population, under any circumstances in (Republicans’) map, it appears they’re going to lose at least two members in a year where African American representation has grown,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.

The meeting agenda shows that the committee will review House, Senate and Congressional maps, which have all be drafted behind closed doors. Leadership staff couldn’t confirm all three will be revealed and voted on at the Tuesday meeting.

“Maybe we could have been more open in the beginning but I don’t think that would have helped us in getting the job done,” said McCormick. “We tried to keep it fair and legal and we tried to keep communities together if possible. If Republicans do a good job of running things this year, then that will help us.”

The Republican-heavy Legislature is charged with dividing the 6.3 million Tennesseans evenly into 99 House districts, 33 Senate districts and nine Congressional districts. The practice is repeated every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

Area leaders appointed to work with representatives from their geographical areas and in-house legal counsel to drew the new lines, according to Republican Speaker Beth Harwell’s office. Lawmakers can vote to change the lines as the bill moves through the Legislature.



Huffman Optimistic TN’s New, Long-Form NCLB Waiver Request Will Win Approval

Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman says Tennessee is still “well-positioned” to get a waiver from the federal government on the No Child Left Behind law, although the state was caught off-guard by some criteria for the move.

Tennessee applied for a waiver in July and expected a fairly quick response. The state had also heard substantial positive feedback from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about its chances of getting the waiver.

But the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance material in September outlining what was required in the waiver process, and the state is looking at a Nov. 14 deadline to submit a revised application.

Huffman acknowledged one aspect of the guidance came “out of left field.” That item requires the state to identify 10 percent of its schools where achievement gaps are pronounced and how to address them.

The achievement gaps could be in any number of subgroups, such as how white students perform compared to non-whites, or how students from low-income families perform compared to other students.

Huffman said there is a lot of overlap in the state’s original waiver application and what is required in the follow-up, but he noted the “focus schools” in the 10 percent looking at achievement gaps presented the department with a new task in terms of requirements and specificity.

“This we did not anticipate until we opened up our guidance at the end of September,” Huffman said.

He said the state would attempt to target interventions for schools with achievement gaps, and he said competitive federal grants could provide the resources needed.

A later deadline than Nov. 14 will also be available early next year for states to apply, Huffman said.

“People have suggested only 5 or 10 states are positioned to get a waiver in the first round, primarily because most states have not gone down the path on some of the things we’ve gone down the path on,” Huffman said in a presentation this week to the Tennessee State School Board. “So I think we’re well-positioned relative to our peers to get a waiver.”

Huffman said the state’s original waiver request was seven-and-a-half pages long, but he expects the Nov. 14 application to be hundreds of pages long, including attachments.

The commissioner said one strength in the state’s application, as in the original application, is its intervention efforts on the bottom 5 percent of schools in proficiency. Those efforts include Tennessee’s steps in developing its achievement school district.

Huffman said the federal government has not said publicly when a response to the application could be expected, but he said the state would like to hear results by the end of this year. The process would involve simply meeting criteria for the waiver and would not be a matter of Tennessee competing with other states.

Many states have complained about unrealistic expectations in the No Child Left Behind law as it stands pertaining to adequate yearly progress, or AYP.