Categories
Press Releases

Senate Education Cmte. Approves Kelsey’s Voucher Bill

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 11, 2015:

NASHVILLE – The Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) calling for Opportunity Scholarships for students eligible for free and reduced lunch within districts containing a school in the bottom five percent of academic achievement.   The “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act” mirrors legislation proposed by Governor Bill Haslam last year that was passed by the Senate but stalled in the House.

“Equal Opportunity Scholarships provide impoverished children with hope for a better education and choice in the school they attend,” said Senator Brian Kelsey.  “Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood.”

Under Senate Bill 122, approximately $6,500 of the scholarships would be offered to low-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice. The scholarship program would be capped at 5,000 students in year one, 7,500 in year two, 10,000 in year three, and 20,000 in year four and thereafter.   If those caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5 percent of schools is located.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” added Kelsey, who first introduced the idea in the Tennessee legislature ten years ago.  “The parents of these children deserve more choices, and their children deserve more options to receive a quality education.”

The bill is sponsored by House Education Administration and Planning Committee Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) in the House of Representatives.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He serves as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Categories
Press Releases

Bell, Gresham Call on TN Board of Ed to Review New AP U.S. History Courses for ‘Negative’ Revisionism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) have called on the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of the new framework and materials used in all Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) courses taught in Tennessee classrooms. The request was made by the lawmakers in a letter to Board Chairman Fielding Rolston and comes after widespread criticism that the new College Board framework for APUSH reflects revisionist views of American history that emphasizes negative aspects, while omitting or minimizing the positive.

Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes that students can take while still in high school. Most colleges and universities in the United States grant credit and placement for qualifying scores. The exams are produced by the College Board, a private company, which also is responsible for the SAT college admission test.

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” said Chairman Gresham. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history. We need a full review of the framework by our Board as to its effects on Tennessee students and our state standards. We have also asked the Board to provide a forum in which parents and other concerned citizens can let their voices be heard on the matter.”

Tennessee law specifies students in the state must be taught foundational documents in U.S. and Tennessee history. It also provides that instructional materials, specifically in U.S. history, comply with this state mandate.

The APUSH framework includes little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and other critical topics which had previously been included in the course. It presents a negative interpretation regarding the motivations and actions of 17th – 19th century settlers, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

In addition, the APUSH framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military, battles, commanders, and heroes, as well as mentioning many other individuals and events that shaped history like the Holocaust and American icons Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

“The APUSH framework appears to differ greatly from Tennessee’s U.S. history standards,” added Chairman Bell. “This interferes with our state law and standards for U.S. history if our teachers focus on preparing their pupils for the AP examination, which is a very important test for college-bound students. We have worked very hard over the past several years to ensure that our students are learning history based on facts, rather than a politically-biased point of view.”

Approximately 500,000 students across the nation take Advanced Placement courses in U.S. History each year. Tennessee has worked diligently over the past several years to push students to take Advanced Placement exams as part of the effort to increase the number of citizens with post-secondary degrees.

Categories
Press Releases

Gresham Requests AG Opinion on TN Teacher Employment Laws

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; June 30, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) said today she has requested an attorney general’s opinion on whether Tennessee’s teacher employment laws are constitutional. The request comes after a California Superior Court struck down various teacher tenure and seniority statutes under that state’s constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in the Vergara v. California case. Teacher unions plan to appeal the ruling.

“This is a very important decision regarding teacher employment laws, which will reverberate to states across the nation, said Senator Gresham. “Tennessee, like California, has its own constitutional provision regarding student’s education rights in addition to the Equal Protection Clause afforded by the U.S. Constitution. We certainly need to make sure that we are on sound constitutional footing, and especially whether the reforms passed over the last several years will satisfy the constitutional tests as decided in this ruling.”

The California case was filed by nine public school students who charged that state laws forced districts to give tenure to teachers, regardless of whether they can do the job. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu found the California law was unconstitutional, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That decision declared that state laws which established that separate schools for white and black children were unconstitutional. “In these days,” the court said, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Gresham asked Attorney General Robert Cooper whether the current statutes or state law in effect prior to July 1, 2011 governing permanent employment violate students’ rights to a free education under the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee or U.S. Constitution. The General Assembly passed teacher tenure reform legislation in 2011 which changes a teacher’s probationary period before becoming eligible for tenure from three to five years as well as linking tenure status to performance evaluations. Gresham also asked the Attorney General if Tennessee law or the statutes in effect prior to July 1, 2014, governing layoffs or the dismissal and suspension of teachers violate student’s rights to a free education under the federal and state constitutions.

Categories
Education Featured NewsTracker

State’s School Textbook Selection Process May Get Overhaul

After two days of hearings on Tennessee’s public school textbook selection process, majority-party Senate Republicans are indicating they’ll push for developing new review-and-approval procedures, and perhaps throw the current system out altogether.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham told reporters after the close of the meeting she “sensed a real doubt” among fellow Republicans that “the Textbook Commission as it is structured now is fixable.”

“I think that what will happen now is that we will look at some of what these other states are doing and take the best practices and see if we can reconstitute our state textbook commission so that it works better,” said Gresham.

The hearings, held jointly by the Senate Education and Government Oversight committees, consisted of testimony from state Department of Education officials and Textbook Selection Commission members.

The lawmakers also listened to a number of conservative activists who said many state-approved education materials contain an assortment of passages that are ideologically biased, erroneous or in other ways objectionable and unsuited for Tennessee public school classrooms. The complaints focused on what those testified said they perceived to be unflattering depictions of capitalism and Christianity, omissions of key facts and outright inaccuracies in many of the social studies and history textbooks used to instruct high-school aged kids in Tennessee.

Hal Rounds, a Fayette County attorney and self-described libertarian, took issue, for example, with how recently approved textbooks in government-run schools are representing early American history and basic tenets of the United States Constitution. “The point is that the textbook selection process is supposed to provide us with tools that we can give our kids, that tell them what the world was really like. And it is not doing that,” said Rounds.

Claudia Henneberry, a retired teacher and activist with the Tea Party-affiliated 9.12 Project, said she spent several weeks researching state textbooks and found numerous instances of “racial bias” in which whites were cast in a negative light or are portrayed as oppressive intruders into North America. She also complained that most social studies and history texts in public schools generally tend to exhibit a liberal or pro-Democrat political slant.

On economic matters, Henneberry said “capitalism is portrayed as unfair in these books, most of them, and that wealthy is greedy, whereas socialism and other states of socialism are shown as preferable.”

Others who spoke leveled similar criticisms. Some also said that when they raised concerns with local school officials they were often either ignored or told the state has ultimate decision-making authority over the books schools use.

As the meeting came to a close, Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell said that after listening to all the protests from the conservatives who spoke he’s inclined to scrap the current process and “start all over.”

Bell said he’d favor Tennessee borrowing from what other states are doing and at the same time ensure the public has more input in the process. The states that are doing the best with how they select textbooks offer “more parental input, more local input, more transparency,” said the Republican from Riceville. Virginia, Utah and Louisiana have models worth looking into, he said.

Additionally, Bell said that he would like the General Assembly to have some decision-making ability over the membership of the commission. Currently, state textbook commissioners are appointed solely by the governor for a term of three years.

Gresham said addressing the issues raised by critics warrants being a legislative priority in 2014. “It’s evident from the hearings that we’ve had today and yesterday that we need to give our full attention to the state textbook commission and its structure and its function,” said the Somerville Republican.

Categories
Education NewsTracker

Common Core Hearings Commence

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held its first day of hearings Thursday on the controversial new nationwide Common Core Standards reform initiative.

Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, a Somerville Republican, said her aim with the hearings is to sort through the worries people of various ideological perspectives have been increasingly expressing about Common Core, which was conceived in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“Over the course of the last several months, many legitimate concerns have been raised about the Common Core State Standards, and many have arisen to praise the standards,” Gresham said. “More than this, the level of trust of Tennessee citizens in their federal government is at an all-time low. Around the world people are concerned with the amount of data the federal government is tracking, and the concerns about the data being collected on our children are at an all-time high. The process which led the State Board of Education to adopt the standards, as well as their exact content must be examined, and reexamined.”

Gresham characterized the Education Committee’s effort as “a fact-finding hearing.” Discussion of the standards is intended “to enlighten our understanding, not provoke animosity,” she said.

Common Core Standards have been both hailed as the next big thing in education reform as well as criticized on both the left and right.

Conservative detractors of Common Core grumble that it constitutes yet another example of improper federal interference in state affairs. They complain that the Obama administration has essentially mandated that states adopt the “voluntary” Common Core standards by making adherence to the them a requirement for federal education grants, as well as issuance of No-Child-Left-Behind waivers.

Some liberals grouse that the standards seem too complex and difficult, and that there’s no certainty they’re going to do anything to improve public-school learning environments.

Common Core State Standards are intended to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the initiative’s mission statement on its website. The standards have been created “to be robust and relevant to the real world,” and to reflect “the knowledge and skills” needed for success in further education and careers, the statement continues.

To Gov. Bill Haslam, who is a strong supporter of Common Core, its about “about setting the standards” for what children should know by a certain grade, regardless of geographic location.

“I think Common Core is about helping everybody understand, ‘Ok, here’s what a fifth grader should know in math skills, or here’s what an eighth grader should know in reading comprehension.’ So, for that reason we think it’s really important,” Haslam told reporters after reading to kids as part of his “Imagination Library Week.” Thursday morning at the Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center.

The first day of the Senate Education Committee hearings went by with little in the way of debate or denunciation. Thursday’s meeting consisted of opening remarks, rules for the hearing and a reading through of the standards, with questions from committee members.

Day two, Friday, is scheduled for testimonies on various aspects of the standards — such as cost, data and assessments, as well as personal perspectives and views on the standards themselves – by members of the Tennessee Department of Education, educators and various other individuals and organizations.

The Common Core Standards, which fall into two broad categories of Math and English Language Arts, were read almost in their entirety at the hearing, and the committee members piped in with questions over the course of the reading.

The questions asked by committee members ranged from when students would learn to use calculators and keyboards to whether students would be required to learn calculus or read and write cursive. Reoccurring questions cropped up around the differences between the new standards and those previously in place.

An explanation of the differences between Common Core and the state’s previous set of educational standards was initially requested by State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

The Common Core Standards change the structure of Tennessee’s education standards by reducing the number of criteria which had to be met under the Tennessee Diploma Project, while raising the standards of the criteria that must be met, explained Emily Barton, the assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction.

Additionally, the issue of whether or not the standards provide any kind of guidelines as far as curriculum and appropriate text materials for the various grades arose on several occasions.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, asked Barton if the selection of reading materials and curriculum would be left entirely to local education agencies, with no state oversight.

“You might have somebody in Bradley County decide to use…Gone with the Wind, and somebody in Hamilton County decide, well, we need to look at a collection of Playboy magazines,” Gardenhire suggested. “Is there a criteria for value that the state has?”

State law requires that local school boards adopt the textbooks that will be used in their community’s schools, Barton explained.

“The selection of textbooks is not the same as the standards themselves, but I will happily answer that the statute of the state places ultimate selection authority of textbooks in the local community,” Barton said.

The Senate Education Committee will be holding hearings sometime this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process, Gresham added.

The second portion of the hearings is scheduled to begin 9 AM, Friday.

Categories
Press Releases

Gresham Announces Dates for Senate Hearings on Common Core Standards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) today released information regarding the fact finding meeting on the state’s Common Core State Standards (CCSS), pledging a full and fair review. The Senate hearings will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 19 and at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 20 in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

  • Thursday’s meeting will be include a full review of CCSS details
  • Friday’s meeting will include testimony on CCSS

“Our guiding principle throughout these hearings must be our students and what is best for their future,” added Gresham. “That is why it is so important that we let the facts guide us as we take a thorough look through a full and fair review.”

“There have been many legitimate concerns expressed about the Common Core Standards from both ends of the political spectrum, from parents, teachers and other concerned citizens” said Senator Gresham. “This forum provides us with the opportunity to air these concerns, review the facts and offer recommendations for changes as we move closer to the start of the 2014 legislative session.”

Categories
Press Releases

Senate Ed Committee to Take Up Texbook Selection Process in Fall

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – State Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) announced today that the Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process for Tennessee’s K-12 schools. The hearing will take place in October with time, date and location to be announced soon.

The Committee will look at the role and work of the state’s Textbook Commission and Tennessee laws governing textbook selection to help ensure an accurate and unbiased approach. The Textbook Commission recently came under fire by a group of parents for having adopted textbooks containing inappropriate language and a controversial interpretation of historical facts.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the textbooks used in this state are tools of education, not indoctrination,” said Gresham.

The state’s Textbook Commission is composed of ten members whose responsibility is to recommend an official list of textbooks for approval of the State Board of Education. Local school systems choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list for a six-year period.

Other members of the Senate Education Committee include 1st Vice-Chair Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), 2nd Vice-Chair Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), and Senators Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey), Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

Categories
Press Releases

TN Senate Education Comittee to Review Common Core Standards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; July 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -– Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) has set meeting dates of September 19th and 20th for Committee members to review facts regarding the state’s Common Core Standards.  Gresham announced last month that the Committee will hear testimony from critics and proponents of the standards, as well as state education officials.

The meeting, which had tentatively been planned for an earlier date, was moved to the September date due to scheduling conflicts.

The hearings will be held at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 19, 2013 in Room 12 of the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The hearings will continue on September 20 at 9:00 am at the same location.

Categories
Press Releases

TN Senate Democratic Caucus Update: March 19-24

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, March 24, 2011:

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Mountaintop Removal

Senate Bills 577 and 578, which would effectively ban the practice known as “mountaintop removal coal mining” were delayed one week in the Senate Environment, Conservation, and Tourism committee. Republicans attempted to delay the bills two weeks, which would have placed them in jeopardy of not being heard before the committee’s April 13 closing date. One Republican voted with Democrats and another abstained in order to let the two-week proposal fail. The bills sponsored by Senator Eric Stewart are now scheduled to be heard Wednesday, March 30.

Open Records

Senator Roy Herron successfully amended a bill Monday to require that foundations that contract with the University of Tennessee be required to hold open meetings and maintain publicly accessible financial records. Senate Bill 336 authorizes the UT Board of Trustees to designate and enter into agreements with foundations designed to raise money and support the university. Herron’s amendment requires that most meetings of the foundation be open to the public, and that all expenditures by the foundations be made public record.

Such oversight is crucial given past problems with the UT Foundation, which a 2003 audit found that the foundation could be used to circumvent accountability laws for public funds and assets. Former UT President John Shumaker was forced to resign amid ethical and financial violations involving the foundation.

Race to the Top and Complete College Updates

Several updates on the Complete College Tennessee Act were presented to the Education Committee on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission outlined that the state is seeking to improve its higher-education standards through a new funding formula based on outcomes in lieu of enrollment; a Performance Funding program that focuses on quality assurance; and the establishment of institutional mission statements to reduce redundancy in programs.

A presentation was also given updating the committee on Tennessee’s First to the Top initiative. The presentation outlined new programs aimed at helping Tennessee improve its K-12 education, including the creation of a comprehensive student information database that is accessible to every teacher in the state and a new emphasis on recruiting and retaining good teachers.

Communications

Thursday the Senate passed Senate Bill 598 with a compromise amendment that gives rural telephone companies more time to reduce their intrastate connection rates. The bill was initially resisted by rural phone companies but supported by large telecommunication companies such as AT&T. Under the new amendment, both sides have agreed to support its passage in both houses.