Education News

Woodson Leaving Senate to Lead SCORE

Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, an integral figure in historic education reforms in Tennessee in recent years, is leaving the Legislature to become president of SCORE, the education reform organization put together by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Woodson, speaker pro tempore in the Senate, will formally leave the Legislature after the final day of the current legislative session, or on July 1, whichever comes first.

The governor will set a special election date for sometime in the fall, and voters in the district will pick a new senator.

Woodson will have the title of president and chief executive officer of the group formally known as the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. She replaces Brad Smith, who has joined the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

SCORE itself, while a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has had a strong link to the reforms Woodson and many others have worked on legislatively in K-12 education, stretching from the administration of former Gov. Phil Bredesen to current Gov. Bill Haslam.

Woodson was chosen after a national search to fill the SCORE position.

She said Thursday she will not run for public office again.

“All the organization partners in public education are at the table and really focused on one thing, and one thing only, and that’s working diligently to make sure students are prepared for success in post-secondary education and the workforce when they graduate from high school,” Woodson said.

“It’s a big mission, but it’s a simple mission.”

Woodson, who has spent 12 years in the Legislature and is former chair of the Senate Education Committee, was involved in the intensive special session on education reform in January 2010, where the road was paved for the state’s successful application for the federal Race to the Top competition. She has also been influential in steering education reforms favored by Haslam in the current legislative session.

Woodson has served on the steering committee of SCORE since the organization began in 2009.

She said Thursday she will treat the new position much like the “odd commuter lifestyle” she currently has as a leader in the Legislature. Knoxville will continue to be home, she said. SCORE operates in the offices of the John Seigenthaler First Amendment Center on 18th Avenue South in Nashville.

“I will spend a good bit of time in Nashville, as well as around the state,” she said.

“I think the organization has been very relevant and important to the success that we have achieved thus far.”

Woodson said Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, has been “very encouraging” about her new role.

“We have dreamed big about education reform for many years, well before he put his hat into the ring to serve as governor,” she said. “It’s something obviously that’s a priority to him, and he was very kind and encouraging.”

One of Woodson’s first tasks will involve strategic planning with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been heavily involved in philanthropic measures for public education in Tennessee. SCORE is funded by numerous individuals and organizations at the state and national levels that are engaged in improving student achievement.

SCORE issued a report recently, acknowledging strides made in education reform but continuing to emphasize the need for improvement, especially through sustaining a pipeline of leaders in public schools.

Frist has been the driving force behind the organization and brought instant credibility to the organization formed to focus on public education. He is chairman of SCORE.

“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” Frist said in a formal statement Thursday.

“As SCORE’s president and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders and parents.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey issued a formal statement, saying, “Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson has been a pioneering and passionate advocate for education reform since the very beginning of her tenure in the Legislature.

“She has served her district and her state with a dedication I see in too few public servants these days. It has been a true honor and privilege to serve alongside Jamie, and I wish her all the best in this new phase of her career.”

Woodson said she will miss serving in the Legislature, but she sees a logical transition from one role to the next.

“There are so many things I will miss, first and foremost representing the citizens in my community in Knox County,” she said. “I knocked on my first door and asked a wonderful family for the privilege of serving them in the state Legislature when I was 25 years old. Several thousand doors later and many years later, I know I will feel like the work I will be doing with SCORE is a very natural continuation of that service.”

The nature of the new job has a strong appeal to her.

“There are so many things I love about what I do now, but the work I’ve had the privilege of doing in education policy has been the passion,” Woodson said. “The opportunity to spend a hundred percent of your efforts in your passion is a blessing. I’m really excited about it.”

Education News

Haslam Praises Tech Centers for Efficiency, Putting Grads in Jobs

While the state’s four-year schools would reduce spending by the millions under Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget, public trade schools that turn out welders, cosmetologists and repairmen will face more modest cuts that average less than $50,000 per school.

The plan, which largely shields the state’s technology centers from a proposed 2.5 percent decrease in state spending next year, points to Haslam’s emphasis on applying tax dollars where he believes they are most cost-efficient. During a tour of the Tennessee Technology Center at Nashville on Wednesday, Haslam said the technology centers are on the front line of providing the sort of job training the state and companies here need.

“Our technology centers are doing great work, and they’re providing the real labor workforce training our employers need,” Haslam said. “When you have an 80 percent completion rate and about an 80 percent placement rate, that’s a really good track record.

“I’m a fan of what’s happening here. We want to see if we can do more of this.”

Haslam this week proposed cutting higher education by 2 percent, which translates into a $20.2 million reduction.

But the state’s new funding formula for higher education emphasizes outcomes rather than simply student enrollment, so the technology centers figure to stand up well in that system.

The technology centers are listed as a $1.3 million cut in Haslam’s budget proposal, but with 27 locations across the state that averages only $48,000 per school. The Nashville center Haslam toured has a budget of $2.3 million and 899 students, $2,600 per student.

“For most folks, I don’t think there is any drastic impact there in terms of this year’s budget on how it will affect the technology centers,” Haslam said. “We worked hard to where we’re providing direct services like this to try to minimize the impact.”

Haslam proposed a $30.2 billion budget, which includes a 1.6 percent raise for state workers but is down overall from last year’s spending plan.

The University of Tennessee system, which operates separately from the state board that oversees the technology centers, is facing $7 million in reductions in the governor’s proposal, including $3.4 million from the UT-Knoxville campus.

Haslam has proposed cuts of $1.9 million at the University of Memphis, $1.7 million at Middle Tennessee State University and just over $1 million at East Tennessee State University. Tennessee Tech is looking at a reduction of $825,000, and Tennessee State would see its budget reduced by $686,000 in the plan.

Technology center officials say their system provides a model that works well, with an emphasis on putting people in jobs without burdening them with a lot of debt. They point to the fact students can have a significant amount of their costs covered through Pell grants and the state’s Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grant, the technology centers’ version of the state’s lottery scholarship program.

The Wilder-Naifeh grant is named for two legislators behind it, the late Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville and Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who is still a member of the General Assembly. The grant, introduced in 2004, provides up to $2,000 per year for students who meet attendance requirements and maintain a C average or better. The total financial aid available can cover about 70 percent of students’ costs, officials say.

The technology centers are largely trying to get away from the federal student loan program, said James King, vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees them.

“I don’t want our students leaving here with debt if they don’t have to,” King said.

The technology center approach can result in more immediate employment than the traditional four-year model at a major university.

“We’re graduating folks on time. Our students come in, they get out, and they can get on with their lives,” King said.

Taxpayers can be assured the technology centers are motivated to place graduates in jobs because their accreditation depends on it. The centers are accredited by the Council on Occupational Education.

“It’s not just placement into some job. It’s placement into the field where they’re trained,” King said.

All but one of the state’s technology centers is a free-standing facility, one in Chattanooga being the exception. The programs cover more than 50 fields of study. Haslam’s tour on Wednesday exposed him to programs as diversified as nursing and welding.

Mark Lenz, director of the Nashville school, conducted Haslam’s tour.

Haslam was hardly the first dignitary to visit the Nashville campus. Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, who have made contributions to education in Tennessee from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, visited the Nashville school last November.

The 27 technology centers help make the Board of Regents system the sixth largest system of public higher education in the nation. The Regents system includes six four-year universities — Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, East Tennessee State and the University of Memphis — and 13 community colleges.