Education NewsTracker

Contentious Charter School Issues Still Unresolved as Session Draws to Close

Many among the Tennessee Legislature’s Republican supermajority believe the more charter schools, the better — particularly in areas served by poorly performing traditional public schools. But things are not going smoothly in the waning days of the legislative session for a GOP-backed effort to circumvent local school boards resistant to that vision.

Legislation has been proposed to create a state-appointed board with the power to overrule local education agencies that deny new charter schools. The lower-chamber version of the charter “authorizer” legislation, House Bill 702 carried by Memphis Republican Mark White, has had relatively smooth sailing through the committee process. But its upper-chamber counterpart has run into snags of late.

Senate Bill 830 is sponsored by high-ranking Republican Dolores Gresham of Somerville. But the retired Marine Corps officer who chairs the Senate Education Committee has deferred action on the bill several times in recent days after members of the chamber’s Finance, Ways & Means Committee, including several of her GOP caucus cohorts, have voiced concerns about the bill.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson, who sits on the Finance Committee, told TNReport Tuesday that he is uncomfortable with the limited purview of the charter authorizer, which would only extend to urban counties that have struggling, so-called “priority” schools.

“We had testimony that establishing a panel was a best practice, but also making it state-wide was a best practice so I think if we’re going to be consistent…we ought to have one review process for it,” the Hixon Republican said.

Gresham is set to bring the measure up again Wednesday after a day’s worth of last minute tinkering. But it is unclear if she’ll be able to swing enough votes in her favor.

Meanwhile, another of Sen. Gresham’s charter-school bills passed the House without one of the amendments she fought to include in her version. The added language to Senate Bill 205 would allow charter schools to contract with for-profit companies to manage the schools, an option currently only open to non-profit organizations.

On the House floor Tuesday, Knoxville Republican Harry Brooks introduced his version of the legislation as originally drafted which would only serve to clean up or clarify existing charter-related rules. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley asked Brooks explicitly if the legislation dealt with for-profit operators and Brooks told him it did not.

The Senate is set to vote on Greshams bill, as amended, in coming days and, if passed, the two chambers would still have to hash out any differences, including those related to for-profit management.

Education Featured

Charter School Authorizer Keeps Moving in House, Snagged Up in Senate

A bill that would create an independent state government authorizer for charter schools in certain parts of Tennessee scored another victory in the state House Wednesday, clearing the chamber’s Finance, Ways & Means Committee on a voice vote.

After undergoing several tweaks as it moved through the committee system, the version of House Bill 702 that passed Wednesday would put in place a governor-and-legislature-appointed panel with the power to override Local Education Agencies who deny charter school applications in counties that have at least one designated “priority school.”

There are currently 83 such schools in the state in five different counties.

House Democrats, who have consistently opposed the proposed charter authorizer, raised several concerns to Republican sponsor Mark White during discussion on the bill including infringement of local control and the fiscal implications for school districts.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley introduced an amendment that would have capped the dollar amount LEA’s would be forced to pay to support state-authorized schools but it was quickly shot down by the majority-Republican committee.

Nashville Democrat Gary Odom subsequently took issue, arguing that the committee was ignoring their duty to consider all financial implications of the measure.

“This appeals mechanism has the opportunity to impact, financially, school systems because they’re going to be mandated to turn over funding to charter schools,” Odom said. “This committee is chorred with dealing with fiscal impact on state governments as well as local governments…we just voted down an amendment that was going to try to cap local government expenditures, as part of their operating costs, on charter schools…This is an unfunded mandate.”

But Committee Chairman Charles Michael Sargent, R-Franklin promptly shut down discussion, saying “I would have a response to that but I’m not getting into a running debate.”

While it was unlikely that the bill would have faced difficulty on the House side, the fate of its Senate companion is less clear. After facing tough questions from fellow Republicans on the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee Tuesday, sponsor Dolores Gresham of Somerville pulled the bill to the bottom of the agenda and it has yet to resurface.

TNReport was unable to reach Gresham for comment.

Press Releases

Romney Revving Up TN Campaign — Haslam to Chair

Press Release from the Campaign of Mitt Romney for President, February 14, 2012:

Mitt Romney Announces Governor Bill Haslam as State Chairman and Full Slate of Tennessee Delegates

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today announced that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will serve as State Chairman of Romney’s presidential campaign in Tennessee.

Romney also announced that his is the only presidential campaign to have assembled a full slate of delegate candidates to join him on the Tennessee ballot. Romney’s delegate team is led by former Tennessee Governor Winfield Dunn, a number of state legislators, and other top GOP leaders, state executive committee members and leading business, civic and political leaders from across the Volunteer State.

“I’m pleased to have so much support in Tennessee,” said Mitt Romney. “Voters in the Volunteer State have been hit hard by the Obama economy. I look forward to spreading my message of a ‘Simpler, Smaller, and Smarter’ federal government across the state in the months to come and the support of these leaders will be crucial.”

“This slate of delegates represents the strong support Mitt has from Memphis to Mountain City,” Haslam said. “He is committed to job growth across our state and nation, and his common-sense approach is resonating with Tennessee voters. He has the experience to lead, and this country needs a true leader.”

Romney’s Slate Of At-Large Delegate Candidates Includes:

Rob Ailey, Seymour

Steve Allbrooks, Franklin

Randal Boyd, Knoxville

Josh Brown, Franklin

Steve Buttry, Knoxville

Beth Campbell, Nashville

John Crisp, Brentwood

John Wayne Cropp, Hixson

Winfield Dunn, Nashville

Ruth B. Hagerty, Gallatin

Julia Hurley, Lenoir City

Jim Looney, Lawrenceburg

Wendell Moore, Brentwood

Justin Pitt, Franklin

Susan Richardson Williams, Knoxville

Mark White, Memphis

Romney’s Slate Of Congressional District Delegate Candidates Includes:

First District:

David Golden, Kingsport

Warren Jones, Johnson City

Alicia Mumpower, Bristol

Second District:

Russell Barber, Knoxville

Richard Barnes, Knoxville

Ryan Haynes, Knoxville

Third District:

Emily Beaty, Cleveland

Oscar Brock, Lookout Mountain

Jennifer Inman Little, Bean Station

Hobart L. Rice, Dandridge

Fourth District:

David French, Columbia

Nancy French, Columbia

Jason Whatley, Columbia

Fifth District:

Shiri Anderson, Antioch

Chrissy Hagerty, Nashville

John Patrick Shorter, Nashville

George B. Stadler, Nashville

Sixth District:

Debra K. Copass, Mount Juliet

Beth Cox, Hendersonville

Randy Stamps, Hendersonville

Chad White, Murfreesboro

Seventh District:

Mary Kate Brown, Franklin

Barrett Rich, Eads

Ammon Smartt, Brentwood

Eighth District:

Bob D. Anderson, Paris

Betty Anderson, Paris

Steve Maroney, Jackson

Oneida Wagoner, Mansfield

Ninth District:

Paul Boyd, Memphis

Frank Colvett, Jr., Memphis

Kelly Hankins, Memphis

Dennis Patrick Hawkins, Memphis


Press Releases

Perry Campaign Announces Endorsements from Six GOP State Lawmakers

Press release from the Rick Perry for President Campaign, Nov. 7, 2011:

State leaders praise Perry’s economic record and commitment to Constitution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry today announced the endorsement of six Republican Tennessee lawmakers, including Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, State Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, State Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson, House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, State Rep. Don Miller of Morristown and State Rep. Mark White of Memphis.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who endorsed Gov. Perry even before he announced his candidacy, praised his fellow legislators for their support.

“I’ve known Gov. Perry for a long time,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “I was impressed when I first met him and my esteem has only grown as he has proven his leadership in Texas. The time for rhetoric is over. We need a man of action. We need a president who understands how to promote economic growth. We need a president who understands that the role of the federal government must be limited. Rick Perry has heeded the call to national leadership at the exact right moment for our country.”

“Rick Perry is the candidate who will get America working again,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron. “Under his leadership, Texas has experienced an economic miracle creating more than one million net new jobs. Gov. Perry’s record is solid, proven and conservative.”

“Rick Perry doesn’t just spout conservative rhetoric — he implements tangible conservative reform,” said State Rep. Mark White. “Gov. Perry is a principled constitutional conservative who has cut taxes, reduced spending and stood up to the job-killing regulations from Washington bureaucrats.”

“I am humbled to have the support of so many Republican lawmakers in Tennessee,” said Gov. Perry. “They share my vision for a stronger America with more jobs, more freedom and less government intrusion in the lives of our citizens. With the help of these legislators, we will run a spirited campaign in Tennessee, and in 2012 we’ll get America working again.”

Press Releases

Guv Signs Charter School Expansion Into Law, Vows to Continue Education Talks with Teachers, Parents

For Immediate Release; June 15, 2011:

Haslam Signs Law Lifting Cap, On Opening Enrollment in Charter Schools

MEMPHIS – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial signing of his charter schools bill, HB 1989/SB 1523 at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis, legislation lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and opening enrollment to more students.

The changes will make charter schools an option for more districts that seek to take advantage of this innovative tool and for more parents who seek educational options for their children. The initiative is part of his first legislative package that focused on continuing the state’s progress in education reform and ultimately geared toward Haslam’s first priority: making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.

“Charter schools are a critical part of our mission to provide every child in Tennessee the opportunity to receive a great education, and with the national spotlight on the state’s education reform efforts, this is an important step forward as we continue to focus on growing and attracting high quality jobs to Tennessee,” Haslam said.

Main provisions in the charter schools legislation include:

  • Removing the 90-school cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Tennessee;
  • Removing the existing enrollment restrictions while maintaining the current system that gives preference to applicants who fall under the school’s focus area;
  • Allowing the state Achievement School District to authorize charter schools within the district’s scope;

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) sponsored the legislation, which passed both houses with bipartisan support.

As Haslam builds on momentum from the legislative session that includes in addition to the charter schools legislation, tenure reform and the ability for students to use lottery scholarships for summer school, he will join Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman in traveling the state over the coming months to talk with educators and parents to continue focusing on what has the most impact on children in our classrooms.

To complement his efforts in improving education and building a skilled workforce, he will also travel with Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty to continue focusing on creating and growing high-paying jobs by working with existing in-state businesses and recruiting new companies into Tennessee.

Education Featured News

House Approves Collective Bargaining Limitations

The Tennessee House and Senate have approved competing plans overhauling the state’s collective bargaining laws.

But both chambers’ leaders believe they’ll ultimately end up banning unions from negotiating teachers’ labor contracts once everything is said and done.

“I think the vote today indicated that we can get it passed if it’s reasonably drawn and reasonably written. I think we have the opportunity to pass it here,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters after she presided over a grueling four-hour debate on her chamber’s floor.

On a 59-39 vote, majority Republicans moved to scale back teachers’ collective bargaining powers.

Opponents included all the House Democrats, one independent and five Republicans. They pitched more than two dozen alternatives to weaken or derail the bill, but only a few tinkering with technicalities passed — the rest were either tabled or later withdrawn.

One opponent to SB113/HB13o, Democratic Rep. Mike McDonald of Portland, wheeled out an easel and poster boards to help illustrate what he thinks collective bargaining has accomplished to aide teachers beyond helping them get better contracts. The system has allowed them to pressure school boards into purchasing additional “instructional supplies” and other educational materials for their classrooms, he said.

A band of Republicans railed against the bill, too. The GOP caucus members who voted against SB113/HB130 included Reps. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, Dennis “Coach Roach of Rutledge, Dale Ford of Jonesborough and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Independent Kent Williams also voted against the anti-collective bargaining legislation. The former state House speaker from Elizabethton hinted during the floor debate that the bill was no more than “political payback” because the Tennessee Education Association gives dramatically more money in campaign contributions to the Democratic Party than they do the GOP.

Republicans maintained that their efforts were solely about improving education in Tennessee, and that ultimately everyone — teachers, students and taxpayers — would benefit from loosening the union’s grip on policy and personnel discussions.

GOP lawmakers said they believe the TEA has become a force of obstructionism in education reform discussions over the years, and that the process of collective bargaining between a school board and a single employee organization to the exclusion of all others thwarts input and exchange of new ideas.

“We have allowed a professional organization to hijack education in our state for their own agenda,” said Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican.

Far from being an “attack on teachers,” as opponents of the legislation have painted GOP efforts for months this session, SB113/HB130 represents “the most empowering legislation I’ve seen in a long time for teachers,”said Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

Eliminating collective bargaining and allowing school boards to consider other viewpoints and voices when drafting new contracts for education professionals “will help (teachers) succeed,” said Lundberg.

Under the House proposal, teachers unions would no longer be able to negotiate salaries, merit pay, use of grant funding, teacher evaluations, personnel decisions along with policies relating to special education programs like virtual school districts.

Unions would, however, still be able to hammer out issues like benefits and staffing decisions.

Powerful Senate Republicans though have said all along they will accept nothing less than a complete repeal of the 1978 Education Professionals Negotiations Act, which mandates that school districts negotiate with a recognized teachers union.

Not only would the Senate prefer no mandate to collective bargaining, but they’d rather teachers and unions “collaborate” with school districts on issues they want to debate on — but ultimately leave those policy decisions entirely up to the school board.

The rest, they say, they’re happy to compromise on.

So what happens now?

The two chambers will likely play a short game of legislative ping-pong where the Senate rejects the House version of the collective bargaining overhaul then the House turns down the Senate version.

Then speakers from both chambers will name three lawmakers to represent the chamber in a conference committee, essentially a compromise group meant to hash out the differences between the two bills.

Harwell said she’d consider naming Education Chairman Richard Montgomery of Sevierville, bill sponsor Debra Maggart of Mt. Juliet and Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville to the committee. Although she will make the committee assignments later in the week, it’s unclear whether she’ll swap any of those members for a Democrat as conference committees traditionally included a member of the minority party.