Republicans Sounding Agreeable to Bredesen’s Education Reform Pitch

Gov. Phil Bredesen’s speech before a joint meeting of the House and Senate for the special legislative session on Tuesday drew skepticism from some in his own party. But to many Republicans on Capitol Hill, the reform plan outlined by the Democratic governor was just what they wanted to hear.

“He has asked us to be bold and join him in this opportunity to prepare students for this global economy and I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Senate Education Committee member Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville. “I think this is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee, and I look forward to this week so we can work together.”

Bredesen is offering two legislative proposals for the special session.

One, called “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010,” is designed to position Tennessee to snatch up a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Obama administration is dangling in front of states in “Race to the Top” education funding grants.

The other bill, the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010,” is written with the idea in mind of trying to boost lagging college completion rates in Tennessee. “On average, only 46 percent of full-time students at four-year schools graduate within six years, and only 12 percent of full-time community college students attain associate degrees within three years,” Bredesen told lawmakers.

For every 100 students who enter ninth grade in our public schools, Bredesen said, 67 graduate from high school in four years. Of those, 43 go directly to college after graduation, but only 29 return for their sophomore year.

“Just 19 graduate with an associate’s degree in three years or a bachelor’s degree in six years,” Bredesen said. “We can do better. We’ve got to do better.”

For Tennessee schools to have a chance at some of the “Race to the Top” funding, which is part of the stimulus package the Democratic-led Congress and the Obama administration passed last year, changes need to be made to how teachers here are evaluated, said Bredesen.

The “Race to the Top” application specifically requires that student achievement data be added as a “significant factor” to teacher and school principal evaluations, according to the governor. Other states the Bredesen administration sees as “primary competitors” have generally determined that half a teacher’s or principal’s performance evaluation should be based on student achievement.

Currently, it is illegal in Tennessee for school administrators to use student achievement data to rate and review teachers for tenure.

“I know this represents change, but this is not rocket science,” Bredesen said about his proposal to allow student progress to drive official teacher-performance assessments. “It is a commonsense notion; we pay teachers to teach children, a part of their evaluation ought to be how much the children they teach learn.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said afterward that Bredesen “made a very good case on why we need to do this, and that it’s probably the right thing to do.”

Democrats grumbled that all this proposed change is coming at them without much opportunity for considered debate and analysis. The deadline for the state to apply for the “Race to the Top” grants is Jan. 19. That means a legislative package needs to be on Bredesen’s desk before then.

“I think he’s pretty optimistic. I think he’s entered into a contest where we may or may not win and are trying to change the entire system in a very short period of time,” said Rep. John C. Tidwell of New Johnsonville. “A lot of the details don’t work out.”

While everyone “would love the luxury of time,” said Woodson, “this isn’t the only time in our legislative history that we’ve been talking about these important issues.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said tying teacher performance reviews to student test scores “is something (Republicans) have been pushing for years.”

Ramsey predicted that getting the legislative changes Bredesen wants passed through the chamber over which he presides probably won’t be too difficult. “I think we can do it,” said Ramsey. “I don’t see a lot of problem on the Senate side.”

Press Releases

Ramsey: Planned Parenthood Won’t Locate by Catholic High School

Press Release from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville:

Nashville – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced that Planned Parenthood will not be allowed to place an abortion clinic next door to Memphis Catholic High School. The state Health Services and Development Agency voted to allow the move last month after the Catholic Diocese of Memphis formally protested the move. At the time, Lt. Governor Ramsey criticized the HSDA’s action as shocking and insensitive.

“I am very pleased that the nation’s largest abortion provider will not be allowed to set up shop next door to Memphis Catholic High School,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The HSDA’s action showed extremely poor judgment and I am very pleased at this outcome.”

Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region had received approval from the HSDA in December to relocate to 1750 Madison Avenue in Memphis. The location would have housed two surgical rooms where over 700 abortions would have been performed annually. Memphis Catholic High School as well as a nursing home for retired priests is located two-tenths of a mile from the site.

After the HSDA vote, Lt. Governor Ramsey directed the Senate Government Operations Committee to bring the HSDA before the committee and explain the action. On December 23, the property owner of the building located at 1750 Madison Avenue assured his tenants in a letter that “negotiations with Planned Parenthood of Memphis to occupy the Sixth floor have ceased and they will not be moving into our building.”

Lt. Governor Ramsey was recently named Tennessee Right to Life Legislator of the Year. In the 2009 legislative session, he led the fight to deny state funds to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Press Releases

Ramsey Asks AG Cooper to Research Options for Blocking Federal Health Care Legislation

Letter from Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, 5 Jan. 2010:

Dear General Cooper:

As you are aware, on December 24th the United States Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590). As publicly acknowledged by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the critical sixtieth vote in favor of passage was cast by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson in exchange for inclusion of a provision within H.R. 3590 that requires the federal government to hold the State of Nebraska harmless from increased costs arising from the proposed Medicaid expansion. H.R. 3590 does not require the federal government to pick-up the full cost of the proposed expansion of Medicaid in any other state. The so-called “Nebraska Deal” clearly grants special benefits to a single state purely for the purpose of political expediency. Taxpayers in all other states will be required to annually pay millions of dollars to offset increased Medicaid costs. In defending the “Nebraska Deal,” no one has suggested any rational basis for favoring Nebraska taxpayers over taxpayers in Tennessee or any other state.

Please share your expertise and insights with regard to the following question:

Does any provision within the United States Constitution or other federal law provide a legal basis by which the State of Tennessee and other states could seek judicial intervention to block implementation of H.R. 3590 or, alternatively, to ensure that the “Nebraska Deal” is extended to the other states?

I have read your public comments wishing to defer the issue until legislation is finalized but the General Assembly must be proactive in dealing with what Governor Bredesen has called “the mother of all unfunded mandates.” I join Governor Bredesen in his outrage at the $1.2 billion price tag of this legislation in a year when we are preparing to cut up to $1.5 billion from the state budget.

While it is admirable that the Governor has contacted our federal officials on this issue, it is the duty of the state Attorney General to defend Tennessee against unconstitutional dictates from the federal government. All I ask is that you share your expertise and insights regarding the above question. We must begin to prepare for the harsh impact of either the House or Senate bill on Tennesseans. As Governor Bredesen has not ruled out asking that Tennessee join other states in challenging the proposed legislation, there is no reason to wait.

A bipartisan group of state elected officials have publicly stated that the “Nebraska Deal” is bad policy, excessive and are concerned about its implementation. It is time for the Attorney General’s office to offer preliminary legal options to the legislature as to how we may best protect Tennessee citizens from this unfair and quite possibly unconstitutional federal action.

If there are questions or if additional information is required, then please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.

I look forward to discussing these matters with you in the near future.


Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey