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Kelsey Releases Open Letter from County GOP Chairmen Opposed to Insure TN

Press release from Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; February, 2, 2015:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) today will accept a letter from a statewide coalition of conservative leaders and activists who oppose Medicaid expansion. Sen. Brian Kelsey stated, “Republican opposition to Obamacare Medicaid expansion is gaining momentum. These county party chairmen reflect the grassroots Republican opposition that is taking hold in the legislature.” Kelsey and Durham will discuss the open letter on behalf of the legislature at a press conference today at 10:30 am, scheduled for Hearing Room LP30.

Signatories to the letter include current chairs and party members from counties served by rural hospitals, such as West Tennessee Healthcare in Weakley County. Signatories also include persons recently included on a list of circulated by supporters of Medicaid expansion who did not intend to support the governor’s proposal. Party chairs signing the letter:

  • Rachel Welch–Chairman, Putnam County Republican Party
  • Gayle Jones–Chairman, Giles County Republican Party
  • Barry Hutcherson–Chairman, Chester County Republican Party
  • Chris Thompson–Chairman, Pickett County Republican Party
  • Dolores DiGeatano, MD–Chairman, Fayette County Republican Party
  • David Baldovin–Chairman, Moore county Republican Party
  • Sue Jackson–Chairman, Obion County Republican Party
  • Daniel Williams–Chairman, Carroll County Republican Party
  • Ben Nixon–Chairman, Warren County Republican Party
  • Harold Kemp–Chairman, Macon County Republican Party
  • Constance Hightower–Chairman, Hamblen County Republican Party
  • Debbie Baldwin–Chairman, Benton County Republican Party
  • Judi Swilling–Chairman, Claiborne County Republican Party
  • Jimmy Knight–Chairman, Union County Republican Party
  • Fred Ellis–Chairman, Lincoln County Republican Party
  • Ken Coppinger–Chairman, Rhea County Republican Party
  • Richard Swink–Chairman, Robertson County Republican Party
  • Ronald Wayne King–Chairman, Scott County Republican Party
  • Robert Dunham–Chairman, White County Republican Party

An excerpt from the letter reads, “As conservatives in our communities, we have worked hard to elect leaders we trust will uphold our values of shrinking government, imposing less taxes and costs on businesses and individuals, and embracing a free market.

“We reject ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And we need you to stand strong on these principles in the coming special session.” A copy of the letter is attached.

***

Dear Legislators:

As conservatives in our communities, we have worked hard to elect leaders we trust will uphold our values of shrinking government, imposing less taxes and costs on businesses and individuals, and embracing a free market.

We reject ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And we need you to stand strong on these principles in the coming special session.

Although Governor Haslam originally opposed Obamacare, it appears he has chosen to abandon those principles now that he is safely in his second term. His proposal for Insure Tennessee is no more than expansion of Obamacare by another name.

Nearly 9 in 10 Tennesseans eligible for Medicaid expansion are working-age adults without dependent children to support, according to the Urban Institute. Instead of adding a whole new generation onto welfare programs like Medicaid, we need to get working-age adults working again. Our state deserves a clear path to jobs and prosperity―not an ObamaCare Medicaid expansion like Insure Tennessee.

We are also concerned about how this ObamaCare Medicaid expansion is funded. In particular, $716 billion will be cut from Medicare in order to pay for the Medicaid expansion and other parts of the law, according to The Heritage Foundation. Medicaid expansion breaks the Medicare promise we made 50 years ago. And if other state Medicaid expansions are any indication, Medicaid costs will skyrocket―putting Tennessee seniors at further risk.

We are all aware of the mess that TennCare created and the difficulty our state had when we had to end the program and kick 350,000 Tennesseans off the Medicaid rolls.

Governor Haslam’s “two year pilot program” reeks of the same issues that we had less than a decade ago. Tennessee should not make the same mistake again.

We reject the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion known as Insure Tennessee. On behalf of many local Republicans oppose this expansion, we urge you to do what’s right for Tennessee and stand strong against this proposal.

Sincerely,

Tennessee Republican Party Chairs

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Press Releases

Bredesen Signs Special Session Education Legislation

State of Tennessee press release, Jan. 26, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Calling it a “landmark opportunity” for public education in Tennessee, Governor Phil Bredesen today signed into law two bills passed during this month’s special session of the 106th General Assembly that was focused on improving K-12 and higher education.

Joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers – including Lieutenant Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Kent Williams – Bredesen put his signature on the “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010” and the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010.” The new laws enact a range of measures designed to spur improvement in Tennessee’s education pipeline – specifically, improving student performance and graduation rates at both the high school and college levels.

“With these new laws in place, we’ve now got a landmark opportunity to move Tennessee public education forward in a dramatic and positive direction,” Bredesen said. “I’m grateful to the General Assembly for its swift, bold action. And I’m thankful to the scores of teachers, parents, students, community leaders, business people, and public education advocates who worked tirelessly to lend their views and support.”

The Tennessee First to the Top Act makes several changes that have been discussed for years, but which became more pressing in order to make the Volunteer State more competitive in the federal Race to the Top initiative. Race to the Top provides $4.35 billion in competitive grants designed to encourage and reward states that are pursuing education innovation. Among other changes, the Tennessee First to the Top Act:

  • Establishes an “Achievement School District” that allows the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.
  • Requires annual evaluations of teachers and principals.
  • Creates a 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee to recommend guidelines and criteria to the State Board of Education.
  • Allows local school systems to create local salary schedules for teachers and principals, with state approval.
  • Removes limitations on use of certain student-achievement data so the data can be used in making decisions on teacher tenure.

Meanwhile, the Complete College Tennessee Act – the product of nearly year-long talks with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on how to improve college completion in Tennessee – makes several changes designed to enhance cooperation between colleges and universities in the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and University of Tennessee (UT) systems.

Among other changes, the Complete College Tennessee Act:

  • Funds higher education based in part on success and outcomes, including higher rates of degree completion.
  • Makes community colleges the centerpiece in Tennessee’s strategy by expanding common programs and common courses to promote consistency and quality across the two-year system.
  • Creates a statewide transfer policy so that any student who earns a two-year degree at a community college can move on to a four-year university as a junior.
  • Requires TBR and UT to establish dual-admission and dual-enrollment policies at all two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Tennessee’s college-completion strategies are a natural extension of K-12 education reform measures. Race to the Top places a premium on states that aren’t simply focused on getting kids through high school but also are looking at college enrollment.

“Combined, the new laws give Tennessee the ability to focus on our entire education pipeline in one panoramic view,” Bredesen said. “Together, they represent an important step forward in our ongoing effort to make public education Tennessee’s highest priority.”

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Bill Blizzard Ongoing Until Thursday

With the special session on education all but wrapped up, an avalanche of bills are awaiting consideration in legislative committees.

Since Jan. 12 lawmakers have mostly been focused on education. This week 28 committee meetings are scheduled at the Capitol to take up a range of issues. Roughly 75 bills now sit in committees to which they’ve been assigned, though not all will be heard this week.

More than 2,000 bills are currently alive. More than 400 have been introduced since the beginning of 2010 — and the floodgates are open until the Thursday deadline to file new bills.

Normally the deadline is slated for the tenth legislative day or the second Thursday of regular session, whichever leadership decides, according to the Senate Clerk’s Office. But when special session pushed the regular session back, the House and Senate leadership set the deadline for Jan. 28.

This week, the bustling committee schedule includes several presentations from state departments:

  • The House Commerce Committee will hear a department update from Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Leslie Newman.
  • Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens will give the House Ag Committee an orientation-like review of the department programs, services and budget proposal presented to Gov. Phil Bredesen last fall.
  • Senate Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee will listen to a presentation on alternative energy from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and another outlining new initiatives within state tourism from Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker.
  • The Consumer and Employee Affairs committee will hear a presentation on the Unemployment Trust Fund from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • The State Collaborative on Reforming Education will give a presentation to the House Education Committee

they are free to vet other bills ranging from making it a “deceptive act” for a company to ask for a person’s social security number to changing the way the state counts multiple DUI offenses.

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Gubernatorial Candidates Signed RTTT Funding Request

All seven major candidates for governor agreed to support Tennessee’s “Race to the Top” education reforms in hopes of the state picking up a share of $4.35 billion in federal grant money Washington is doling out over the coming months.

Each signed a letter of support drafted by Gov. Phil Bredesen’s staff requesting $501.2 million for the Tennessee public school system.

“Should our state succeed in the competition, we will continue to focus on education and work tirelessly to implement the reforms necessary to transform our schools and offer our children a better future,” read the letter (pdf, pg. 34) affixed with the signatures of the four Republicans and three Democrats.

After spending a week in a special legislative session, the General Assembly approved sweeping education reforms that include changing the way teachers and principals are evaluated and creating a state-wide school district to manage failing schools.

The changes were needed, according to Bredesen, to strengthen the state’s federal grant application.

The letter is “extremely important” to the state’s application, said Lydia Lenker, Bredesen’s press secretary.

GOP candidates include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Congressman Zach Wamp, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. Campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination are state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and former House Democratic leader Kim McMillan.

“Bottom line, it’s about continuity and commitment through the gubernatorial transition,” Lenker said.

The application, handed to U.S. Government officials Tuesday, could mean an influx of education dollars that would span past Bredesen’s term in office.

“We recognize the challenges in sustaining education reform across gubernatorial administrations and shifts in the legislature,” the letter stated. “If our state is successful in Race to the Top, it also must deliver on the proposed programs and investments in a manner that effectively spans the transition in January 2011 from the current governor to the next governor.”

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TN’s ‘Race to the Top’ Grant Submitted

State of Tennessee press release, Jan. 20, 2010:

Reform proposal seeks $502 million fo Volunteer State

Nashville, TN –The State of Tennessee has submitted its proposal in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition, seeking a total of $501.8 million in federal resources to spur education innovation across the Volunteer State.

Tennessee’s final request exceeded recent estimates by about $17 million, mainly due to additional resources that are being sought for turnaround schools. Tennessee’s complete Race to the Top proposal, totaling 1,111 pages with supporting documents, can be found on the state Department of Education Web site at www.tn.gov/education.

“We’re proud to put forward Tennessee’s very best proposal for meaningful reform in public education,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “Our application should be especially competitive following last week’s efforts by the General Assembly, the Tennessee Education Association and countless others who helped support and pass the Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010.”

The Governor signed the newly minted law on Saturday. He added: “With years of solid reform work under our belts, we’re optimistic that the U.S. Department of Education will view Tennessee in the same way we see ourselves: As a state that is ready to lead the nation with fresh ideas and a new approach to public education.”

Under federal guidelines, half of any Race to the Top funds received by Tennessee — which, as requested, would total $250.9 million — would be distributed directly to local school districts under the federal government’s existing Title I formula. The other half would be used to seed a “State Innovation Fund” underwriting a series of new investments over a four-year period. Major categories include:

  • Turnaround schools: Approximately $108.8 million to help turn around struggling schools — including roughly a dozen consistently failing schools that may join the new state-run “Achievement School District” as well as roughly 180 increasingly troubled schools that may be designated as “Renewal” or “Focus” schools.
  • Great teachers and leaders: Approximately $62.2 million for a range of professional-development and “human capital” initiatives — including the creation of a new educator leadership program; expansion of Tennessee’s existing SITES-M program to improve math instruction in elementary schools; and training for teachers on higher academic standards.
  • Technology and data: $54.5 million to improve public school teachers’ use of and access to Tennessee’s longitudinal data system used for tracking “student growth,” or a child’s improvement in the classroom over time.
  • STEM programs: $22.5 million to invest in programs and schools focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math — the STEM disciplines.
  • Oversight and implementation: $2.9 million to help the Department of Education implement Tennessee’s plan and to establish a “First to the Top Oversight Team” charged with ensuring that funds are deployed according to plan and properly utilized.

“Tennessee’s proposed investments under Race to the Top are aligned not only with the needs of our state but also with the core reform priorities outlined by President and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan,” said Timothy Webb, commissioner of the state Department of Education. “We’re hopeful that Tennessee’s will come out on top.”

Created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Race to the Top provides $4.35 billion in competitive grants designed to encourage and reward states that are implementing ambitious plans in four core education reform areas:

  1. Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  2. Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  3. Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  4. Turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

On Tuesday, the President and Secretary Duncan announced plans to seek an additional $1.35 billion in funding for Race to the Top in anticipation of an “overwhelming response” from states seeking awards this week, in the first round of the competition. Winning states in the first round are expected to be announced in April, to be followed by a second round of competition later in the year.

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State Ups RTTT Grant Request

Tennessee asked the federal government on Tuesday for more than half a billion dollars in grants to funnel into the state’s public schools.

That’s a $17 million increase over the $485 million figure the governor used during an address to the General Assembly last week.

The Volunteer State is now soliciting $501.8 billion in U.S. Department of Education “Race to the Top” grants, which are part of the federal stimulus package passed last year.

Gov. Phil Bredesen called lawmakers into special session last week to change several education laws in order to strengthen the state’s application.

Ultimately approved by the General Assembly, those policy adjustments now link student test-scores to teacher and principal evaluations, and create a state-wide “Achievement School District” to adopt and manage failing schools.

The increase in the total federal funding request came from higher than expected costs related to turning around failing schools,  said state Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Woods.

Tennessee joined 40 states and the District of Columbia in vying for a chunk of $4.35 billion in education dollars under the federal education grant.

Eight states opted out of applying by the Jan. 19 deadline, including, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Vermont and Washington.

Texas and Alaska have opted out of the program entirely.

No more than 20 states that applied this week will collect on a share of the grant, which will be awarded in April. Losing states can reapply June 1.

President Obama said Wednesday he wants to expand the “Race to the Top” program by $1.35 billion in next year’s federal budget.

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Bredesen: Special Session Produces Historic Education Legislation

Statement from Gov. Phil Bredesen on passage of the “Tennessee First to the Top Act” Jan. 15, 2010:

“This has been a historic week for public education in Tennessee. I offer my sincere thanks to the leadership and members of the General Assembly for their work in passing this legislation, which will benefit the children in our schools and significantly enhance our efforts in the Race to the Top competition. As I said in Tuesday night’s speech, regardless of the outcome of any competition, this is the right thing to do for our children and schools.

“To all our teachers and principals across Tennessee, and to the Tennessee Education Association: you have my personal thank you and gratitude for coming to the table and working with us to achieve this milestone. I’m gratified by your trust in me and want to assure you that it will prove to be justified. As we move forward, we’ll work with educators across the state to ensure that everyone has accurate and reliable student achievement data to support his or her classroom instruction and enable fair and valid evaluations of teacher performance.

“Going forward, we will also need to address the issues of student responsibility and parental accountability, and I am willing to sit down with parents and teachers to do what’s necessary to ensure teachers are treated fairly.

“I encourage the members of the General Assembly to continue this progress next week by adopting the measures I’ve outlined to increase college completion rates in Tennessee and position us for future success in economic and workforce development.”

Bredesen: Special Session Produces Historic Education Legislation
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Lawmakers in Mad Dash to Compete in ‘Race’

State representatives and senators laboring over education laws in this weeks’ special session expect the legislation will pass — though members of both parties say they’re feeling rushed.

The House Education Committee passed the measure 21-1 Thursday afternoon after almost 10 hours of debate over the last two days.

“Once we get to the floor we’ll be okay,” said Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory. “There will be some debate on the floor. Probably some lively debate on the floor but I expect it to pass on a pretty comfortable margin.”

The General Assembly is attempting to iron out any snags in Tennessee education law that could weaken the state government’s chances of scoring as much as $485 million in federal “Race to the Top” grant monies. The reform-based grant application is due in Washington by Jan. 19.

“We’re going fast on this. But what’s the biggest thing that happens when you’re going fast? Mistakes are made. You’ve just got to be real, real careful,” said Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.

State Rep. John DeBerry, Jr., a Memphis Democrat, criticized the plan to link student performance to 50 percent of a teachers’ evaluation during this week’s marathon Education Committee meeting that stretched over two days. He said lawmakers should tread carefully before “we’ll jump through every hoop” for millions of dollars for education from Washington.

“I agree with the lofty goal of trying to better education in the state of Tennessee, but the more we talk about this bill, the less I like it,” said DeBerry during the House Education Committee meeting Wednesday. “I categorically cannot consciously sit here and continue to listen to this without saying that we need to go back and think about this for a second. Because there is something very, very, very, very wrong going on here.”

Hill, who sits on the House Education Committee as well,  introduced several amendments to key legislation Gov. Phil Bredesen wants lawmakers to approve within the next few days. The committee reviewed roughly 16 total changes to House Bill 7010 in today’s committee hearing.

The bill, which lawmakers have debated for 10 hours in the education committee for a 21-1 vote, faces two more committees before a vote on the House floor.

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, said amendments won’t bog the bill down.

“It’s just all in how the dominoes fall,” said Brooks who chairs the committee. “We need to take sufficient time to be very thorough, be very careful, ask any and every question we need to ask. We don’t need to ever leave this meeting, and or this session saying, ‘I did not know what I was voting on.”

Bredesen called lawmakers into a legislative special session this week, saying “the stars have aligned” to dramatically improve the state’s public education system.

The two-term Democrat, who is serving his last year as governor, wants the Legislature to link student test scores to yearly teacher reviews — a practice now banned. He also wants the General Assembly to OK the creation of a state-wide “achievement” district that will take over operation of failing schools.

The ideas Bredesen is proposing aren’t particularly new, and they ought to be implemented even if they don’t come with massive federal aid, said Dr. J. E. Stone, president of the Education Consumers Foundation, a Virgina-based education think tank that develops school ratings.

Using the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System that tracks a student learning each year, Stone said his organization has developed a highly effective method for grading teachers using factors like student test scores, peer- and principal-feedback, and other factors.

Effective methods for measuring teacher proficiency based on student-achievement data have been floating around for years, he said.

“It’s an idea who’s time has come,” Stone said. “Basically, we have this huge body of data that’s probably being used by less than half the schools in the state.”

The state has been collecting the student data since 1993, but it is now illegal to use it for teacher evaluations of tenure. Education officials say the information is also difficult to digest because it uses complicated formulas.

In October, U.S. Senator Bill Frist and the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education came up with more than 60 recommendations for improving the education “pipeline.”

The SCORE report suggested Tennessee could lead the Southeast in education within five years if it adopts certain reform measures, like finding a more constructive way to use the mountains of data collected on student performance.

Lawmakers now have only a matter of days to approve legislation needed to set Tennessee apart for the “Race to the Top” grant competition. Turner expect to pass the bill in the House before breaking for the weekend.

Only the handful of states that show the most commitment to education reform will win the grant money, the Obama administration has said.

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‘Race to Top’ Application Taking More Prep Time Than Feds Estimated

Tennessee education officials figure the state will invest more than twice the 681 hours in work time the federal government estimated states should take when preparing requests for special stimulus package school-funding grants.

Lawmakers are at the capitol this week at Gov. Phil Bredesen’s behest to try and pass legislation he hopes will give Tennessee a better chance of snatching  more than $400 million in one-time federal education funding.

Officials in the Volunteer State began working on the 102-page grant application in early Fall when initial details of the program were released. Two workers from Education First Consulting joined the effort full-time in November after federal officials issued applications.

Those two workers, who are responsible for producing an attractive Tennessee application for the “Race to the Top” grants, are paid by the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation will cover up to $250,000 of the consulting firms’ costs, but none of that money trickles down to Tennessee staffers working on the grant, said Rachel Woods, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

State education staff have also poured hours into the the RTTT application, Woods said. As many as 40 people have been writing up explanations of key education programs to paste into the application.

Others are collecting grant agreements from the state’s 136 school districts.

Woods said the state will “easily” double the federal government’s 681-hour estimate.

The RTTT application is due in Washington, D.C., by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Lawmakers hope to pass legislation before then that will make Tennessee a stronger competitor for a chunk of the $4.35 billion grant.

Numerous other states also quickly exceeded the U.S. Board of Education’s 681-hour estimate — about 4 and a half months for one person — when filling out the RTTT grant application.

“I will have easily put in 81 hours myself by the time the proposal turns in,” Woods said.

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Press Releases

TCPR: State Must Start Using Available Data to Distinguish Good Teachers from Bad

Press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Jan. 11, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released a policy brief examining the education reform proposals currently sought by Governor Phil Bredesen.

The governor issued a proclamation last Thursday calling a special session of the General Assembly to address certain education laws so that the state could seek nearly $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funding. The special session will begin on Tuesday, January 12.

The main two proposals focus on reforming the process by which teachers are evaluated and restructuring the funding mechanism for post-secondary institutions. Because they will have significant long-term consequences for the state, TCPR analyzed the two proposals.

The brief, Evaluating Education Reforms for the Extraordinary Session (pdf), lays out a methodology for rating teachers that complies with both the governor’s wishes and the “Race to the Top” grant application requirements. The methodology was developed by the nonprofit Education Consumers Foundation, whose president, Dr. John Stone, is a member of the TCPR board of scholars.

“The state must start using the large amount of data available to it to distinguish good teachers from bad, and take the appropriate steps to ensure that students are learning,” said Justin Owen, TCPR’s Director of Policy. “The methodology outlined in the brief provides a unique opportunity to truly determine a teacher’s effectiveness.”

The second part of the brief scrutinizes the plan to tie higher education funding to graduation rather than enrollment rates and the negative impact that could have. TCPR also encourages lawmakers to use caution and fiscal responsibility during the special session, rather than make potentially devastating changes just to seize one-time federal money.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes the prospect of federal tax dollars to create meaningful education reform, but if done right, the legislature can revolutionize the way teachers are evaluated—and students, teachers, parents and taxpayers will all benefit,” noted Owen.