The Tennessee General Assembly has completed its work for the year. We didn’t win all the battles we fought, but given the millions of dollars and dozens of lobbyists anti-public school groups spent, it’s nothing short of incredible what the parents, teachers, and concerned citizens who support public schools accomplished.
The school voucher program championed by Governor Bill Haslam, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, Speaker Beth Harwell, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, and Majority Leaders in the House & Senate was unable to pass out of the Finance Committee due to a lack of support.
Did you catch that? Everybody in a position of power in our state government backed this bill, and lobbyists and “reform” groups pushed for it hard–and it still failed. Why? You! TREE is proud of the hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mails that poured into Legislative Plaza telling House members to say no! There is no doubt his bill would have passed without your help.
Speaker Harwell’s pet project, which replaces local elected officials with a state bureaucracy, passed the House in 2013. The Senate, which is closely aligned with Governor Haslam and Kevin Huffman, passed the bill this year. That left the House with a final vote on a minor change, which seemed to opened the door for reevaluation of the House’s passage of the bill. However, Speaker Harwell quashed all attempts by legislators to have a discussion on the virtues of the bill.
Status: Stay tuned for litigation when an unwanted (i.e., unnecessary, redundant, or poor quality) school attempts to force its way into a community using this tactic.
Big time national money got behind the movement to expose Tennessee to profit-driven school operators, but reason won. A House committee voted down the bill.
PARENTAL NOTIFICATION OF TESTING
Supporters of public education had a lot of success stopping bad legislation this year, but this was a unique victory in that this was GOOD legislation that passed overwhelmingly. The parental notification bill requires the Tennessee Department of Education and local school districts to provide parents with information about mandated tests. Included will be each test’s date, purpose, use, and method of informing parents and teachers of the results.
The Achievement School District (ASD) is a group of schools with lower test scores that have been placed under state control with the goal of helping the kids in those schools. This year, in clear violation of that supposed intent, legislation was put forward permitting the ASD to pull in students from other schools in an attempt to widen the Department of Education’s reach into local communities, increase the prevalence of charter schools, and obsure the ASD’s failure to make any progress. The Education Committee voted in favor of the legislation, but the bill’s sponsor couldn’t get a single member of the House Finance Committee to support the bill and, consequently, it died.
EXPAND “PARENT TRIGGER”
This year’s “parent trigger” bill sought to make it easier for parents to force the conversion of their neighborhood school into a charter school, fire the principal, and fire or reassign at least 50% of the school’s teachers. The law, which purports to give parents a voice in the direction of their schools, has in practice led to incidents of bullying, harassment, and misinformation as well-funded “reform” groups swoop into the affected community to campaign for the solution that benefits them. This bill was passed by the Education Committee, but not a single member of the Finance Committee supported it.
THE LOBBYING POWER OF “REFORMERS”
Legislation was proposed to increase the clout of “education reform” groups at the state legislature–organizations whose lobbyists outnumber public school advocates by a margin of 8:1. The legislation would have hampered the voice of our elected school boards in the legislative process, and further skewed this imbalance. This bill failed on the House floor when Republicans and Democrats joined forces to defeat the bill.
STRONG PROPOSALS THAT NEVER GOT A HEARING
A series of bills that would have done great things for our schools were killed in the House Education Subcommittee without the opportunity for real debate. Among them: allowing parents to opt-out of some testing; requiring the Department of Education to fund the standardized tests that local school districts are required to administer; requiring the Commissioner of Education to be qualified.
Status: We’ll be back next year!
Thank you for all of your efforts over the past several months! The children of Tennessee will be well served by the fact that we have parents who are keeping careful watch over the policies that affect our teachers, the quality of our schools, and the future of our state.
TREE has been thrilled to work with individuals and groups across the state and are proud of the impact our coordinated efforts have had. We’re confident we’ll be able to accomplish much more, but to do so, we need your support. A contribution to TREE will help us to continue to educate and inform concerned citizens across the state of Tennesseee about important education issues. Please take a moment to contribute $5, $10, or whatever you can offer to help our efforts. We look forward to continuing our work with you and building on our strong network of engaged parents, teachers, and citizens. Onward!