Tennessee_state_capitol

4/13/2015 Update on Education Bills in the Legislature

This year’s legislative session is drawing to a close over the next couple weeks, and we can’t thank you enough for speaking out against vouchers. We know we’ve asked you to contact legislators several times but it’s so important that our lawmakers hear voices other than the big money organizations that attempt to pit elected officials against our schools.

A Couple Questions We Hear

Why do we hear almost exclusively about what’s happening in the House instead of the Senate?
The Senate, quite frankly, is a lost cause in many cases. The composition of the Senate is such that bad education legislation rarely gets robust debate let alone a competitive vote. Vouchers, for example, passed the Senate Education Committee 8-0, the Senate Finance Committee 9-2, and the full Senate 23-9. It racked up similar tallies last year. As a result, we choose to focus primarily on the House.

Why are we asked to contact legislators so many times about the same bill?
Not only do bills often go through several committees and subcommittees, but votes can be delayed several times for any reason. As a result, we make multiple asks both because different requests go to a different group of legislators and because we want to keep the issue fresh on legislators’ minds.

Here’s where various pieces of harmful legislation stand:

Vouchers (HB 1049)
This bill creates a statewide school voucher program that the legislature estimates will cost local schools $70 million per year. In the House, the bill passed the reform-friendly Education Administration Committee. It later went through Government Operations Committee (which does not have the power to kill a bill), who amended the bill to delay its effective date. It next goes to the Finance Subcommittee (a/k/a Budget Subcommittee) on April 14. The Senate passed this bill, slightly amended, on March 30. (It also passed vouchers last year.)

IEP Supervouchers (HB 138)
This bill creates a supervoucher program for all 120,000 students who have a special education IEP – an individualized education plan. (Some children receive IEPs for relatively simple – and easily correctable – issues, such as incorrectly producing the /r/ sound.) These supervouchers allow parents to pull the education dollars intended for their child’s education and put it toward any unaccredited, unproven, and unaccountable use that can be argued is educating or treating the child. In the House, the bill sneaked through the reform-friendly Education Programming Committee 7-6. It was heard in Government Operations Committee on April 7 but a vote was delayed until April 14. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear this bill as well.

ASD Expansion (HB 473)
This bill allows ASD charter schools to recruit high-achieving students from high-quality public schools to help make ASD schools not look like a failure. In the House, the bill will be heard in Finance Committee on April 14. It is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate.

For-Profit Charter Schools (HB 781)
This bill allows charter schools to be run by for-profit corporations. In the House, the bill was delayed until 2016 in the Education Programming Committee. The bill made it to the floor in the Senate but will not be voted on this year.

Parent Trigger (HB 651)
This bill makes it easier for a group of parents to have their school converted into a charter school. In the House, the bill was pulled from consideration for this year. In the Senate, the bill is awaiting a Finance Committee vote.

Here’s where various pieces of helpful legislation stand:

Second Chance for Priority Schools (HB 921)
This bill prohibits the ASD from taking over a school if a priority list school not yet marked for ASD takeover either a) quantifiably improves its test scores and assigns a new principal or b) converts the school to a community school. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Raumesh Akbari and in the Senate by Sen. Reginald Tate (co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson), this legislation passed the Senate unanimously and is scheduled for a vote in the House Finance Committee on April 14.

Ban on Mandated Standardized Tests for K-2 (HB 983)
This bill bans state or locally mandated standardized testing on students in kindergarten through second grade. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Matthew Hill (co-sponsored by Rep. Bo Mitchell) and in the Senate by Sen. Frank Niceley, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

ASD Abolition (HB 508)
This bill eliminates the achievement school district (ASD) at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Bo Mitchell and in the Senate by Sen. Thelma Harper, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

Banning ASD Mission Creep (HB 856)
The bill prohibits an ASD school from expanding to additional grades (e.g., converting from a high school to a middle and high school) and prohibits the ASD from recruiting students from other zones. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Bill Beck and in the Senate by Sen. Thelma Harper, this legislation was killed by the House Education Administration Committee.

Regulating ASD Takeovers (HB 920)
This bill prohibits new ASD schools from taking over a single grade at a time, causing conflict by having two schools in the same building. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Raumesh Akbari and in the Senate by Sen. Reginald Tate, this legislation did not come up for a vote.

The legislature is expected to shut down for the year after a couple fast and furious weeks of bill shuffling. We’ll keep you posted and continue to ask for your support of our schools!