Special Session On Education To Convene On Tuesday

Nashville, TN (2010-01-08) The General Assembly will reconvene the regular 2010 session of the 106th General Assembly on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.  Legislators will then adjourn at the call of the Governor to allow the General Assembly to meet in a Special (Extraordinary) Session on Education set to begin the same day.   It will be the 57th Extraordinary Session in Tennessee history.

The Governor called the Special Session after recognizing that Tennessee has an opportunity to receive federal “Race to the Top” dollars if the General Assembly acts promptly with certain education reforms.  Race to the Top is authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and is a competitive grant program to encourage and reward states who are implementing significant reforms in the four education areas: enhancing standards and assessments; improving the collection and use of data; increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; and turning around struggling schools.

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has already made Committee appointments for the Extraordinary Session.  12th District State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) has been appointed to the Senate Education Committee, which will be the panel that crafts the bill as it moves through the legislative process.

The state must adopt legislation to conform to the Race to the Top requirements by January 19, 2010, to qualify for priority status for receiving the funds.  Priority is given to states that have already adopted an innovative and cohesive plan to improve education.  Such action could enable Tennessee to receive as much as $400 million of the $ 4.3 billion in federal funds set aside for states that meet reform guidelines.  If Tennessee is successful, the funds would be split with half used for statewide efforts, and with the other half going to local education agencies if they agree to participate.

The General Assembly is expected to consider the K-12 reform proposals first, followed by proposed changes to higher education in Tennessee.

K-12 Schools

 

Some of the legislative topics expected to be debated regarding compliance with Race to the Top requirements include:

  • Requiring the use of teacher effect data in teacher and principal evaluations
  • Requiring tenure decisions to be based in part on teacher evaluations
  • Requiring annual teacher evaluations
  • Establishing a statewide recovery district for failing schools and school systems

Legislation is expected to focus on changing the way Tennessee evaluates teachers. The state already has one of the best evaluation databases in the nation to measures student’s achievements from year to year. Lawmakers will discuss tying this data to teacher evaluation, tenure, and performance pay. The SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) report, which stemmed from an initiative headed by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, will serve as a compass in guiding legislators in their reform efforts.  The SCORE report recommended directly linking tenure decisions to teacher effectiveness.  It also recommended allowing student achievement gains to be included as one component of the teacher effectiveness measure before a final tenure decision is reached.

On the issue of providing help for failing schools, expect the legislative focus to be on early intervention.  If a school is low-performing, the state would be ready to take action sooner.  Several years ago, the legislature changed accountability measures to put Tennessee more in sync with No Child Left Behind standards. Proposals could also include new parameters by which schools will be classified as “failing,” and affix new accountability standards to the plan.

Another area that could be addressed is the effectiveness of any statewide efforts to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Tennessee students must be proficient in these subject areas to compete in a changing global economy.

On improving high school graduation rates, the legislature will consider proposals to place more emphasis on preparing students for college. This includes preparing students for community college and technical schools, in addition to the state’s four-year higher education institutions.  Some lawmakers favor greater utilization of the state’s two-year colleges as a preferred point of entry for incoming freshman.  Similarly, the General Assembly will likely consider making it easier to transfer credits between institutions to make post-secondary work flexible enough to meet the needs of more graduating seniors.

Higher Education

On higher education, the General Assembly will look at a proposal to tie some funding to performance, which would be measured by the number of students who complete their degree program. Among other higher education issues proposed are changing the credit transferring process to establish a statewide transfer agreement between all two- and four year colleges and universities; eliminating remedial education in four-year institutions, and allowing students to dual-enroll in two and four-year institutions. The goal is to direct more students to post-secondary work that fits their academic and workplace needs. The plan would include streamlining and simplifying the process for students to transfer, enroll, or dual-enroll.

Senator Yager welcomes constituents’ opinions and views.  Senator Yager may be contacted at his district office, 330 N. Roane Street; P.O. Box 346; Harriman, TN 37748 or you may telephone (865) 285-9797.  His Nashville office is located at 301 6th Avenue North; Suite 10A Legislative Plaza; Nashville, TN 37243 or you may telephone (615) 741-1449.