A Visit to Tennessee’s Education Bill Graveyard

The school voucher bill was the most notable education proposal to fail, but it is not alone in the legislative graveyard. Image courtesy TN Comptroller

The school voucher bill was the most notable education proposal to fail, but it is not alone in the legislative graveyard. Image courtesy TN Comptroller

Tennessee lawmakers bit off more than they could chew this session when it comes to classroom reform.

“I think we gave the impression that we were forcing a whole lot of stuff down folks’ throats,” says Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis). “And perception is reality.”

DeBerry’s legislation strengthening the state’s so-called “parent trigger law” is one of several major proposals abandoned for the year.

The national lobbying organization Students First is behind the push to make it easier for parents to overthrow the administration of a public school. Lobbyists say the clock ran out as they hashed out details. They promise to bring back the proposal next year.

Vouchers

The education reform that attracted the most lobbying activity this year has also failed.

One advocate was paying 11 lobbyists to push for school vouchers. Several were even running TV ads promoting the use of public education money to pay private school tuition.

Ultimately, voucher proponents were a little too eager. They tried to expand Governor Bill Haslam’s limited plan to offer vouchers statewide instead of just the in the districts with the lowest performing schools.

“We are disappointed,” Tennessee Federation for Children spokesperson Kimberly Kump said in a written statement. “It is important to be flexible during the political process and a sad commentary when it is low-income families in our state that are hurt the most.”

However, some lawmakers were pushing for middle class families to be included in the initial roll out.

Don’t Say Gay, Armed Teachers

Many of the education proposals that received the most attention barely got off the ground. Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) gave another go at his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The legislation would have required public school employees to alert parents if their child was possibly engaging in homosexual activity.

Liberal groups were incensed. But ultimately Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey probably did more than anyone to put the kibosh on the proposal, saying, “there are some tings that should be left inside the family.”

There were a number of separate proposals allowing teachers to carry guns in class or stationing armed guards in every school.

Chairs of the education committees put off the armed teacher bills, saying they would be lumped together and debated at one time. But before that could happen, Governor Haslam stepped in and molded the most mild version into a shape he could support.

What is now passing through committees basically just allows teachers with a law enforcement background carry their gun to class. Sponsors say this is a group of roughly 100 people statewide.

Even What’s Dead is Not Dead

Electing superintendents was scuttled as well as a proposal to make it easier for charter schools to use a district’s vacant buildings.

Still on the horizon is tying a parent’s welfare payments to a child’s report card – another from Sen. Campfield that has gotten national attention.

A proposal that would give charter schools a way to open even if they’re rejected by a local school board has evolved, with passage expected to go down to the wire.

And then there are those bills that have found their way back into the mix, such as allowing for-profit companies to run charter schools in Tennessee. It just goes to show that until lawmakers head home for the year, there’s a chance that almost anything could be resurrected.

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