Saturday, February 16, 2013

TN House Week in Review



This week in the Tennessee State House the topic of education was at the forefront of the debate. Legislation that would limit local control of charter schools in Memphis and Nashville was moved out of subcommittee, and legislators were informed of the poor progress and questionable practices of the for-profit virtual school company K12, Inc. In addition, legislation that would allow for handgun permit holders to carry their firearms virtually everywhere moved forward, as well as a bill to end Medicare in Tennessee and move senior citizens onto TennCare.

State Charter Authorizer goes forward


State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) has introduced legislation (HB702) on behalf of Speaker of the House Beth Harwell that would take control of charter schools away from locally elected school boards and give it to a state board of education that is appointed by the Governor.

During the hearing, Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville) questioned why the legislation would only apply to the Nashville and Memphis school boards, asking “why public policy should just apply to those two communities. If it is good enough for those two, why would you just make it statewide?” Watch the video.

Also testifying on the proposed legislation was Metro Nashville School Board Member Amy Frogge. Frogge, who won her seat last year by a 2-1 margin despite being outspent 5 to 1 by a charter school proponent, stood up to represent a “strong, silent majority here in Nashville who are vehemently opposed to bills like this.” Frogge implored the committee to “hear from parents and those who will be directly impacted by this bill.” Watch video here.

Despite pleas from local parents and school board members, the House Education Subcommittee passed the legislation on to the full committee by a 6 to 3 vote. It is scheduled to be heard again on Tuesday, February 19th in the House Education Committee.

Democrats move to close poor performing for-profit virtual school


The day after a news story by News Channel 5’s Phil Williams broke alleging a potential grade-fixing scheme by the K12, Inc. operated Tennessee Virtual Academy, the House Education Subcommittee heard legislation that would limit or abolish this underperforming and highly controversial experiment.

Passed in 2011 despite overwhelming evidence of poor performance nationwide, the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act allowed the for-profit Virginia based firm K12, Inc. to begin operating in our state. Since then, the Tennessee Virtual Academy has achieved the lowest scores possible (1 out of a potential 5) in all categories of the state’s TVAAS grading system.

Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) introduced HB728, a bill to repeal the portion of the 2011 that allowed for K12, Inc. to set up shop in Tennessee. During the hearing, Rep. Stewart laid out overwhelming evidence that K12, Inc. has failed taxpayers and students, questioning the millions in compensation their CEO has received, and asking them to produce a detailed explanation of costs associated with the program. Watch the video.

Despite serious concerns, the Education Subcommittee voted not to move the legislation forward to full committee. The administration has introduced a bill that would give the Commissioner of Education authority to close or cap enrollment for a virtual school if it continues to underperform, but it was weakened in committee to remove the 5,000 total cap that was in the original legislation.

In other news…

“Guns Everywhere” moving quickly through the legislature


HB118 by Rep. Jeremy Faison, a bill to allow handgun permit holders to bring their weapons onto private property regardless of the wishes of the property owner, has moved on to the Civil Justice full committee. Despite drawing the ire of some of the biggest employers in the state such as Volkswagen, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee moved the bill on a voice vote. Speaking out against the legislation was Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) who sought clarification that this bill would limit the property rights of business owners. Watch the video.

Bill to force seniors off of Medicare and into TennCare passes subcommittee


House Republicans have reintroduced legislation that failed last year which would authorize the state to enter into a compact with other states for the purposes of eliminating federal health care programs in those states. The bill, HB536 by Rep. Mark Pody, would eliminate federal control of Medicare and put it under the control of the state TennCare program. During the committee hearing, Reps. David Shepard and Joanne Favors objected to the placement of this legislation – which would dramatically alters the state budget and the health care system in Tennessee – in the Insurance and Banking Committee instead of the Health Committee where it was heard in the previous session. Watch the video.

The Week Ahead


The Legislature will be out of session on Monday in recognition of President’s Day. Starting on Tuesday we can expect to have some of the legislation mentioned above move into their full committee hearings where more legislators will be allowed to weigh in on these laws being proposed. Wednesday, the House will continue to hold hearings on the $32.6 billion budget proposed by the Governor.