Tenn. seeks $70M for pre-K in Nashville, Memphis – Education Week

Published Online: October 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is asking for $70 million in federal money to expand pre-kindergarten programs in Davidson and Shelby counties, but not for other communities around the state.

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1tzlgOF) for Friday's editions that the state Education Department would act as a pass-through agency for the money to go toward adding 1,600 pre-K seats in Nashville by 2018, and 3,580 slots for the Shelby County Consortium, which includes schools in Memphis and suburban districts.

Education department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier told the paper that the request doesn't mean Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's administration has changed its mind about pre-K funding. Haslam has said he is awaiting the results of a multi-year Vanderbilt study on the effectiveness of the program before making up his mind about an expansion.

Should Haslam ultimately decide to pursue more money for the program for 4-year-olds, he will have to persuade pre-K skeptics in the Legislature such as Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who last month called it "a liberal, feel-good program that's not working."

Ramsey acknowledged that the federal program would not involve state money, but questioned any expansion beyond children from low-income households.

"Any dime that we spend on that is a dime that comes away from K-12," he said.

Tennessee currently spends about $86.5 million per year on the state program, funding 935 pre-K classrooms around the state with an enrollment of more than 18,000 children.

Early results from the Vanderbilt study tracking pre-K students' performance over time found greater academic gains than their peers who didn't attend. But critics have said that the 2011 report also revealed that many of those advantages were erased by the time students reached grades three through five.

The authors of the early report acknowledged that one shortcoming of their data was that they did not know whether students in the "non-pre-K" group might have actually attended private pre-kindergarten programs.

The U.S. Department of Education will announce who receives the federal funding by the end of the year.

More than half of Nashville's more than 9,300 4-year-olds are not in pre-K programs, while Shelby County would need 10,000 more spaces to offer pre-K to all 4-year-olds.

The state's pre-K program was begun in 1998 as a $10 million pilot project for about 150 classrooms under then-Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican. Under his Democratic successor, Phil Bredesen, the program was expanded by nearly 800 classrooms.

Bredesen had called for making pre-K available to any family that chooses to enroll their child, but those plans were put on hold because of the Great Recession, and Haslam hasn't made significant changes in his first term despite its widespread popularity.

———

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Tenn. seeks $70M for early childhood education – Education Week

Published Online: October 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is asking the federal government for $70 million to help the communities of Nashville and Shelby County expand pre-kindergarten education.

Officials said the money would not go toward expanding the state's program.

Metro Nashville wants to use the funding to increase the number of pre-K students to 1,600 by 2018 while the Shelby County Consortium wants to add 3,580.

The Tennessee Department of Education asked for the money since only state departments could make the request. It will act as a pass-through agency.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1tzlgOF) that the request doesn't mean Gov. Bill Haslam's administration has changed its mind about pre-K funding. Haslam has said he is awaiting the results of a multi-year Vanderbilt study on the effectiveness of the program before making up his mind about an expansion.

———

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Eyeing Possible Successors for Head of Senate Ed. Panel – Education Week

Published Online: October 14, 2014

Published in Print: October 15, 2014, as Likely Leadership Options for Senate Education Panel

No matter which party comes out ahead in the Nov. 4 congressional elections, the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will have a new leader. Should Republicans take control of the chamber, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., currently the ranking member on the education panel, will take the reins and has openly discussed his priorities for the committee. Should Democrats maintain their majority, political observers, education policy experts, and Senate aides widely expect Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to succeed retiring Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa—though Sen. Murray, who now chairs the Budget Committee, has been adamant about not projecting her future moves.

Here's a look at the education credentials and priorities of the two most likely candidates to head up the Senate education committee in the 114th Congress:

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.


Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Sen. Lamar Alexander has been a fixture of conservative politics and education policy for nearly four decades, consistently leading his party on education issues since his election to the Senate in 2002 and most recently using his bully pulpit to slam the Obama administration for what he considers federal overreach.

When he was elected to the first of two terms as Tennessee governor in 1979—gaining national attention after traversing the state on foot in his now trademark red-and-black-plaid shirt—the Republican set out to overhaul the Volunteer State's teacher profession.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has been critical of what he considers the Obama administration’s policy overreach on education, but he is also seen as a pragmatic legislator as ranking member of the Senate education committee.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has been critical of what he considers the Obama administration’s policy overreach on education, but he is also seen as a pragmatic legislator as ranking member of the Senate education committee.

—Carolyn Kaster/AP-File

The measure, which finally passed in 1984, fundamentally altered the teaching profession in the state's public schools. It instituted teacher-evaluation and differentiated-pay systems and created "career ladders" for teachers—policies some states are just now beginning to implement and others have yet to tackle.

The legislative push established Sen. Alexander as a foe of teachers' unions. But in 2013, his Senate office teamed up with the unions during a committee markup to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act: They worked to defeat language that would have required states to adopt new teacher evaluations and lobbied to include language that would alter acceptable school turnaround models.

Defining the Federal Role

It was also during his governorship that Sen. Alexander developed his , a proposal that calls for the federal government to assume all financial responsibility for states' Medicaid health-care programs in exchange for states financing all education programs. He recently dusted off the proposal when Congress reset federal student-loan interest rates in summer 2013, arguing that skyrocketing college costs are a direct result of states siphoning funds from higher education programs because of increased Medicaid costs.

After his eight-year tenure as governor, Sen. Alexander headed up Tennessee's state university system before joining former President George H.W. Bush's Cabinet as education secretary in 1991. During that time, he focused largely on school choice issues—he proposed a controversial program that would have given parents federal funds to help pay tuition at private schools—workforce-training programs, and adult education. He also backed a policy that declared most scholarships based on race to be illegal.

It wasn't until after pursuing two failed presidential bids, in 1996 and 2000, that Sen. Alexander was elected to the Senate and set out to put his broad education experience to use in the legislative arena.

Senate Stature

He rose quickly in the ranks of his party, assuming the No. 3 leadership position as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference by 2008. But as the political arena became increasingly partisan, Sen. Alexander, widely known for being a pragmatic legislator, resigned from the GOP steering team.

"Stepping down will liberate me to work for results on the issues I care the most about," he said at the time. "I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues."

In that vein, Sen. Alexander worked with retiring Senate education committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to clear several bipartisan bills through the committee, including the mammoth overhaul of the NCLB law, which he didn't fully support but said deserved to be brought to the Senate floor for a full debate.

Earlier this summer, he worked with Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, to craft a higher education proposal that would simplify the federal student-aid application, restore the year-round Pell Grant tuition-assistance program, and overhaul student-loan offerings.

Most recently, he helped push through a workforce-training bill that was a decade in the making, as well as a child-care development grant and an education research bill.

An Alexander-led education committee likely would prioritize the reauthorizations of the NCLB law and the Higher Education Act, while also focusing on limiting the impact of the federal government on education, something he considers, above all else, a local and state responsibility.


Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Although Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., spends most of her time on fiscal issues as chairwoman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, education jump-started her entire political career.

"Education is what got me into politics in the first place," she said in September at the Committee for Education Funding's annual gala in Washington. "And it's an issue that has driven me ever since."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, was spurred to politics on the issue of education.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, was spurred to politics on the issue of education.

—J. Scott Applewhite/AP-File

As she tells her now famous "mom in tennis shoes" story: When her children were little, she drove 100 miles to the state capital in Olympia, where she demanded lawmakers reinstate budget cuts slated to close their preschool.

"One state legislator said, 'You know that's really nice, but you can't make a difference, you're just a mom in tennis shoes,' " Sen. Murray recalled.

Sen. Murray organized a grassroots effort, and eventually the legislature reinstated the funding. That experience led her to become a preschool teacher and later propelled her to serve six years on the Shoreline school board before running and winning a seat in the Washington state Senate in 1988.

Rising Through the Ranks

When she ran for U.S. Senate four years later, she was widely expected to lose, dwarfed by candidates with more political experience, better name recognition, and heaps of cash. Instead, she bested her closest opponent by 10 points and has since risen through the ranks over the course of four terms.

She twice chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a role for which she's largely credited with ushering in a new wave of Democrats to the chamber. Sen. Murray now holds the powerful No. 4 leadership position of conference secretary and is often called on by her caucus to represent Democrats in high-profile fiscal negotiations.

Indeed, in 2011, Sen. Murray co-chaired the "supercommittee," the panel charged with reducing the deficit by $1 trillion over a decade, alongside Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. The deficit-reduction effort ultimately failed and set in motion across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

She later steered a fiscal 2014 budget through the chamber, marking the first time the Senate had passed a budget in four years. The final budget, brokered with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., set funding through fiscal 2015 and, among other things, replaced nearly two-thirds of the sequestration cuts to education.

Education Priorities

Those not familiar with Sen. Murray's personal history may find it difficult to understand why she would consider relinquishing control of one prestigious committee in exchange for jurisdiction over a variety of social issues. But her entire upbringing, she often points out, showcases the importance of safety-net programs and other federal benefits.

Her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 15. While veterans' health benefits paid some of the medical bills, her family relied on food stamps for a period of time while her mother, who had been a homemaker her entire life, used federal aid to go back to school in order to get a decent-paying job.

Later in life, Sen. Murray and her six brothers and sisters used Pell Grants and other federal tuition-assistance programs to go to college.

Those experiences guided her unique steering of the Budget Committee, in which she frequently invited "ordinary people"—teachers, students, nurses—to testify as witnesses rather than the typical inside-the-Beltway number crunchers.

"I made it a priority to have witnesses at our hearings who could put a face to the issue," Ms. Murray said at the CEF gala.

If Sen. Murray takes the reins of the Senate education committee, expect her to continue the efforts of retiring Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, and to reauthorize the Higher Education Act—though a push to pass early-childhood education legislation could trump both of those.

Vol. 34, Issue 08, Pages 16-17

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Robertson reveals redistricting plan for schools – Education Week

Published Online: October 9, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (AP) — A month after federal investigators determined that Robertson County Schools have not desegregated, officials have released a proposed redistricting plan.

Robertson County Director of Schools Mike Davis told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1xqPWiT) on Monday that the new attendance zones were developed by the federal government, not the local school board.

The district in Middle Tennessee was notified in early September that federal investigators had finished their review of its schools and found them to be in non-compliance. A letter posted on the school system's website says it is required to enter into a settlement agreement or it could lose all federal funding.

Public forums over the changes proposed by the Department of Justice will be held at schools in the district throughout October.

———

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

ACLU urges school board not to add prayers – Education Week

Published Online: October 8, 2014

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee is urging school board members in Williamson County not to add prayers to meetings.

A statement from ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinbert says the proposal "not only undermines the students' own religious freedom, it's unconstitutional."

School board members on Monday discussed the option of adding prayer instead of holding a moment of silence at the beginning of meetings.

Board member Candace Emerson said prayer has "an incredible power" and should be added to meetings.

Board attorney Bill Squires said federal courts have ruled prayer during school board meetings unconstitutional.

Superintendent Mike Looney told board members that adding prayer to meetings would likely involve a costly legal battle and asked board member to consider that before making a decision.


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized

Metro school officials launch recruitment campaign – Education Week

Published Online: October 2, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Metro school officials have launched a campaign to compete with charter schools in recruiting students.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1x2J1MG) reports that part of the initiative involves school administrators, teachers and parents doing door-to-door canvassing on weekends, a campaign-style strategy long ago adopted by the charter sector.

And Metro recently added a new central office administrator whose job is to find ways for faculty to recruit students.

One school on the radar of Metro Schools Director Jesse Register is Jere Baxter Middle School, which has 408 students and is operating at only 53 percent of its building's capacity.

It's part of Register's turnaround plan for East Nashville that could include closing some schools, turning others over to charters and creating a new "choice zone" to let parents pick their children's schools.

"Their achievement scores are tremendous, and honestly, they out-recruit us," Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register told a crowd of 75 this week at Jere Baxter. "I can't recruit many children to Jere Baxter. But Jere Baxter faculty and parents can. That's the way we recruit.

"You're our best salesmen," he said to teachers in attendance.

Jill Peeples, who will lead recruiting and community engagement efforts, said she believes every school has something to sell to families and area businesses.

"A lot of times, we have those good things that we're doing and we're working really hard, but it's not as obvious to others," Peeples said. "My position will really empower teachers and leaders to tell their story to people."

———

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized

Tennessee Promise program has 22,800 registered – Education Week

Published Online: September 29, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With a month left for high school seniors to apply, 22,800 students have already registered for Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise program.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/YqpABm ) the enrollment number was cited by Mike Krause during a Friday meeting of the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Krause is the executive director of the state's Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans who have college degrees or certificates to 55 percent by the year 2025 in order to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Tennessee Promise, which allows high school graduates to attend two-year state community colleges or colleges of applied technology for free, is a cornerstone of Drive to 55.

Funded through interest from Tennessee Education Lottery funds, the Tennessee Promise provides "last dollar" money to students who have other forms of financial aid. It picks up the full tuition tab for students who don't. The program also requires students to work with a mentor and complete eight hours of community service a year.

After graduation from the two-year colleges, students who choose to attend a four-year school can do so as juniors.

In a statement Friday evening, Haslam called Tennessee Promise a "game-changer."

"It's a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in Tennessee, and we're excited that so many have signed up to take advantage of this new opportunity," Haslam's statement said.

———

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized

Survey: Teacher support for standards decreasing – Education Week

Published Online: September 25, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A recent survey shows support for Tennessee's Common Core standards is decreasing among teachers, even though advocates, including business leaders, say they're needed to prepare students for college and to compete in a global workforce.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/ZNhdRC) reports the 2014 survey released Wednesday was done by the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development, a group led by Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

According to the survey, 39 percent of the 27,000 Tennessee teachers who responded to it believe that teaching to the standards will improve student learning, compared with 60 percent who said the same in a similar survey last year.

It also found 56 percent of respondents want to abandon the standards, while 13 percent would prefer to delay their implementation. Only 31 percent want to proceed. The 2013 survey did not ask questions in that area.

Dale Ballou, a Vanderbilt professor and director of the consortium, said there's no single symptom or explanation for the decreasing support.

"It's a lot of different factors that seem to be playing into this," he said. "The one thing I would caution people against is jumping to the conclusion that this means now that teachers are actually trying it, they're discovering that it doesn't work."

Tennessee is among 44 states that have adopted the Common Core standards aimed at improving schools and students' competitiveness across the nation.

The higher standards have been phased into classrooms in Tennessee for the past three years, but they've found increasing resistance both locally and nationally from conservatives and tea party supporters, many of whom say the standards are an attempt by the federal government to take over local education.

However, supporters of the standards are quick to point out the new benchmarks were developed not by the feds but by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

During Tennessee's legislative session earlier this year, proposed measures to do away with the standards failed, but lawmakers did pass legislation to delay the testing component of the state's standards.

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged the continued concern during an education summit, calling for a "full vetting" of the standards. The Republican governor said he plans to have more public discussions about them.

"We very much intend to ... let people have a chance to talk very specifically about what they like and don't like," he said.

Supporters of the standards say they're necessary to help high school students graduate with critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills that advocates say they'll need for college and a global workforce.

"We're competing with ... businesses around the world," said Johnson City business owner Ken Gough, who attended the summit. "And in many places around the world, much higher standards are expected of their students."

———

Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized

Summit focuses on education changes in Tenn. – Education Week

Published Online: September 19, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — After holding a state education summit, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he plans to hold more discussions about education changes in Tennessee, particularly on the Common Core standards.

The Republican governor, along with the Legislature's Republican House and Senate speakers, convened the summit to review the ongoing education overhaul in Tennessee and plan for the future.

Elected officials, business leaders and representatives from about 24 organizations attended.

They talked about the Common Core standards, accountability in education and school choice.

"There's no question that we have made some significant progress in Tennessee, but we still face real challenges," Haslam said at the end of the summit. "And there's no question there's still a lot of discussion to be had. I think that discussion is going to happen best when it happens like today, when all the stakeholders are at the table."

Haslam told reporters after the summit that he particularly wants to talk more about the controversial Common Core standards, which aim to improve schools and student competitiveness. They have been adopted by 44 states, including Tennessee.

The governor said many people don't understand them, or have wrong information.

"We very much intend to have a full vetting of those standards ... and let people have a chance to talk very specifically about what they like and don't like," he said.

Haslam's comments came as an anti-Common Core group protested across the street from where the summit was held. The group held signs and a tour bus with "Rotten to the Core" inscribed on both sides circled the area.

"The Common Core is not about Tennessee," said political activist and protester Steve Gill. "It's federal values that are being imposed on our school system."

However, supporters of the standards point out the new benchmarks were developed not by the feds but by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They also say the standards are necessary to provide students with critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and a global workforce.

"We're competing with ... businesses around the world," said Johnson City business owner Ken Gough, who attended the summit. "And in many places around the world, much higher standards are expected of their students."

During the legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers voted to delay the testing component of Tennessee's Common Core standards.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Education put out a "request for proposals" for alternate testing. The state's current testing program, known as TCAP, continues in the interim.

Haslam said it's understandable that some teachers and others attending the summit want to make sure the new assessment process lines up with the higher standards.

"What you hear is, 'you've asked us to teach in a new way and we're doing that ... but you're evaluating us on an assessment that doesn't match those standards, and that's not fair,'" Haslam said.

Attendees also talked about school choice and related alternatives like vouchers, which let parents move a child from a failing public school to a private school, with the state providing funds for tuition.

School voucher legislation failed this year and the year before.

The governor said Thursday he's not sure if he'll try again on vouchers.

"Our focus is going to be on the vast majority of our kids that are in traditional public schools, so we really haven't decided," he said.


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized

Haslam keeps door open to pre-K; Ramsey skeptical – Education Week

Published Online: September 19, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While Gov. Bill Haslam is keeping the door open to an expansion of the public pre-kindergarten program in Tennessee, any such move would remain a tough sell among some fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Haslam stressed this week that a federal notice that Tennessee intends to apply for a share of federal money available for pre-K expansion doesn't mean the state will necessarily follow through. The governor said he is still awaiting the results of a multi-year Vanderbilt study on the effectiveness of pre-K before making up his mind.

Should Haslam ultimately decide to pursue more money for pre-K, he will have to persuade Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, a long-time critic of the program for 4-year olds. Ramsey called pre-K "a liberal, feel-good program that's not working."


You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register

Back to Top Back to Top

Posted in Uncategorized