In the second session of the General Assembly, House legislators continued their work to reform education in Tennessee by making student achievement and teacher excellence the top priorities in state schools. A number of items passed the Legislature to help school districts encourage higher teacher performance and raise student scores.
Teachers’ First Amendment
rights are protected by state
The House took a strong step to protect the First Amendment rights of school personnel, including teachers and administrators. Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, sought to ensure educators can participate in programs that take place either before or after school hours and do not interfere with their school duties. The legislation passed 93-0.
Achievement School District
attracts some of country’s
best charter schools
The nation’s top school operators are competing for the opportunity to open schools in Tennessee. In an effort to ensure the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the state will perform among the top 25 percent within five years, Tennessee’s Achievement School District is working to expand existing, high-performing charter schools as well as attract new operators that will provide transformational educational opportunities for students in the state.
To ensure a fair evaluation process, the Achievement School District will work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to manage the evaluation process. Evaluation teams are comprised of national charter school experts, local community evaluators and representatives from the Tennessee Department of Education. Application evaluations and interviews will take place throughout April and May. ASD plans to announce approved school operators on June 1. The timeline gives school operators a full year to plan for their opening, secure facilities and engage students and families in the process.
Tennessee one of first
states to receive waiver
of No Child Left Behind
House leaders lauded the approval by U.S. Department of Education officials of Tennessee’s waiver request from certain portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Tennessee was the first state to request a waiver and was one of only 10 recipients of the first round of waivers. The Adequate Yearly Progress accountability model under NCLB has been an ongoing obstacle for schools and districts because it does not fully account for schools’ growth. Under the waiver, Tennessee proposes to raise overall achievement by 3 to 5 percent each year and to cut achievement gaps in half over an eight-year period.
State’s education initiatives
targeting the right issues
The major education reform efforts in Tennessee are on the right track in terms of addressing issues identified by researchers, a new study by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability says. Last year, the General Assembly asked OREA to review major education initiatives in Tennessee, including Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, and efforts of education-focused groups such as the Hyde Foundation and Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
Lawmakers continue fight
against illegal drugs,
trafficking and crime
Representatives in the House of Representatives took two major steps in the battle against the manufacture and usage of synthetic drugs with passage of a landmark bill by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and a bill to strengthen the penalties against synthetic drug peddlers by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. Earlier this legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 2645, authored by Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, that defined the chemical compounds that make up the synthetic drugs.
House Bill 3175 received bipartisan support, passing the House by a 94-0 vote. The legislation creates various felony offenses regarding synthetic drugs such as bath salts. The legislation also maintains continuity throughout the Tennessee Code by ensuring that most present law provisions regarding controlled substances would also apply to synthetic drugs and the bill strengthens certain criminal penalties.
As we all know from numerous recent new reports, “bath salts” are ripping our communities apart and hurting Tennesseans. This bill will put our laws at the forefront of the fight against synthetic drugs that have already claimed far too many lives.
Shipley believes the bill breaks new ground in the fight against illegal analogue synthetic drugs because it criminalizes the drugs and takes the additional step of listing the effects of the drugs on the users so magistrates will have a detailed understanding of the substances. This allows for greater judicial flexibility in determining felony violations.
Additionally, while Shipley’s legislation takes an innovative way to combat the drugs, Rep. Lundberg’s bill takes aim squarely at illegal drug manufacturers and sellers.
HB 2286 makes it a Class E felony for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, sell or possess with the intent to sell, deliver or manufacture an imitation controlled substance. The bill received the overwhelming support of the House, passing 99-0.
Along with those bills, House Bill 2645 adds over 20 synthetic derivatives or analogues of meth to the current Tennessee Code and criminalizes possession of the bath salts. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in bipartisan fashion, 95-0. The legislation continues Williams’ fight to crack down on meth production that is derived from the use of ingredients found in bath salts or Molly’s Plant Food. The three lawmakers’ respective bills complement one another as the state has been under fire with the recent scourge of synthetic drug use.
With the passage of these bills, the House has spoken with one voice that stopping these illegal drugs is a top priority of our state. When these bills become law, the manufacture, distribution, use and possession of these analogues will be met with serious consequences and anyone involved with these drugs should take notice.