The freshman state representative and retired educator showed his knowledge of education during an annual legislative meeting with members of the Tennessee Education Association representing schools systems from Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Polk and Rhea counties and city systems from Athens, Cleveland, Dayton and Etowah
State Rep. Kevin Brooks said this morning, “In our meeting with local educators, Rep.-elect Forgety’s extensive background in education became very clear. He joins our local delegation with proven educational experience.
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-9th District, State Reps. Eric Watson, R-22nd District, Brooks, R-24th District, and Forgety, R-23rd District, said the budget is going to be a priority in the coming year.
Brooks said he hopes Gov.-elect Bill Haslam will take the same approach with the state as he did as mayor of Knoxville and take a line-by-line look at all agencies and programs.
“He went through the city of Knoxville’s building inventory and asked, What are we paying rent on that we don’t need? I hope he does that in Nashville because everyone can tell you there are buildings where you can get off the elevator and there is no one there and we can’t figure out what we’re doing with it,” Brooks said.
Forgety is a former director of schools who retired with about 40 years of service. He said in America, people can ascend to the greatest height their courage and work ethic will allow.
“I heard some things we need to do and there are some things we need to do — desperately — in public education. We need to get better at what we do,” Forgety said.
He has heard criticism about how much better students in Great Britain are in language arts, how much better Germans are in the sciences, how much better French youngsters are in mathematics and that the Japanese are better than everyone else.
“The United States of America has approximately 223 Nobel Prize winners who, for the most part, are products of public schools,” Forgety said. “We can get better, but I would also tell you that we have more Nobel Prize winners than the next three closest countries combined — Great Britain, Germany and France.
“The United States of America has more college graduates per capita than any other nation in the world. All is not doom and gloom. There are wonderful things happening in public schools all across America — and we can and will get better.”
He said the United States rises and falls based on how well its children are educated.
Issues presented by the teachers included legislative priorities, education funding, teacher evaluations, salaries and benefits, charter schools, employee due process, professional negotiations, retirement issues and accessibility.
All four Legislatures answered the question of accessibility first by giving the teachers their telephone numbers.
Watson said the Republican Caucus has tried to pass an education first funding bill for that past three years. He is hopeful of passing the bill this year.
Bell said his priority is to move Basic Education Program dollars back to the recurring funds column so the Legislature doesn’t have to look for the money each year.
“(Gov. Phil) Bredesen did that last year and I think it was political gamesmanship being played with education,” Bell said. “A lot of time, education can be held to the end and it can become a political football.”
If education-first legislation can be passed, that would take it off the playing field.
Brooks said he favors education-first legislation instead of seeing education used as a carrot to get less palatable and popular legislation passed.
Watson used the cigarette tax as an example of gamesmanship. The money was supposed to go toward education. That’s where he says some tried to put it, but instead it goes to the general fund.
“It went up in smoke,” Watson said.
Forgety said while he is naive about the legislative funding process, he knows public education faces unfunded mandates that cause local bookkeepers to pull their hair out. While he supports class size mandates, he has also seen instances where one extra student can require an additional full-time teacher position.
“I’m certainly not for putting 35 kids in a classroom, but I have seen where, if the local education agencies were granted some flexibility ... if there were a little wiggle room granted to LEA’s, that could save a ton of money.”
Brooks said this was the first meeting of the new delegation and area educators and he believes it was a very positive and worthwhile meeting.
“The work and progress of the past General Assembly will continue with this new team in place,” he said. “We thank Sen.-elect Bell for his service in the House and look forward to his leadership in the Senate.”
Watson said the Tennessee General Assembly will continue to monitor education reform passed last session in 2010.
“Lawmakers passed bold initiatives last January in a Special Session designed to transform education,” he said. “That legislation allowed Tennessee to receive approximately $500 million in federal funds in the federal Race to the Top competition.”
Race to the Top is authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and is a competitive grant program to encourage and reward states for implementing significant reforms in specific 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.
Watson said to expect lawmakers to continue monitoring the progress made under this new reform law and to make any needed revisions to enhance these education reform efforts.