February 22, 2013

Friends:

Last week I introduced SB 1353 which would lift the state-wide ban against the creation of new municipal school districts. After consultation with local officials, attorneys, and my colleagues, we feel that this is the best approach to address the current circumstances in Shelby County. This coincided with research we discovered regarding the fact that larger school systems do not create cost efficiencies nor do they produce greater student outcomes. I have included the preamble to the bill below.

WHEREAS, the General Assembly enacted Chapter 115 of the Public Acts of 1925, giving birth to large school systems through the consolidation movement in public education; and

WHEREAS, Tennessee encouraged consolidation through laws governing student body size, prohibiting establishment of new school systems, and establishing funding policies to encourage consolidation within each county; and

WHEREAS, the premise that bigger schools and larger school systems necessarily produce cost efficiencies and successful student outcomes has come into question as research now demonstrates that, as school systems grow, classroom performance may actually decrease and per-pupil costs increase; and

WHEREAS, notwithstanding the earlier prohibition against establishing new school systems, since 2002 Tennessee has nevertheless created new types of schools – charter schools, achievement schools, and even virtual schools – thereby avoiding artificial barriers to innovation; and

WHEREAS, education reform and innovation will be further enhanced if the statewide prohibition against establishment of municipal school systems is abolished and local communities are, once again, granted the flexibility to assess and determine, on a case-by-case basis, the best path to greater cost efficiencies and more effective student outcomes; and

WHEREAS, the provisions of this act will in no way diminish the obligation of any newly created city school system to comply with all state requirements pertaining to K-12 public education, including requirements to ensure maintenance of effort;

Leadership Collierville & Leadership Germantown with Governor Bill Haslam
February 20, 2013

LEAP legislation introduced to educate and employ Tennesseans

Senate Bill 1330, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), creates the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) allowing students at Tennessee’s technology centers and community colleges to combine occupational training in a high-skill or high-technology industry with academic credit and to apply that experience toward a degree. The legislation directs several state entities to work together in both establishing and carrying out the initiative.

“I’ve met with a number of industries in high-tech manufacturing ready to expand in Tennessee but for a lack of qualified employees, and I know of many Tennesseans who can’t afford to attend school while sacrificing a paying job,” Norris said. “This promotes the best of both worlds for employers, employees and the economy of Tennessee.”

The legislation is drafted so that wages or other compensation received by students will not impact eligibility for state need-based financial assistance or grants. Norris and his staff consulted with major employers in Tennessee and other southern states, as well as overseas, to study what are referred to as “cooperative education” programs. Students are paid to learn while applying what they learn at work for credit toward a degree.

“This is not unlike the old apprentice programs of generations past, where students get a practical utilization of what they’re learning from the books,” Norris said. “But we’re adding a modern higher education component to address what Tennessee employers keep asking for: job candidates with the requisite skills needed in today’s technologically-advanced workplace.”

Jason Bates, Administration Manager of Toyota’s Bodine facility in Jackson, stated that industry continually faces the need for qualified workers. “Despite today’s challenging economic environment, manufacturing facilities all across our state struggle to fill positions with individuals educated in advanced manufacturing,” Bates said. “Support for education in manufacturing technology is critical for Tennessee’s growth.”

“Oftentimes, there is a communications gap between educators and economic developers. LEAP will help coordinate job training between the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Economic and Community Development with higher education,” Norris said. “This will allow us to educate and employ the skilled workers that prospective employers actually need right now.”

Dr. Richard Rhoda, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, agreed. “This program recognizes that an important outcome of a student’s education is job opportunity,” Rhoda said. “Having employers work closely with state agencies creates increased collaboration and focus across the board, giving students the opportunity to attain credentials.”

Leadership Millington with Governor Haslam in the Capitol
February 20, 2013

Senate Health and Welfare Committee approves bill to ban the misuse of welfare benefits

Legislation to curb abuse of purchases made through Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards used by recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program sailed through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week. Senate Bill 244, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), prohibits use of a welfare recipient’s EBT card in liquor stores, adult cabarets, casinos and other gambling facilities.

“It is outrageous that these benefit cards, which are meant to help feed families with children in times of desperate need, are reported to have been misused for purchases like alcohol, gambling and adult cabarets,” said Senator Tracy. “Tennessee law should make it perfectly clear that we will not tolerate this fraudulent use of taxpayer money.”

The legislation comes after a report was released last summer by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which uncovered numerous examples of abuse by welfare recipients. The Center reported one transaction at a liquor store totaling $790.

Under the bill, welfare recipients who use EBT benefits at liquor stores, adult cabarets or gambling establishments would be subject to disqualification from the program as permitted by federal law. The measure also calls for those misused benefits to be recouped by the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

In addition, the legislation prescribes civil penalties to businesses that sell those products and accept EBT benefits as payment in violation of the law. The fine for a violation by the seller would be $1000 for the first violation, $2500 for the second violation within five years and $5000 for a third or subsequent violation within five years.

The bill also bans the use of EBT benefits at an ATM located inside a liquor store, adult cabaret, casino or gambling establishment.

“Many taxpayers struggle to make ends meet and to pay their taxes,” added Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen. “The selfish misuse of the welfare system undermines those who truly need and utilize temporary assistance lawfully and causes widespread public distrust in government services. Taxpayers should not tolerate it.”

In Brief…

Financial Literacy — Young Tennesseans are now learning how to balance a checkbook, develop a household budget and plan for future expenses in the same place they learn many other valuable skills – the classroom. The training is part of the Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission efforts to teach financial literacy at a young age according to State Treasurer David Lillard who appeared before the Senate Finance Committee this week. The financial literacy program was created under legislation sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville). The budget includes an appropriation to supplement private donations to help teachers will receive training on how to teach financial literacy skills to students. Tennessee has one of the highest bankruptcy rates in the nation. Lillard said that the earlier we teach children how to manage money, the greater the chance is that they will stay on the right track.

Governor Rejects State Insurance Exchanges – Governor Bill Haslam sent another letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in response to a February 14 deadline for establishing a state-federal partnership to operate a Health Care Exchange system under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The letter reiterated his December 10 response that the state would not establish an exchange. Originally, it was thought that only states with small populations such as Delaware or Montana would rely on the federal government to build their exchanges. As of February 15, the Kaiser Foundation reports that 26 states will be run by a federal exchange, while only 17 states and the District of Columbia have submitted a state-based exchange plan. The remaining 7 states will establish a state-federal partnership to operate an exchange system.

Tennessee 3rd in nation for quality of roads — Tennessee is third in the nation in the quality of roads according to Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation John Schroer who appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee this week. Tennessee has achieved high marks for road quality, despite spending less money per capita than a majority of states with a gasoline tax that is ranked 14th lowest in the nation. Schroer said these statistics show the state’s Department of Transportation is working as efficiently and effectively as possible to maximize the impact of state road money in maintaining and improving Tennessee roads.

Education Spending — State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman told members of the Senate Education Committee that more than half of Tennessee teachers are advancing student learning. The Commissioner appeared before the committee to present his budget for the 20132-2014 fiscal year. Huffman also said Tennessee was one of the few states that increased education spending during the recession, including an increase in teacher pay. The state’s education budget recommendation is $5.4 billion of which 96% will be passed to local school systems.

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