Senate Education Committee Recognizes Importance of Civics Instruction

On March 30, 2012, in News from Nashville 2012, by Mark Norris

March 30, 2012 As we completed our 65th legislative day of the 107th General Assembly this week, we are preparing to receive Governor Haslam’s supplemental budget next week. This will reflect amendments deemed appropriate based on revenue changes and adjustments since the budget was first presented in February. Progress has been made on Governor Haslam’s […]

March 30, 2012

As we completed our 65th legislative day of the 107th General Assembly this week, we are preparing to receive Governor Haslam’s supplemental budget next week. This will reflect amendments deemed appropriate based on revenue changes and adjustments since the budget was first presented in February.

Progress has been made on Governor Haslam’s legislative agenda with about two-thirds of the bills he proposed already passed into law.

In addition to carrying the Governor’s legislation, I continue to work on education and economic development. This week, two important initiatives advanced–a bill to lift the state-wide ban on the formation of new municipal school districts in Tennessee and a bill setting forth the method and timing under which such districts may be formed.

In Shelby County, passage of these bills would mean a restoration of the people’s right to vote whether they want to pay higher taxes to have a municipal school district if otherwise eligible. Recent polling apparently casts some doubt.  Either way, it’s a right of self-determination worth fighting for. And only then will the Transition Planning Committee have the information it needs to properly complete its mission.

The Capitol hosted hundreds of visitors this week including the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women holding their annual “Ladies Day on the Hill.” I was able to address the group in the House Chamber as well as being a guest of the Shelby County Republican Women of Purpose at a luncheon.

Best wishes for the weekend and week ahead,




Presenting Youth of the Year Award to Shannon Wright of Greater Memphis Boys and Girls Clubs. Senator Norris addressed Boys and Girls Club officials from across the state as they gathered in Nashville this week.

Senate Education Committee Recognizes Importance of Civics Instruction

On March 28, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 2066 which would require that civics education be included in the public school curriculum assessed by the Local Educational Agency. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) introduced the legislation following the release of a Board of Education report commissioned by the General Assembly last year which reviewed civic education curriculum in Tennessee public schools. The report, released in January, concluded that the state’s curriculum standards for civics education and instruction are effectively designed, but that civic learning is best imparted through “active, project-based instruction” which is where deficiencies currently exist in Tennessee classrooms. The General Assembly has been engaged in the promotion of stronger civic education in Tennessee public schools since 2006 when it passed PC889, establishing the Commission on Civic Education.

Leader Norris recently met with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has traveled the U.S. promoting the civics education initiative with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and the educational website for students that she founded, Justice O’Connor and Leader Norris discussed their shared concern that students leave high school without a solid understanding of how the state and federal governments work and that this lack of education leads to their disengagement in government as adults. Leader Norris noted that “for democracy to work, an educated and engaged citizenry is essential. We need to do more to better educate our young in civics.”

The House unanimously passed the companion version of the bill last May. The Senate bill has now been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for approval.

Legislation passed by Senate Education Committee makes necessary revisions to lottery revenues

A State Senate Task Force unanimously recommended the General Assembly adopt a lottery scholarship stabilization plan designed to reward academic achievement, while not cutting off those who barely qualify for the HOPE scholarship program. The Senate Task Force is comprised of state senators, Tennessee’s constitutional officers (Secretary of State, Comptroller, and Treasurer), and higher education leaders from the Tennessee Board of Regents, the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. The group was charged with looking at revenue forecasts for the program and any avenues for increasing the amount of funds contributed to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) which administers the lottery scholarship program.

The total costs of the scholarship program are currently outstripping the lottery revenues – the net proceeds from the lottery games played plus interest from the lottery reserves. To make up the difference in the short term, the state has dipped into the lottery reserves. If nothing is done, the lottery reserve balance would dwindle to approximately $145 million by fiscal year 2021, including the $50 million which state law requires remain in reserve for the program. The Task Force voted to recommend maintaining a minimum reserve balance of $100 million in the future. Senate Bill 2515, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), would require the general lottery subaccount to be maintained at $100 million instead of $50 million. A “red flag” would be brought up if the subaccount reaches the $100 million dollar amount. If the subaccount drops below the $50 million threshold, the bill would require five percent of the lottery revenues to be placed into the subaccount until it is brought back to a balance of $50 million. It also requires the comptroller to make an annual report on the adequacy of the reserves. The bill was passed in the Senate Education Committee and now awaits approval on the Senate floor.

Lottery Scholarships / Students with DisabilitiesSenate Bill 2919 would allow students with documented disabilities who do not meet high school academic qualifications for a HOPE lottery scholarship to attend college, meet college academic requirements and receive the scholarship. “This bill creates a new lottery scholarship that we propose to call the Step Up Scholarship,” said Senator Overbey, the sponsor of the legislation. “If we’re talking about helping young people and giving them a chance to be independent and live independently and not continue perhaps to live on Families First or some other benefit program from the state, I think this is a bill we want to take.” The bill unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee and now moves to the Senate Finance Ways & Means Committee for approval.

Dual Credit Courses — Dr. Warren Gill, Director of Agribusiness and Agriscience at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and Dr. Cliff Ricketts of Agriculture Education at MTSU, addressed the Senate Education Committee this week regarding dual credit courses. “A lot of our students were showing up in college that had not been prepared for the college experience, and therefore were having some struggles and difficulty. We saw this as a way to get them college experience while they were in still in high school,” noted Dr. Gill. “The main issue is transferability. We have a lot of students out there that have not been able to get the credit in college because of the transferability issue.” Dr. Ricketts further stated that dual credit courses are important because they enable students to graduate with distinction through the high school diploma project; increase retention and graduation rates; have a built in assessment which is a requirement for the Race to the Top and First to the Top initiatives; and, they are one of the criteria required for the state to receive Perkins federal funding.

Dual credit courses allow high school students to receive college credit for certain courses with a more rigorous college level curriculum. These courses are becoming more common in Tennessee high schools and are exceptional tools in preparing and encouraging high school students to attend college. Senate Bill 2809, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), would require public postsecondary institutions, under certain conditions, to accept for credit any dual credit course developed by another public postsecondary institution in collaboration with a high school. This legislation passed the Senate Education Committee and will now move to the Senate Finance Committee for approval.

Veterans / Higher EducationSenate Bill 3115, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), was passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee this week and will be sent to the State Senate for approval. The bill would allow combat veterans who are residents of the state of Tennessee and students at public institutions of higher education to register for classes prior to the general student population.

2011-2012 Tennessee Blue Book Now Available Online

The 2011-2012 Tennessee Blue Book, considered the manual of state government and state history, is now available online.

The Blue Book can be accessed by visiting

“Making the Blue Book available online is another way we can provide better service to our customers, the citizens of Tennessee,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “The newest edition of the Blue Book has updated graphics, photos and other enhancements that have not been available in previous editions. The staff of our Publications Division has embraced my challenge to look for new ways to add value to the work that we do here.”

The Blue Book is published every two years by the Secretary of State’s office. It contains valuable information about the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government – including biographical information about top elected and appointed officials. It also includes biographical information about the state’s representatives in Congress, a detailed history of the state, information about historical sites around Tennessee, statistics about cities and counties, election results, state symbols, and much more.

The online archived Blue Books date back to the 2005-2006 Tenenssee Blue Book. To view the archived books, visit and scroll down to “Archived Blue Books.”

The current edition of the Blue Book is dedicated to Lt. Gov. Ronald L. Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell for their service to the state of Tennessee.

Issues in Brief

Child Labor Laws — The State Senate approved Senate Bill 2565 this week, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), which prohibits state or local funds from being used to enforce any change to the United States Department of Labor’s Hazardous Occupations Orders for Agricultural Employment relating to children. The act strengthens safety requirements for young workers employed in agriculture. The act does exempt children working on farms owned by their parents. However, many farms are not wholly owned by families, and some children work for relatives. These revisions by the Department of Labor are vague and encompassing and are a detriment to children in the agriculture industry. They would also limit, or even eliminate, educational opportunities in agriculture. The passage of this bill ensures that children, who often begin learning agricultural practices at age 14, will continue to be able to “learn by doing” in Tennessee’s agriculture industry.

Board of Judicial Conduct Could Replace Court of the JudiciarySenate Bill 2671, sponsored by Senator Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill), terminates the court of the judiciary on July 1, 2012, and replaces it with the board of judicial conduct, which would have the same functions as the court but different membership. The board will consist of 16 members that will serve for a term of three years and will be eligible for reappointment to one additional term. This legislation requires the board, on a quarterly basis, to file a report with the chairs of the judiciary committees of each house detailing at least the number of complaints against judges filed during the previous quarter and the disposition of each complaint. This bill also changes the burden of proof to investigate a judge to probable cause that misconduct occurred instead of substantial likelihood that it did and revises other provisions regarding complaints against judges. The bill passed the full Senate this week and will be sent to Governor Haslam for his approval following passage in the House.