education

After thoughts of pumping brakes, full steam a head on voucher bill

Newly-elected House Speaker Glen Casada gestures toward his predecessor, Beth Harwell, in the House chamber on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create a statewide charter authorizer nearly bogged down in the House Education Committee last week, there was talk that the next big piece of legislation aimed at creating voucher-like education savings accounts might need another week to ripen before heading through the same panel.

Looks like that delay is now off the table.

The Lee administration is pressing to present the bill to the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

The charter authorizer bill advanced out of that committee on a 13-9 vote, but only after House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) came to the panel to personally intervene. Casada was able to get several freshman Republican who voiced concerns about the measure to get on board.

The bill also got the support of embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), whom school choice advocates have tried for years to to defeat because of his support for traditional public schools.

Maybe Casada will be at the meeting from the start on Wednesday?

Here’s a look at income limits for Lee’s school voucher proposal

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to provide vouchers to cover private school tuition through education savings accounts, or ESAs, would limit eligibility to families earning double the maximum family income to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. That school lunch program is pegged to 185% of federal poverty guidelines.

Eligibility for the ESA program would be limited to families living within counties with at least three schools in the bottom 10% — but actual attendance in a failing school would not be required to qualify.

A household is defined as the total number of parents and children in the family. Here’s a look at what those limits would be under the proposal headed for its first House subcommittee hearing this week:

Household size Federal poverty guidelines Reduced Price Meals—185% Tennessee ESA proposal
2  $     16,460  $     30,451  $     60,902
3  $     20,780  $     38,443  $     76,886
4  $     25,100  $     46,435  $     92,870
5  $     29,420  $     54,427  $   108,854
6  $     33,740  $     62,419  $   124,838
7  $     38,060  $     70,411  $   140,822
8  $     42,380  $     78,403  $   156,806

Lee unveils ‘Future Workforce Initiative’

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s office unveiled a Future Workforce Initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) education training in K-12 schools.

Here’s the full release from Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the Future Workforce Initiative to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training in K-12 schools as part of his first-year legislative agenda for education.

“Our agenda advocates for increased access to career and technical education for K-12 students and a key part of this includes prioritizing STEM training,” said Lee. “The Future Workforce Initiative is a direct response to the emerging technology industry and making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs.”

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SCORE outlines annual education priorities

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, has released its annual “Priorities for Progress” report.

See the full release below:

NASHVILLE – The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) today released priorities and action steps for improving student achievement in Tennessee in a new report, Priorities For Progress: 2018-19 State of Education in Tennessee.

SCORE, a nonpartisan education policy and advocacy nonprofit founded by Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., each year conducts a series of discussions with educators, policymakers and partners to compile a report that examines recent successes in K-12 public education and identifies research-supported opportunities to continue Tennessee’s recent record-setting progress in academic achievement. The state has been among the fastest improving on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, although the report notes the pace of growth has slowed since 2015.

“Tennessee can have fast student achievement improvement again,” Frist said. “To do that we must work collaboratively toward preparing all students for success after high school by addressing the priorities in the State of Education report. We must be innovative, and we must be bold to help our students be the best in the nation.”

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Lee makes vocational education push his first legislative initiative

Bill Lee is inaugurated as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Jan. 19, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s first legislative initiative calls for expanding access to vocational and technical training in Tennessee.

The Lee administration has dubbed it the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education, or GIVE, program.

“We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education,” Lee said in a release.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) to expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee students. 

“I believe that expanding our vocational and technical offerings will be transformational for Tennesseans and the future of our state,” said Lee. “We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education.”

The GIVE initiative is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. Communities will now have the funding and flexibility to build programs that best reflect local needs and work directly with private industry to structure programming. 

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Lee names Schwinn as education commissioner

A release from Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Today, Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee announced the appointment of Penny Schwinn to lead the Tennessee Department of Education.

“Penny leads with students at the forefront and I believe her experience is exactly what we need to continue improving on the gains we have made in the past few years,” said Lee. “As a former teacher and seasoned administrator, she will help make Tennessee a leader in the nation on education.”

Schwinn currently serves as the chief deputy commissioner of education at the Texas Education Agency. In this role, she pursued a series of reforms including the transformation of a failing state assessment program. She also implemented the expansion of statewide externships and pathway development for improving students’ career readiness upon graduation.

Additionally, Schwinn oversaw the development of open-source instructional materials to empower teachers with high-quality resources for teaching. Prior to serving in the Texas Education Agency, Schwinn was the chief accountability and performance officer for the Delaware Department of Education where she led efforts to conduct a testing audit, which led to nearly a 20 percent decrease in student testing time.

A former teacher, Schwinn taught with Teach for America (TFA) from 2004-2007 with work in Baltimore City Public Schools and Los Angeles. She is also the founder of Capitol Collegiate Academy, a charter school that serves low-income students in South Sacramento.

Woodson stepping aside as head of education group founded by Frist

Former state Sen. Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville), who Gov. Bill Haslam recently appointed to the board of the University of Tennessee, is stepping down as head of the head of SCORE, the education group founded former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Nashville). Woodson will remain with the group as a senior adviser, and David Mansouri will be promoted to president and CEO.

Here’s the full email from Bill Frist:

I am writing today to share exciting news about SCORE and steps our Board of Directors have taken to continue the momentum of our organization and the historic educational gains Tennessee students are making.

Without a doubt, the progress Tennessee has made in student achievement has been unprecedented. The state has become a national leader in education improvement. I am so proud that under the strong leadership of Jamie Woodson, SCORE has played such a major role as an advocate for student-focused, research-backed policies that have helped Tennessee educators produce these historic gains for our students.

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Haslam outlines TNReady changes following testing problems

Gov. Bill Haslam, left, and Wayne Miller, the former executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, attend an Oct. 24, 2018, press conference in Nashville about changes to the TNReady testing program. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen today announced changes in the delivery of the TNReady assessment for the current school year and additional changes that will take effect beginning in the 2019-20 school year. The changes are a direct response to a report from educators generated by the recent statewide listening tour that included roundtable conversations and online feedback from educators including teachers, testing coordinators and school administrators on how to make improvements to assessment delivery.

“These are real solutions, some of which are already underway or will be implemented later this year, that will be felt by educators, students and parents across the state,” Haslam said. “Throughout the listening tour, the message from teachers was clear that we do not need to start over but rather do all we can to improve the delivery of TNReady. We think these changes will do just that and create a better testing experience for both students and teachers.”

The Department of Education has already made significant changes, including a successful verification of the testing platform involving roughly 50,000 students, ensuring quicker turnaround of results starting with the fall end-of-course assessments, and providing better educator training opportunities.

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Haslam announces listening tour on student testing

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at the state Capitol in Nashville on Aug. 21, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a multi-phase plan, highlighted by a statewide listening tour, to improve delivery of the state’s elementary and secondary assessments known as TNReady. The goals of the engagement plan and tour are to:

1 Engage in an open conversation about assessment and ways to improve administration;

2 Gather feedback that can inform a smooth delivery of state assessments this school year and beyond, including feedback on the selection of the state’s next assessment partner to be chosen later this school year; 

3 Discuss how to better provide schools, educators, parents and students with meaningful and timely results from assessments; and

4 Distinguish assessment content from delivery in an effort to focus on the value assessments can provide.

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Testing company error — not cyberattack — blamed for TNReady computer testing shutdown in April

A state investigator told state legislators Wednesday Questar’s unauthorized change of an online testing tool — not a possible cyber attack, as earlier reported by the company — was responsible for shutting down Tennessee’s computerized exams on their second day this spring, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.

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