Education lobbyist group rates legislators — seven get ‘A+,’ two graded ‘F’

In its first rating of state legislators, Tennesseans for Student Success today gave “A+” scores to seven members of the General Assembly while only two got ‘F’ grades and eight got ‘D’ grades.

The group bills itself as an education advocacy group and has been generally in line with Gov. Bill Haslam in its legislative lobbying on issues. (It was initially founded by Jeremy Harrell, Haslam’s former campaign manager and an administration staffer who has also worked with the state Republican party.)

The seven legislators at the top “SuccessCard” ratings, deemed “top of the class,” are all Republicans. They are Sens. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Mark Norris of Collierville and Reps. Harry Brooks of Knoxville, Dawn White of Murfreesboro, Charles Sargent of Franklin and Eddie Smith of Knoxville.

The two ‘F’ grades went to Sens. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Thelma Harper, D-Nashville.

In general, Democrats tended to get lower scores – apparently because they are more prone to oppose “school choice” proposals, such as vouchers expansion of charter schools, that are supported by TSS and listed as one factor in granting positive ratings. (There were a handful of Democrats with ‘A’ grades.)

Of the eight legislators given a ‘D’ grade, four are Republicans and four are Democrats. The Republicans are Sens. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Mae Beavers of Mount Juliet (who recently resigned to run for governor) along with Reps. Bill Sanderson of Dyersburg and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster. The Democrats getting Ds were Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis and Reps. Bill Beck of Nashville, Mike Stewart of Nashville and Joe Towns of Memphis.

The rating of state senators is HERE; the rating of representatives is HERE.

Here’s the press release from TSS:

NASHVILLE – Tennesseans for Student Success today launched their inaugural TNSuccessCard Scorecard and introduced this pivotal engagement and education tool to the citizens of Tennessee.

“Evaluating legislators in an open and honest manner is important. The SuccessCare clearly and concisely informs voters which members of the General Assembly support the policies that have helped Tennessee become the fastest improving state in the nation in education,” said Tennesseans for Student Success Board Chairman Austin McMullen. “By supporting rigorous academic standards, an assessment aligned to those standards, accountability for everyone involved in the classroom, and public choices in education, Tennessee’s legislators are sending a clear signal that education is the priority for Tennessee.”

McMullen continued: “We’ve spent the last several years at the intersection of education and engagement, and have heard from voters that they want a clear way to understand how their elected officials vote to support Tennessee’s historic improvements in education. As we unveil the SuccessCard and continue to update it each legislative session, we know it will be a helpful tool to help hold Tennessee’s elected officials accountable for student success.”

“We know parents, teachers, community leaders, and all those who have a stake in the work d one in our classrooms will find this easy-to-navigate SuccessCard a key part of informing their decisions at the ballot box. And while we are excited to use our SuccessCard, it will not be the only engagement tool in our student success toolbox. As we did in the 2016 elections, we will be deploying a massive air, data, and ground strategy over the next 13 months to make certain Tennessee’s voters are informed about the people and policies that drive student success.”

For more information about the Tennesseans for Student Success SuccessCard, please

UPDATE/Note: Spokespersons for Tennesseans for Student Success have complained about two aspects of this post:

First, and most stridently, they protest any implication that TSS supports school vouchers. They adamantly insist the organization has never, ever taken any position whatsoever on school voucher proposals – they only support charter schools and the like when declaring the need for “school choice.” Ergo, the word vouchers now has a strikethrough added since the original post. The old guy would note only that “school choice” is not defined in the press release – reproduced in full so readers know what the group wants them to know — and that Sen. Brian Kelsey, one of TSS’ A+ lawmakers has made school vouchers the top priority of his legislative endeavors in the education arena (with the support of almost of the other top-rated legislators). Accepting that the organization backing generic “school choice” has lacked the boldness to take any position in favor or against vouchers, the most controversial aspect of choice programs, any suggestion to the contrary is mistaken and regretted.

Second, TSS President Adam Lister complains about the headline referring to the organization as an ‘education lobbyist group.” TSS registered six lobbyists for the 2017 legislative session – including Lister as well as contract lobbyists – and hosted receptions that legislators attended and which required reporting to the Tennessee Ethics Commission. The commission thus regards such groups officially as “employers of lobbyists.” Some folks might even suspect that issuing a scorecard rating of legislators is an attempt to influence lawmakers. One could even speculate that those ratings will be used in direct mail, radio ads or the like to promote the favored legislators and/or condemn those not favored.  See previous TSS news release – posted HERE — boasting the group spent $500,000 on “an aggressive air, data, and ground strategy” to elect “pro-education” legislators. Maybe that’s not technically lobbying via legal definition, but it gets pretty close.

At any rate, no strikethrough is deemed necessary in the headline. As always, any comments are welcomed.

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