Roll call!

Here are the 45 Tennessee education laws already passed during this legislative session

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his State of the State address soon after the start of Tennessee's 109th legislative session in 2015.

When the Tennessee legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, lawmakers will officially kick off the second half of the 109th General Assembly, which began in January of 2015. The session’s first half was dominated by debate about Common Core as legislators voted to tweak the academic standards review process already under way. The General Assembly also temporarily altered the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations; gave districts more flexibility in counting standardized test scores in students’ grades; and passed a law that’s basically a voucher system for students with severe disabilities. 

But many other education bills also became law, some of which flew under the radar. Here are the 45 education bills approved by the legislature in 2015:

Testing changes

  • Quick scores. House Bill 36 allows districts to opt out of including students’ TCAP scores in their final grades if the district doesn’t receive the “quick scores” calculated for grading purposes at least five instructional days before the end of the school year.
  • Test dates. House Bill 78 deletes the previous schedule for the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) that requires testing to occur during a two-week window by the first Monday on or after April 22. It also authorizes the state education commissioner to establish a new TCAP schedule.

School funding

  • BEP deadlines. House Bill 6 requires setting by May 1 the fiscal capacity of each district used by the state to allocate money through the Basic Education Program (BEP) before the next school year begins. It also prohibits any change in a district’s fiscal capacity after the amount is set.
  • Penalties. House Bill 188 alters the penalty imposed on a municipality for violating the Municipal Finance Officer Certification and Education Act from $50 per day to a sales tax revenue reduction in an amount not to exceed 15 percent of the total amount due to the municipality in a fiscal year.
  • Federal funding. House Bill 1171 permits a local school board to refuse federal funding for an education program without penalty, unless such refusal would cause a loss of federal funding for all participating districts in the program.

Tennessee State Board of Education

  • Meetings. House Bill 819 allows the state board to meet in locations other than Nashville by revising the requirement that the state board meet at least quarterly in Nashville. The measure instead requires that the state board meet at least quarterly, with at least two meetings held in Nashville.
  • License renewal and revocation. House Bill 23 authorizes the state board to make policies concerning the revocation of licenses and certificates for misconduct.

State intervention

  • Achievement School District (ASD). Senate Bill 293 requires charter schools authorized by the ASD to conduct an initial student application period of at least 30 days and specifies that if the ASD authorizes a charter school, the ASD will receive an annual authorizer fee of up to 3 percent of the charter school’s per-student state and local funding.
  • Pausing state takeover. House Bill 921 prohibits the placement of a priority school in the ASD if, after the school is identified as a priority school but before the education commissioner determines that the school should be assigned to the ASD, the school demonstrates student achievement growth at a level of “above expectations” or greater, as represented by TVAAS.
  • Notification. House Bill 735 requires the education commissioner, by Oct. 1 of the year prior to the public identification of priority schools, to notify any school and its respective district if the school is among the bottom 10 percent of schools in overall achievement as determined by the performance standards and other criteria set by the state board.

School districts

  • Character education. Senate Bill 1021 authorizes and encourages local education agencies to adopt as their course of instruction in character education the Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program.
  • Lobbying. House Bill 772 requires local school boards to provide financial information concerning expenditures for lobbying and professional associations in their budgets.
  • Graduation. House Bill 567 prohibits a local education agency from requiring more than the minimum graduation requirements in order to receive a full diploma for students enrolling or transferring in the 11th grade or later who are in the custody of the state Department of Children’s Services.

Teachers

  • Liability. Senate Bill 604 enacts the Educator Protection Act of 2015, which creates the Tennessee educator liability fund to provide excess professional liability insurance coverage for all teachers and student teachers, subject to the appropriations of the General Assembly.
  • Teacher evaluations. Senate Bill 199 enacts the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act, which temporarily alters the percentage of evaluation criteria composed of student achievement data as the state transitions to its new TNReady assessment.
  • Teacher education. House Bill 329 terminates the Advisory Council on Teacher Education and Certification.
  • Political activity. House Bill 158 prohibits certain campaign-related activities by teachers and certain other public school employees while on school property.
  • Firing. House Bill 1031 changes from “prior to June 15” to “within five business days following the last instructional day for the school year” the time within which notices of dismissal or failure of re-election must be provided to teachers.

School choice

  • Special education vouchers. Senate Bill 27 enacts the Individualized Education Act, which allows students with severe disabilities to use public school funding for private services.
  • Charter school closures. House Bill 125 halts the closure at the end of the 2014–2015 school year of charter schools on the state’s 2015 priority list; and makes the 2017 priority list the first list for which charter schools appearing on a priority list must close at the end of the school year.
  • Virtual Public Schools. House Bill 398 extends the date of the repeal of the Virtual Public Schools Act from June 30, 2015, to June 30, 2019.
  • Charter school teachers. House Bill 874 requires the local board to consider the years of service acquired by a tenured or nontenured teacher who takes an extended leave from a school district to teach in a public charter school authorized by the district, the Achievement School District, or the State Board of Education in certain circumstances.
  • Insurance. House Bill 157 allows the governing body of a charter school to choose the insurance plans offered to the school’s teachers and other full-time permanent employees; and removes the requirement that charter school employees participate in the state group insurance plan.
  • Student expulsion. Senate Bill 182 establishes requirements governing expulsion of certain students convicted of a violent felony; authorizes remand to alternative school for certain students; and revises other provisions regarding student suspension.

Students and schools

  • Students with disabilities. Senate Bill 0214 extends the Advisory Council for Education of Students with Disabilities to June 30, 2020.
  • County officers. House Bill 0420 removes obsolete and contradictory language concerning temporary school superintendents.
  • Civics studies. Senate Bill 10 requires a student, during the student’s high school career, to take a U.S. civics test.
  • STEM. House Bill 946 requires the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to establish STEM innovation hubs in rural areas of the state and in Northwest Tennessee; requires the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to provide a middle school curriculum on the variety and benefits of STEM careers.
  • Missing class. House Bill 891 authorizes a school principal to excuse students for non-school-sponsored extracurricular activities; requires the student to submit to the school documentation of the activity and the parents to submit a written request to the principal at least seven business days prior to the student’s requested excused absence.
  • Kindergarten. House Bill 1361 allows children to enter kindergarten programs in the 2015–2016 school year if they are 5 years of age after August 15, 2015, but on or before August 31, 2015, and entered two-year pre-kindergarten programs in the 2013–2014 school year.
  • Textbooks. Senate Bill 1105 prohibits supervisors from disciplining or discouraging teachers and other educators for reporting inaccuracies or errors or potentially inflammatory material in textbooks or other educational materials to supervisors, elected officials, or parents or guardians; prohibits requiring a teacher or other educator to agree not to report inaccuracies or errors or potentially inflammatory material in textbooks or other educational materials, as a condition of employment.
  • Drinking and driving. House Bill 98 directs the education commissioner to develop guidelines for districts to create an annual report that informs students of the death of any person 18 years of age or younger who died as a result of a person 18 years of age or younger driving under the influence of an intoxicant or drug.
  • Career and technical education. House Bill 77 changes references in the code from vocational education to career and technical education; changes references in the code from the board for vocational education to the board for career and technical education.
  • Non-immigrants. Senate Bill 1039 requires certain institutions to report nonimmigrant student enrollment to the state Department of Safety.
  • Guns. House Bill 683 prohibits schools from requiring students or parents to provide information on firearm ownership; prohibits districts from requiring employees to provide information on firearm ownership; prohibits adverse disciplinary or employment action based on information of firearm ownership that is voluntarily provided.
  • Domestic violence. House Bill 830 encourages districts, in consultation with local law enforcement, to institute at least one domestic violence awareness education program per year for middle and high schools; requires each program to be developmentally appropriate based on the students’ age and level of maturity.
  • Sports. House Bill 1077 grants a voluntary association that establishes and enforces bylaws or rules for interscholastic sports competition for secondary schools in this state access to records or information from public, charter, nonpublic, other schools, school officials and parents or guardians of school children as is required to fulfill its duties and functions; requires the association to maintain the confidentiality of records or information in its possession that relate to academic performance, financial status of a student or the student’s parent or guardian, medical or psychological treatment or testing, and personal family information.
  • Textbook quality. House Bill 968 requires the state textbook commission to study the age and physical status of textbooks used in Tennessee public schools and issue a written report to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2016, detailing the average age, physical condition, and cost to replace outdated textbooks and solutions to avoiding the use of textbooks that are more than 10 years old.
  • Religious instruction. House Bill 834 authorizes a local school board to create a policy that excuses students who request to attend a released time course in religious moral instruction taught by an independent entity off of school property.
  • Sexual abuse. Senate Bill 656 requires a school in which a child who is a suspected victim of child sexual abuse that occurred while the child was under the supervision or care of the school to make reasonable accommodations to separate the alleged victim of child sexual abuse from the alleged perpetrator.

Colleges

  • College financial assistance. Senate Bill 0255 extends until 2019 the board of trustees appointments for the Baccalaureate Education System Trust (BEST), which provides Tennessee families with a means to save for their children’s future college education costs.
  • College prep. House Bill 1074 exempts education courses that are solely to prepare students for graduate or professional school entrance exams and professional licensure exams from the Postsecondary Education Authorization Act of 1974.

Department of Education

  • Department audit. House Bill 364 extends the Department of Education, June 30, 2019, and requires the department to report back to the committee concerning the findings in its 2014 performance audit report.

Standards

  • Common Core. House Bill 1035 requires the State Board of Education to implement a process whereby the set of standards known as the Common Core State Standards adopted in 2010 will be reviewed and replaced with new sets of standards; requires the state board or the Tennessee Department of Education to cancel any memorandum of understanding concerning Common Core State entered into with the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers; establishes advisory teams and a standards recommendation committee; revises other provisions regarding curriculum standards.

Transportation

  • School bus ads. House Bill 112 increases the permissible size of advertisements on school buses from 16 inches high and 60 inches long to 36 inches high and 90 inches long.

2016edbilltracker

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.