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

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”