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Haslam defends education commissioner

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II, Associated Press • Jul 8, 2013 at 7:24 PM

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday reiterated his support for the state’s education commissioner, who has come under fire for changes to how teachers are paid.

At least two Facebook pages have been created calling for Kevin Huffman’s ouster as well as an online petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures.

The state Board of Education approved the changes last month after supporters and opponents argued for nearly two hours over the matter. The measure changes the minimum teacher salary schedule, reduces steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminates incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.

Haslam told reporters on Monday that the changes are needed to further education reform in the state, and that if he were to hire an education commissioner again today, it would be Huffman.

“If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee is at the top of that list,” said the Republican governor. “Kevin gets a lot of credit for that.”

Opponents of the changes say they’re unfair to teachers who have had to endure other changes within the past few years, such as how they’re evaluated.

“Abolishing the minimum pay scale for teachers is just the latest in a three-year prolonged attack on the teaching profession,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Before he spoke to reporters on Monday, Haslam addressed the Middle Tennessee Regional Workforce Alliance, which had gathered to discuss closing skill gaps in the fields of advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology.

The governor said having a good education is important, but he said many companies he’s talked to are looking for a certain skill set.

“Every time I go out and recruit a company to either move here or grow here, they say my biggest concern is about the workforce,” he said. “And they mean that in terms of having the right skill set as well as the understanding of what’s needed to succeed in today’s world.”

A 2010 study by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce showed that by 2019, about 5,000 more registered nurses and more than 1,000 additional physicians will be needed in Middle Tennessee alone.

“The health care community wants these graduates not only to have the mastery of their chosen health care field, but problem-solving, computer, technology and management skills,” said John Morgan, Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which is part of the alliance.

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