City BOE legislative liaison takes stock of year's 'good,' 'bad' laws

Rick Wagner • Jun 21, 2014 at 3:39 PM

KINGSPORT — The old saying that residents of Tennessee are safe now that the General Assembly is out of session doesn't give much comfort to city school system folks tracking education legislation.

Susan Lodal, vice president of the city's Board of Education, said that some "bad" bills were defeated but that some "bad" ones and "good" ones got through during the 2014 legislative session.

Since this marks the end of a two-year cycle, failed bills are truly dead and would have to be reintroduced in 2015 to be considered by lawmakers again, although that is exactly what might happen with some legislation school officials said groups outside Tennessee are pushing, including charter schools.

"I don't expect it to get any easier," Superintendent Lyle Ailshie said. "We need to put our differences aside." He said those included in-state education groups and associations such as the Tennessee School Boards Association, Tennessee Education Association and Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents

Lodal, the BOE's legislative liaison, said supporters of public education in Tennessee need to speak up now.

She went through a series of bills that were passed into law, from school buses to charter schools to a prohibition of convicted felons working for contractors on school grounds, regardless of when the conviction occurred.

One of the most publicized changes, however, was a delay of at least one year in the PARCC testing for Common Core Standards, although Common Core standards will go into effect for 2014-15 as previously scheduled.

Lodal said the problem with that is that TCAP testing still will be done in grades 3-8 but instruction will focus on Common Core Standards, which vary some from what is tested in TCAPs.

Among other new laws, Lodal said, are:

*Public Chapter 743 changes the old law, which said buses were limited to 200,000 miles or 17 years of services, to 18 years of service regardless of mileage. However, if those 18-year buses are less than 200,000 miles, they can continue to 200,000 miles — but contingent on meeting inspection requirements.

*Public Chapter 717 makes school board meetings, minutes and records pertaining to school security and safety off limits to the public, whether it is safety at the building or system level.

*Public Chapter 672 gives public schools some of the same flexibility as charter schools if a state education rule "inhibits or hinders" the school's ability to comply with educational mandates or fulfill its mission of educating students.

*Public Chapter 850, called the charter school authorizer law, changes the law so that if a local school board denies a charter school application, it may be appealed to the state Board of Education and overturned if the state board determines the denial is "contrary to the best interests" of pupils, the school or the community.

In Tennessee, parents can opt to send their students to a charter school if their child's home school is failing or in academic distress.

A proposed "parent trigger" bill, which she said would allow parents to turn a public school into a charter but have the school board still responsible for academic performance at that school, also did not pass.

Neither did a proposal to allow parents to transfer children into charter schools whether their home school was academically failing or not.

Among other bills Lodal spoke about that made it into law:

*Public Chapter 682 requires schools from which transfer students come to send that student's records to the new school.

*Public Chapter 704 says that the $100 in classroom money that must go directly to each teacher must be delivered by Oct. 31 or the school system has to explain why not to the state. Another $100 in classroom money does not have to go directly to teachers.

*Public Chapter 684 says teachers cannot be suspended for more than 90 days except in certain circumstances, including investigations by the Department of Children's Services.

*Public Chapter 931 requires "individual" duty-free planning periods of teachers, meaning that times when teachers work as a group are no longer meeting the duty-free planning requirement.

*Public Chapter 986 says that the 90 minutes of physical activity required of each student during the school day no longer can includes walking to and from classes, although Lodal said walking before school might be allowed to be counted now.

*Public Chapter 848 requires every public school system to do a survey to see how many students have Internet access at home and turn in the results by Nov. 1.

*Public Chapter 892 requires school systems by July 31 of each year to put out the testing dates for the coming school year and when test results will be available. Lodal said the law can be met by an online posting the first two years but would have to be included in a student handbook the third year.

*Public Chapter 844 bans contractors from using employees with felony convictions on school grounds. The old law specified a window of time when the people were convicted, but the new one has no time limitations.

As for bills that did not pass, they included: a proposal to allow elected superintendents again in Tennessee; a bill to allow vouchers where parents could take money from a public school and apply it toward a private school; a bill outlawing associations, including school board and superintendent groups, from having lobbyists; a bill allowing for-profit charter schools; and a bill requiring post-high school education for all school board members.

Lodal said the last one initially made sense to lawmakers until they realized that the requirements to be president of the United States do not include post-high school work.

On the federal level, Ailshie said he and other American Organization of School Superintendents members will talk with federal lawmakers this summer about federal education law changes, including one championed by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. It would have Title 1 funding for low economic status that now is awarded based on schoolwide data.Another is a change in federal E-Rate funding to change eligibility criteria for one-time money going to information technology.

Ailshie said one issue is the new criteria is to be covered only for the one-time increase in E-Rate funding.

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