Special session update: Blount lawmakers asking for details

The special legislative session on education opened Tuesday in Nashville, and the Blount County delegation said the governor’s message challenging lawmakers to make bolds steps to change education on both the K-12 level and high education levels didn’t waver much from what he told the Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday.

“It was about as lacking in detail as it was Friday,” State Rep. Joe McCord said.

McCord said one of the most anticipated parts of the speech was the use of the value-added testing to evaluate teacher performance. Currently state law bans using the value-added assessments in evaluating teachers.

“A lot of people expected there would be an announcement in the address,” said McCord. “The governor’s bill, as it is currently written, only deletes that code but doesn’t address the use of (value added) as a percentage of a teacher’s evaluation, nor does it specify whether we in the general assembly are going to be putting that into state law or directing all that authority to the state school board and letting them imply that. He did not really address it.”

State Sen. Doug Overbey echoed McCord’s sentiments. “That certainly is one of the questions we would like to get more information on, as well as how does that apply to faculty members where you don’t have achievement tests like art, guidance counselors, music and orchestra,” Overbey said.

Overbey said the tenant to change of policy to put the state in better position to get Race to the Top federal stimulus funds is something that needs to be examined. “I think at this point we all agree we can’t have business as usual,” Overbey said. “We need to closely examine the proposal laid out before us and assure that these proposals will be taking us to the top.”

State Rep. Bob Ramsey said the governor said it is not about the money but more about being committed to improving our education system. “Which we definitely are,” said Ramsey, “but the decisions we make here far surpass any financial benefit from Race to the Top proceeds. These changes in law are going to be permanent, and we need to make adequate evaluation and evaluate all input that impacts the learning of these children.”

McCord said the governor said if the state received $485 million, half would be dispersed to Title I schools and half would be spent on science, technology, engineering and math subjects.

Overbey said the governor’s bill also seeks to place greater emphasis on community colleges. “With Blount County having the new Pellissippi State campus, I think it’s a very exciting concept,” he said.

Overbey said he also liked the governor’s plan to create a new science and energy graduate program partnered with Oak Ridge National Lab because it could lead to innovations. “In Blount County, we have the research and development park,” he said. “I can see innovations coming out of Oak Ridge being manufactured at the R&D park in Blount County.”

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