Republicans Focus On Jobs, Education, Opioids; Adjourn In Timely Manner
In the final few days of this year’s legislative session, the House of Representatives passed Tennessee’s annual budget with a near-unanimous vote. The bill’s passage and the official adjournment was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget.
The $37.5 billion budget builds on previous legislative priorities by making strategic and thoughtful investments across state government. Because of the conservative fiscal choices lawmakers have made over the last several years, Tennessee currently ranks as the lowest taxed and lowest debt state in the entire nation.
When Republicans became the General Assembly’s majority party, Tennesseans asked for fiscal responsibility to be a priority looking forward. The 2018-2019 budget holds true to that principle while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect from state government.
As other states struggle with out-of-control spending and growing debt, Republicans in Tennessee have made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs. Since Republicans took control of state government in 2011, over 400,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee. Additionally, the state has experienced its lowest unemployment rates in Tennessee’s 222-year history while students have become the fastest-improving in the nation across math, reading, and science.
With the second half of the 110th General Assembly now in the books, the House Republican Caucus is ready to continue advocating for conservative policies to carry forward this year’s efforts into the next legislative session.
House Republicans Renew Commitment To Tennessee Teachers, Students, And Schools
Before completing business for the year, House Republicans renewed their commitment to Tennessee’s teachers, students, and schools in a successful effort to ensure they are held completely harmless in the wake of last week’s TNReady testing problems.
Wednesday night, House members passed House Bill 75 and House Bill 2426 with unanimous support from lawmakers. The measures hold teachers and students completely harmless for failures of this year’s TNReady tests and specify that no adverse action may be taken against any student, teacher, school, or local education agency based, in whole or in part, on student achievement data generated from the 2018 TNReady assessments.
In an unprecedented move, lawmakers joined together in a bipartisan effort to hold the recently passed 2018-2019 budget in the House and not allow it to go to the Governor desk to be signed into law in an effort to encourage members of the Senate to join them in safeguarding all involved parties from being penalized for the latest round of issues involving the state’s standardized testing system.
The fight to protect students and teachers followed three days of problems tied to TNReady’s online testing platform, the most significant of which occurred earlier in the week when the Department of Education reported its testing vendor had experienced a cyber-attack on its computer system. The day before and after this attack, many students were unable to log into or complete their tests. These tests are vitally important to students, teachers, and schools across Tennessee because they count for large portions of final student grades as well as final teacher evaluations and school rankings.
Advocates Praise Passage Of Legislation Protecting Tennessee Children
Safety advocates this week praised passage of five bills that help protect Tennessee school children from educator sexual misconduct. The bills were filed after several weaknesses were revealed in a Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury report earlier this year.
All five bills passed on the House floor with bipartisan support. They include:
- House Bill 2165 — Clarifies the appropriate boundaries that should exist between educators and their students by adding new language to the Tennessee Teacher Code of Ethics. Requires school districts to conduct annual training on the Code of Ethics and its requirements.
- House Bill 2009 — Clarifies the State Board’s authority to take a range of disciplinary actions against the licenses of educators for misconduct violations. Requires Directors of Schools to report certain offenses or allegations to the Tennessee Department of Education.
- House Bill 2433 — Prohibits school districts from entering into nondisclosure agreements with employees who have committed sexual misconduct regarding a student.
- House Bill 2099 — Requires the State Board of Education to post all final disciplinary actions taken by the Board on educator licenses. Also requires the Board to develop policies concerning the transmission of its final disciplinary actions against an educator’s license to a national clearinghouse.
- House Bill 1997 — Requires all public schools and child care programs to ensure criminal background checks are completed every five years for all educators or any other employee whose job requires them to work with or near school children. Additionally, if Tennessee is accepted into a national program, public schools and child care programs would instead be required to participate in the FBI “Rap Back” program, which provides continual notifications directly to districts of any criminal history reported to the FBI after an employee is hired.
Having completed its business for the year, the second session of the 110th General Assembly is now complete. One General Assembly is comprised of two sessions, with the next meeting of the body set to begin on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, at high noon.