Lee Harrell, TSBA Director Of Government & Labor Relations 2015-01-20 03:13:39
State legislators reconvened at noon on January 13, 2015, for the first session of the 109th General Assembly. Tennessee’s students, teachers, and administrators have made amazing strides and have elevated the state to become the fastest improving state with graduation rates and performance in math and reading. As an association, we must work to ensure that our successes are recognized and not marginalized by efforts to privatize our public schools. We must work with legislators to keep them informed about all of the good things going on in public schools every day. The following issues will be focal points during this legislative session. Get involved this session, and let us know if you have any questions or if we may be helpful. REASONABLE FEES FOR REQUESTS TO INSPECT RECORDS When a person requests copies of public records, LEAs may charge a reasonable fee for the labor (in excess of one hour) and production of materials. If someone makes a request to inspect records, however, LEAs must make these records available without charge regardless of how many records are requested. Often times, too, LEAs are required to protect identifying information in records which requires copies to be made, information to be redacted, and new copies made. Some requests have taken governmental entities dozens of hours and several staffers to comply. A reasonable fee to cover the costs of reproduction and man-hours involved in these inspections would be very helpful to all governmental entities. While we do not want to create a hurdle or an undue burden on citizens who wish to inspect records, reasonable fees for exceptional requests need to be permitted. At the recent TSBA Convention, delegates discussed this issue, and 94. 82% of participants voted for TSBA to pursue this change in the law. MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT AND SCHOOL BUDGETS While TSBA supports local boards having full financial autonomy, such proposals have not been popular among legislators. As such, we are constantly looking for ways to provide additional control and decision-making to local boards with their budgets. One such way is to remove the role of funding bodies when a local board is just seeking the funds required through the maintenance of effort laws. State law requires local legislative bodies to maintain their funding efforts by at least funding the school system at the amount it did the prior year. Despite this funding requirement, there are boards that face budget battles each year while simply requesting what the law requires. While the responsibility for developing the budget and individual line items rests with the board, through this process, funding bodies often influence and alter proposed budgets. When a board simply requests the funds that the law requires of the local legislative body, the budget should be deemed approved. Currently, following the adoption of a budget by a local legislative body, the Department of Education reviews the budget to ensure that it passes the maintenance of effort test. With this change, the Department would review the budget following the adoption by the board. At the recent Convention, 96. 02% of participants voted for TSBA to pursue this change in the law. AUTHORIZER FEES FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS Under current law, local boards are authorized to charge an application fee of $500 per charter application. This fee, however, does not come close to covering the actual costs of being an effective authorizer. School officials must review a very long application which requires expertise in curriculum, federal programs, instruction, etc. They must also then provide sufficient oversight to ensure that the provisions of the charter agreement are followed and that students are receiving the appropriate services. In order to address the costs of providing such reviews and oversight, most states provide for an authorizer fee for charter schools. An LEA retains a small percentage of the appropriations earmarked for charter schools, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recommends such fees and includes such provisions in its model law. The major issue with the enactment of a fee is determining what percentage to charge. We anticipate that this item will be the focus of debate this session, not a philosophical one regarding a fee. This change would enable local boards to more effectively review applications, seek applications, and provide appropriate oversight of charter schools. At the recent TSBA Convention, 95.98% of delegates voted for TSBA to pursue this change in the law. SCHOOL VOUCHERS Per our Position Statements, TSBA will again oppose all efforts to fund vouchers for private schools with public dollars. Governor Haslam has proposed a voucher program for the past two years which would target atrisk students in underperforming school districts. With the General Assembly failing to pass it, the Governor may not feel compelled to run the legislation again this year. His support or lack of support may play a big factor in the passage or failure of any voucher proposals. While we are not certain whether or not the Governor will again push his legislation, we absolutely know that other statewide proposals will be introduced. Like many states around the country, Tennessee is seeing a strong push to implement a system of vouchers by outside groups. Groups are flooding into Tennessee and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into political and advertising campaigns. School boards, as well as all other stakeholders with the same position, must be active to combat these efforts. Speak to the organizations and community groups in your area and present a unified front on this issue to your local legislators. TUITION DISCOUNTS FOR CHILDREN OF SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS School board members run for office for the privilege of improving educational opportunities for students in Tennessee. Often times, these men and women serve with little to no compensation. To recognize their dedication and to show our appreciation, school board members should receive the benefit of a tuition discount for their dependent children similar to what educators and other groups of citizens receive. At the recent TSBA Convention, 59.84% of delegates voted for TSBA to pursue this change in the law. With the relatively low number of school board members statewide and only a percentage of those with children who would be eligible, this nominal benefit would go a long way in expressing our gratitude for their public service. YOUR ROLE IS VITAL Your advocacy efforts have steadily increased over the past several years, and we truly appreciate you. With so many outside groups and outside dollars pouring into Tennessee, we have to continue to work together on behalf of the public school students across the state. Please recognize and embrace the impact that you may have in the legislative process. Work together, form coalitions, and get to know your legislators personally. Please let me know how we may assist you with your legislative activities, and thanks again for your participation. INSTANT UPDATES Looking for instant feedback from Capitol Hill? Check out the @TSBA_Onthehill Twitter feed. Follow the feed for timely legislative updates and calls of action.
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