Recently, we wrapped up one of the most successful legislative sessions in Tennessee history. The first legislative session of the 107th General Assembly was focused on passing common-sense initiatives to aid both immediate and long-term economic development in Tennessee’s private sector.
Measures to ensure employers find Tennessee an attractive destination for their businesses, protect jobs for Tennesseans and reinvigorate the state’s education system to better train the next generation of Tennessee workers were among our priorities. We worked hard this year to ensure the state continues to foster an environment where new jobs are created and small business can thrive.
With conservative members at the helm, the Legislature finished its work in record time. This was the earliest conclusion for a legislative session in 13 years.
Following adjournment, the House Majority leader stated, “I want to thank my colleagues for a job well done. With Gov. Haslam, the House and Senate working seamlessly together, we passed a forward-thinking agenda that improves our educational system, provides an even better environment for jobs to flourish and reduces our state budget by $1.2 billion.”
The governor remarked, “I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together this session and adjourning this early in May reflects legislative leadership’s commitment to conducting its business in an efficient and effective manner — something I believe will be a trademark of this leadership. I have enjoyed working with Lt. Gov. Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick to help make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, and I look forward to building upon the progress and work we have done this session.”
We ushered through a fiscally conservative state budget that embodies the principles of Tennesseans. The balanced budget contained no tax increases and reduced Tennessee’s overall spending by $1.2 billion from last year.
Myself and other members of the House promised Tennesseans that fiscal responsibility would be a priority. The budget we crafted scales back government while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect. This document stretches every penny to ensure the state remains fiscally healthy moving forward. The House has taken care to not overextend the state or commit taxpayers to outrageous long-term outlays.
The final $30.8 billion budget also reflected responsible investments, reductions and savings, including:
n $1 million in recurring funds to soften the impact of the Hall Income Tax on seniors;
n A 1.6 percent salary increase for state employees — the first in four years;
n Restoring $70.4 million to the Rainy Day Fund for the first time in three years;
n $3.8 billion to fully fund the BEP, including a $48.7 million increase for K-12 education;
n $71.3 million for disaster relief resulting from recent storms and flooding; and
n $10 million for the Memphis Research Consortium.
reform agenda rolls
Under conservative leadership for the first time in history, Tennessee took a strong stand this legislative session by reforming an education system in dire need of change.
Far too many rankings have shown Tennessee has fallen far behind other states when it comes to equipping children with the knowledge and training they need to succeed. Several key reforms were adopted that will have a positive impact on Tennessee for years to come.
The core principles of these reform initiatives are promoting student achievement and encouraging teacher excellence throughout Tennessee. In the long term, leaders of the House believe these initiatives will lead to a better trained workforce for the state.
Many representatives believe if Tennessee is going to become the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs, it is critical that we improve education. Businesses are looking to compete with employees educated for the 21st century workplace. It was the goal of the House to make sure Tennessee teachers are equipped with the best tools possible to educate Tennessee students.
During the session, the House officially made much-needed changes to the education tenure law by passing House Bill 2012. The legislation moves tenure for educators from three to five years and links the tenure privilege to revised performance evaluations.
The legislation was a key plank in the governor’s call for education reform and he immediately signed the legislation upon receiving it. The legislation is part of a targeted package to bring accountability to education and, more importantly, make student achievement the top priority for Tennessee.
Another major reform sent to the governor’s desk for signing will have far-reaching, positive effects on education in Tennessee. House Bill 1989 removes the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and opens enrollment to more students. The bill has long been a top priority for many representatives who have been longtime champions of accessibility to a quality education for all Tennesseans.
“Creating an environment that promotes the growth of high quality charter schools provides parents with more education options for their children and school districts’ innovative tools to address their unique challenges,” stated the governor. “In our mission to improve education and provide every child in Tennessee the opportunity to receive a high quality education, public charter schools are critical assets.”
The sponsor of the legislation remarked, “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this legislation through the General Assembly and present it to Gov. Haslam. Gov. Haslam has a strong vision for education in Tennessee. He believes we must promote student achievement and reward teaching excellence. In the long run, this law will ensure all children in Tennessee are equipped with the knowledge and skills they will need to make Tennessee a more dynamic and competitive economy.”
After many hours of debate, an agreement was reached that takes away the mandatory authority of unions in education and instead allows all Tennessee teachers to directly take part in education policy discussions. The Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011 does away with the antiquated model of adversarial mandatory negotiating by the education union and provides a route for every individual teacher to have a voice at the education negotiating table. It opens up direct lines of communication between all education stakeholders so that education policy will reflect the will of teachers, parents and administrators.
In a collaborative environment, all teachers and their invaluable perspectives will be accounted for in curriculum and education policy. Teachers will have direct input about items such as salary and benefits. Under this system, teachers will be viewed on the basis of their achievements in the classroom, not their seniority. Additionally, lines for free flowing communication are established between the directors of school and the professional employees who work for the local board of education — a reform that recognizes the free speech rights of all teachers.
The House majority passed legislation that protects teacher pay from reductions in Tennessee. While local school boards and municipalities face tight budgets along with other government agencies, representatives are committed to making sure our valuable teachers are protected from budget cuts.
The legislation, House Bill 367, simply prohibits any local education agency from lowering teacher salaries without a corresponding change in the teacher’s duties or lowering the amount spent for teacher benefits from one school year to the next.