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From the Hill: Lawmakers hear update on ‘Race to the Top’ funds application

By State Rep. Matt Hill

I want to start out this week’s column by saying “thank you” to everyone who attended my town hall meetings last week. I enjoyed listening to comments and input as session in Nashville is in full swing. If you were unable to come out, please do not hesitate to contact me with any concerns or questions you might have.
In session news, a bill that will protect the voting process from fraud and abuse was presented in the House Election Subcommittee last week.
House Bill 270 will require that voter registration forms carry a disclaimer that clarifies giving false information to register to vote carries a criminal penalty, and also requires that the applicant affirm that they are lawfully in the United States. An amendment was offered, and the bill was discussed by the committee. It is expected to be up for a vote this week.
Another measure presented in the House Elections Subcommittee would make it easier for troops overseas to vote absentee. House Bill 2799 would allow election commissions to email ballots that troops could then print and return by mail.
Currently, election administrators mail the ballots overseas and do not utilize electronic means.
The legislation hit a roadblock in the Elections Subcommittee last year, as the bill failed on a party line vote.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Pew Research Center for People and Press reports that one-third of states do not allow enough time for overseas voters, listing Tennessee as one of 16 states that sent ballots after the date necessary for voters to meet deadlines. Last year, at least seven states enacted legislation to authorize some form of electronic transmission. The committee will vote on the bill this week.
A bill that will prohibit certain local entities from requiring nutritional labeling on menus will now become law. The law was passed last year by both the House and Senate but was then vetoed by the Governor. The legislation was filed as several states, municipalities and cities began considering laws that mandated chain restaurants put calories and other nutritional information on menus.
Lawmakers arguing in favor of the bill say that mandating chain restaurants to put certain nutritional information on menus places an unnecessary burden on restaurant owners in an already struggling economy and creates an atmosphere that is unfriendly to business owners.
They also argue that often, the laws are selective, targeting only large restaurant chains. In addition, if every city enacted something different, large or even medium-sized companies would have difficulty in following the laws properly.
The legislation was amended to prohibit non-elected bodies from making the decision to require nutritional information on menus, such as a local Board of Health. It also specifies that if the federal government passes legislation requiring menu labeling and the federal action specifically authorizes state departments to enforce such action, then the Tennessee Department of Health will be the department that is primarily responsible for the implementation and supervision of the new requirements.
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) released a summary of the state’s ‘Race to the Top’ (RTTT) application, taking a straightforward look at the key points in the document. The summary mirrors the application and breaks it down into seven sections: governance and oversight; standards and assessments; data systems; teachers and leaders; low-performing schools; STEM; and budget.
If Tennessee wins the RTTT funds, districts will have 90 days to submit a plan outlining how they will locally implement the program. The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development (TN CRED) will be created, and will identify best practices and research the impact of the RTTT grant.
By 2010, the application specifies that Common Core Standards will be adopted and are to be closely related to the Tennessee Diploma Project. The application also explains how the training programs for teachers and administrators are to be set up, and includes other details on professional development.
The state’s current data system, the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) was considered by lawmakers to be one of its strongest areas in relation to other states. The application goes one step further, in expanding the ‘data dashboard’ that is used by teachers and principles to see students’ data.
Part of the grant will be used to attract teachers to subjects that are currently experiencing a shortage of quality teachers.
In addition, the state will create a 15-member Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee to develop new ideas in relation to the way teachers are evaluated, based on a number of measures.
Finally, the application addresses low-performing schools, breaking them into three subgroups: focus schools, renewal schools, and the Achievement School District (ASD).
Those classified as being ‘focus schools’ will use teacher training, consultants, and System Targeted Teams to improve. Renewal schools will require more intervention and are required to partner with a private provider, higher education organization, or a collaboration of non-profits on a strategy to turn the school around.
The ASD will be run by the Tennessee Department of Education and will be “persistently low-achieving schools” which need the most attention. Currently 13 schools are ASD eligible.
The application was submitted last month after the legislature wrapped a special session on education to compete against other states across the nation for the federal government’s ‘Race to the Top’ funding. Grant recipients will be notified by the end of March.
House Bill 2789, introduced last week, would create a violent juvenile sexual offender registry. The bill passed out of the House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee.
The House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee is expected to take up DUI ignition interlock legislation.
House Bill 2768 would require a device to be attached to the vehicle of certain DUI offenders and will only operate if the offenders have not consumed alcohol.