In Brief: February 8, 2019

Vocational Education / GIVE Act — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE), to expand access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee students.  Senate Bill 805 is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. The program provides funding for high school juniors and seniors to utilize four, fully-funded dual enrollment credits for trade and technical programs. Previously, high school students had access to only two fully-funded dual enrollment credits. Two grant programs will fund the initiative: GIVE Community Grants and GIVE Student Grants. Using the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) framework, the governor will recommend new funding to support work-based learning through GIVE Community Grants. GIVE Student Grants will be funded via the Tennessee Lottery and support expanded access to dual enrollment.

Early Education Caucus seeks to boost lifelong student achievement— The Tennessee General Assembly has formed a bipartisan House and Senate caucus to exclusively focus on early education policy as a key strategy to improve Tennessee’s public education system. The Early Education Caucus (EEC) will work with State of Tennessee administration and departments of Education, Health and Human Services to establish a high-quality statewide framework to improve early learning. The initiative is a long-term strategy to boost students’ lifelong academic achievement and enhance state workforce development.  The group plans to meet regularly during and outside of the legislative session and anticipates hearing expert testimony on a wide-range of early education issues.

Relative Caregivers / Notice of Resources – On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to help relative caregivers receive information about resources and funding available  to help care for a child or children under their guardianship. Senate Bill 12 directs the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to distribute information on resources available to relative caregivers to the administrative office of the courts (AOC), which will then distribute the information to each court within the state that issues orders regarding child custody or guardianship, and the courts are directed to notify the relative caregivers about available financial resources. Relative caregivers do not receive the same financial benefits that foster parents receive. However, often relative caregivers are grandparents or older relatives with a fixed income and can be burdened by the cost to unexpectedly care for children. In Tennessee, over 77,000 minor children are raised by relative caregivers over the age of 60. 

State of education in Tennessee — State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) President, David Mansouri, testified before the Senate Education Committee this week regarding student progress since 2007 when Tennessee received an “F” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  SCORE is an independent advocacy and research institution founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2009.  Mansouri said education in Tennessee has come a long way, as measured by the Nation’s Report Card from 2011-2016, due to foundational, student-centered policies which have enabled success.  Tennessee advanced in national ranking from 46th to 25th in fourth-grade math, 41st to 30th in eighth-grade reading, and 30th to 19th in fourth-grade science.  In addition, last year Tennessee students gained the highest ACT scores in Tennessee history, at 20.2, closing in on the state’s goal of bringing student averages to a 21 on the standardized exam by 2020.  Mansouri said that despite this progress, there is room for improvement due to flatlined growth and a drop in fourth grade math.   He also outlined areas of opportunity, including college and career readiness.  Legislation enhancing career education will be a topic for Education Committee members in the coming weeks.

Inmate Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs — The State and Local Government Committee convened Tuesday to further learn about the Tennessee Department of Correction’s (TDOC) rehabilitation and reentry programs. Commissioner Tony Parker and Assistant Commissioner Ed Welch said the program works with approximately 21,000 inmates and 76,000 parolees to reduce recidivism in Tennesssee.  Previously TDOC has waited until the end of an inmate’s sentence to begin reentry programs. However, due to the risk and needs assessment established in the Public Safety Act, passed in 2016, TDOC is able to offer rehabilitative and reentry services starting day one. In the rehabilitative process, the first step offered is commonly clinical services, which includes mental health programs, behavioral health intervention, and substance abuse recovery. Other programs focus on preparing and supporting Tennessee’s incarcerated population such as transition centers which helps inmates with life skills and employment. Other programs named in the presentation were TDOC School District which provides academic, career, and technical education to inmates. TDOC educates over 4,000 students to prepare them for the workforce. Through these employment and education programs the inmates are able to give back to many rural communities and put their lives back on the right track.

Virtual Public School Act Extension — Legislation extending the state’s Virtual Public School Act until 2023 was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week.  The legislature passed the Virtual Public School Act in 2011. The act defines virtual schools as public schools that use technology to educate their students using the internet in an online or remote setting. Under this law, virtual schools must adhere to the same laws as traditional public schools on curriculum standards, class size, length of school year, regular student assessments, and teacher qualifications. Tennessee school districts can start and manage their own virtual schools or can contract with a nonprofit or for-profit entity for curriculum services.  The intent of Senate Bill 20 is to ensure that virtual public schools operating in the state are providing quality education to students enrolled in their programs.  The Department of Education has experienced difficulties in collecting reliable data in the schools due to TNReady testing issues.  The bill will give the state’s Department of Education an additional four years to collect the data in order to thoroughly assess student progress in the schools.

Tennessee Surgical Quality Collaborative — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard testimony this week regarding the Tennessee Surgical Quality Collaborative (TSQC), which is a project of 22 Tennessee hospitals seeking to measure and improve the care of surgical patients throughout the state.  The Collaborative, which studies the “best practices” within Tennessee hospitals for shared learning, reviewed 27,000 cases in 2017.  TSQC Chairman Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told committee members that Tennessee rates among the top 10 percent in the nation for surgery outcomes.  The collaborative’s objective is to reduce medical errors, improve patient safety, reduce costs, and deliver quality health outcomes to benefit all Tennesseans.

Government Operations Extends Life of Nine Governmental Entities — The Senate Government Operations Committee voted this week to extend the life of nine state government entities, including the State Historical Commission, Tennessee Wars Commission, and Southern States Energy Board.  The committee also voted to continue the Southern States Nuclear Compact, a non-profit organization founded to enhance economic development through innovations in energy and environmental programs, policies, and technologies. The Senate Government Operations Committee will review 56 state governmental entities which are due to sunset in 2019.  Sunset refers to the automatic termination of a government department, agency or program at the end of a specified time period unless it is reauthorized by the legislature.  The idea is to cut excess government spending by holding state agencies accountable through a periodic review.  The review also ensures state government entities are efficiently completing their mission.  

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