Dennis addresses school board

By Jeff Whitten

State Rep. Vance Dennis, who represents McNairy and other counties in the state House of Representatives, spoke to the McNairy County School Board at its meeting Thursday.

He briefed the meeting on new educational laws passed by the recent session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The first was HB 130/SB 113, which prohibits collective bargaining between local boards of education from negotiating with teachers’ unions “on the terms and conditions of professional service,” which means pay and working conditions. Collective bargaining is replaced by “collaborative conferencing,” by the legislation, which means the school board will discuss and collaborate on issues such as salary, working conditions, insurance and grievance procedures.

HB 2010/SB 1529 allows students who began receiving lottery scholarships in the fall of 2009 or later to use their lottery scholarships during the summer. The legislation also places a 120-hour cap on lottery funding, except for students in programs that require more than 120 hours for completion.

HB 2012/SB 1528 extends the time for a teacher to get tenure from 3 to 5 years. This law also requires teachers to score in the top two evaluation categories in the two years before they are granted tenure. It allows tenured teachers to be dismissed if their evaluations fall in the “below expectations” or “significantly below expectations” category. Teachers who gain tenure after the law takes effect can lose tenure if they fall in the two lowest categories of their effectiveness evaluations.

HB 1989/SB 874 addresses the topic of charter schools. It removes the cap on charter schools, allows for open enrollment in them and gives preference in the authorization process to charter schools that serve high needs populations.

HB 1030/SB 874 allows local school districts to establish virtual schools. The new law requires that the curriculum of these schools meet state standards. It requires them to provide instructional material and to ensure technology access but prohibits these schools from providing assistance in purchasing these materials. However, it allows them to reimburse for costs to connect to the internet. It requires regular assessment in language arts, math, science and social studies. Teachers in these schools are required to be qualified to teach in Tennessee. School districts may charge tuition to out-of-district students who enroll in a virtual school in that district.

Both Dennis and State Sen. Dolores Gresham, who also represents McNairy and other counties, voted for all of these bills.