- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Jan. 12

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on packing public dollars off to private school:

Legislation to allow referendums on wine sales in grocery stores may be the toast of the General Assembly session that will convene this week, but education reform is most likely to be the main course.

A whole slate of bills attempting to alter the landscape inhabited by children in grades K-12 will be forwarded. The minds of the kids are just part of what’s at stake. As a Tennessean report last week detailed, there also are hundreds of thousands of dollars in political-action money in play, as out-of-state reform advocates see opportunity in a legislature controlled by a conservative supermajority.

Reformers also are gravitating to Tennessee because of its surprising National Assessment of Education Program test results last fall, with student scores that seem to validate the direction of educational change.

Most of the legislation is about allowing more school choice to students and their families. And just as some proposals in past years held great promise, others just don’t pass the smell test. An example of the former is the orderly expansion of charter schools that augment public schools; an example of the latter: vouchers.

Gov. Bill Haslam last year floated a limited plan for vouchers that he felt compelled to withdraw when lawmakers in his own party thought the plan did not go far enough to shift public taxpayer dollars to be spent on children attending private schools.

Haslam’s version at least sought to impose some restraints on vouchers by making them available only to kids from families of four earning $43,000 a year or less. Senate Republicans wanted to raise that threshold to $75,000; at which point the altruistic purpose of vouchers becomes moot, and you are just looking at a way to bleed public schools dry.

But even the governor’s plan lacks a reliable model to look to for guidance. Vouchers are not working in the way they are supposed to work.

Vouchers are not the answer to Tennessee’s education challenges. They are a diversion from the real work that needs to be done, setting higher standards for public schools throughout the state.




Jan. 13

The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer on gun control struggle a constitutional one:

Didn’t we fight the Civil War over whether federal law prevails over states’ rights?

Now, conservative lawmakers in several states are attempting to organize defiance of certain federal laws, beginning with gun control. Their idea is that if enough states band together, they can overwhelm Uncle Sam’s enforcement power.

A measure introduced last week in the Missouri Legislature seeks to prevent some federal gun control regulations from being enforced. State law enforcement officers who attempt to enforce the federal rules would be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

That body came within one vote of passing a similar measure last year. This year’s proposal, The Associated Press reported, delays the effective date of the rebellious rules to give other states time to join the cause.

Sounding for all the world like a Confederate organizer, one Missouri senator said, “We continue to see the federal government overreach their rightful bounds, and if we can create a situation where we have some unity among states, then I think it puts us in a better position to make that argument.”

Courts have consistently ruled that states do not have the power to nullify federal laws, but that doesn’t keep the restless from trying.

Last year, for example, a federal appeals court struck down a 2009 Montana law that would bar federal regulation of guns that are made in that state and which remain within its borders.

Open defiance is not the right path. The proper arena for this struggle is neither Fort Sumter nor the Supreme Court, but Congress. Obviously, many Americans sympathize with the objection to gun control laws, so let their elected representatives sort this out, using the procedure spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.




Jan. 10

Jackson (Tenn.) Sun on shooting at Liberty is a warning we must heed:

The unfortunate incident of a student being shot at Liberty Technology Magnet High School on Thursday serves notice that no community is immune to such tragic school violence. We must increase our awareness of the possibility of such incidents, redouble our efforts to improve school campus security, and provide teachers and school employees with training that can help them identify dangerous circumstances and fully prepare them to face such incidents.

Shortly after classes were dismissed on Thursday, a 16-year-old student at Liberty allegedly shot a 17-year-old student in the thigh. The shooting took place outside of the school, but on school property. The 16-year-old was quickly identified and apprehended by police after the incident. The shooting victim was hospitalized with what was reported to be a non-life-threatening injury.

Needless to say, the community is shocked by this incident. It appears that school officials acted within the scope of outlined school policy regarding such an incident. Parents, however, complained that they were largely left in the dark until the incident was fully under control. That, perhaps, is unavoidable, but certainly worth evaluating.

Liberty does not have a school resource officer. Liberty administration declined to have one, believing it was not necessary. The facts, however, tell us otherwise. School resource officers should be mandatory, at the very least, in every high school and every middle school.

While the school shooting was a first in Jackson-Madison County, it hardly comes as a surprise. The community has been inundated with shootings. They are reported by law enforcement almost daily. Some appear to be gang related, others seem random, and some, such as the one Friday on East University Parkway, inexplicable. What we do know is that high school age youth have been involved in several shootings, and are involved in gang activity. It was only a matter of time until some of this manifested itself in the school environment.

Here is what we would like to see. …

It is troubling that time and money should have to be spent to keep our students safe from violent acts such as Thursday’s shooting at Liberty. But we have years of tragic stories, from Columbine High in Colorado to Newtown, Conn., that tell us such measures are warranted.

The public, and especially parents, don’t want to see our schools managed with prison-like security or war-zone tactics. But student and school personnel safety must come first. The best way to prevent such a tragedy is to improve school security measures, fully prepare and train staff, engage parents to closely monitor their children, and seek input and help from law enforcement to prevent incidents of school violence before they happen.



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