Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Jackson Sun on Congress passing the Every Student Succeeds Act
We are encouraged by the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act this month by Congress.
We are encouraged not only about the act itself, but by the bipartisan vote that led to President Obama signing it into law. We are encouraged that lawmakers from both parties were willing to compromise to achieve a common goal: Replace No Child Left Behind.
It seems most everyone agreed No Child Left Behind needed to be changed. It expired in 2007 but remained an issue because Congress was unable to approve revisions. That changed this year.
Every Student Succeeds was approved in an 85-12 vote in the Senate and a 359-64 vote in the House. It received praise from both conservatives and liberals and was approved by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well.
The new law reduces the federal government’s involvement in setting standards for school systems and its role in punishing schools that fail to make achievement goals. The law prohibits the federal government from mandating Common Core or other academic standards, leaving that to the states.
Every Student Succeeds still maintains provisions to keep states from adopting less challenging educational plans. It also requires states to act to improve the bottom 5 percent of schools, schools with graduation rates below 67 percent and schools that consistently fail to show educational success to certain subgroups of students.
Tennessee has a record of working to improve its schools, to implement challenging standards and to hold educators accountable for their success in the classroom. We don’t need the federal government looking over our shoulder in these areas.
In large part, we can credit the passage of Every Student Succeeds to Tennessee’s own Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Alexander was among those who compromised to make the bill a reality. He said he would have preferred measures that would have given even more local control of schools.
“But I took the advice of a president named Reagan and supported getting 80 percent of what I wanted,” Alexander said in a column.
We congratulate Alexander for his efforts to bring this change for the betterment of Tennessee and the rest of the country.
The Knoxville News Sentinel on the stewardship of parks, roads:
So much for outsourcing the operation of state parks, at least for now. Private vendors found 11 Tennessee parks to be in such bad shape they didn’t want to touch them.
This privatization initiative wasn’t the big one Gov. Bill Haslam is exploring. This was an earlier plan to have companies take over the hospitality operations at some relatively remote parks: Cumberland Mountain, David Crockett, Fall Creek Falls, Harrison Bay, Henry Horton, Montgomery Bell, Natchez Trace, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing, Tims Ford and Warriors’ Park.
The proposal was launched before the administration disclosed it also was exploring outsourcing the management of facilities at college campuses, prisons and armories. The governor hasn’t said yet whether he will move forward with that plan.
The failure to attract bids to manage the 11 parks may not say much about the grander outsourcing plan. But it says a lot about the state’s care of its resources.
During budget hearings earlier this month, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation asked for $55 million to fix up the parks to make them acceptable to private vendors.
Brock Hill, a deputy commissioner of the Environment and Conservation Department, said after the hearings that prospective vendors who toured the parks were “shocked, to some degree, that they were in as bad shape as they were.”
“They hadn’t been reinvested in to the degree they should have been over the last few decades,” he said.
The governor has blamed the dilapidated condition of the facilities on tough financial times.
“People tend to put off a lot of those things until better times,” he said, “until you actually have to fix that roof because it’s leaking.”
But maintenance of the parks has been neglected for years and years, through good times and bad.
That’s just lousy stewardship.
It’s the same problem we’re seeing with Tennessee’s roads and highways. Earlier this year, Haslam barnstormed the state with a 39-page stack of projects that need to be done but can’t be started until 2022 because of a lack of money. The total cost of all the state’s backlogged road projects is $6.1 billion, according to the Department of Transportation.
The solution is laughably simple. Tennessee’s gas tax - 21.4 cents per gallon - hasn’t been increased since 1989. That’s the year the Berlin Wall came down and the World Wide Web was invented.
Because of inflation, overall prices have doubled since then. So the state gas tax is now the equivalent of less than 12 cents a gallon in 1989 dollars. The diesel tax - 18.4 cents per gallon - is even more ridiculously low.
At the same time, a world oil glut has driven gasoline prices to less than $1.75 a gallon in Tennessee. Drivers wouldn’t even notice a small bump in cost.
Yet lawmakers are terrified of losing their conservative credentials - and thus re-election in 2016 - if they restore any of the diminished gas tax. Instead, they are going to kick the can down the road this coming session and continue to skimp on infrastructure investment.
Since when did poor stewardship become a conservative value?
The Johnson City Press on the state’s public records law:
What the people don’t know WILL hurt them.” That statement has appeared on this page for more than 50 years. It’s more than a motto. It is a concise summation of what happens when government is allowed to conduct the public’s business behind closed doors, or when government officials attempt to close public records.
It also describes what happens when a governing body which seeks to place a barrier between public records and the citizens who seek to inspect them.
Tennessee’s public records law was passed in 1957 and requires government officials to grant full access to public records to every citizen of this state. The measure directs the courts to construe the act broadly “so as to give the fullest possible access to public records.”
While the courts have said public officials can charge reasonable fees for copying public records, local governments can’t charge fees for allowing inspection of a public record.
The Tennessee School Boards Association wants to change that. The organization is pushing passage of legislation to allow local school districts to charge a citizen for simply viewing a public document.
This is a terrible idea and one that runs counter to the principles of open and honest government. State lawmakers tabled the TSBA proposal earlier this year so they could study the issue. In addition, the state’s Office of Open Records Counsel held public hearings this summer in Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson to hear what state residents have to say on the subject. For the record, citizens overwhelmingly expressed opposition to a fee to inspect their public records.
In addition, a recent poll conducted by Vanderbilt University in Nashville found 85 percent of Tennesseans are also opposed to such an inspection fee.
Examining public records under the current law is not as easy as it should be. Tennessee’s public records law ranks 44th in the nation because aggrieved citizens are sometimes forced to engage in costly litigation to inspect public records and documents.
Citizens who face these problems often lack the money or knowledge they need to push an open records claim in court.
There are public officials who apparently feel inconvenienced by the requirements of open government. Many government officials and their deputies either don’t know what their responsibilities are under the Open Records Act, or simply don’t care.
Instead of making it more difficult for Tennesseans to inspect their public records, we urge members of the state General Assembly do something about this by requiring all public service employees be properly trained in the nuts and bolts of the state’s open records law.
Secrecy serves to breed suspicion on the part of citizens and undermines a public official’s ability to govern effectively.
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