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Looney proposes legislation to ease high performing schools compliance with state regulations

In his latest initiative, Williamson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney is courting local legislators to embrace relaxed regulations for high performing schools in Tennessee.

According to Looney, the legislation would allow flexibility with the regulations public schools are required to follow. The legislation aims to offer benefits similar to charter schools when a school maintains the state-defined high performance level.

“This proposal is meant to find a way to reward districts that do really well,” said the bill’s author, Bill Squires. “The bill outlines discrete criteria that provides a quality of life benefit to high performing school districts.”

Squires is the Williamson County schools attorney.

“This is good law,” said Looney. “It is earned autonomy for school districts that have a proven track record and that have done a good job.”

Looney explained that there is much debate surrounding charter schools and proposed vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“There is not debate about the good job that we are doing in Williamson County,” he said.

In comparison, he said, “One would assume that if a school district is doing equally as good, in our case better, than a charter school in educating the boys and girls, shouldn’t we be allowed the same flexibility?”

Charter schools are comprised of primary and secondary schools that receive public funds and may also benefit from private funding. Though they are subject to some of the regulations that apply to public schools, they have greater flexibility than public schools. Charter schools are populated by students who attend them by choice and these schools are expected to adhere to a predetermined list of results.

The legislation proposed by Looney and the district’s legal staff is “an act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, to enact the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act.” The proposed legislation is an amendment which ads five new sections.

Strict adherence to funding mechanisms and budgetary reporting structures are required by public schools. A new-teacher evaluation process was introduced at the state level within the last two years – the process has, according to district administrators, put an increased workload on school administrators.

According to the proposed legislation, once a public school system attains high performing school district status, the designation shall last for three consecutive years. To declare a school district as “high performing,” they will have to meet at least three of the following: graduation rate of 90 percent or higher, exhibit an average ACT score of 21 or higher, TCAP three-year average composite Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE) of 55 or higher, a TVAAS three-year composite NCE gain of 1.75 or higher, or display both achievement and gap closure Annual Measurable Objectives have been met and receives an “exemplary” or similar status from the Department of Education.

If enacted, high performing schools would not need permission from the local funding body – in this instance, the Williamson County Commission – to re-appropriate funds between major categories of its budget as deemed necessary or to use un-appropriated fund balance to fund operational expenses. High-performing systems would also be eligible to request from the Department of Education an alternative teacher evaluation system from the one required nationally. They would also be able to add educational days to the district’s school calendar as long as the minimum number of school days is met.

The following regulations, statutes and rules would not be subject to change because they afford the same protections for all students whether in public or charter schools: federal and state civil rights; federal, state and local health and safety; federal and state public records, immunizations; possession of weapons on school grounds; background checks and fingerprinting of personnel; federal and state special education services; student due process; parental rights; federal and state student assessment and accountability; open meetings; and at least the same equivalent time of instruction as required in regular public schools.

According to Looney, the measure has received favorable feedback from the Williamson County legislative delegation and from some Williamson County Commissioners. He expects additional discussion and some potential changes to the draft in the coming days.

Posted on: 1/30/2013


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