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Textbook content may bubble into a debate

Almost halfway through this session of the 108th General Assembly, bills are beginning to die, be put on hold, or slip out of committee and onto the Senate and House floors for a full vote.

During the monthly legislative update, hosted by the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Dave Crouch, Williamson County’s four legislators provided an update on several bills of particular interest to county residents.

Wine in grocery stores, charter schools and the overhaul of workman’s compensation were updated but the introduction of a topic during the question-and-answer session not being discussed on Capitol Hill – textbook adoption – may soon become an issue with lawmakers.

Reading several excerpts from her son’s AP Geography book, “Human Geography, the Introduction to the Cultural Landscape,” Julie West, the mother of a Franklin High freshman, said she was deeply concerned about the content of textbooks being used in county classrooms. The books “denounced capitalism, promoted Islam and taught students that Jews – or Zionists as the book calls them – are guilty of ethnic cleansing.”

West addressed legislators after she was told the school district follows a curriculum set by the state and chooses textbooks from a list of books recommended by the state. Those choices are limited primarily because there are only three major textbook companies in the United States, she said.

“It’s a state issue, not a local issue,” Dr. Mike Looney, WCS superintendent, told legislators.

“This is the first time the textbook issue has come to my attention,” said Rep. Glen Casada. “I do intend to pull you and others together and get this stuff pulled from our books in Tennessee.”

Now that the guns-in-vehicles issue was signed by the governor affirming concealed carry permit holders may legally stow a gun in their vehicle at their place of business, the new hot topic in the General Assembly, wine in grocery stores is the talk of the town after some political drama in the House.

In a surprise move that even caught the seasoned speaker of the house off guard, the wine in grocery stores bill died in the Local Government House committee. Speaker Beth Harwell was on hand in case she was needed to break a tie. But the bill was shot down by committee chair, Rep. Matthew Hill, for what was largely a technicality.

“Chances are it will come back up,” Casada said.

Any representative on the committee who voted “no” can bring it up. “There’s a 50-50 chance – probably higher – that it will come back up for a vote,” Casada said. “It bothers me we lost this vote. The speaker was extremely upset, but there are times when things that seem dead seem to resurrect.”

Two of the governor’s key projects are charter schools and addressing workman’s compensation. Both local school boards publicly voiced disfavor with the bill. With Tennessee ranked 46th nationally in education, “We’re going to have to do something,” said Johnson. Williamson County, however, by all objective standards is the strongest in the state at educating its children.

When questioned, Casada said he supported the governor’s bill because it provides a degree of competition to public schools and it empowers parents.

“Any entity cannot meet every need,” Casada said. “Out of 27,000 kids in Williamson County schools, if a handful of needs can’t be met, there is a need [for a charter school].”

Looney said the resources are already in place to meet such needs.

“Williamson County does have an option – Middle College High School has 150 kids,” he said. “That school is doing well and I believe it offers competition.”

Looney’s opposition is largely financial, as charter schools would divert funds his system would otherwise receive.

Rep. Jeremy Durham said he hadn’t made up his mind about charter schools, but his philosophy is parents have the right to educate children – not the government.

“Charter schools are public schools set up by the state,” Sargent said. “We are looking at the bills very carefully. I am concerned if there is a loss of income for Williamson County Schools.”

The governor’s proposal would allow charter schools to appeal to a state authority should a school system not support it within their boundaries. Johnson voiced concern about the parameters boards have to deny a charter school.

“It’s counter-intuitive,” he said. “We need to improve [statewide] and we need to maintain dialog with Williamson County where we have two of the best school systems in the nation. Our dilemma – helping failing schools across the state while protecting Williamson County.”

Haslam is also pushing hard for a change in the laws that govern workman’s compensation.

“There is a high degree of unpredictability in the current law,” Johnson said. “It becomes a race to the courthouse when a claim is filed; that’s not a good way to do workman’s comp … When businesses are looking at coming to Tennessee, we don’t rate very well when it comes to workman’s comp.”

Posted on: 3/22/2013


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