Legislative Updates – Pray for America's Leaders

Legislative Updates

Tennessee | August 3, 2021

Tennessee May Need Special Session to Deal With School-Related COVID-19 Matters, Speaker Cameron Sexton Says

Tennessee | August 3, 2021

Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said Monday that it’s time for students to put their virtual learning behind and walk back into their classrooms — without a COVID-19 mask mandate.

And Sexton also said he and other state legislators have a plan to restrain public school district officials who think otherwise.

Sexton announced the news at a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol.

This, after new data revealed falling test scores.

“What this does show is that we must continue to focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also it really does emphasize that students need and must be in in-person learning in the classrooms. I sure hope that a school system in this state, after this data is released, does not shut their schools,” Sexton said.

“If they do then I will ask the governor for legislation to allow those parents in those school districts to take their money through school choice and to go wherever they deem they need to go. There needs to be a message to these school systems that it is unacceptable to close school systems in our state anymore.”

Sexton also said parents alone should decide whether their children will wear masks in schools.

“I sure hope that school systems do not require a mask mandate for those students. If they do then I will ask the governor for a special session. If they close the schools then I will ask the governor for a special session,” Sexton said… (Excerpts from the Tennessee Star)

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Tennessee | June 24, 2021

New Poll Confirms Widespread Support for School Choice

Tennessee | June 24, 2021

A majority of voters support school choice, a new poll from Echelon Insights shows.

Among more than 1,100 registered voters surveyed, 65% support school choice compared to 19% who oppose it, while 16% remain unsure.

The findings were consistent across party lines, with 75% of Republicans, 60% of independents, and 61% of Democrats saying they strongly or somewhat support school choice. Most voters in both parties agree parents should control all or some of the tax dollars they pay for education.

“Public support for school choice is nothing new,” American Federation for Children President and CEO Tommy Schultz said. “This year already, at least a dozen states have enacted new school choice programs or expanded existing programs because they’re recognizing just how popular this issue is amongst K-12 families. We are grateful that lawmakers are listening to the needs of families, but millions of children are still waiting for better options. We will continue fighting for those kids and to empower parents with the funds meant to deliver a high-quality education.”

Among those polled across all racial lines, the overwhelming majority expressed support for school choice, ranging from a low of 64% among whites to a high of 69% among Blacks….

(Excerpts from the Tennessee Star)

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Tennessee | June 18, 2021

Senator Blackburn Introduces Bill to Defund 1619 Project Curriculum

Tennessee | June 18, 2021

This week, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) assisted in the introduction of a bill to prohibit federal funding for schools using the 1619 Project as curriculum. The Saving American History Act also notes that federal funds couldn’t be used by school boards and other local educational agencies to support the teaching of the 1619 Project.

The act explained that the respective secretaries of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Defense, and Interior would determine the cost of teaching the 1619 Project – including planning and teaching time. This determination would come from pre-established formulas. No reductions would affect the free and reduced price school lunch program, or any low-income student programs, or students with disabilities.

“American schools should be a place for education – not indoctrination,” stated Blackburn. “The 1619 Project is based on a false narrative and a stack of untruths and misrepresentations about our country. This state-sponsored, anti-American propaganda must be kept out of the classroom. The Saving American History Act ensures that taxpayer funding will not subsidize the brainwashing of our nation’s future.”

Certain resources approved by the Tennessee Textbook Commission have expressed support of the 1619 Project.

One of the approved publishers, LearnZillion, offers Expeditionary Learning. In April, Expeditionary Learning published an article on George Floyd with the 1619 Project listed as a resource…

(Excerpts from the Tennessee Star)

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Tennessee | June 11, 2021

Tennessee Education Commissioner to Publish Guidance on Critical Race Theory Ban Compliance by August 1

Tennessee | June 11, 2021

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn promised to publish educator guidance on the state’s Critical Race Theory ban by August 1. The ban was first proposed in the Tennessee General Assembly by State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge). The law itself doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory by name, but it does address the theory’s tenets and practices at length.

Schwinn revealed the plan to issue guidance in an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat on Wednesday. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) guidance will also address the question of how the commissioner would uphold the ban, including a complaint evaluation process and financial penalty system. Ragan’s amendment noted that the commissioner would determine how much state funding to withhold for violations.

Educators are also held accountable by the Tennessee Code’s Teacher Code of Ethics. State law requires educators to abide by federal and state laws.

In the interview, Schwinn shared that their department’s legal team and the attorney general’s office are collaborating on the TDOE guidance. Schwinn also clarified that school districts would be responsible for training.

The Tennessee Star inquired with the commissioner’s office whether Schwinn would work with Ragan or other legislators to inform the TDOE guidance, if the guide would be made available to the public upon publication, and if TDOE would distribute a universal guide to all educators or tailor the guide by grade level. They didn’t respond by press time.

As The Star reported, the Tennessee General Assembly effectively banned Critical Race Theory early last month through an eleventh-hour amendment. The amendment prompted a quick back-and-forth between the House and Senate, which necessitated the creation of a conference committee. Ultimately, the committee not only approved the ban – they added onto it…

(Excerpts from the Tennessee Star)

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Tennessee | June 8, 2021

Trial Begins for University of Tennessee, Knoxville Science Professor Allegedly Hiding Chinese Research Affiliations

Tennessee | June 8, 2021

A previously tenured science professor from University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) faced trial Monday for allegedly covering up his research affiliations with China. The professor, Anming Hu, was first indicted last February by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). His trial is a part of the DOJ’s “China Initiative,” an investigative effort by the DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) to identify and prosecute individuals engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, economic espionage, foreign direct investment threats, and supply chain compromises to benefit the Chinese government.

The trial, United States v. Anming Hu, began Monday at 9 a.m. EST in the Eastern. According to court documents, the hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. In addition to facing charges for false statements about his affiliations with the Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), Hu is facing charges of wire fraud.

According to the DOJ press release, Hu was arrested because he didn’t disclose his relationship to BJUT while receiving NASA funding. The press release also noted that UTK cooperated with the investigation.

“This is just the latest case involving professors or researchers concealing their affiliations with China from their American employers and the U.S. government,” stated Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “We will not tolerate it.”

If Hu is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in federal prison with five additional years for each count of false statements and $250,000 for each count of wire fraud…

(Excerpts from the Tennessee Star)

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Tennessee | June 3, 2021

Tennessee Supreme Court to hear arguments Thursday on school-choice program

Tennessee | June 3, 2021

(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday on the legality of a state school-choice pilot program, 16 months after two school districts filed a lawsuit to shut the program down.

State lawmakers narrowly approved a pilot program in 2019 to provide $7,000 scholarships to low-income families in Shelby and Davidson Counties as an alternative to low-performing public schools. The five-year Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program is a signature proposal of Gov. Bill Lee.

In February 2020, weeks before schools in Memphis and Nashville shut down because of COVID-19, the two counties filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Education, claiming the ESA program violates the state constitution. Lower court rulings halted the program’s rollout.

Kay Johnson, executive director of Greater Praise Christian Academy in Memphis, said the program would have been life changing for students like those who attend her school. Johnson and her mother founded Greater Praise in 2003 to change the trajectory of families in Memphis’ Frayser neighborhood. The school serves 81 students who all come from low-income families…

(Excerpts from The Center Square)

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