HomeWorld NewsTN politics: Group launches campaign to oppose school choice … – Tennessean
TN politics: Group launches campaign to oppose school choice … – Tennessean
November 10, 2023
Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment, known as SOCM, has launched a new statewide campaign, dubbed Public School Strong, to advocate against expanding the state’s Education Savings Account voucher program, and against any rejection of federal funding for K-12 schools.
SOCM has organized groups in 10 counties to attend local school board meetings to become familiar with local funding needs and is working to engage in more counties.
“It’s really frightening for folks that more public money is going to be directed out of our local school districts,” SOCM Executive Director Austin Sauerbrei told The Tennessean. “We’re really interested in making sure that we have a legislature that’s actually fighting to increase the budgets of local school districts.”
“We know that the federal funding that we do get is already spread thin. Why are we having a conversation of taking it away?” said Liv Cook, organizer of the Public School Strong campaign. “We don’t need to create a crisis of public education. We need to fix what’s already wrong with the budget.”
Instead, the group will advocate for more money for the public schools.
“If, as Speaker Sexton says, there’s an extra $1.8 billion of state funding available that will allow us to get rid of the federal funds… can we actually invest that $1.8 billion and add it to the budgets instead of removing federal funding?” Sauerbrei said.
TDEC proposes to spend big on broadband
More than half of the funding request of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation will go toward broadband.
TDEC Commissioner David Salyers and his team proposed a $55 million budget increase for the upcoming year to Gov. Bill Lee. Of that, $35 million in one-time funds would go to expand broadband access in Tennessee’s state parks.
Officials said that while service providers typically will get service to the edge of a park, the state is responsible for distributing access within the parks.
“When you think about some of our parks, there are tens of thousands of acres ― our campgrounds, our offices, our conference centers or hotels ― it’s not all in one easy to access place in our park,” Chief Operating Officer Karen Simo said.
TDEC’s goal is to expand internet access as a park guest amenity, as well as to support park payment processing systems, staff training and other operational needs.
The agency is also proposing to leverage federal funding to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state, with the goal of installing an EV charging station at every 50 miles of interstate.
“It’s not too difficult in Nashville charge your vehicle but can get a little scary when you hit the road and you’re like what is my range?” Salyers said.
TBI sexual assault kit turnaround time down
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations has cut in half the turnaround time for processing sexual assault kits since last August, TBI Director David Rausch said during the agency’s budget hearing.
Average time to process a rape kit is now about 18 weeks ― down from 42 weeks last August.
The agency’s evidence processing times came under scrutiny in the last year, after the kidnapping and murder of Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher last September. In that case, the man charged with Fletcher’s killing was also charged with a 2021 rape, after a nearly year-long delay in processing the evidence.
In response, lawmakers funded 25 new forensic lab positions, having funded only half of the 50 the bureau had requested in last year’s budget.
State officials weigh in on Israel-Gaza conflict
As conflict continues between Israel and Hamas, a handful of state officials have spoken out. Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Aftyn Behn, D-Nashville, have both called for a ceasefire.
“Our struggles are global and inextricably linked as our liberation is bound together,” Behn said in a statement this week. “The United States is funding a genocide in Gaza right now, and this is a moment when we, as Tennesseans, need to care loudly for Palestinians as we do for marginalized communities in Tennessee.”
“None of us are free until we’re all free,” she added.
Sen. Dawn White, R-Murfreesboro, and Reps. Debra Moody, R-Covington, and Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, attended a rally to support Israel on War Memorial Plaza in Nashville.
This month, Lee visited Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis to emphasize his administration’s work on school safety and anti-Semitic threats. He also recently spoke at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville to express solidarity with Israel.
Asked whether student groups associated with the national Students for Justice in Palestine organization should be allowed to continue after the national group expressed solidarity with Hamas, Lee said he did not have any plans to order universities to disband the groups in Tennessee, which Florida did last month.
“I think it’s tragic in some ways that we would have American citizens supporting Hamas and the actions they took against the people of Israel,” Lee said. “It’s deeply disturbing and unfortunate that that would be happening even in campuses in Tennessee.”
Deployed TN National Guard sees increased attacks since Oct. 7
During the agency’s budget hearing with the governor, Brig. Gen. Warner Ross, the adjutant general for the Tennessee National Guard, noted that 710 Tennessee National Guard troops have deployed in the Middle East since before the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.
The attack has sparked repercussions at U.S. Forward Operating Bases across the region, including in Qatar and Kuwait.
“They’ve been under attack, but we haven’t had any injuries. They’re spread out on Forward Operating Bases throughout the Middle East. Those Forward Operating Bases are coming under more frequent attack now,” Ross said.
“Our motto is ‘ready now,’ and it means exactly what it says,” he added. “We are ready when that call comes.”
DesJarlais cosponsors bill to bar Palestinian Authority passport holders from U.S.
The proposal, led by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, cites several instances of violence or attempted attacks by foreign nationals within the United States and Europe, but none perpetrated by Palestinian Authority passport holders.
Anti-Semitic violence has increased by 400% in the U.S. since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
DesJarlais last month wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken seeking information “regarding the potentially unlawful presence on U.S. soil of non-immigrant foreign nationals who have endorsed terrorist activity,” citing student demonstrations supporting Hamas, a designated terror organization.
Deputy Tennessee House speaker will not seek reelection
Tennessee House Deputy Speaker Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, will not run for reelection next year, he announced. Johnson is one of the longest-serving state lawmakers, having been in office since 2004.
“I make this announcement with a profound sense of gratitude to the people of Montgomery County who have backed me in 10 successive campaigns over the past two decades,” Johnson said in a statement. “My service to the people of this district has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I will greatly miss the many friends and colleagues who have partnered with me during this time to strengthen our local communities and make Tennessee a better place to live.”
Johnson was a top candidate for House Speaker twice in recent years, facing off with former Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and months later, now-Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.
Johnson led the legislative redistricting committee that divided Nashville into three congressional districts in 2021.
He has also worked to secure funding for the 108-bed Tennessee State Veterans Home in Clarksville, and the Tennessee Wings of Liberty Museum, to honor veterans of the 101st Airborne Division, and others from Fort Campbell. In 2017, he chaired a special committee on opioid abuse, which resulted in new laws aimed at curbing opioid addiction in Tennessee.
State Agriculture Crime Unit staffs up
Tennessee’s Agricultural Crime Unit hired three new special agents to investigate crimes and criminal activity on farms and state forest lands, the state Department of Agriculture announced.
Since July 1, the 10-member unit has investigated 395 cases across the state, including more than 85 cases of livestock cruelty.
“ACU Special Agents work in the field every day to investigate and protect agricultural and forestry operations,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said in a statement. “Our agents are stationed throughout Tennessee to investigate crimes such as livestock and equipment theft, livestock cruelty, and rural fire threats.”