Education concerns dominated the discussion as Tennessee Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, recently answered questions from area residents.
The event was Breakfast with Women Legislators, which the Oak Ridge League of Women Voters hosts once a month during each legislative session. The late February event was virtual.
“From an education perspective, our state is doing everything it can to get back into an improvement mode,” Ragan said.
He said virtual learning has not made up for the lack of in-person schooling during the period when many schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of student learning outcomes. students.
Governor’s financing plan
Ragan described a shift from resource allocation to per-student allocation, under Governor Bill Lee’s proposed new funding plan, echoing statements by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.
Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Announce Proposed Public School Funding Formula
Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Announce Proposed ‘Student-Centered, Student-Focused’ Funding Formula
“School boards will still be the final awarding authority as they are with the program,” Ragan told the League of Women Voters.
Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper reported that Governor Bill Lee’s education plan will allocate $9 billion in state and local funds to education, if approved by the legislature.
No school district would receive less money than it currently does under the new formula if enrollment in the school system remains stable. Local governments would not have to increase their funding to schools for the next five years.
Yet some communities remain worried about the amount they will get for education. In Nashville, for example, Mayor John Cooper said he was “appalled” by the new plan.
“Dividing” concepts in college and K-12
Ragan argued in favor of House Bill 2670, saying it does not violate “academic freedom”, in response to criticism from members of the virtual public.
“This is an excess of speech control in universities,” Ellen Faby said at the meeting.
State Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, a former Oak Ridge resident, introduced this bill which addresses “dividing concepts” in state college curricula.
The bill would prevent universities from penalizing students who refuse to support concepts related to what Republicans say are critical teachings of race theory and would limit sponsorship of those concepts or their use in education.
Critical race theory teaches that racism is rooted in American institutions and that white people benefit from it. The concept and whether schools, churches and other societies should subscribe to it has been a source of controversy within institutions for several years.
Rather than refer to critical race theory in general, however, the bill lists ideas defined as “divisive.”
He defines these concepts as:
- One race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex;
- An individual, by virtue of race or gender, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive unfavorable treatment because of their race or gender;
- The moral character of an individual is determined by his race or sex;
- An individual, by virtue of his race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
- An individual should experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or some other form of psychological distress solely because of their race or gender;
- A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by one particular race or sex to oppress another race or sex;
- That state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
- Promotes or advocates the violent overthrow of the United States government;
- Promotes division or resentment toward any race, gender, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, class, or class of people;
- Attributes character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or gender, or to an individual because of their race or gender;
- The rule of law does not exist, but rather a series of power relations and struggles between racial or other groups;
- All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
- Governments should deny everyone within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law;
- Includes racial or gender stereotyping; Where
- Includes race or gender scapegoating.
Under the terms of the bill, a public institution of higher education cannot provide any compulsory training for students or employees if the training includes one or more of these divisive notions. “Training” under the bill includes “seminars, workshops, training and guidance.”
The bill also prohibits the use of “state funds to induce, beyond the payment of a regular salary or other regular remuneration, a faculty member to incorporate one or more concepts that divide in university programs”.
In the Senate, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, is sponsoring the bill on behalf of Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge. McNally said the goal is to ensure “students learn the subjects they enroll in.”
Ragan told his virtual audience that the bill prevents “indoctrination.”
He said “indoctrination” includes instructions that “censor” or “filter” information.
“Critical thinking is in itself a good thing. Not to be confused with critical theory which is part of Marxism,” he said.
He defined critical thinking as ensuring that there are no logical errors in terms of argument.
Critical theory, he said, referred to theories associated with the German philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx.
Later in his speech, in response to further questions from the audience, Ragan elaborated on “dividing concepts”.
Ragan amended an earlier K-12 education bill to have a similar list of “diversifying” concepts in 2021 banned from being part of the curriculum. This bill is now law.
Ragan said the law was against the teaching that everything in history is a “power struggle” and that the “rule of law” does not apply because it is a power struggle.
He said that otherwise talking about the “negative parts of the story and their aftermath” is still allowed. Ragan described the law as preventing “advocacy”.
“If you have any disagreements with this law, I would like to hear them,” he said.
Books in school libraries
In response to comments about the bills involving the removal of books from school libraries, Ragan defended the measures against critics that they ban the books.
“No bill outright bans books,” he told his virtual audience. However, he said bills were being discussed to define community and school board involvement in deciding which books to appear in school libraries. He said the bills do not affect public libraries, only school libraries.
Ragan said based on what he read that he supports Senate Bill 2702 which could increase the number of substitute teachers. Tennessee Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, introduced the bill.
The bill, Senate Bill 2702, would allow retirees covered by the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to return to work as K-12 teachers, K-12 substitute teachers, grade 12 or K-12 bus drivers without loss or suspension of their TCRS benefits.
“Teachers, substitute teachers and bus drivers are especially needed, and many retirees are ready and willing to help. This bill will remove barriers to achieving that goal,” Yager said in an official press release. .
Matthew Bradburn, executive director of human resources for Oak Ridge Schools, recently told The Oak Ridger that due to COVID-19, the retirement of some substitutes and job opportunities elsewhere, he was difficult to find replacements.
Last year, Clinton High School closed for two days in September due to 23 people in its substitute teacher group being quarantined for COVID-19.
Ben Pounds is a reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal. Meghan Mangrum and Adam Friedman of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville contributed to this story.