Commentary: TFA and GOA File Amicus Brief in Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Challenging ATF’s ‘Frame and Receiver’ Rule

On August 25, 2023, Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) joined again with Gun Owners of America GOA) in the effort to defeat the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ (ATF) unconstitutional expansion of the Congressional definition of a “frame or receiver”. The brief was filed in the case of Jennifer VanDerStok, et al. v. Merrick Garland, et. al. Fifth Circuit 23:10718.  

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Growing Concerns Around Tennessee’s Grow Your Own Teacher Prep Program

Tennessee’s teacher prep program, Grow Your Own (GYO), is in flux. Participating educator preparation providers (EPP) are awaiting Thursday, when they will be notified of how many seats they’ll be available to offer teacher candidates, along with the amount of funding available. The lack of clear answers is making some providers anxious for the fall.

“It is throwing off our staffing plans for next year as we can’t get an answer from Emma McCallie at TDOE or Erin Crisp at the GYO Center,” a source who wished to remain anonymous told The Tennessee Star.

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Release of Tennessee Third-Grade Literacy Scores Produces Mixed Response

In the aftermath of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test data release for third-graders by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE), legislators are pleased and encouraged, while parents are angry and confused.

On Friday, TDOE released scores to districts across the state. Due to the late distribution time, there was a variance in when parents received their child’s score. Some districts shared results with families on Friday night, while others in the larger urban districts didn’t receive results until Monday afternoon.

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Tennessee to Require Tipton County Schools to Take TCAP Tests

Despite having two schools recently destroyed by tornados, Tipton County students will still be required to participate in the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Crestview Elementary and Crestview Middle School were the two elementary schools destroyed during the tornados. 

Tipton County, a rural conservative county that borders the Mississippi River, had appealed directly to Governor Lee for relief from the burden of testing this year, due to the county still dealing with the after facts of two tornadoes that struck on March 31. According to a report from television station WREG, “The tornadoes damaged 540 structures, causing more than $37 million in damages.”

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Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton Proposes Next Step for Tennessee in Possibly Rejecting Federal Education Funds

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has laid out the next step required for Tennessee to possibly reject federal education dollars in the future. On Monday, he filed legislation (add an attachment here) that would create an 11-member task force, helmed by  Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, to study the process required for the state to forego federal funding.

The proposed committee would begin meeting monthly in August and would be expected to deliver a strategic plan to Governor Lee and the General Assembly by December 1. The legislation further requires that Commissioner Schwinn, in her role as chair, notify the US Department of Education by August 31 and advise them on Tennessee’s intent to explore the possibility of Tennessee rejecting federal funding.

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Governor Lee Proposes Increasing Teacher Starting Salaries While Ending Payroll Deductions for Union Dues

New legislation backed by Governor Bill Lee is going through the Tennessee General Assembly that if passed, would raise teacher salaries and end to payroll dues deductions for labor organizations.

An amendment released Monday and attached to SB 0281 will be heard at this week’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

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Governor Lee Declares March 2023 Tennessee Literacy Month

Governor Lee is an avid advocate for literacy in Tennessee. In that spirit, he has proclaimed March 2023 as Tennessee Literacy Month, and throughout the month, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) will be highlighting how reading is an essential skill for all students.

Commissioner Schwinn and the TDOE  invite all Tennesseans to celebrate Tennessee Literacy Month, by spotlighting the Reading 360 initiative and the focus Tennessee’s educators, families, elected officials, and community partners have placed on improving literacy rates for all learners in the state.

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American Classical Education Submits Charter School Applications in Five Tennessee Counties

Wednesday marked the deadline for charter school applicants to submit their packages to local school boards in counties where they wish to establish a new charter school, and American Classical Education (ACE) has submitted applications in five Tennessee counties.

ACE board member and former Tennessee State Senator Dolores Gresham, who retired while serving as Senate Education Chair in 2020, told The Tennessee Star the charter school operator submitted paperwork to  Rutherford, Clarksville-Montgomery, Jackson-Madison, Maury, and Robertson Counties.

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Rules Governing New School Funding Formula Pass Out of the Joint Government Operations Committee Meeting, Moves Toward Full Implementation

The rules governing Tennessee’s new K-12 education funding formula – Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – took another step towards full adoption on Monday, passing out of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee with a positive review. On the State House side, the proposed rules passed by a majority, with only 5 “nay” votes. While on the State Senate side, things were much closer, with a 4-2 in favor.

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Governor Lee Appoints Three to State Charter School Commission

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has reappointed Alan Levine to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. Along with Levine, Michael Carter of Davidson County and Chris Tutor of Shelby County have been submitted for approval as members. The two new members will represent Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee respectively, replacing Dr. Derwin Signet and Dave Hanson as board members. Appointments come from the governor, but must be confirmed by the General Assembly.

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Commissioner Schwinn Presents Department of Education Budget for Coming Year, Promising More of the Same

An optimistic Penny Schwinn, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, presented the department’s2023/2024 proposed budget to Governor Lee and his advisors. For his part, the Governor was cordial, congratulatory, and to the point – often raising questions during the 30-minute presentation.

With confidence in his re-election bid running high, Governor Lee scheduled state departmental budget hearings for November 9th. A day after Tuesday’s statewide election that awarded him four more years as Governor. In the wake of securing his job for another term, Governor Lee indicated that education would remain a top priority going forth.

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Georgia-Pacific Announces $425 Million Investment in Jackson, Tennessee

Georgia-Pacific announced Monday that it would invest at least $425 million to construct a Dixie manufacturing facility in Jackson, Tennessee.

Fernando Gonzalez, Georgia-Pacific’s president of consumer business, said, “Although we have invested to expand existing sites, this is the first new Dixie plant the company has built since 1991. This added capacity will help us meet the needs of our customers as consumer demand for high-quality, durable paper plates and bowls continues to grow.”

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Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents Condemns Controversial Remarks From Hillsdale College President

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) condemned recent remarks by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn at a Williamson County event.

According to audio captured by NewsChannel 5, Arnn said that “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

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Hillsdale College, Hamilton County Charter School End Partnership

Hillsdale College and Ivy Academy’s Skillern Elementary announced an end to their partnership, which provided curricular support to the students at the charter school.

The decision from the school officials followed controversial remarks made by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn.

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University of Memphis Cancels Social Justice Initiative Following Backlash

The University of Memphis will cancel an initiative that encouraged faculty members to alter their current courses to incorporate “diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice” curriculum, according to a new report from the Washington Free Beacon and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.

The program, entitled “Eradicating Systemic Racism and Promoting Social Justice Initiative,” received widespread backlash from lawmakers that represent the state.

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Tennessee Unemployment Levels Continue to Decline, Drop to Pre-Pandemic Level

Tennessee’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continues to improve, as unemployment numbers have decreased for the sixth consecutive month.

According to data released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD), the unemployment numbers have dropped to pre-pandemic levels.

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Governor Bill Lee Extends Executive Order to Allow Parents to Opt Children Out of Mask Mandates

Bill Lee on the State House floor

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) announced on Thursday that he is extending an executive order that allows parents to opt their children out of mask mandates in schools.

The decision by Lee follows rulings by multiple judges that blocked the implementation of the order in Knox, Shelby, and Williamson counties.

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Governor Lee Appointed Co-Chair of National Task Force on Pandemic and Disaster Response

Governor Bill Lee was appointed the co-chair of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Pandemic and Disaster Response Task Force on Wednesday. The other chair selected was Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.

Lee and Lamont will oversee the Federal Emergency Management administration (FEMA), the National Guard, cybersecurity, healthcare, and all issues related to addressing and recovering from COVID-19, such as testing and personal protective equipment (PPE). Other members in the task force have yet to be announced; as of Wednesday, the two staffers on the task force were legislative directors Mary Catherine Ott and Maribel Ramos.

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Tennessee General Assembly Convenes Special Session on Education Reforms Necessitated by Pandemic

The Tennessee General Assembly convened for a special session to discuss learning loss and literacy reforms introduced by the governor’s office. State officials are proposing a series of reforms they dubbed “targeted intervention.” The first bill would establish a full-time tutoring core, after-school camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps. Additionally, the second bill proposed a third grade “reading gate” to ensure students are prepared before entering fourth grade and that K-3 educators teach phonics as the primary form of reading, which would be complemented by a screening tool for parents’ use.

The impact of standardized testing also faces reforms. The third bill would keep the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) in place for the 2021 school year, but wouldn’t impose any negative consequences on student assessment. This would ensure that educators and families have a benchmark to assess student progress, but no teacher or district would face penalties based on those TCAP results. Under the fourth bill, the state would adjust the state budget to give pay raises to all teachers immediately.

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Governor Bill Lee Admonishes Citizens for Their Thanksgiving Gatherings as ‘Selfish, Indifferent, Foolish’ Decisions

Governor Bill Lee called out Tennessee for its recent Thanksgiving gatherings as selfish, indifferent, and foolish decisions. The governor issued these remarks during a press conference as some of the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Vanderbilt University.

“We do stand here and celebrate a tremendous breakthrough in this pandemic,” stated Lee. “But there is a darkness before the dawn that’s happening right here in Tennessee – we have to recognize that. Tennessee’s cases are surging. The holidays have caught up with us. Decisions that some made during Thanksgiving have a severe reality in this hospital and all across Tennessee today.”

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Governor Lee Taps Ousted Democratic Representative John DeBerry to Become Cabinet Senior Advisor

Governor Bill Lee tapped former Representative John DeBerry (D-TN-Memphis) to join his Cabinet as a senior advisor. Lee’s announcement came shortly after DeBerry lost his re-election.

The governor appears to hold high regard for the former representative, though their party alignments differ.

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Governor Lee Grants $5 Million to Charter Schools Based on ‘Significant Academic Growth’

Governor Bill Lee announced Wednesday a $5 million grant for charter schools that had exhibited academic growth. The governor’s Emergency Relief Fund (GEER) will source the funds.

These grant will be referred to as “Charter School Support Grants.” Lee’s decision marked the first grant for charter schools during COVID-19.

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Governor Lee Extends State of Emergency Through End of Year

Governor Bill Lee has officially extended the state of emergency for the remainder of 2020.
The executive order followed Lee’s own quarantine due to exposure from the coronavirus. The extension of the order means that Tennessee will receive further federal funding, mayors can continue to implement their own guidelines, and government officials can continue to meet virtually.

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Tennessee to Receive Two Million COVID-19 Rapid Tests from White House

Governor Bill Lee announced during the weekly Tuesday briefing that Tennessee will receive around 2 million rapid viral tests for COVID-19. The tests from BinaxNOW will come in staggered shipments throughout the end of the year.
BinaxNOW tests are significantly more cost-effective and quicker at giving results. They are also more comfortable than the standard deep nasal swab. Instead of going up the nose and into the back of the throat, swabs will go just inside the nose.

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Davidson County Election Commission Suing Citizens for Putting Tax Cut on Ballot, Calling it ‘Unconstitutional’

The Davidson County Election Commission has recruited a legal team to sue the citizens’ group Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN) for its December ballot tax cut petition.
Former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Bill Koch will serve as lead council, and Junaid Odubeko the co-council.

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Nissan Moves Production Back to U.S.A. With Smyrna, Tennessee Plant

Nissan began efforts to move production to the United States on Tuesday by manufacturing the 2021 Rogue in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Nissan predicts the Rogue’s longstanding popularity will lead to its “turnaround as the company’s top-selling U.S. model,” according to their press release.

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Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Joins Leahy and Roberts to Discuss the Governor’s Approach on the Heartbeat Bill

Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Leahy was joined in the studio by State Senator Kerry Roberts and on the newsmaker line by Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson.

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