Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.
To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).
Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.
Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly. And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.
And of course, if local citizens don’t like how their School Board spends money, they can speak out at public meetings, talk to Board members directly, or even vote in new Board members.
None of this seems to matter to sponsors Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.
This legislation would give County Commissions unprecedented authority over School Board budgets. In districts that hire in-house lobbyists, the Commission would theoretically have staffing authority over that position.
In Tennessee, School Boards propose budgets and determine how funds are spent, County Commissions either fund all or part of the proposed budget. But, Commissions have no authority over how school dollars are spent. Their only recourse is to reject a budget and suggest amendments or improvements – which the School Board can adopt or not.
However, it seems likely that resistance to recent reform efforts by School Boards is at the root of this issue. Recently, groups like TSBA and some prominent local School Boards have been vocally opposed to school vouchers, a state charter authorizer, and even portions of the state’s new teacher evaluation plan.
And, outside groups like StudentsFirst and the deceptively-named Tennessee Federation for Children have been spending significantly to push a pro-reform agenda.
From Garrison’s story:
Out-of-state organizations StudentsFirst and the Tennessee Federation for Children — both of which want a voucher system to let public dollars go toward private schooling — have ramped up lobbying again this fiscal yearafter spending some $235,000 to $455,000 in lobbying-related efforts the year before. The Tennessee Charter School Center is armed with eight lobbyists this session.
So it seems that rather than looking out for local taxpayers, Durham and Bell are looking out for outside special interest groups seeking to influence how local tax dollars are spent in Tennessee.
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