Hagood Comes to the Fore

During her three terms in the House before winning the Senate seat from which Ben Atchley retired last year, Hagood became vice chairman of the House's Higher Education Subcommittee and also served as the Republican minority's parliamentarian. When the Republicans gained a Senate majority in last fall's election, Democrat Wilder's reign as Speaker was in jeopardy. But Hagood's Knox Republican Senate cohort and close friend, Sen. Tim Burchett, crossed party lines to support Wilder's reelection and reputedly had a lot to do with getting Hagood her appointment. "I wouldn't know about that. I don't have any influence with Wilder," Burchett says with a grin.

other members to convince them of value-added's

Her devotion to UT, from which she holds both undergraduate and law degrees, comes through in any discussion of these goals.

When state Senate Speaker John Wilder named Sen. Jamie Hagood to chair the Senate Education Committee in January, she became the first freshman senator in 20 years to head a Senate committee. After four months at the committee's helm, Hagood is getting accolades from all over. Her mastery of parliamentary procedures, grasp of pending bills and fair-minded treatment of their sponsors has earned her the respect of fellow committee members. The passion with which she's steeped herself in educational issues that transcend this year's legislative agenda has gained her high standing with policy shapers ranging from UT President John Petersen and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to the State Department of Education that oversees K-12.

"She's done an amazing job," says the Education Department's public information officer Kim Karesh.

When viewed as a 33-year-old rookie, Hagood's performance would indeed be amazing. But that view fails to take into account the legislative experience she's accumulated going all the way back to high school years when she served as a page in the U.S. Senate. "I observed Sen. Robert Byrd [the West Virginia Democrat who is the Senate's penultimate parliamentarian], and I saw how powerful knowing the rules can be," Hagood recalls.

During her three terms in the House before winning the Senate seat from which Ben Atchley retired last year, Hagood became vice chairman of the House's Higher Education Subcommittee and also served as the Republican minority's parliamentarian. When the Republicans gained a Senate majority in last fall's election, Democrat Wilder's reign as Speaker was in jeopardy. But Hagood's Knox Republican Senate cohort and close friend, Sen. Tim Burchett, crossed party lines to support Wilder's reelection and reputedly had a lot to do with getting Hagood her appointment. "I wouldn't know about that. I don't have any influence with Wilder," Burchett says with a grin.

Watching Hagood preside at an Education Committee meeting in late April served to increase my respect for her. She moved with dispatch through a lengthy list of other bills in order to get to the meat of the agenda: 1.) a bill establishing a pre-kindergarten program with $25 million in first year funding from state lottery proceeds as strongly recommended by Gov. Phil Bredesen; and 2.) a bill to increase the amount of lottery scholarships to $4,000 from $3,000 at four-year universities and to $2,000 from $1,500 at two year colleges—something Bredesen has opposed as premature.

A pivotal member of the committee on both bills is the often strident Sen. Steve Cohen. The Memphis Democrat was a prime mover in creation of the lottery and architect of the scholarship legislation that ensued. Cohen has previously denounced lottery funding of pre-K as a threat to funding available for scholarships. But a Bredesen-backed amendment to the pre-K bill caps lottery allocations at $25 million in subsequent years, when the pre-K program's total cost is expected to grow to $200 million or more as enrollment is expanded. Cohen then votes for the pre-K bill without a word of protest.

Hagood follows up by supporting Cohen's bill to increase the amount of lottery scholarships, which also clears the committee unanimously. "Based on the projections of scholarship costs I've received from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission it appears we would be able to sustain both the scholarship increases and the $25 million for pre-K over an extended period of time," Hagood explains before the committee meeting.

The chairman also worked closely with Education Commissioner Lana Seivers during the two weeks prior to the meeting to reverse a previous committee vote that would have abolished the state's value-added system for assessing student and school performance. The complex statistical system measures each student's gains from year to year against expectations based on prior year performance, and both schools and teachers are then assessed on how these gains compare to expectations. The system, which Tennessee pioneered in the early 1990s, has since been adopted in 21 other states and also lauded by the federal Department of Education. But schools with low grades have protested its validity.

Sen. Jim Bryson of Franklin temporarily won a 7-2 committee vote to abolish it, with Hagood in the minority. But Seivers then met intensively with Bryson and other members to convince them of value-added's merits. Prior to the next committee meeting, Hagood prevailed on Bryson to move for reconsideration, and value-added's restoration carried unanimously.

In addition to presiding over the 300 bills to come before the committee this year, Hagood has also worked extensively on education issues that may become the subject of legislation in years to come. A prime example is her work with THEC on revamping the state's higher education funding formula. "Higher education has received the brunt of the budget cuts in very difficult times, and one of reasons is that we've got a funding formula that's dysfunctional and discredited. So what we're doing now is addressing what goals we want to accomplish and what funding mechanisms are going to accomplish then," Hagood says.

Her devotion to UT, from which she holds both undergraduate and law degrees, comes through in any discussion of these goals. "We've got fantastic things going on at the University of Tennessee, whether it's the UT-Battelle partnership, our other research, our business school or all of the other programs that we have . But we've got to show all the ways in which UT makes a positive impact on people's everyday lives just as in our other institutions of higher education," she says.

Space constraints don't permit me to do justice to Hagood's many other initiatives. Suffice it to say that it's great to have a true champion of higher education in a position of legislative leadership in Nashville.

—Joe Sullivan

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.