Michael G. Sheppard

What Teachers Have Accomplished in a Year of Protesting

Teachers across the nation decided to stand up this year for both themselves and their students. While several things were accomplished because of their protests, many teachers still remain frustrated with the lack of changes they are seeing.




Arizona: Teachers in Arizona were requesting a 20% salary increase for next school year, in addition to raises each year after that. Six days of protests led to a law being passed that will raise salaries by 20% over the course of three years.


Colorado: State employees were looking for adjustments to their retirement program, while teachers in the Pueblo City School District protested for five days against unfair wages. While the state employees were not victorious, the local strike in Pueblo yielded good results, with teachers seeing a 2.5% raise.


Kentucky: Teachers were looking for changes to the recently passed pension reform bill, in addition to overrides of Governor Bevin’s vetoes of budget and revenue bills. While no changes were made to the pension reform bill, the governor’s vetoes were successfully reversed.


North Carolina: The North Carolina Association of Educators was requesting an increase in wages. After a day of protests, the legislature passed a bill promising a 6.2% raise by next year.


Oklahoma: The teacher’s union in Oklahoma was seeking a $10,000 raise for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support staff. Nine days of protests led to a $6,100 raise for teachers and a $1,250 raise for support staff.


West Virginia: Teachers protested for nine days over unfair wages and changes to their health insurance plan. The governor finally agreed to a 5% raise for teachers and signed an order to fix their insurance program.




Teachers were also protesting for better school funding. Lawmakers in Kentucky agreed to a funding increase of $4,000 per student. In Arizona, a bill to provide new textbooks and updates to school facilities and technology was passed.


The Future


Disappointment at the lack of changes has led many teachers to pursue roles in public office. Teachers like Travis Brenda from Kentucky are seeking election next year and have vowed that they won’t stop fighting for themselves and their students until real progress is made.


from Michael G. Sheppard


Lincoln County High School Junior Wins Constitution Bee


The state of Tennessee has a new Constitution Bee champion. Cooper Moran is this year’s winner of the Spring 2018 Tennessee Star Constitution Bee, sponsored by the Polk Foundation. As the individual winner, the Lincoln City High School junior received a $3,000 Andrew Woodfin Miller Foundation Scholarship, provided by generous donations to the Polk Foundation. The scholarship was presented to Moran by the master of ceremonies Michael Patrick Leahy. In addition to being CEO of The Tennessee Star, Leahy is also its Editor-in-chief.


Moran also won a trip for two to Washington, D.C. Moran said that his mother will be his guest and that he plans to attend a series of events in the nation’s capital. The trip will be of special interest to Moran, who hopes to study political science at Vanderbilt University with an intent to become a lawyer.


The Constitution Bee was held at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, bringing students together from all over the region to compete. The contestants were able to sit in the same chairs used by the Williamson County Commissioners. The competition got off to a patriotic start as one of the judges, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel David Garcia, led the group in the Pledge of the Allegiance. Twelve seniors, four juniors, and one sophomore participated in the event. The youngest competitor was sophomore William Patterson, representing Columbia Central High School.


The competition featured a unique mix of multiple choice and true or false questions, an opening Preamble Challenge requiring contestants to deliver the beginning of the U.S. Constitution in a dramatic fashion, as well as a climatic essay round Although the competition began with 17 students, only eight made it to the essay round of the event. During the essay round, students were allowed 60 seconds to formulate their response to the question before presenting their answer to the panel of judges.


By the time the last round began, there were only three participants remaining in the tense competition. Aryan Burns, also from Lincoln High School, finished in second place, while Mt. Juliet senior Amanda Nolan finished in third place. Finishing her last year, Nolan plans to attend Vanderbilt University this fall, studying pre-med and political science. Burns, a junior, hopes to attend the University of Tennessee and study biology.



from Mike Sheppard

The VA Mission Act: What It Means For Veterans

In recent news, the VA Mission Act of 2018 has been signed into law. There have been several questions surrounding this law that should be addressed. To understand what the law will do and how it will impact others, it is important to understand what the VA Mission Act is. On June 6th, 2018, President Trump signed the act into law. According to, the new law is “designed to greatly improve veteran access to VA healthcare… The VA Mission Act addresses in-network and non-VA healthcare issues, veterans’ homes, access to walk-in VA care, prescription drug procedures, and much more.”


To know what impact this law has, one must explore the multiple components of the text and each one’s intended purpose. The Act is broken down into five parts:


  • Title I – the Caring For Our Veterans Act of 2018
  • Title II – the VA Asset and Infrastructure (AIR) Review Act
  • Title III – Improvements to Recruitment of Health Care Professionals
  • Title IV – Health Care in Underserved Areas
  • Title V – Other Matters


There are sixty-three sections under this first title and they all focus on the health care that veterans have access to. Originally, veterans would have to wait until a VA health care provider would be available and drive to the location to receive care. This first title aims to remove those limitations by having the VA coordinate the veterans’ care and required to “ensure the scheduling of medical appointments in a timely manner,” “ensure continuity of care and services,” “coordinate coverage for veterans who utilize care outside of a region from where they reside,” and “ensure veterans do not experience a lapse in health care services.”


There are only eleven sections under the second title and their focus is to create and Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission in addition to providing a general plan to accomplish everything that Title I aims to complete. In section 202, the act outlines the President’s responsibilities for appointing and nominating individuals for this commission. Section 205 goes into detail about what the VA must be required to do, such as consult with governors and the heads of local governments “for the purpose of considering the continued availability of a road for public access through, into, or around a VHA facility that is to be modernized or realigned.”


Title III has six sections which mostly focuses on how the VA will recruit more health care professionals. Medical students that agree to work for the VA will receive scholarships and the amount of education debt that will be reduced has increased. Title IV is similar in the fact that there are only three sections and their goal is to provide the medical students with graduate educations and residencies along with addressing the problems with under-served facilities. Lastly, Title V contains eleven sections that are the small details to serve as an end cap for this act. This is where authorization of $5.2 billion will go to the Veterans Choice Fund and extend current eligibility restriction for certain recipients of a VA pension.


from Mike Sheppard

Memorial Day: Why is it Important?

We often forget why Memorial Day is so important. Sure, there are parties to attend and cookouts to be had. The real reason for the day gets left behind so often that we can sometimes find ourselves asking “what exactly is Memorial Day?” In the modern era, Memorial Day is celebrated as the unofficial first day of Summer with Labor Day marking the unofficial end of Summer. The beginning of Memorial Day, however, has a less jovial sentiment surrounding it.


Memorial Day used to be known as “Decoration Day” where the nation would decorate the graves of fallen Union soldiers with flowers. This was done to remember those who gave their lives to defend their country. Decoration Day was inspired by the 500,000 deaths of soldiers in the Civil War. Traditionally, from 1868 to 1970, this day was observed on May 30th. It was then decided that Memorial Day would be observed on the fourth Monday of May.


In 2000, a National Moment of Remembrance act was passed pointing to ask Americans to take a moment in remembrance for those who died for their freedom. This is generally to occur at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day each year. Additionally, flags are quickly raised to full staff in the morning and slowly lowered to half-staff until noon. This is done as a sign of respect for fallen soldiers both past and present.


It’s essential that we observe Memorial Day because each year, thousands of American enlist in the military to serve and protect our freedoms. They are willing to risk their lives in order to ensure our continued access to these freedoms. Since the Civil War, nearly 700,000 American soldiers have lost their lives defending our nations and protecting our freedoms.


With Memorial Day approaching, make sure that you enjoy your holiday but do so in remembrance and with respect for those that we have lost. It’s because of those fallen soldiers that we owe our freedom to in order to have barbeques and parties. Take a moment on Memorial Day and remember those who have given their lives and respect those that are currently serving.

from Mike Sheppard

Know The Constitution & The Bill of Rights?

Know The Constitution & The Bill of Rights_ _ Michael G. SheppardThe U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Signed 229 years ago, the constitution explains regulations, executive power, rights, and responsibilities.

Though there’s quite a bit most Americans know about the constitution, there are few a misunderstandings, read on to learn a little more about the original constitution:

  1. Catholics, women, and African Americans weren’t allowed the right to vote under the original Constitution, not without substantial property. It wasn’t until the 15th amendment that African Americans men were granted the right to vote, and not until the 19th that that same right was extended to women.
  2. Several rights that we enjoy today weren’t written into the original constitution. The original writing recognizes the right to a civil jury, prohibits ex-post-facto laws, and discusses a habeas corpus petition, but it’s the Magna Carta that published details about the right to due process and the right to travel, not the Constitution.
  3. “The People” are the source of all governmental power and legitimacy, according to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Neither makes mention of God. Likewise, neither document mentions the word democracy. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, did, however, discuss democracy at length in the Federalist Papers.  
  4. “The Bill of Rights” was never actually a bill that went before Congress. James Madison intended to insert the changes through the constitution, but Roger Sherman argued that they should be tacked on as ‘amendments.’ The Bill of Rights got its name from the Bill of Rights by the English Parliament passed one hundred years prior.
  5. James Madison had to boil down a list of more than 200 proposals before being left with ten amendments. He submitted 17 to Congress, basing loosely it on George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776. The Senate combined some amendments, and they turned down the amendments that would protect conscience and the press.
  6. Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut didn’t immediately approve the bill of rights.

How well do you know the constitution? What are some interesting things you know about the document or the Founding Fathers who did or didn’t sign the constitution?

from Michael G. Sheppard

‘Constitutional’ Podcast Humanizes The Constitution

‘Constitutional’ Podcast Humanizes The Constitution | Michael G. SheppardThe Washington Post recently created a U.S. Constitution-focused podcast called ‘Constitutional,’ and its host is celebrated reporter Lillian Cunningham.

The insightful podcast does the incredible work of exploring the founding of the constitution and varied stories that help to explain how remarkable this documented truly is. Also, Cunningham is the big brain behind ‘Presidential,’ a pre-existing podcast that takes a closer look at the 44 presidents that took to the Oval ahead of the current president.

While it may seem that delving into the constitutional history may be boring subject matter, Cunningham proves that she has a knack for bringing life to the topic, proving a close examination, while engaging the perspectives of numerous individual who’ve challenged the law and rallied for change. Additionally, she monitors the evolution of law, all while putting a human spin on that information.

‘Constitutional’ followed the production of ‘Presidential,’ which was originally drafted as a standalone project. The series ‘Presidential’ was designed to educate the American public on the history of each American president. When that podcast ended, she received messages from handfuls of listeners who were eager to learn more about the state of the nation and the nation’s history. This led to her creating the follow-up podcast. According to Cunningham, “An exploration of the Constitution was one that kept coming up as a suggestion from listeners.”

The research into another government branch is valuable to audiences interested in the Constitution, amendments, and today’s tough political climate. The compelling and humanizing podcast hits on fair punishment, prohibition, ancestry, and so much more. The very real stories of race, legacy, and reconstruction exist behind the constitution, and Cunningham brings attention to the power of the amendments.

According to Cunningham, there’s a new series in the works. While she’s poised to investigate the history of the Congress, she still hasn’t settled on a meaningful project.
Tune into Constitutional on The Washington Post’s website, and on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, and Stitcher.

from Mike Sheppard

5 Civic Media Organizations Teaching The Value of The Youth Vote

Michael G. SheppardThe electorate and their voters are absolute cornerstones of democracy. The formal action, whereby the public selects a choice between two or more candidates is a powerful tool that can be used to grant liberty, justice, and freedom.

It’s so important that young people have an awareness of what a vote can do. The onus may be on parents and teachers to teach these things, but some organizations do this as well. Read on to learn the names of some of these organizations:

MassVOTE | MassVOTE promotes active political participation, builds civic coalitions, and eases access to the electoral process, making registration and votes more accessible.

Voto Latino | Voto Latino is a pioneering organization focused on civic media.They’re mainly driven to offer innovative digital campaigns that empower Latino youth. They host 200+ local events each year, and they have volunteers available across 25 college campuses. They’ve identified that there are 27.3 million eligible Latino voters, comprising 11.9 percent of all eligible voters.

Rock the Vote | Rock the Vote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that’s missioned to “to engage and build the political power of young people.” The organization speaks to the political power of young people. For nearly three full decades, Rock the Vote is one of the first organizations to use technology, pop culture, art, music and more to push young people to utilize their collective political power to create change. They register voters online, in community centers, and on campuses, granting access to democracy. They’ve raised awareness for important issues and pioneer innovative ways to register others.

Project Vote | Project Vote’s mission is to build an electorate, which speaks to America’s diverse citizenship. They help eligible citizens to register, vote, and cast a ballot. They use advocacy, technical assistance, and litigation to enable their goals.

Vote Smart | Vote Smart advertises “free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” Since 1988, the nonpartisan organization has helped with voter registration, provided insight on political issues, offered a calendar of important election dates, and offered full list offices and government officials.

What are the names of some other organizations that work to educate the public and get them to vote?

from Michael G. Sheppard

Online Constitutional Law Courses through Coursera and MOOCs for FREE

Michael G. SheppardDid you know you could be taking free online Constitutional law courses through Coursera and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), hosted by top colleges and universities?

Constitutional interpretation, analysis, and learning concepts may sound tedious or may look like expensive subjects to explore. However, there are some online classes available, each effectively able to share insight on the federal, legislative, and judicial branches of government, as well as power allocated to the states.

Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases | The introductory course provides an understanding of U.S. Constitution and landmark Supreme Court cases. Not only does this course discuss the Constitution’s beginnings, but also changes to it over the years. They browse the structure of individual rights and the federal government. The course additionally explores amendments, the Bill of Rights, Reconstruction, and the Progressive-era Amendments. Hitting on speech, religion, and clauses are done expertly in this course. The syllabus highlights three branches of government, the first amendment, criminal procedure, and modern controversies. The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, heads this online course.

A Law Student’s Toolkit | Both, advanced law students and as well as those simply interested in constitutional ideas would enjoy this course. The course introduces the public to key terminology, economics, and concepts. Each lesson provides students with the fundamental frameworks of legal procedure and legal analysis. Yale University heads this online course

An Introduction to American Law | The University of Pennsylvania offers the free course, providing a glimpse into six different areas of American law: Tort Law, Contract Law, Property, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Civil Procedure. Many incredible Penn Law professors teach the online course, addressing the unique complexities and applications of the law.

There are many other courses that one might want to consider to understand a bit more about the construction, the shaping, and implementation of the constitution, including:

Chemerinsky on Constitutional Law – The Structure of Government. If you know of any other courses, please be sure to share!


from Michael G. Sheppard

Maryland’s Lawyers Lead The Nation with The Number of Pro Bono Hours Offered

Michael G. SheppardAccording to the American Bar Association Center of Pro Bono, the state of Maryland boasts one of the greatest rates of pro bono activity in the nation.


Lawyers donated approximately 1,150,205 hours of volunteer or pro bono legal services; spending that hour aiding the state’s less fortunate population. The Current Status of Pro Bono Service Among Maryland Lawyers, 2016 report was recently submitted to Maryland Court of Appeals.


More than half of all lawyers practicing law full-time in Maryland (53 percent) helped vulnerable populations or those with limited means. This means that countless individuals benefited from free or substantially reduced-fee legal services.


Since 2002, Maryland lawyers have been required to report pro bono legal service hours to the state’s highest court each year. The 2016 report show that lawyers who offered pro-bono services offered anywhere from 10 to more than 50 hours of free legal work. Through polls, it was shown that the longer attorneys practiced, the more likely they were to volunteer their services.


Also, the report showed that small firms and solo practitioners are more likely to donate their time and skills than those from midsize and large firms. There’s a high percentage involvement of those who lend help directly to those who have very little, giving help to non-profits, and adding clients with civil rights matters.

Legal service assistance can help to empower local communities. Lawyers who financially support and active volunteer is vital. Unfortunately, specialties don’t’ always align with needs in a particular area, such as consumer law, housing law, family law, and public benefits.


Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service and Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) collaborate to make volunteer opportunities more accessible for lawyers throughout the state of lawyers.


Lawyers who’d like to know more about pro bono work can contact PBRC at Lawyers based in Tennessee who’d like to know more about pro bono work can contact the Tennessee Bar Association.


from Mike Sheppard

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