With Governor Bill Lee’s public school-harming vouchers on the verge of passing, teachers, moms and business leaders from across the state headed to the hill to plead with legislators to see the light and vote against them.
The conference committee is TOMORROW at 8AM. Holler at your reps… and show up if you can!
After squeaking through the house, Governor Lee’s public school-harming legislation that no legislators want near their own district passed the senate 20-13.
Watch the video, and holler at your legislators. The House & Senate versions still need to be reconciled, so keep calling, and show up at the capitol Monday!
Here’s more on vouchers, and what happened in the house this week – when Rep. Zachary sold public schools out at the last minute.
Reps Akbari, Robinson, Yarbro, and Dickerson all did their best to speak out, but to no avail.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Governor Lee’s school vouchers plan barely passed the house this week after some last-minute shenanigans by Speaker Casada, who held the vote open for 40 minutes so he could twist the arm of Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).
Zachary eventually flipped from a “No” to a “Yes”, giving Casada and Governor Lee the 50-48 win they needed.
After the vote, Zachary took to the floor with Casada in tow to explain to the press that his reasons for flipping were that Knox County wouldn’t be affected and would be held “fiscally harmless” – meaning this plan that will supposedly be so great for Nashville & Memphis is something he and many others want nowhere near their own counties.
When asked if Casada had promised him anything else in return for his vote, Zachary first indicated that he did, saying something about teacher raises – which some teachers have taken great exception to – before then reversing that and saying he didn’t have anything he needed money for.
I know @JasonZacharyTN didn’t just excuse harming TN children by saying teachers would get a raise…..because that be would below patronizing and stupid. @tahoesorensen @TNTeachUnited @BadassTeachersA @TEA_teachers @DianeRavitch @BillLeeTN @MemphisbatBa @Larry_Proffitt
— Lauren H. Sorensen (@TbatSorensen) April 23, 2019
Hard to keep up with all these reversals.
That Zachary got nothing in return was hard to believe considering the reports of various rural legislators being promised grants and appropriations by Governor Lee in exchange for their support.
Now the Tennessean has just posted an article listing those giveaways – and wouldn’t you know it? Rep. Zachary has the highest number on the list next to his name. His $1 million is peanuts compared to the harm it will do to public schools in the areas where vouchers are affected, but it’s hard to believe his topping the list is a coincidence.
It’s also hard to believe Zachary considering the other quotes in the article from Republican Representatives David Hawk (Greenville) and Bob Ramsey (Maryville), who say Casada was sending his $200,000 chief of staff Cade Cothren to ask them what they wanted in exchange for their votes during the vouchers debate.
From the Tennessean:
“Two Republican lawmakers who voted against Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher bill said they were offered incentives to change their minds and vote in favor of the legislation… Several House lawmakers have told the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee in recent weeks there were efforts by those in the speaker’s and governor’s office to sway them to vote yes on the bill by offering to fund projects in their districts.
Such lobbying continued Tuesday.
Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who unsuccessfully challenged Glen Casada in the race for speaker, said Wednesday he was approached by Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff on the House floor.
“He came to me and said that he and the speaker needed my vote on vouchers and asked me what I wanted in return,” said Hawk, who characterized the conversation as very heated. “I told him that he and the speaker had nothing that I wanted.”
And then on Ramsey:
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, said he had been approached and offered incentives before and during the voucher vote in an attempt to persuade him to flip.
“There was efforts that had repeated visits from advocates hired apparently by the administration, and lobbyists, over the last few weeks,” Ramsey said Wednesday. “I let the administration know early on that I couldn’t support the vouchers.”
Ramsey said he received no threats of funding being cut in his district in Blount County, but that he was offered unspecified incentives.
“The only insinuation was that there would be the possibility of revenue expenditures for projects in my district at some point that would be facilitated by my support of vouchers,” Ramsey said.
Again at that time, Ramsey said, members of the Republican leadership hinted that additional funding would be made available to him for district projects if he switched his vote. Ramsey said no specific dollar amount was mentioned. He still declined to change his vote.
Hawk and Ramsey voted against the bill.
Good for them for sticking to their guns.
It’s one thing to be a vouchers truther, as Rep. Dunn, who is carrying the bill, appears to be. But If you believe steering public funds to private schools will hurt public schools, yet you’re willing to sell out our kids for your own political interests, something is very wrong there.
Casada went on to deny the efforts to bribe representatives for their votes, likely because he knows how it looks:
Casada, R-Franklin, said he met with several members and “asked them to do the right thing” on the education bill. But the speaker denied offering anything to the members.
“If one or two (members) misunderstood what I was saying — that happens too — I was asking them to step up and be leaders and do what’s good for the children of Tennessee,” he said.
Unfortunately for Casada, he’s already on record as having lied about multiple important issues, including something as easily disprovable as meeting with the victims of Rep. David Byrd, who Casada promoted to chair of an education subcommittee even after he apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who accuse him of molesting them as teenagers.
Casada had not met with them, and still hasn’t. We’re going to go ahead and believe Ramsey and Hawk on this one.
The Tennessean goes on to point to the appropriations that were given to legislators who voted for the vouchers:
24 of the 32 House lawmakers to have their appropriation requests fulfilled voted for the voucher bill. Those who voted for the ESA bill had $7.3 million in appropriations included in the House budget.
Casada denied any correlation between House members who voted for the ESA bill and having their budget requests funded.
The funded appropriation requests come after the governor released a recently amended state budget that provided 16 community grants totaling $2.1 million to many lawmakers who ended up voting for the ESA bill.
“Casada denied any correlation”. Okay.
And here’s Zachary, ever the good soldier, denying it too, while the Tennessean reminds us his district receives the highest number on the list:
Among the funded appropriation requests in the House budget was one from Zachary for $1 million to provide grants to four accredited zoos in the state and the Tennessee Aquarium. On Tuesday, Zachary cast the deciding vote to ensure the passage of the governor’s education savings account bill.
Zachary denied receiving anything in return for changing his vote — which initially was a no — and said he received adequate assurances that Knox County would be removed from the legislation in the coming days.
It appears Casada’s habit of playing fast and loose with the truth is contagious.
The Tennessean goes on to point out that there are some who voted against the bill who also got money, but the numbers on the other side speak for themselves (see below).
The vouchers fight is far from over, which is probably why Lee & Casada called upon President Trump for a congratulatory tweet yesterday.
The Great State of Tennessee is so close to passing School Choice. All of our Nation’s children, regardless of background, deserve a shot at achieving the American Dream! Time to get this done, so important!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019
The senate still needs to vote on their version (TODAY), and then there will be another vote in the house to reconcile the two bills. Holler at your reps to let them know you’re watching, especially Zachary, Hawk, Ramsey, & Casada.
The following list includes House members who voted for the ESA bill and had their appropriation amendments funded (includes funding totals):
- House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin: $40,000
- House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, $3.5 million
- House finance committee chair Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet: $619,000
- Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon: $200,000
- Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis: $10,000
- Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville: $2,000
- Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville: $50,000
- Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dredsen: $100,000
- Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport: $467,000
- Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield: $25,000
- Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington: $30,000
- Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson: $10,000
- Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville – $10,500
- Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville: $37,000
- Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge: $100,000
- Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin: $15,000
- Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro: $50,000
- Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton: $215,000
- Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta: $30,000
- Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna: $10,000
- Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg: $28,000
- Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson: $20,000
- Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis: $675,000
- Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville: $1 million
- we’re also told Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Lawrenceburg got Half a million for theater renovations)
Yesterday Governor Bill Lee’s controversial “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers legislation hit the house floor for a debate and a vote.
Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:
Proponents of vouchers say they will be a lifeline for some students in failing schools.
Opponents say they will leave the rest of the kids behind, and steer resources away from public schools towards private schools, and point to the absence of evidence that vouchers work as reason enough that they’re a bad idea, instead encouraging Tennessee to fully fund public education for a change.
We were 44th in ed funding in 2010 — and we are 45th now — our legislators have FAILED our schools. Year after year after year
— TN Education Report (@TNEdReport) April 23, 2019
It’s no secret that private school education lobbyists have been circling this legislation for a long time, and have spent lots of money in support of it. Even Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – who has said her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” through the privatization of education – came to Nashville last month to show her support for Governor Lee’s efforts.
On the other side is the Tennessee Education Association, many school boards throughout the state, and most teachers.
Governor Lee has made it clear this is his main priority this session, even going so far as to attempt to strong-arm legislators who have expressed opposition by threatening not to steer resources to their districts and making it clear a vote against would mean a difficult road to re-election while essentially bribing rural legislators with grants while reassuring them vouchers won’t come to their communities.
Speaker Glen Casada has been intimately involved with those efforts as well, as has Senator Jack Johnson, who made it clear he doesn’t want them in Williamson County either.
Debate on the floor lasted the better part of 2 hours, with Republicans rising in support, and both Democrats and Republicans rising in opposition.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson and others made it clear almost all Shelby County reps were against the legislation, and all Nashville Reps to speak made it clear they were against it also, yet the vouchers are mainly targeted at their counties, something all of them agreed was unfair.
Their refrain is that if other legislators don’t want them in their own counties, they shouldn’t want them for kids in their counties either. It stands to reason that if your reasoning for voting FOR something is that you’ve been reassured it won’t hurt your county, that isn’t a great reason to “do unto others” what you wouldn’t have done unto you.
Rep. Joe Towns Jr. expressed concern the legislation would create two “separate and unequal” school systems, “re-segregating” education in Tennessee, while Rep. Camper warned that vouchers would spread, and Rep. Johnny Shaw insisted they wouldn’t fix any of the problems in Tennessee education – problems which even Republican legislators who were in favor of vouchers agreed were not as bad as they had been in past years, with Tennessee now the most-improving state in the country.
Rep. Matthew Hill stood to tell his colleagues that even the Tennessee State Employees Association was in favor of the bill, but that turns out not to be the case, which is ironic considering Hill lamented the circulation of false information in the same breath.
TSEA @tsea does not have a position on the Education Savings Act currently being debated in the #TN House. Earlier today I did communicate to some legislators that those that have stood with state employees will have TSEA support regardless of how a legislator votes on ESA bill.
— Randy Stamps (@randystamps) April 23, 2019
When it came time to vote it was a deadlocked 49-49 tie, which appeared to take Speaker Casada by surprise. He held the vote open for 30 minutes while he did some arm-twisting out of the view of the public, something most seasoned reporters said they hadn’t seen in their entire time covering the legislature.
In the four years I’ve covered @TNHouseReps, I’ve never seen a vote held like this where there are votes on the board but it has not become official
— Joel Ebert (@joelebert29) April 23, 2019
Rep. John Deberry Jr. of Memphis was the only Democrat to join Republicans in favor of vouchers, and Republicans are now rewarding him by running ads for him in his district.
Tennessee Republicans are now running ads in support of Rep. Deberry, the one *Democrat* who voted for vouchers, supported the Heartbeat bill, and thinks racial discrimination is a myth.
Memphis, you know what to do. pic.twitter.com/lsDEktUBcy
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 24, 2019
Rep. Brandon Ogles (Williamson), Rep. Clay Doggett (Lawrence/Giles), and Rep. Chris Hurt (Lauderdale/Crockett/Haywood) were 3 Republicans who had campaigned as being anti-vouchers, but voted in favor of the legislation.
It was Rep. Jason Zachary however who cast the deciding vote, flipping from a “NO” to a “YES” to give Casada the 50-48 win he was looking for.
After the vote, Zachary said it was assurances Knox County wouldn’t be affected by the Vouchers, that they would be “held fiscally harmless”, and that they had been guaranteed resources for teacher raises and other such things – something he then appeared to walk back moments later. (The Holler has been told the promises to Zachary amounted to $5 Million to his local school district, something we’ll be looking into…also, the bill he voted for included Knox County).
Update on my ESA vote….
Knox County is out, held fiscally harmless and our teachers get their raises! pic.twitter.com/K583kzdE5u
— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) April 23, 2019
(It’s also worth noting his wife appears to work at a Christian school.)
The Senate version of the bill still has a vote pending, and since the house bill and the senate bill are different this battle is far from over. Here are the key differences.
If you think the way to fix public education in Tennessee is NOT to steer resources away from public schools, holler at your legislators and let them know to stand strong for public schools.
HOW THEY VOTED:
Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DEBERRY, DOGGETT, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, HURT, Johnson C, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, OGLES, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, ZACHARY, Mr. Speaker Casada — 50.
Representatives voting no were: Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeem, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson G, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton C, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright — 48.
You should see the massive property tax increases in his rural county as the voucher program expands…which it will every single year!
— Gloria Johnson (@VoteGloriaJ) April 24, 2019
I am a graduate of the @jcityTNschools. The fact that @hillrep and Rep. Van Huss cannot see the value public education adds for all Tennesseans shows how out of touch the @TNGOP is. #Vouchers are not the answer. #tnleg pic.twitter.com/ZLnIekRylt
— Kate Craig (@KateCraigTN) April 24, 2019
If you live in TN14 remember this betrayal in 2020. It is time to vote out the weak politicians who make backroom deals instead of someone who will stand up and fight for their constituents. #VoteThemAllOut #NoVouchers #GoodPublicEducation
— Lynda Weaver 🌊 (@lbweaver) April 23, 2019
If he really believed that the intent of the bill was to help students then why would he want to exclude his own district from this help? They are tacitly admitting that this does not help students
— Mulatto (@quicksilver99) April 23, 2019
Sad day for Tennessee https://t.co/Gz2J3XP8WU
— Bo Mitchell (@VoteBo) April 23, 2019
We’ve already seen Bill Lee and his team of school privatizers use desperate measures in order to win votes for their “educational savings account” voucher scheme, but the latest effort reaches a new low. Team Lee turned to conservative mega-donor Lee Beaman (who gave Lee’s gubernatorial campaign $8000 in 2018) to pen an article in defense of school vouchers.
While the opposition to school vouchers includes resolutions from 44 school boards around the state, groups of parents, teachers, charitable foundations, civil rights groups, and even a former Senate sponsor of voucher legislation, the support appears to come from a small group of big money backers.
The public face chosen for this group? A guy with a porn addiction who taped himself having sex with prostitutes in order to teach his wife how to better please him. You might say he’s certainly a fan of choice.
Beaman and Lee have been working together for years to bring school privatization to Tennessee. Both Bill Lee and Lee Beaman have been consistent supporters of the Tennessee affiliate of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, a group that works to undermine public education and advance school vouchers.
It’s no surprise, then, that after bringing Betsy DeVos to Nashville, Bill Lee would turn to his other voucher buddy, Lee Beaman, to advance his privatization agenda.
In fact, as I wrote in December, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Bill Lee is taking our state down this dangerous road:
Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.
Now, we’ve got Lee Beaman as the face and voice of vouchers ahead of a week when the privatization scheme known as ESAs will face key votes in the House and Senate.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
This week there are vouchers votes in both the TN House and the TN Senate. Last week teachers showed up at the capitol to make their voices heard against public school-harming vouchers.
Watch and share this VIDEO, and holler at your reps and Governor Lee to let them know public money belongs in public schools.
Read one of our previous articles about vouchers HERE.
Desperate for votes for his voucher scheme to send public tax dollars to unaccountable private schools, Governor Bill Lee appears to be going along with a plan unveiled by House Republicans yesterday to buy off rural legislators with a tiny grant program. Let’s call it what it is: bribery.
Here’s the deal: The new plan eliminates Madison County from the list of districts where students will initially be eligible for Education Savings Accounts. That’s likely intended to win over the votes of Madison County Republicans wavering in their support of Lee’s proposal. It means that only students in Shelby, Knox, Hamilton, and Davidson counties will be eligible for the program when it launches (if it should pass).
Next, the plan redirects funds originally intended to help urban districts to rural districts. Again, this is nothing more than throwing money at lawmakers (and their districts) in order to secure the needed 50 votes for passage in the House.
Here’s a breakdown of how that would work:
In the first year, school districts outside the four counties identified in the program would split up $6.2 million. In the second, schools in the 91 counties would share $12.5 million. In the third year, the aforementioned counties would receive $18.7 million.
91 counties would divide a relatively small amount of funds. In the first year, if the grants were evenly divided among all counties, each county would receive an additional $68,000. That’s barely enough to fund a single position in most districts.
The amended proposal also pushes the amount of the voucher to $7500. That means at full implementation (currently imagined at 30,000 students), the total annual cost would be $225 million.
That’s enough to give every teacher in the state a raise of roughly 8%. That’s $225 million NOT available to fund the BEP or to enhance our current funding formula by improving ratios for RTI or school counselors or nurses.
Instead of adding the elements needed to make our public schools a success, Bill Lee and the House GOP envision giving that money away to private schools that don’t have to take the state’s TNReady test.
The legislation is currently scheduled to be heard in Senate Finance and on the House floor on Tuesday, April 23rd.
Oh, and if you’re a legislator not susceptible to this type of cheap bribery, Lee and his team will ensure you face pain in the form of attack ads paid for by pleasant-sounding dark money groups with names like Tennessee Federation for Children and Tennesseans for Student Success.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
State Senate Candidate Vote Bill Powers – running in Houston, Stewart, and Montgomery counties in a special election to replace Mark Green – gave a vague, wandering, uninformed, non-answer answer when asked about school vouchers this week:
“I haven’t seen a copy of the bill, so I can’t speak to it.”
The bill has been available for 2 months.
He went on:
“Glen Casada… I know Jack Johnson the majority leader has come out in favor of it – this is the governor’s proposal. Is it a voucher program? It’s a hybrid as far as I can tell. But having not seen it, all I can say as it relates to education, is every child deserves an education.”
He’s either ignorant, uncurious, or deceptive. None of the 3 are good qualities to have in a state senator.
Powers then went on to talk about rural broadband as a dodge, then again said he hasn’t seen the bill before dropping that he’s a 2-term city councilman, and eventually coming back to this:
“All I can say is education is important to me, and I’ll be there for the people of Houston, Stewart, and Montgomery.”
This is the kind of answer you give when you know your constituents don’t want it, but the people who are funding your campaign do.
Watch the VIDEO:
Powers was last seen agreeing the LGBT movement is “Demonic” and the “Muslim Agenda” must be pushed back against on his Facebook page, then claiming not to have said it while also not expressing support for those Tennesseans.
Will Houston, Stewart, and Montgomery counties send another anti-LGBT pro-vouchers senator to Nashville?
He faces Democrat Juanita Charles April 23rd, as well as Doyle Clark and David Cutting.
Last week HB 1380 – a bill from Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) to allow teachers to arm themselves in Tennessee’s schools – passed out of the K-12 subcommittee, despite every single witness who testified making a case in opposition, including a teacher, a student, a former teacher, and 3 representatives from law enforcement.
Watch the Highlights:
The Senate version is SB1399 by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville).
The two measures are scheduled to be heard on the same day this week: Wednesday, April 10th.
The bill, as amended, allows the carrying of loaded, concealed weapons by school employees with permits. The names of the employees would be kept confidential, though it appears neither the school nor the state would be held liable for any of the employee’s actions in relation to a shooting incident.
Law enforcement witnesses included Brink Fidler, a former Metro Nashville plainclothes officer, Sheriff John Fuson of Montgomery County, representing the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, and Colonel Dereck Stewart of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
They all were concerned about training and allowing teachers to teach and law enforcement to handle those duties.Sheriff Fuson also pointed out the issue of responding officers differentiating between well-intentioned school employees and an active shooter.
House Education Committee chair Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) said he talked to authorities at a Kentucky school in the aftermath of a shooting there, who said arming teachers “would’ve been the worst thing they could to.”
Rep. Williams responded that Parkland’s authorities thought differently.
Rep. Iris Rudder (R-Winchester) felt it was a “discussion worth having” and helped it pass to full committee, while Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) asked why Tennessee wouldn’t pay for School Resource Officers everywhere with the $1 Billion surplus.
The bill is before the house and senate committees Wednesday. Holler at your reps.