VOUCHERS “DONE DIRT CHEAP” – IS GOV. LEE BUYING RURAL VOTES FOR PEANUTS?

This post was first seen on the Tennessee Education Report. Follow @TNEdReport for more.

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

VIDEO: State Senate Candidate Powers Plays Dumb About Vouchers

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.

VIDEO: ARMING TEACHERS BILL HIGHLIGHTS (Heads to House & Senate Committees Wednesday)

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.

Reps Weaver & Love Face-Off Over Child Suspensions & Expulsions And Science

With black kids being expelled & suspended at alarming rates, Rep. Harold Love’s bill for teachers to at least consider a child’s home environment before expelling/suspending them meets resistance from Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, who skeptically asks why anyone would use science when it comes to bad behavior and thinks the problem may be that teachers aren’t allowed to discipline:

“Some of these kids need a spanking.”

The bill moved on to full committee. Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:

TN Teachers Against Vouchers Calling In Sick To Flood The Capitol Tuesday 4/9

(FIRST SEEN ON THE TN ED REPORT… Follow @TNEdReport for more updates)

A Tennessee teacher writes about the education policies that make her sick.

I’m sick.

Sick of my students being over-tested and our schools being underfunded.

Sick of teachers leaving the profession because they are underpaid and undervalued.

Sick of Tennessee being 45th in the nation in per pupil funding.

Sick of being disrespected by a Governor who has proposed increasing state funding for unaccountable charter schools by 100% while only increasing funding for teachers by 2%.

And how I feel is only going to get worse if the state government passes voucher legislation, which will further drain the resources our students need from public schools and hand them over to unaccountable private companies.

That’s why there’s a movement of teachers planning on calling in sick on Tuesday, April 9th to travel to Nashville and flood the capitol.

We plan on letting our state’s politicians know just how sick we are. And we plan on making it clear to them: the war on public education in Tennessee ends now.

I’m a member of the Tennessee Education Association, but I know that there are many in the state leadership who think that collective action is too aggressive and premature. They still believe that we can work amicably with state politicians. I disagree.

Anyone still entertaining that idea should have had a rude awakening last week when Betsy DeVos visited our state and held closed door meetings with privatizers and politicians.

Several months back, when Governor Lee announced his unfortunate choice for the TN Commissioner of Education, I publicly stated that he had declared war on public education. Some may have thought that was a bit dramatic. However, the Governor wouldn’t have invited the most vilified Secretary of Education in history to the state if he didn’t plan on dropping an atomic bomb on public education. His voucher and charter bills are just that.

With the backing of ALEC and Betsy DeVos those devastating bills will pass unless teachers wake up and do something drastic. Millions upon millions of dollars will be drained from public education and siphoned away from our students.

How do I know this? Because it was perfectly ok to have an admitted child predator be the chair of the House Education Committee until he voted against the voucher bill. Only then was he no longer fit to be the chair.

Strong arm tactics are running rampant and the writing is on the wall.

The go-along to get-along approach of the state teachers association, which means working with the enemies of public education, has been a pipe dream for almost a decade, and it’s time for teachers to wake up. All the emailing and phone calls in the world won’t stop politicians bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers and DeVos family from pursuing devastating legislation that hurts our schools, students, and communities.

Over the last year, I have watched educators in one state after another rise up, take their power back, and force legislators to actually represent THEM and not privatizers. It didn’t matter that the strikes were illegal or sick-outs were risky. When educators stick together and have the backing of the community, they can make real change possible. Teachers can take on billionaires and win. They already have in other states.

In my opinion, the only thing that will stop this insanity is for teachers to walk out. Shut it down. Take back our schools. Take back our profession. Do our job……. and fight for our kids.

I hope to see you in the capitol on Tuesday, April 9.

Lauren Sorensen is a second grade teacher at Halls Elementary School in Knox County and a former president of the Knox County Education Association.

Rep. Lamar’s Bill to Help Pregnant Hope Scholarship Teens Passes With Bipartisan Support

Rep. London Lamar’s bill to give pregnant Hope Scholarship high schoolers more time with their babies before having to go to college passed with bipartisan support, after Lamar and Rep. Antonio Parkinson reminded the committee of its “pro-life” nature, and pointed out that the intention of the bill is to make it so that underprivileged girls aren’t forced to choose between their child and their education.

There was pushback both from the representative from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) in his testimony, and from Chairman Mark White (R), who claimed that allowing this concession to pregnant teens would open up the process to people with other medical issues – like depression and mononucleosis.

Lamar pushed back by stating the obvious:

“Pregnancy is not the same as depression.”

Lamar had support from an unlikely source in Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn (R), who agreed that pregnancy is different than the other medical issues Brought up, and appreciated that the bill would keep pregnant teenagers from having to choose between their children and their education.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D) had the last word in support, saying that pro-life legislators needed to be consistent and support this bill.

“If we are going to be in a pro-life culture we need to, at a minimum, give people the tools to make pro-life decisions.”

He then called on anyone who supported the Heartbeat Bill to support the legislation.

The bill passed 14-6.

HB0689 by Lamar – HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE:
Rec. for pass; ref to Government Operations Committee 4/3/2019
Passed
Ayes………………………………………..14
Noes…………………………………………6

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Byrd, Coley, DeBerry, Dixie, Dunn, Hodges, Hurt, Love, Moody, Parkinson, Vaughan, Williams, Windle — 14.
Representatives voting no were: Cochran, Haston, Leatherwood, Sexton J, Weaver, White — 6.

“OPTICS” UPDATE: School Board Senator Johnson “Voucher-Shamed” Is 50% African American

Yesterday we posted a video from a Williamson County legislative update Friday in which Senator Jack Johnson aggressively defended Governor Bill Lee’s school vouchers plan which would allow public school money to be used to partially fund private school educations.

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE. The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.)

Senator Johnson seemed particularly upset by a resolution passed by a the Franklin Special School District school board here in Williamson County, which he called the “wealthiest and whitest county” in Tennessee:

“So when I hear a school board in Williamson County passes a resolution opposing this initiative… do you understand the optics of that? We’re the wealthiest, whitest county in the state. And we’re saying we don’t want to do something to help inner-city kids who are poor and predominantly minority. Shame on you. SHAME ON YOU.”

It’s worth pointing out that many school boards across the state have passed resolutions against it, including ShelbyWilson County and Montgomery County – home of Clarksville, which has a significant minority population relative to other areas of Tennessee.

Shelby is majority African-American.

And while Johnson is right that Williamson County is the wealthiest, it is by no means the whitest – but more importantly, the Franklin Special School District board represents schools where 50% of the students are on reduced lunches, and where the school board itself is half African-American:

This begs the question: Senator Johnson mentioned the “optics” of a Williamson County school board standing against the concept of steering public money to private Schools, but what about the “optics” of the Senate Majority leader in an all-white Republican legislature yelling “SHAME ON YOU” at a half-black school board looking out for a district where 50% of the kids are on reduced lunches?

Seems like looking out for all kids, not just a few, is the job of a school board, so it should come as no surprise that these resolutions are being passed throughout the state.

As for the FSSD Board, it’s highly decorated. From their website:

The Franklin Special School District Board of Education is a six-time Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) Board of Distinction and was 2015 Tennessee School Board of the Year. The Board was recognized by TSBA for its development, application and monitoring of policy; involvement in long-range planning; promotion of quality education through involvement with the legislature, city/county commission, State Board of Education, community and staff; participation in board development activities, including boardmanship award levels for each member; and exhibition of a positive relationship with the media.

As a Board of Distinction, a two-year designation, FSSD was honored by TSBA as a Board of Distinction for its work as a whole, meeting specified requirements in four key areas: planning, policy, promotion and board development. The FSSD Board of Education was previously awarded TSBA School Board of the Yearin 1998, and accomplished the requirements necessary to become a Board of Distinction in 1999-2001, 2001-2003, 2007-2009, 2009-2011, 2014-2016, 2016-2018.

If you agree that Senator Jack Johnson was “inappropriate” with his comments, holler at him HERE.

Sen. Jack Johnson To Anti-Vouchers School Boards: “SHAME ON YOU!”

At a Williamson County “Legislative Update” Friday, Senator Jack Johnson took the microphone to offer a full-throated defense of Governor Bill Lee’s school vouchers program (aka “Education Savings Accounts”).

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE. The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.)

Senator Johnson Brought up both pillars of Governor Lee’s education privatization platform – the statewide charter authorization board (which would be able to overrule local boards who decline to approve a charter), and vouchers.

Johnson accused school boards and other organizations of disseminating misinformation about the vouchers, and said while they care about public schools, he cares about the kid, offering harsh words for recent school boards (like his own in Williamson County) who have passed resolutions against charters:

“Do you understand the optics of that? We’re the wealthiest, whitest county in the state, and we’re saying we don’t want to do something to help inner-city kids who are poor and predominantly minorities. Shame on you. SHAME ON YOU.”

Watch the VIDEO:

Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, also brought up the Governor’s friendship with Jeb Bush and used Florida as evidence of the success of vouchers and charter schools:

“Jeb Bush was elected in 1998 and he ran on a platform of education reform, including education choice (vouchers) and expansion of charter schools. The state of Florida went from 40th in the nation for 4th grade reading among poor and minority students to 1st. 40th to 1st. You cannot argue with the results, they work.”
Johnson says nothing about a time frame, and offers no clues about how the success is attributed to charters and vouchers, so it has been difficult to verify this claim. Florida does not appear to be “#1” in anything, according to state rankings on the National Assessment of Education Progress, aka the nation’s report card.
The top performer on the NAEP every year for decades has been Massachusetts which has a cap on the number of charters allowed in the state and does not have a voucher program. The bottom performer is Louisiana which has had charter schools and extensive voucher programs for many years.
Extensive research on the education impact of vouchers has consistently found negative results.
Research on the impact of charters is mixed at best, with overall results usually comparable to public schools, and this op-ed from the Sun-Sentinal editorial board in March called “CHARTER SCHOOL COMPANIES FEAST AT THE PUBLIC TROUGH” makes it clear that in Florida the main beneficiaries of charters schools have been private companies raking in public dough:
“Florida has become Exhibit A of both counts: profiteering and interest group politics. Under the uncritical eyes of an indulgent Legislature, for-profit education companies now manage nearly half of the state’s 650 publicly financed charter schools and enroll more than 130,000 students, but with woefully insufficient controls on what they spend and to whom they pay it. Like the private prison industry and other banqueters at the public trough, they’re investing heavily in lobbying — $5.3 million in just over 10 years — and in political expenditures.”
They go on:
“During a charter school visit last month, Gov. DeSantis said he wanted to do something about “bad actors” in the industry, but he has yet to say what that would be. However “bad actors” might be defined, the root of the problem is larger. It’s the very existence of the for-profit sector. Charter schools should be non-profit in all respects, not just on paper.”
Some say Florida vouchers are helping certain kids get into college, but a recent Orlando Sun-Sentinel report exposed a windfall going to private schools through public vouchers with little oversight.
As education expert Jeff Bryant of Education Opportunity Network puts it:
“What the charter/voucher proponents (in Tennessee) may be referring to with their claim of Florida being #1 in reading is the most recent round of NAEP scores that found the state was one of few to make significant gains in reading scores. But that can in no way be attributed to vouchers and charters. The jump likely has multiple causes. Florida 4th graders out-perform the national average on the NAEP reading exam but 8th graders are about average. The boost on the NAEP for 4th graders could be attributed to the state law that requires retaining 3rd graders who flunk state reading tests, which could artificially inflate the 4th grade NAEP reading scores.”
Johnson also implies that Governor Lee will be reimbursing the money lost by schools when kids go elsewhere, but is also careful to say “for 3 years”. No word on what happens after that.
The idea that public schools won’t be losing money on account of vouchers is contradicted by all evidence. If you agree public money belongs in public schools, holler at Senator Jack Johnson HERE.

Betsy Devos In Nashville TODAY To Help “Advance God’s Kingdom” With Lee’s School Vouchers

Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – most recently seen trying to cut funding from the Special Olympics (because that’s What Jesus Would Do, right?) – is in town TODAY to help Governor Lee push his school vouchers plan (aka “Education Savings Accounts”) which passed the House Education Committee last week.

Supporters of the vouchers say they will help some kids in failing schools escape to a better education.

Opponents say we shouldn’t be steering public money away from already struggling public schools to do that, that it amounts to the privatization of education, and that the private schools in receipt of the money wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of accountability, and would be able to discriminate against certain kids using public funds.

(Watch our highlights of the Education Committee debate HERE.)

The TEA says Vouchers have been a “disaster” where implemented and remains against them, as are a number of other organizations.

Many of the schools on the list of Tennessee schools which would accept the vouchers are small Christian schools. This is noteworthy because of an interview Devos and her husband gave in 2001 in which they answered the question of why she wasn’t just focused on funding private Christian schools on her own by saying they were looking for a greater opportunity to “advance God’s kingdom”.

Listen to 90 seconds of the interview:

The audio clip, which was exclusively obtained by Politico, reveals how the religion of the Devos family fuels their drive to reform public education. It comes from the 2001 edition of a conference known as The Gathering, an annual meeting of some of the nation’s most wealthy Christians.

The interviewer asks:

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply fund Christian private schools and be done with it?”

Betsy Devos answers:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education.”

The couple goes on to describe school choice as leading to “greater kingdom gain” explaining how public education has “displaced” the church as the center of communities, and said providing parents with school choice is one way to undo that displacement.

They say their work is an effort to remain active in the “Shephelah”, a region they learned about on a trip to Israel, which is supposedly where David and Goliath fought, which represents a public forum where the influence of the church is needed, rather than fleeing to the hills to live comfortably.

Betsy Devos:

“Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.”

Her husband Dick then adds:

“We could run away and just go back up in the hills and live very safely and very comfortably — or are we going to exist in the Shephelah and try to impact the view of the community around us with the ideas we believe are more powerful ideas of a better way to live one’s life and a more meaningful and a more rewarding way to live one’s life as a Christian?”

(Their talk does not touch on LGBT issues, but Politico points out that “Other members of the DeVos family have contributed to anti-LGBT causes; there have been conflicting reports about the work by Betsy DeVos and her husband in this arena.”)

Governor Lee, who is a driving force behind this legislation, makes no secret about his religious beliefs, often bringing up his faith in ads and campaign stops during his race.

Tennessee is a largely Christian state, as is America on the whole, and everyone should be free to practice their own faith, but a valid question remains: Should government money help finance religious education?

Religion is central to the school choice debate. There’s concern about the effects of blurring the line of church-state separation, something which we see plenty of in the state legislature these days as the anti-LGBT “slate of hate” snakes it’s way through the process.

The courts have been mixed on the issue of sending public money to private schools, but in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court did strike down a school voucher plan in the state, saying that the program was unconstitutional and that it channeled tax dollars into “separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools.”

Tennessee is 45th in spending per pupil. 

The vouchers bill is heading towards a floor vote in the house, and it is likely to have support in the senate, where Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson has already said he supports them “1000%” but made it clear he intends to keep them far away from Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee all live.

Devos will have company today. If you want to join Indivisible to *welcome* her to Tennessee, holler at them HERE. And holler at Governor Lee HERE.

Rep. Cepicky Votes For Statewide Charters & Vouchers Despite Running on “Local” Control

This past couple of weeks we’ve seen two major pieces of education legislation pass through the education committee.

Last week it was the “Statewide Charter Authorization Board” which gives charter schools who don’t get local approval a way to appeal.

This week it was Lee’s “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers, which would allow public funds to be taken away and used at private schools.

Both are major steps forward in the Republican effort to privatize education, an effort we’ve seen in other states which we have yet to see positive results.

It has come to our attention that Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) was asked specifically about both of these issues in the one debate he had with Democrat A.J. Holmes during their race in 2018, and in both instances Cepicky said he believes vouchers and charters should be subject to “local control”:

Cepicky, a member of the Education committee, voted in favor of both bills, a clear departure from his campaign rhetoric.

The privatization effort nationwide is backed by the Koch Brothers, and it’s a big part of the reason Betsy Devos is where she is.

As a reminder, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson was recently heard saying he backs vouchers “1000%” – as long as they don’t affect Williamson County, where he, Speaker Casada, and Governor Lee are all from.

Opponents of both bills are warning that they are opening the “floodgates” for vouchers and charters to make their way everywhere throughout Tennessee.

A look into Cepicky’s campaign finance disclosures reveals a few noteworthy contributions on this topic. Cepicky received $1000 from “Tennesseans for Putting Students First”, a pro-voucher group:

Another $2000 from the PAC of House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who co-sponsored the vouchers bill:

And then another $1000 from Lord Casada himself, who just demoted Rep. David Byrd one day after Byrd voted against Lee’s Voucher proposal:

That all seemed to outweigh the $500 he received from the teachers union PAC:

When reached for comment, Cepicky’s 2018 opponent AJ Holmes had this to say:

“While this is indeed infuriating, this could create a moment of unity among us all. Independents, Republicans, and Democrats alike can still agree on a few things. We can all agree Rep. Cepicky’s move makes him one of the worst kinds of politicians, as it’s the move of one who sold to the highest bidder… we need campaign finance reform.”

When even Rep. David Byrd has more of a backbone on an issue than you do, it might be time to rethink somethings.

If you have a problem with representatives saying one thing during their campaigns then doing another when they get into office, holler at Cepicky HERE.