STATEWIDE CHARTER AUTHORIZATION BOARD: Gov. Lee’s Attack On Public Schools Continues

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) are carrying SB 796 and HB 940, a signature piece of Gov. Bill Lee’s K-12 education initiative which would create a statewide charter authorizer board, allowing charter schools to completely bypass the local school board and the wishes of the actual parents, and instead go straight to a state board for approval.

The legislation would set up a nine-member board appointed by the governor, with confirmation by the House and Senate, to run what would become a statewide charter school district.

From The Daily Memphian:

“White didn’t want to use the word ‘bypass’ but acknowledged the legislation would remove the step for charter applicants to go to the Tennessee Board of Education if turned down by local boards.”

Charter schools are essentially private schools which take public school dollars away from brick and mortar public schools. Many are fly-by-night operations that take as much public money as they can and then disappear.

In the past week, New Vision Academy closed down in Davidson County because of problems with building fire codes. According to reports, a federal investigation also is being conducted into its operators.

This bill would mean charter schools like New Vision could be approved by a board that doesn’t even live in an area, leading to money for those kids being steered away from that area’s public schools – including in rural areas of TN which already barely have enough money to fully fund their existing public school systems.

Cheatham, Claiborne, Robertson, and Williamson County school boards – as well as McMinville schools – have all received letters of intent from charter schools this year. (As a reminder, Williamson County has been assured by their legislators they won’t have vouchers and charter schools… but what if the state charter authorizer disagrees?)

Just like with Lee’s “Education Savings Accounts” (aka “SCHOOL VOUCHERS”), the winners with this bill are private, for-profit charter schools.

Governor Lee’s attack on our Public Schools continues.

Whatever your position on Charters, most people agree local school boards know the needs of their districts better than the state. This appears to be another instance of the governor/Tennessee Republicans saying they prefer local control and “small government” only when it’s convenient.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who serves on the House Education Committee, pointed that out, calling the legislation a bad idea:

“I think you’re totally negating an entire elected board by the people that was put in place to make those decisions. It’s unfortunate because in most cases we hear our colleagues from the other side of the aisle saying they want smaller government. But this is not smaller government when you’re adding more bureaucracy and more heavy-handedness from the state in regards to local government.”

Senator Kelsey had this to say on behalf of Lee:

“The governor believes we should have an authority in Tennessee that’s dedicated toward approving or disapproving our charter schools to ensure that we have quality charter schools in the state. I’m honored to be able to carry the legislation for him.”

The bill is expected to draw immediate opposition, but it just passed a House Education subcommittee.

Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) strongly opposes the legislation, telling The Holler it’s being pushed by groups who are unhappy with the public schools in their own area, but would affect schools everywhere – even areas like Montgomery County which are proud of their schools:

“Just because someone’s unhappy with the schools in their district doesn’t mean they need to take steps to destroy the schools in my district or other districts. The bill wouldn’t just affect their communities, it affects all communities. Charters may not be in Montgomery County yet, but if this happens they’ll be there soon destroying our public school system. No thank you.”

Many others disagree as well.

Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for Tennessee Education Assocation:

Allan Creasy, who recently ran for state house in the Memphis area:

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville):

If you agree, holler at Governor Lee HERE, Senator Kelsey HERE, and Rep. White HERE.

OPINION: Tennessee Teachers Could Be Next To Strike

This post from organizer/journalist Chris Brooks was first seen on the TN Ed Report. Follow @TheAndySpears for his take on politics and policy and subscribe to the TN ED REPORT HERE.  

Chris Brooks is a former organizer with the Tennessee Education Association and currently works as an organizer and staff writer for Labor Notes.

Tennessee teachers have taken a pummeling over the years.

They’re grossly underpaid and their professional autonomy has been stripped away. Their students are over-tested and their schools underfunded.

But what has been the collective response?

To lie low.

Keep their heads down.

This is especially true of the leadership in their union, the Tennessee Education Association. They’ve pursued a strategy of “it’s better to be at the table than on the menu.”

This strategy emphasizes access over confrontation. They hope that small incremental change will be possible through a combination of lobbying and writing checks to political campaigns. And since the union isn’t being adversarial, isn’t pushing too hard or too fast, they hope they won’t be a target for political retribution.

Those hopes have been misplaced.

Across the state, conditions in schools have only gotten worse. Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of the country in per-pupil spending. Experienced and qualified teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

Now, newly elected Governor Bill Lee is taking direct aim at public education. He just announced a state budget that doubles funding for charter schools and is pushing lawmakers to approve $25 million for vouchers. Governor Lee’s disastrous privatization agenda will further drain resources from schools that are already struggling to get by.

The lesson here is that we can’t incrementally lobby our way out of the hole we are in.

Lying low doesn’t work, but there is another way.

All across the country, teachers are supercharging the routine of lobbying and elections with a far more powerful tool: they are going out on strike.

Teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kentucky have used collective action to transform the political landscape. They’ve decimated charter and voucher legislation, stopped further spending cuts, and pushed policies that actually benefit student outcomes: lower class sizes, more nurses and counselors, an end to toxic testing, and paying teachers adequately so school systems can retain them for more than a few years.

There is clear tangible evidence that strikes work. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “protests by teachers and others last year helped lead to substantial increases in school funding in Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.”

It didn’t matter that striking is illegal in many of these states or that the state government is dominated by anti-union Republicans.

When teachers found the courage to strike they found out that the community—and often even their boss—had their back

With so many school districts struggling to make ends meet, striking teachers found that their demands for increased state funding had the support of their local administrators. Because superintendents closed their schools during the nine-day West Virginia strike, teachers didn’t lose pay and the strike rolled on.

Parents know that issues like class size and funding matter. It’s common sense. Would you rather your child be in a classroom with twenty other students or forty? Do you want your child to be taught by a capable, qualified professional or to be endlessly drilled in preparation for a high-stakes test?

Unsurprisingly, teachers everywhere have received an outpouring of support from parents and community members when they hit the picket lines.

Teachers living with anemic unions and deteriorating conditions in their schools have created their own Facebook groups to communicate with each other and coordinate actions across school sites. Examples include West Virginia Public Employees United, KY 120 United, and Arizona Educators United.

Now there is TN Teachers United.

“This group is for any public school educator who is tired of their students’ needs being put last and is tired of their voices being ignored,” said Lauren Sorensen, a second grade teacher at Halls Elementary School in Knox County and a longtime leader in her local union. “If you are ready to organize and act, then join us.”

The group was formed following a video call organized by Labor Notes between Tennessee teacher activists and two of the rank-and-file organizers of the statewide walkouts in Arizona and West Virginia (see video below).

Tennessee teachers face the same issues and challenges as teachers in West Virginia and Arizona—and they are just as resourceful.

They just have to ask themselves: are they going to keep lying low or are they going to start fighting back?

Chris Brooks is a former organizer with the Tennessee Education Association and currently works as an organizer and staff writer for Labor Notes.

TN GOP Kills Bill To Stop Shaming Hungry Students

Republicans voted 4-2 to defeat The Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act—a bill with three measures to ensure students can eat school lunches and not be punished when parents fail to pay meal fees or a meal debt.

The bill sponsor Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said the bill would stop school employees from throwing away a served meal if the student could not pay, and would also prohibit schools from punishing or shaming students who accumulated a meal debt.

Clemmons:

“We certainly do not want to have a child stigmatized or punished in any way for simply incurring a lunch debt at no fault of their own. We have had incidents in recent years in Tennessee where students have been treated adversely or stigmatized in some manner. Whether it’s being made to eat in the principal’s office and eat a peanut butter sandwich by themselves simply because they had a lunch debt, or being prevented from going on field trips because of a lunch debt, we want to prevent these types of things… this is no fault of the child.”

House Bill 0827 would also have required schools to contact a guardian after a student accumulates a debt of five meals or more.

The K-12 Education Subcommittee heard the bill March 6. You can watch the full presentation here.

Here’s a clip of the vote:

Republicans Seemed Supportive, But Then…
Both Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40 (last seen defending her support for the bust of the KKK Grand Wizard bust in the capitol by saying “some of my best friends are black”) and Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83, spoke seemingly in support of children eating school lunches despite a meal debt… but would eventually go on to vote it down.

Rep. White said:

“Any adult who would shame a child over an issue like this—shame on them.”

But then he used his remaining time to fixate on the unspecified cost of school lunches.

The fiscal note included on the original version bill, which White read aloud, said local school districts would lose an unknown amount of revenue on meal debts left unrecovered, but “Otherwise, the fiscal impact of the legislation is considered not significant.”

Rep. Iris Rudder spoke up as she voted, saying she was inclined to vote yes but decided at the last minute that she didn’t understand the bill.

Reps. Weaver, White, and Rudder ultimately voted against the bill—possibly denying lunch to some students who incurred a meal debt.

Shame indeed.

It should be noted that the very same day this bill was voted down for reasons of fiscal responsibility the Tennessean broke a story that under Speaker Glen Casada taxpayers have paid $7 Million more to run the TN House, and that his Chief of Staff is being paid $200,000 per year – a $130,000 raise from last year.

It should also be noted that today Rep. Weaver today gave a passionate speech in favor of the heartbeat bill HB 0077 and adamantly insisted we do everything in our power to protect the sanctity of life – but apparently that doesn’t extend to children of school age.

Rep. Kirk Haston, a coach and teacher out of Lobelville, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who is running for mayor of Nashville had this to say to The Holler about the failure of his bill:

“With this legislation, we intended to protect children from stigmatization and bullying as a result of incurring a lunch debt. As we all know, incurring a lunch debt at school is no fault of a child and is often not the fault of a parent who is doing the best they can to provide for their child. Under no scenario should a child should be treated differently or adversely or discriminated against in any way if they’ve incurred a meal debt in our state. This legislation would have protected our children. I am disappointed that a few Republicans killed what should have been a non-partisan piece of legislation to protect innocent children.”

How they voted: K-12 Education Subcommittee, March 6;

Representatives voting Aye:
Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, District 72
Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, District 41

Representatives voting No against the bill:
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83

TN ED REPORT: “100% FOR CHARTERS, 2.5% FOR TEACHERS” #StateOfTheState

Andy Spears owns the public policy consulting firm Spears Strategy which provides policy and advocacy consulting to school systems, non-profits, and parent groups. Spears holds a Ph.D. in Public Administration with an emphasis in education policy. Over the past 15 years, he has worked in public policy roles in state and local government in Kentucky and Tennessee. Follow @TheAndySpears for his take on politics and policy and subscribe to the TN ED REPORT HERE.

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Tonight, Governor Bill Lee outlined his proposed budget for 2019-2020. Lee’s budget doubles the fund for charter school facilities to $12 million. This amounts to a benefit of $342 per student (there are roughly 35,000 Tennessee students in charter schools).

Meanwhile, he announced a meager improvement to teacher salaries of around 2% – $71 million. This amounts to $71 per student.

So, charter schools — which serve only 3.5% of the state’s students — will see a 100% increase in available facility funding from the state while teachers will see only a 2% increase in pay.

If the two investments were equal and funded at the rate granted to charter schools, there would be a $342 million investment in teacher salaries. That’s roughly a 10% raise. A raise that’s desperately needed as Tennessee leads the nation in percentage of teachers with little to no classroom experience. We also have one of the largest teacher wage gaps in the Southeast.

As one Nashville teacher pointed out, Nashville – and the entire state — have a failed business plan:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Now, those are numbers for Nashville. Some teachers around the state have to teach for 10 years before they even hit $40,000. Still, the point is clear: The value proposition for teachers in our state is not very good. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s first budget is not doing much to change that. It’s the status quo. A nominal increase that will likely not entirely make it into teacher paychecks.

Tennessee’s numbers when it comes to both investment in schools and educational attainment are disappointing. Continuing along the same path means we’ll keep getting the same results.

The bottom line: Money matters.

 

 

Williamson County’s Sen. Jack Johnson: “SCHOOL VOUCHERS FOR THEE, NOT FOR ME”

Fireworks about Speaker Casada’s support for Rep. David Byrd grabbed the headlines at a Williamson County town hall Friday morning when Lawrence County resident Ashley Massey confronted the rest of the Williamson delegation about the issue – prompting Rep. Sam Whitson to get up and leave the event.

Whitson took heat for his actions on social media. He later said he had told the audience he would be leaving early, but not stopping to apologize to an emotional Massey raised some eyebrows.

Whitson deserves more credit than Speaker Casada though, who was conveniently a no-show despite having been scheduled to be there, leaving his colleagues to handle his mess in front of CNN cameras.

As Massey spoke, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson sat silently. The incident took the focus away from the policy discussions that had taken place earlier in the morning, where Johnson had more to say, particularly on the issue of school vouchers.

The idea behind vouchers, which are supported by Governor Lee, is that students in struggling Tennessee schools should be able to take the taxpayer dollars and use them towards tuition at other schools, including private schools.

It’s an issue that has become a source of contention throughout the country, particularly as Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has championed it despite “dismal” results in areas that have tried them.

Critics are concerned taking public dollars away from public schools do nothing to solve the issue of having troubled schools, and instead simply make matters worse for the kids who are left behind.

Some feel the agenda is being pushed on behalf of private religious school lobbyists, particularly Christian schools, which have their eyes on public dollars yet are not required to observe the same rules as public schools, meaning public dollars would be subsidizing schools that discriminate against certain communities with impunity, and who aren’t required to follow the same codes of conduct.

Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos famously replied:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Public schools in rural communities would be acutely impacted, as private schools in those areas could theoretically be created to vulture those much-needed dollars away.

It’s worth noting that the idea of vouchers began when schools were desegregated and some white parents in the South didn’t want their children to go to school with black children.

At the town hall, Rep. Whitson said vouchers were going to be a difficult fight in the TN House, where there were strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) on the other hand said he supported vouchers “1000%” – although in the next breath he made it clear they would in no way affect Williamson County, which is where he lives, and which is where the town hall was being held:

He reiterated the point during the Q & A session when Franklin Alderman Bev Burger spoke up in support of vouchers, which she mistakenly appeared to believe would mean more money for the city.

They would not.

Johnson again hammered home the point that his pro-voucher stance is for all parts of Tennessee aside from Williamson County, which begs the question: If vouchers are a good thing for every other part of the state, why is Johnson being so careful to make sure the voters who vote for HIM know THEIR schools won’t be impacted?

Tennessee ranks near the bottom in per-student spending. If Johnson is concerned with Tennessee having “failing” schools, how about maybe addressing that problem itself by spending more money to fix that issue, rather than steering money away from those schools towards private schools owned by those who have money for lobbyists?

Imagine for a second a town. There’s one road in, one road out. The road has been decimated by a flood. There’s no way to drive on it. People can’t get out.

Now imagine if instead of fixing that road, the state offered to pay for helicopters for just a handful of kids whose parents can afford to pay for a portion of the helicopters themselves. What are the kids who can’t afford it supposed to do? How are they supposed to get out?

Vouchers don’t fix the issue of failing schools. Vouchers pick winners and losers, making the problem worse for a majority of students. If the governor wants to add money to help kids in failing schools and start a scholarship program, great.

But steering public dollars away from already struggling public schools is not a solution.

There’s a reason county commissions and school boards throughout the state are passing resolutions against them. Holler at yours if you think they should also, and holler at Jack Johnson to let him know you see his hypocrisy.

If vouchers are bad for Williamson County, they’re bad for the rest of Tennessee.

SORRY, FORT CAMPBELL KIDS: Rep. Green Supports Taking Wall $$ From Fort Middle School

We’ve all heard by now that President Trump has declared a “National Emergency” at the border as an end-run around congress to get money for his Wall.

As we mentioned this weekend, Senator Lamar Alexander spoke out against the move calling it “Unconstitutional”, while the rest of the Republican Tennessee delegation has been supportive despite fancying themselves *strict constitutionalists* in favor of *limited government*.

That group includes Rep. Mark Green of TN-7, an army veteran who lives just outside of Clarksville in Ashland City.

What we’re now learning is that included in the list of 400+ projects the president would be steering funds away from to build the wall is “the operation of a middle school at Fort Campbell”, which would likely be unwelcome news to our brave men and women up in Clarksville, where half the base is located.

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle has already made note of this, asking Green for his position on it just yesterday. Green had this to say:

“I support it because I believe it’s a crisis. My biggest concern is the narcotics. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s certainly within his legal rights. I think very clearly people want the legislative branch doing legislative stuff, and the executive branch doing executive branch stuff. But the legislative branch has given authority to the executive branch in those certain circumstances where emergencies require action that Congress can’t be quick enough to respond to.”

Reading betweens the line of this “stuff”, Green has tried to make the case that this emergency declaration by Trump is not unprecedented since there have been 58 emergency declarations by presidents in the past – but not one of those has involved a president going around congress to get money for a campaign promise.

As for why the “emergency” is suddenly an emergency now when it didn’t seem to be for the first 2 years of the Trump presidency, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.

Green added:

“This is all within the power that’s been granted to the president.”

That will be for the courts to decide. Lawsuits have been filed, and they will likely cite the president saying “I didn’t have to do this” in the very press conference where he made the announcement as evidence for why this emergency is not actually an emergency at all.

More from Green:

“He made a promise to the American people. I think he’s just doing what he thinks he was elected to do.”

Green on the other hand was elected to look out for the interests of Clarksville, a military-heavy district, and it will be up to the residents and the soldiers there to decide how they feel about his decision to prioritize a wall on the Southern border over a school in their own backyard.

Incredibly, when asked about this, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina actually said the kids will be better off not getting the money:

“I would say it’s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We’ll get them the school they need. Right now we’ve got a national emergency on our hands.”

It seems Rep. Mark Green agrees. We wonder if the parents up in the Clarksville area do too.

It’s funny how the people who are the loudest about their undying support for The Constitution seem to forget what it says when it gets in the way of the things they want.

Holler at Rep. Green HERE if you’re in Clarksville and have any thoughts.

In the meantime, enjoy a fun cartoon from Modman, showing that there really is nothing this president does that Mark Green won’t support:

 

STATE OF THE STATE: Unhealthy, Impoverished, Underfunded Ed, Low Pay… But Cheap!

Our friends at Think Tennessee have just put out their yearly breakdown of where Tennessee stacks up with the other states on important things like opioid prescriptions (49th), poverty (41st), education funding (45th), Adult diabetes (45th), infant mortality (47th), mental health providers (45th) life expectancy (44th), and much more.

Some people are doing very well in our state, but on the whole the news is really not very good. We’re unhealthy, there’s a lot of poverty, our education is underfunded, and the jobs – although we have them – don’t pay well.

We deeply appreciate that Think Tennessee does this, and have made a video out of what they’ve found. If you enjoy it, feel free to share on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, or anywhere else you spend your time.

Admitted Sex Offender Rep. Byrd In Settlement Talks

(Note: Not About His Sex Crimes, Unfortunately)

In case you haven’t heard yet, Republican State Representative David Byrd – who covers Hardin, Lewis, Wayne, and some of Lawrence counties – has admitted on tape to sexual misconduct with high school girls he coached. Read more

TN ED REPORT: Education Subcommittee A-OK With Sex Offender Chair

Rep. David Byrd, who you’ll recall admitted on tape to sexually molesting girls he coached in Wayne County and was asked to step down by his own party before running again, getting re-elected, and getting promoted by Speaker Casada to the most unthinkably insulting post of all, just chaired his first subcommittee meeting.

Thankfully, all 6 members of the committee meeting spoke out in defiance of Byrd, and he is now stepping down.

Just kidding! Nobody said anything. Instead they went around making jokes about “interesting facts”, and acted like having a pedophile in charge was just another day at the office.

Go here to read Andy Spears’ post over at the TN Education Report.

This issue isn’t going away any time soon, and neither are we. Feel free to reach out to Speaker Casada and Byrd and let them know how you feel about this insult to women and survivors and frankly everyone in our state.

PASTOR: Just Say NO To Vouchers

Governor Bill Lee is getting ready to make vouchers a priority. Everyone is buckling down for the fight, which is why Wilson County just passed a referendum making it clear they’re against vouchers, and why Reverend David Kidd of Pastors for Tennessee Children just made it clear in The Tennessean out why Tennessee should reject vouchers.

Pastor Kidd says it will hurt public schools, particularly in our rural communities. (Spoiler: he’s right.)

Pastor Kidd:

From 2011 through the 2016-2017 school year, the voucher program cost Indiana taxpayers $516.5 million. 

This kind of school “choice” (so called) will lead to devastating cuts for rural schools. One hears, ”the money follows the child…” That may be true, but when a child leaves a public school, the school building still has to be maintained, the heat has to stay on, the teachers have to be paid, janitors, kitchen workers, and crossing guards have to be paid – but the money has followed the child out the door.

Reach out to Governor Lee HERE to let him know how you feel.