Lee’s Vouchers Pass Committee, DEBERRY The Lone Dem Vote In Favor (again)

After a lengthy debate, Governor Bill Lee’s pet school vouchers initiative passed the education committee today with 14 votes in favor, 9 against, and 1 – Kirk Haston, a teacher from Lobelville – being recorded as “present not voting”.

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Tennessee Star Attacks Trio of Women Reporters

The Tennessee Star, the far-right, Koch Brothers-funded “news outlet” has a problem with women – particularly smart, young women – as evidenced by their recent spree of attacks on Tennessean reporters.

In the last week, the Star, which likes to refer to itself as the alternative to Nashville’s daily paper of record, accused the three reporters of bias in their reporting, posted photos of the women taken from personal social media pages, and used language from far-right movements to characterize them.

Amelia Knisely, Elaina Sauber, whose name the Star misspelled twice as ‘Stauber’, and Emily West all cover Williamson County for the Tennessean’s local Williamson section. Knisely covers education, Sauber covers municipal issues in Brentwood, and West covers Franklin city issues.

Staff at the Star, including writer Chris Butler, whom Knisely says called her and “aggressively” demanded her sources on a story, were apparently triggered by coverage of a recent flap over cultural competency training for teachers in the Williamson County School System. Knisely has been covering the story for the last few weeks.

But, it seems no coincidence all three reporters are women, and women who are 30 or under. Although the Tennessean has male reporters covering similar topics for other municipalities, the Star has remained mum on criticizing men.

Last week wasn’t the first time the Star aggressively trolled one of the Tennessean’s female journalists. In August 2018, writer Chris Butler, the same reporter who harassed Knisely last week, wrote a story accusing reporter Natalie Allison of being “chummy” with “left wing activists.”

Those accusations came following protests of private prison giant Core Civic. The Star’s report said “Allison signaled likely coordination with the protestors” citing her use of the protestors’ hashtag during her live tweets of the protests.

The Star posted a photo of an angry-looking woman, with veins standing out on her neck, at the head of the Knisely story, published March 19.  Although the photo is not Knisely, it is meant to imply to readers it is, and abuts a headline accusing Knisely of “rage tweeting.”

Photo intended to represent Tennessean reporter Amelia Knisely, taken from Tennessee Star, March 19.

On March 25th, the Star referred to Sauber and West as “social justice warriors” – a right wing term intended as a pejorative – in a headline and lambasted them for using Twitter to interact with readers about stories. The attack on Sauber resulted from the reporter providing a list of racial incidents that have occurred in Williamson County schools over the last several years as proof the cultural competency training is needed. 

Here’s Tennessean reporter Amelia Knisley describing her conversation with Tennessee Star reporter Chris Butler:

A source close to the group of reporters say at least one has received death threats since the Star’s harassment began.

OPINION: “HEADS UP! THIS IS IT.” #Vouchers #Wednesday

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge talks about a key vote on Governor Bill Lee’s voucher plan — a vote scheduled for Wednesday, March 27th.

First seen on the TN Ed Report. Follow @TNEdReport for more.

HEADS UP, everyone! THIS IS IT. Vouchers will be up for a key vote this coming Wednesday, March 27th, at 8 am in the full House Education Committee, and this is our best chance to stop them in Tennessee. IT IS SUPER IMPORTANT THAT WE ACT NOW.

Here’s information on the bill: HB 939/SB 795 would create a new form of vouchers in Tennessee called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs have been described as “vouchers on steroids.”

This proposed legislation is targeted not toward “children trapped in failing schools,” but toward wealthier families, with virtually no regulation or public accountability. Vouchers would be available in any district containing at least three schools in the bottom 10% of schools in the state, but vouchers would be made available to ALL students in that district, including those enrolled in high-performing schools and private schools.

Families making up to around $100,000 per year would be eligible for the voucher, and private schools would not be required to accept the voucher as payment in full. This means that more affluent families with children already enrolled in private schools could use the voucher to help offset their current payments for private school.


It will also allow students to cross county lines with their vouchers, which could wreak havoc on many rural school districts.

Local school districts will have to pay for the bulk of these vouchers. (For example, in Davidson County, the state would pay only about $3,600 toward the cost of the voucher, while Davidson County would be required to pay about $8,100 per voucher.)

On top of this, the state would withhold a 6% management fee for the voucher program. The governor has claimed that a limited amount of funding will be available to school districts to help offset the cost of the vouchers for three years, but this money could be revoked at any time- and worse, vouchers will create ongoing recurring costs that school districts will be unable to cover for an indefinite period of time.

Once the door to vouchers has been opened, it cannot be shut. Under this legislation, vouchers would become an entitlement for upper middle class private school parents and homeschool parents.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. We need as many people as possible to attend the hearing. It will be in House Hearing Room 1 of the Cordell Hull Building.

2. Contact members of the committee NOW, and encourage your friends to do so. (Obviously, constituents of these members will make the greatest impact.)

Mark White, Chair 615-741-4415
rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov

Kirk Haston, Vice Chair 615-741-0750
rep.kirk.haston@capitol.tn.gov

Debra Moody 615-741-3774 rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov

Charlie Baum 615-741-6849 rep.charlie.baum@capitol.tn.gov

David Byrd 615-741-2190
rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov

Scott Cepicky 615-741-3005
rep.scott.cepicky@capitol.tn.gov

Mark Cochran 615-741-1725
rep.mark.cochran@capitol.tn.gov

Jim Coley 615-741-8201
rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov

John DeBerry, Jr. 615-741-2239 rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov

Vincent Dixie 615-741-1997 rep.vincent.dixie@capitol.tn.gov

Jason Hodges 615-741-2043
rep.jason.hodges@capitol.tn.gov

Chris Hurt 615-741-2134
rep.chris.hurt@capitol.tn.gov

Tom Leatherwood 615-741-7084 rep.tom.leatherwood@capitol.tn.gov

Bill Dunn 615-741-1721 rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov

Harold Love, Jr. 615-741-3831
rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov

Antonio Parkinson 615-741-4575
rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov

John Ragan 615-741-4400
rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov

Iris Rudder 615-741-8695
rep.iris.rudder@capitol.tn.gov

Jerry Sexton 615-741-2534
rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov

Kevin Vaughn 615-741-1866
rep.kevin.vaughn@capitol.tn.gov

Terri Lynn Weaver 615-741-2192
rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov

Ryan Williams 615-741-1875
rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov

John Mark Windle 716-741-1260
rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov

REP. BYRD’S SON RESIGNS FOR “INAPPROPRIATE COMMUNICATION” WITH STUDENT?

We couldn’t make this up even if we tried: JD Byrd, son of Rep. David Byrd – who has apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who say he sexually molested them in high school – has just resigned as coach of Jackson Christian boys basketball team, and it seems it was for “inappropriate communication with a student”, according to an email that went out from the principal’s office. (SEE BELOW)

Apple, meet tree.

We’ve left word for the athletic director.

The school president is away on a mission trip.

More on this story as it develops….

 

Gov. Lee’s Charter School Agency Bill (TEA Called “Worst Ever”) Passes Ed Committee

Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create a new state agency to oversee charter schools Tennessee passed the House Education Committee today on a 13-9 vote.

House Bill 940, as amended by the committee, would create a new charter school commission within the state education department and take over duties relating to charter schools currently handled by the state board of education.

The most controversial component of the legislation—a measure that would allow the new commission to approve charter school applications anywhere in the state without local school board input—was removed at the behest of nervous Republicans who likely heard an earful from their local public education officials.

In the bill’s current form, new charter applications would first be heard by local school districts. In the event that local school officials deny an application to open a new charter school, the new nine-member commission, appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature, could hear an appeal from the charter applicant and overturn the local decision.

As we previously wrote, 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.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) seemed to take morbid delight in the fact that this would mean charter schools opening up in districts around the state the way they have been in Shelby County, and had this to say:

“One thing I do like about this bill: Everybody gets a taste of the charter medicine throughout the state… everybody gets an opportunity to feel what we’ve been feeling in Shelby County. Under the state school board, there have been 70+ applications, but the board only approved 3- and the 3 were in Shelby and Davidson County. Imagine that. This opens up a nice little floodgate for the rest of y’all to see what we’ve been screaming bloody murder about. Y’all get a chance to feel what that feels like, and see what we’ve been screaming about the last few years.”

Or, as Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) put it:

“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.”

Two issues almost completely absent from the Education Committee’s debate of the bill: the costs passed onto local school districts when a new charter school opens and the academic effectiveness of charter schools in Tennessee.

The legislature changed state law in 2002 to allow for the creation of charters schools, which are funded by state and local tax payers but operate independently, picking their own curriculum and managing their own budgets.

Over the years, lawmakers have loosened the rules and added tax dollar investments to allow for more charter schools and enrollment at charter schools has jumped more than 500 percent since 2010.

The program keeps growing in spite of the fact that, statewide, students at Tennessee’s charter schools under performed district-run schools on end-of-course exams.

And according to a 2018 report by the Tennessee Department of Education, “both charter schools and district-run schools display considerable variation in overall effectiveness” as it relates to student academic progress.

Still, there are 116 charter schools operating in Tennessee today. And Gov. Lee’s new charter school agency could expand the charter footprint even further.

The academic growth and success of students should be primary consideration when lawmakers consider whether a program is worthy of additional investment. But that issue was not discussed on March 20.


Next step:
The bill will be heard next by the House Government Operations Committee, which meets next on Monday, March 25 at 2 p.m.

How they voted: House Education Committee passed the bill 13-9, March 20.
Representatives voting for the bill:
Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, District 37
Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, District 71
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, District 64
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, District 16
Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington, District 99
Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, District 81
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, District 33
Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, District 39
Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, District 35
Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, District 95
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, District 83
Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, District 42

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, District 90

Representatives who voted against the bill:
Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, District 23
Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, District 97
Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, District 72
Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls, District 82
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, District 40

Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, District 54
Rep. Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville, District 67
Rep. Harold Love, Jr., D-Nashville, District 58
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, District 98

Absent/Missed the vote:
Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, District 41

OPINION: Gov. Lee’s Vouchers Undermine Schools TN Should Be Supporting

Brad Fiscus is a veteran teacher, a leader in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church, and a member of the Williamson County Board of Education, the following Op-ED are his personal views and do not represent the thoughts or opinions of Williamson County Schools or the Board of Education. 

During Tennessee’s State of the State address, Governor Bill Lee made it clear that
privatizing public education would be a significant initiative of his legislative agenda.
While he professed his support for public schools, he also laid out his plan to strip away
funding from public schools.

Read more

GOP Williamson School Board Member Uses Math To Rip Lee’s Voucher Plan

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.

In an absolutely epic Twitter thread yesterday, Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch makes a case for vouchers.

Actually, he makes a case for voucher-level funding for public schools. Welch uses math to make his case.

Here are some examples:


Welch notes the significant funding gap between vouchers and the dollar amount per student Williamson County receives from the state based on the BEP formula. This is an important distinction.

Factors involved in generating the total number are based on a school system’s average daily attendance. That number then generates a number of teachers, administrators, and other positions.

The state funds each system’s BEP teacher number at 70% — that is, the state sends 70% of the average weighted salary (around $45,000 currently) to the district for each teaching position generated by the BEP.

Let’s be clear: The BEP is inadequate. Every single district hires more teachers (and other positions) than generated by the BEP. Local districts fund 100% of those costs.

Before the state was taken to court over inadequate funding, the BEP Review Committee used to list a series of recommendations on ways to improve the funding formula to adequately meet the needs of our state’s public schools.

While routinely ignored by policymakers, this list provided a guide to where Tennessee should be investing money to improve the overall public education offered in our state.

Here are some examples from the most recent version of this list:

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20 — COST: $28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200 COST: $2,866,000

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State COST: $153,448,000

Insurance at 50% COST: $26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented COST: $133,910,000

Some notes here –

First, BEP 2.0 was frozen by Governor Haslam as he “re-worked” funding distribution and supposedly focused on teacher pay.

Next, the state currently provides districts 45% of employee health insurance for ONLY the BEP -generated positions. Districts must fund 100% of the benefit cost for teachers hired about the BEP number.

Finally, beefing up the instructional component by 5% as recommended here would mean significant new dollars available for either hiring teachers or boosting teacher pay or both.

Here are some “wish list” items on teacher pay, which reflect that our state has long known we’re not paying our teachers well:

BEP Salary at $45,447 COST: $266,165,000

BEP Salary at $50,447 COST: $532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average $50,359 COST: $527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) $50,116 COST: $514,703,000

These are FY14 numbers — so, that’s been a few years. Still, funding teacher pay at the actual average spent by districts (just over $50,000 a year) would mean significant new funding for schools that could be invested in teacher salaries. We don’t fund teacher pay at the actual average, though, we fund it at a “weighted” average that is thousands less than this actual number. Then, districts receive only 70% of that weighted number per BEP position.

Making the large scale jump necessary to truly help direct state BEP dollars into teacher paychecks and provide a much-needed boost to salaries would cost close to $500 million. Bill Lee’s budget this year provides a paltry $71 million, continuing the tradition of talking a good game while letting teacher pay in our state continue to stagnate.

Here are some other recommendations — ideas that Welch suggests districts could pursue if only they were funded at the same level Bill Lee is proposing for private schools:

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500 $57,518,000

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250 $39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250 $18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250 $57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard $11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students $87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions) $17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries) $25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500 $12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200 $4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100 $6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA) $5,268,000

If you look at these numbers, you see that a state committee of professional educators (the BEP Review Committee) has been telling state policymakers that Tennessee needs to do more.

They’ve been saying it for years.

Now, we have a Governor who is suggesting that instead of spending state dollars to meet these needs, we’re going to spend them to prop up private schools with little to no accountability.

Holler at Governor Lee HERE. And for more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport.

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