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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.

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

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.