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Williamson GOP on Climate Change: Never too hot for tin-foil hats!

Finally! The Williamson County Republican Party, party of deposed-House Speaker Glen Casada and Senator Marsha Blackburn , weighed in on climate change yesterday, and on the hottest October day on record to boot.

Nashville Severe Weather noted yesterday was the area’s hottest day on record.

Wait.

Before we get too hopeful for rationality, let’s review what the local GOP said. An email sent to subscribers began with a request for right-wingers to step up and run for Williamson County School Board — a non-partisan race — in 2020.

According to the Grand Ole Party, it’s necessary for good conservatives to come to the aid of their party and their county because all those poor underpaid public school teachers are bent on indoctrinating children with wild theories about climate change and oh, showing respect for people who aren’t white.

“The sad reality is that like Climate Change activist Greta Thunberg, students all over the country have become products of indoctrination and fear in the public school system from a very young age,” said the post. (Psst: Which country? Greta is from Sweden.)

Screen shot of email sent by Williamson County GOP to subscribers.

The post added “certain staff and educators” are forcing white privilege training on teachers in the county school system.

These claims aren’t new. Earlier this year, the Williamson GOP made news when they went bonkers about a training on inclusion in schools. 

Nor is this the party’s first time at interjecting partisan politics into the local school elections. In 2014, GOP donor Kent Davis advised Republican candidates for the — again, for the cheap seats: non-partisan — school board on strategies for ousting then Director of Schools Mike Looney, a frequent target of the right. In an email outlining his strategy, Davis included Casada and Susan Curlee, who was elected to the board that year. (Curlee has since moved to Lawrence County, where she chairs the Lawrence County Republican Party.)

In 2015, the Williamson board made the Atlantic Monthly in a story citing then-board member Dr. Beth Burgos, also on the 2014 Davis email cited above, and her campaign to remove alleged “Islamic indoctrination” from the schools.

So, the fear of indoctrination and a bent for injecting partisan politics into what is — and should be — non-partisan races isn’t surprising.

But, Greta is still right.

VIDEO: Standing Up Against School Vouchers

With Governor Bill Lee’s public school-harming vouchers on the verge of passing, teachers, moms and business leaders from across the state headed to the hill to plead with legislators to see the light and vote against them.

Why did State Rep. Jason Zachary flip? Why did Rep. Jerome Moon say one thing and do another? Same for Brandon Ogles & Clay Doggett & Bill Powers? Why does John Crawford say he didn’t vote FOR vouchers, when he did?
 
Why do all these “small government conservatives” think it’s ok to impose this on two counties that clearly don’t want it, when they themselves don’t want it either?

The conference committee is TOMORROW at 8AM. Holler at your reps… and show up if you can!

VIDEO: Governor Lee’s School Vouchers Pass The Senate (Highlights)

After squeaking through the house, Governor Lee’s public school-harming legislation that no legislators want near their own district passed the senate 20-13.

Watch the video, and holler at your legislators. The House & Senate versions still need to be reconciled, so keep calling, and show up at the capitol Monday!

Here’s more on vouchers, and what happened in the house this week – when Rep. Zachary sold public schools out at the last minute.

Reps Akbari, Robinson, Yarbro, and Dickerson all did their best to speak out, but to no avail.

VOUCHERS SQUEAK PAST HOUSE AFTER REP. ZACHARY’S LAST-MINUTE FLIP

Yesterday Governor Bill Lee’s controversial “Education Savings Accounts” aka School Vouchers legislation hit the house floor for a debate and a vote.

Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:

Proponents of vouchers say they will be a lifeline for some students in failing schools.

Opponents say they will leave the rest of the kids behind, and steer resources away from public schools towards private schools, and point to the absence of evidence that vouchers work as reason enough that they’re a bad idea, instead encouraging Tennessee to fully fund public education for a change.

It’s no secret that private school education lobbyists have been circling this legislation for a long time, and have spent lots of money in support of it. Even Secretary of Education Betsy Devos – who has said her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” through the privatization of education – came to Nashville last month to show her support for Governor Lee’s efforts.

On the other side is the Tennessee Education Association, many school boards throughout the state, and most teachers.

Governor Lee has made it clear this is his main priority this session, even going so far as to attempt to strong-arm legislators who have expressed opposition by threatening not to steer resources to their districts and making it clear a vote against would mean a difficult road to re-election while essentially bribing rural legislators with grants while reassuring them vouchers won’t come to their communities.

Speaker Glen Casada has been intimately involved with those efforts as well, as has Senator Jack Johnson, who made it clear he doesn’t want them in Williamson County either.

Debate on the floor lasted the better part of 2 hours, with Republicans rising in support, and both Democrats and Republicans rising in opposition.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson and others made it clear almost all Shelby County reps were against the legislation, and all Nashville Reps to speak made it clear they were against it also, yet the vouchers are mainly targeted at their counties, something all of them agreed was unfair.

Their refrain is that if other legislators don’t want them in their own counties, they shouldn’t want them for kids in their counties either. It stands to reason that if your reasoning for voting FOR something is that you’ve been reassured it won’t hurt your county, that isn’t a great reason to “do unto others” what you wouldn’t have done unto you.

Rep. Joe Towns Jr. expressed concern the legislation would create two “separate and unequal” school systems, “re-segregating” education in Tennessee, while Rep. Camper warned that vouchers would spread, and Rep. Johnny Shaw insisted they wouldn’t fix any of the problems in Tennessee education – problems which even Republican legislators who were in favor of vouchers agreed were not as bad as they had been in past years, with Tennessee now the most-improving state in the country.

Rep. Matthew Hill stood to tell his colleagues that even the Tennessee State Employees Association was in favor of the bill, but that turns out not to be the case, which is ironic considering Hill lamented the circulation of false information in the same breath.

When it came time to vote it was a deadlocked 49-49 tie, which appeared to take Speaker Casada by surprise. He held the vote open for 30 minutes while he did some arm-twisting out of the view of the public, something most seasoned reporters said they hadn’t seen in their entire time covering the legislature.

Rep. John Deberry Jr. of Memphis was the only Democrat to join Republicans in favor of vouchers, and Republicans are now rewarding him by running ads for him in his district.


Rep. Brandon Ogles (Williamson), Rep. Clay Doggett (Lawrence/Giles), and Rep. Chris Hurt (Lauderdale/Crockett/Haywood) were 3 Republicans who had campaigned as being anti-vouchers, but voted in favor of the legislation.

It was Rep. Jason Zachary however who cast the deciding vote, flipping from a “NO” to a “YES” to give Casada the 50-48 win he was looking for.

After the vote, Zachary said it was assurances Knox County wouldn’t be affected by the Vouchers, that they would be “held fiscally harmless”, and that they had been guaranteed resources for teacher raises and other such things – something he then appeared to walk back moments later. (The Holler has been told the promises to Zachary amounted to $5 Million to his local school district, something we’ll be looking into…also, the bill he voted for included Knox County).

(It’s also worth noting his wife appears to work at a Christian school.)

The Senate version of the bill still has a vote pending, and since the house bill and the senate bill are different this battle is far from over. Here are the key differences.

If you think the way to fix public education in Tennessee is NOT to steer resources away from public schools, holler at your legislators and let them know to stand strong for public schools.

HOW THEY VOTED:

Ayes………………………………………..50
Noes………………………………………..48

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DEBERRY, DOGGETT, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, HURT, Johnson C, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, OGLES, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, ZACHARY, Mr. Speaker Casada — 50.

Representatives voting no were: Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeem, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson G, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton C, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright — 48.

REACTIONS:

Gov. Lee Gets Vouchers Help From Porn-Addict Who Made Wife Watch Sex With Prostitutes

This post was first seen on the TN Ed Report. Make sure you follow @TNEdReport to stay updated on Education in Tennessee.

We’ve already seen Bill Lee and his team of school privatizers use desperate measures in order to win votes for their “educational savings account” voucher scheme, but the latest effort reaches a new low. Team Lee turned to conservative mega-donor Lee Beaman (who gave Lee’s gubernatorial campaign $8000 in 2018) to pen an article in defense of school vouchers.

While the opposition to school vouchers includes resolutions from 44 school boards around the state, groups of parents, teachers, charitable foundations, civil rights groups, and even a former Senate sponsor of voucher legislation, the support appears to come from a small group of big money backers.

The public face chosen for this group? A guy with a porn addiction who taped himself having sex with prostitutes in order to teach his wife how to better please him. You might say he’s certainly a fan of choice.

Beaman and Lee have been working together for years to bring school privatization to Tennessee. Both Bill Lee and Lee Beaman have been consistent supporters of the Tennessee affiliate of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children, a group that works to undermine public education and advance school vouchers.

It’s no surprise, then, that after bringing Betsy DeVos to Nashville, Bill Lee would turn to his other voucher buddy, Lee Beaman, to advance his privatization agenda.

In fact, as I wrote in December, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Bill Lee is taking our state down this dangerous road:

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

Now, we’ve got Lee Beaman as the face and voice of vouchers ahead of a week when the privatization scheme known as ESAs will face key votes in the House and Senate.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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

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.