Posts

TN ED REPORT: Public Money, Private Schools – Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is an unapologetic champion of school privatization. While the Tennessee Supreme Court has delayed implementation of the voucher scheme Lee succeeded in passing in 2019, Lee has put on a full court press of other measures in order to bring privatization to the Volunteer State.

The latest effort comes by way of Lee attempting to “reform” the state’s school funding formula, known as the BEP. The move includes 18 subcommittees designed to make recommendations for revising the formula – even though Lee has indicated he has no plans to actually increasing funding for schools.

On that note, the Tennessee Education Association suggests Lee’s efforts are missing the mark:

Tennessee ranks 46th in the nation for what we invest per student. It is irresponsible and harmful to Tennessee children to continue the pattern of insufficient state investment in our schools, especially at a time when Tennessee has the largest revenue surpluses in state history. We can and must do better for our students.

Any review of the BEP funding formula must include more than recommendations on how to change the formula. Until the state makes a significant increase in public education funding to address many challenges plaguing our schools, updating a formula will not get us where we need to be to provide the high-quality public education Tennessee children deserve.”

Nashville education blogger TC Weber notes that the BEP is often studied, but never actually improved:

Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Nakia Towns puts it succinctly when pointing out that without a commitment from the governor and the legislature to put more money into funding education, “this whole conversation is without any real teeth.”

There is no need for further study, but Bill Lee insists on acting in a manner not dissimilar to my children’s behavior. If you don’t like what Mom says, go try to engage Dad. If that doesn’t work, try asking the question with different wording. Likely to work out as well for him as it does for them.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee embraces Lee’s promise of including more voices, but with a caveat,

“If we want different outcomes, we need different voices in the room. I hope there is an honest attempt to let people truly express their opinions, and that the outcome is not already decided,” he said. “This cannot be an exercise in futility. We need to address some giant issues.”

 

Lee has tipped his hand a bit by suggesting the new formula will be “student-centered” – that money will follow kids. This is exactly the type of rhetoric used by voucher advocates who suggest we should fund “students not systems.” Student-centered funding is also an approach pushed by privatization advocates over at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

If Lee were serious about improving public schools, his major announcement around the BEP would have included his commitment to a way to make up for the $1.7 billion shortfall in Tennessee’s current school funding.

 

Photo by Celyn Kang on Unsplash

Meanwhile, a Pro-Privatization PAC Ramps Up

Just as Gov. Lee is moving forward with his funding formula privatization scheme, a political action committee allied with Lee’s interests is ramping up activity. Team Kid PAC is now on the scene and sure to be a player in the 2022 elections.

Team Kid PAC is the political arm of Tennesseans for Student Success – a supposedly pro-schools nonprofit that is heavily involved in legislative and political advocacy with an aim toward school privatization. Plus, the group has close ties to the payday lending industry.

Finally, the Teacher Shortage Crisis is Here

I mean, we don’t actually want a teacher shortage crisis. But, for those who have been warning about it for some time, the moment may finally be here. Policy makers are actually making some noise about a crisis years in the making. One that was entirely predictable.

Few are suggesting one key solution: Raise teacher pay substantially. Yes, adjusting responsibilities and providing a more welcoming work environment are also important. But, it is long past time to pay teachers significantly more. Tennessee has a $2 billion surplus from the recently-concluded fiscal year. We could fully close the teacher wage gap (a raise of about 20% for most teachers) and still have plenty of cash left over without raising taxes one dime.

Subscribe to the TN Education Report HERE

ED REPORT: THE PRIVATIZATION PUSH (Disruption Agenda Exposed)

Subscribe to “The Education Report” by Andy Spears HERE

Jennifer Berkshire writes in The New Republic about the unraveling of the charter school coalition. She notes that while progressives have previously expressed support for charters, that support is waning. Meanwhile, those on the right are moving rapidly toward their actual goal: full privatization of public schools.

Yet today the charter school movement itself is perhaps more vulnerable than it has ever been. Unlikely allies in the best of times, its coalition of suppo

rters—which has included progressives, free-market Republicans, and civil rights advocates, and which has been handsomely funded by deep-pocketed donors and Silicon Valley moguls—is unraveling.

David Menefee-Libey, a professor of politics at Pomona College, likened the original political coalition that came together to back charter schools to a treaty. “You see this bipartisan embrace of a market-based approach to schooling, but both sides also had to give something up,” he said. For Democrats, that meant weakening the party’s support for teachers’ unions—a key constituency—and retreating on demands for school integration. Republicans, meanwhile, accepted charter schools as a watered-down alternative to private school vouchers.

Berkshire references West Virginia as a clear example of the rapid movement from charters to private school vouchers:

Starting in 2022, West Virginia parents who withdraw their children from public schools will receive their child’s state share of public education funding—approximately $4,600 in 2021—to spend on virtually any educational cost: private school tuition, online education programs, homeschooling, tutors, even out-of-state boarding schools.

Take Me Home, Mountain Vouchers
Lawmakers in West Virginia and Kentucky last week passed legislation that would create school voucher programs in those states. Both states saw teacher strikes in recent years over school funding and teacher pension issues. Now, policymakers there are planning to divert public dollars to fund unaccountable private schools…

The bottom line: Privatizers want privatization. Period. No half-measures here. A recent story out of Tennessee further bears this out. It seems the ed reform groups who have been driving “disruption” in public education in the state for years are now lamenting the outcomes of all that disruption.

Groups like Tennesseans for Student Success are joined by other privatization apologists such as Bill Frist’s ed reform group known as SCORE in an ongoing and seemingly never-ending push for BOLD! REFORM! NOW! It’s odd because one might think that with all the bold reform of the last decade, we’d finally have achieved some element of “success.” Instead, we must keep reforming because our students are still “behind” and there’s all this “learning loss.”

Meanwhile, a shortage of educators and education support professionals is creating all sorts of interesting situations in schools. Here’s one example out of Baltimore:

Baltimore City Public Schools is offering to pay several hundred parents to transport their own children to school this month.

The payment for September would be a $250 stipend, according to a reimbursement form obtained by WBFF News in Baltimore.

And, the school funding fight rages on in Tennessee:

The State of Tennessee now has a court date to face allegations of inadequate school funding. The lawsuit, originally filed by school systems in Nashville and Memphis, has been joined by Tennessee School Systems for Equity, a group representing smaller systems around the state. The suit alleges that as it currently stands, the state’s school funding formula (BEP) does not provide sufficient funding for the operation of schools.

What About Us and Government Transparency?

Elizabeth Madiera, House Candidate for District 63, discusses the murkiness surrounding the passage of the voucher bill under her opponent Glen Casada’s “leadership”. It’s unpopular, unconstitutional, under investigation by the FBI, and unseated him as leader of the house. We need the General Assembly to be out of the Republican supermajority, better balanced, and more transparent to achieve better legislation.

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts here, and wherever else you like to listen here.

Mitchell’s Bill To Kill Lee’s Vouchers Dies

WATCH: “Delete the voucher program… it’s ILLEGAL… we’re wasting the courts’ time with something we know is wrong.”

Bo Mitchell’s bill to kill Gov. Lee’s “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” private school vouchers fails for lack of a second.
(Thanks to: Byrd, Moody, Dunn, White, Deberry, Cochran)

ANOTHER “L” FOR LEE: GOV’S #1 PRIORITY (VOUCHERS) DECLARED “UNCONSTITUTIONAL”

If you’ve been following us for any amount of time hopefully you have some context on this, but just in case, here’s a quick rundown of how we got to this point…

Governor Lee made public school-harming private school vouchers his #1 priority coming into office.

Not fixing our public schools, which get an “F” for funding. Not fixing health care, which has us at #1 in Medical bankruptcies & rural hospital closures per capita, which could easily be addressed by expanding medicaid and accepting the $1 BILLION of OUR OWN TAX DOLLARS earmarked for us every year.

Nope. Vouchers.

Lee wants to see MILLIONS of public school funds steered to private (often religious/Christian) schools. To get it passed, he had the help of Trump Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who is on record saying her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” by raiding the public school war chest in America, and disgraced former speaker Glen Casada, who held the tie vote open for 35 minutes until he finally coerced Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville into flipping his vote and selling out Tennessee’s public schools.

To be clear, NONE of the rural reps wanted vouchers for their own districts. They only wanted to impose them on Nashville and Memphis and their more diverse student bodies… even though many admitted they wouldn’t want that done to their districts.

The rollout was equally problematic. The Tennessee Dept. of Education handed out an expensive no-bid contract for more than the amount that was allocated to the program, and Lee intentionally sped up the rollout an extra year for no apparent reason other than impatience. Many Republican representatives began to regret their votes for the bill, including TN GOP House Caucus leader Jeremy Faison. 

There were also rumors of an FBI investigation, the offering of military promotions, the list goes on… which brings us to last night, when the program was finally declared “unconstitutional” by a court after Shelby & Davidson counties sued.

Another L for Lee.

It isn’t over. There will be challenges. But Lee’s losing streak in the courts continues, a natural extension of a radical right agenda in a GOP supermajority state where the only backstop the constitution has is the judicial branch. Thankfully, for now, it seems to be holding up.

HERE WERE SOME REACTIONS:

 

Of course, not everyone is thrilled. Senator Brian Kelsey makes it clear there will be appeals.

VIDEO: GOV. LEE’S VOUCHER NIGHTMARE (GOP Caucus Leader Faison: “We Robbed Teachers’ Pay”)

Gov. Bill Lee’s public school-harming vouchers barely passed thru “sketchy” “bribes & threats” after disgraced former speaker Glen Casada held the board open for 35 minutes — until Rep. Jason Zachary finally flipped his vote and pushed through a program that will ONLY effect Nashville & Memphis, whose reps voted AGAINST it. (Zachary’s math was way off, but we digress)

Many reps say they were bribed and threatened, even with military promotions.

The FBI supposedly opened an inquiry.

There’s a $4 Million Slush fund that seems to have been used to bribe rural reps for their votes, but nobody wants to talk about it.

Lawsuits have begun.

Now it seems the Tennessee Department of Education “robbed” a teacher bonus program to fund a no-bid $2.5 MILLION Class Wallet contract to implement the program that far exceeds what the allocation was… without the comptroller even reviewing it “for merit.

A mess. The mess is so bad even TN GOP House Caucus chair Jeremy Faison regrets his vote, and Appropriations Committee Chair Matthew Hill wants answers. He voted for the bill also.

Meanwhile Governor Lee blames everyone but himself, as he always does.

Let’s keep in mind, this is not the only way Lee is coming after public schools. A charter school commission has now been formed to overrule local school boards, even in rural communities.

Watch what he does, not what he says.

VIDEO: “WE WANT TO SEE THE LIST.” – Reps. Stewart & Mitchell Confront Mcwhorter

Rep. Bo Mitchell & Rep. Mike Stewart grill Gov. Bill Lee Finance commish Stuart Mcwhorter about a reported 50-60 grant commitments from a $4 MILLION SLUSH FUND TO GET VOUCHERS PASSED.

As Bo reminds McWhorter of a perjury law, Rep. Martin Daniel CUTS OFF his mic.

VIDEO: “CLEARLY A VIOLATION OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION.” – Stewart & Mitchell To Schwinn

Rep. Mike Stewart & Rep. Bo Mitchell confront Gov. Bill Lee Tennessee Department of Education commish Penny Schwinn about a no-bid $2 MILLION ClassWallet contract that exceeds the total?allocated for his voucher program, echoing controversy from her past.

Here’s more on Class Wallet: http://www.mommabears.org/blog/whos-in-your-wallet

The extra funding came from a Lamar Alexander-era program intended for teacher bonuses. Yes, taking from teachers to pay for the voucher program.

VIDEO: Reps Mitchell & Stewart Call On Rep. Daniel To Investigate $4 MILLION Slush Fund

“It’s The Role Of This Committee To Get to the Bottom Of a $4 MILLION SLUSH FUND” Rep. Mike Stewart and Rep. Bo Mitchell call on Rep. Martin Daniel to investigate mysterious MONEY Gov. Lee may have used to get public school-harming vouchers passed. Even speaker Cameron Sexton calls it “troubling”.

Commish Rolfe Points Finger At Gov. Lee & Mcwhorter For Vouchers Slush Fund

Recently we learned a $4 MILLION line item found its way into the budget, seemingly intended for grant projects in rural communities to grease the skids for Governor Lee’s public school-harming vouchers, which would steer public money to private schools.

The legislation may have been the brainchild of Speaker Glen Casada, who has since stepped down in disgrace, but it clearly also has the fingerprints of Governor Lee and his Finance Dept. chief Stuart Mcwhorter all over it.

There have been reports that 60 specific projects were promised to rural legislators to get their votes for the bill, which barely passed the house, but Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe says he has seen no such list, and points the finger SQUARELY at Lee and Mcwhorter.

WATCH BELOW as Rolfe says “WE DID NOT PROPOSE THAT”, distancing himself from the money at the budget hearing last week. (Rep. Martin Daniel has said there will be no investigation into this. Shocker!)