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CHANNEL 5: What Did Gov. Lee Know About the Vouchers Bribe?

Channel 5’s report on Governor Lee’s possible involvement with disgraced speaker Glen Casada offering a military promotion to Rep. Windle as a bribe for a key vote on his public school-harming vouchers bill. ‬

‪Lee’s office claims to have ZERO texts from the day, won’t share emails either.‬ 🤔

INTERVIEW: Andy Spears of the TN Ed Report on Voucher Vultures

Here’s a new Facebook Live interview from this morning with Andy Spears of the TN Education report.

Andy talks about the #VoucherVultures descending on Nashville thanks to Governor Bill Lee’s new legislation, and what we can do to push back against Lee’s all-out assault on public schools.

Voucher Vultures Swoop Down On Nashville

This post was first seen on the Tennessee Education Report. Follow @TNEdReport for more information on Education.

Roughly one month after Governor Bill Lee signed his Education Savings Account voucher scheme into law, a North Carolina-based private school announced it is expanding operations to Nashville.

Perhaps not surprisingly, tuition at the school is similar to the amount available to families in Nashville and Memphis under the ESA program.

The school, Thales Academy, is operated by the CEO of a commercial kitchen ventilation company. Bob Luddy is also a top GOP donor in North Carolina.

Here’s Luddy on how great his schools are:

“We get results. If you look consistently over a period of time, kindergarten students come in, they can barely walk in the door, they can barely sit down, and then you see them progress as they learn sounds, and they learn to decode. By the time they progress into the 3rd or 4th grade they’re doing very sophisticated work, which is going to prepare them to be excellent students in the long term,” Luddy says in a video on the Thales Academy website.

And here’s more on accreditation straight from the school’s website:

The accreditation process does not align with Thales Academy’s mission and would prevent Thales from maintaining our standard of the highest quality education.

Thales and Luddy are not new to Tennessee. In fact, in 2015, voucher advocate Lee Barfield paid for a private plane to take former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and then-House Speaker Beth Harwell to North Carolina to visit the Thales schools.

Like Bill Lee, Barfield is a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children and even served on the group’s Board of Directors.

Those in the GOP cozying up to Luddy should beware, though, he’s known for expressing his disappointment where it hurts politicians the most: Campaign contributions.

Here’s how he treated the House GOP in North Carolina:

A major conservative donor’s decision this week to divert a planned $25,000 contribution away from state House Republicans highlights an increasingly bitter divide within the party over tax policy and government spending.

Raleigh businessman Bob Luddy, who chairs the board of the conservative Civitas Institute think tank and is an influential financial supporter of conservative candidates, emailed a sharp critique of the House budget to House Republicans, who are in the majority.

Luddy complained that the budget advancing to a major vote on Thursday does not include new tax cuts and extends tax breaks for specific industries. He called the spending plan too “liberal” and said he’s decided to withold his planned, annual donation to the House Republicans’ campaign committee.

Luddy instead directed his money to Americans for Prosperity and then issued this sharp rebuke to those who had taken his money in the past but were not doing his bidding:

But Luddy says the state shouldn’t prop up the solar industry. “These guys couldn’t exist without government subsidies, and those subsidies have to come from every working taxpayer who are capable of creating way more jobs than the solar industry could ever create,” he said.

Here’s a guy who plans on using public money to fund his private school scheme and he’s decrying the use of public funds to support an industry he simply doesn’t like. Perhaps if public money shouldn’t be used to “prop up the solar industry” it also shouldn’t be used to prop up Luddy’s Thales Academy.

Those who warned that passage of vouchers would lead to “pop-up” private schools have already been proven right. Thales Academy and Bob Luddy were invited into Tennessee by Bill Lee and friends and are now perched like hungry vultures ready to suck funds from Nashville’s public schools.

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

Vouchers Just the Beginning: Gov. Lee Open to “Alternative” Ways to Dismantle Public Schools

This week Governor Lee visited Lawrenceburg alongside Rep. Clay Doggett and Rep. Joey Hensley as part of a mini-tour through Lawrence and a few other rural counties, and the subject of his Education Savings Accounts aka School Vouchers plan was brought up, and Lee again made it plain as day he is no friend to public schools, and that ESA’s are not a way to fix public schools, they’re a way to dismantle them.

WATCH:

As a reminder, ESA’s are vouchers that will allow kids to take public money to private schools, draining public schools of resources while steering money to what are in many cases religious for-profit Christian schools not subject to the same levels of accountability as Tennessee’s public schools.

The ESA program has been a priority of Governor Lee, but also of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who has said on tape that her main agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” through initiatives like vouchers.

ESA’s passed the house 50-48 after some serious arm-twisting by Glen Casada. Jason Zachary was the rep who flipped at the last minute, while insisting he was not promised anything for his vote. The FBI is allegedly now looking into what happened.

At this town hall, a woman stood up and asked Governor Lee about tax credits for those who don’t want their kids going to public schools. She expressed skepticism about the curriculum, saying that’s why she chose to remove her kids from public schools and now wants to not have to pay for them:

“Because some of us are paying taxes for services we’re not even using.”

Instead of expressing his support for public schools and pointing out how devastating it would be to our society if public schools were suddenly gutted by laws that required only those who use them to pay for them – meaning single people, people with grown kids, etc. could opt out (imagine the same if people decided they didn’t need police, or roads – an a la carte pay-for-what-you-use tax system is simply not what we have here in America).

No, Governor Lee went a different route. He expressed sympathy for the woman’s perspective, implied that he shares her vision for the future and believes ESA’s are the best way of getting there:

“If the people of Tennessee see good outcomes and results from that, then what we’ll start seeing is a greater desire and request for school choice, and we’ll look to alternative ways to do it.”

Lee tells her that because there’s no income tax in Tennessee, Education Savings Accounts are the best way to get where she’s trying to go – and that once people see that steering public money to private schools is a good thing, soon it won’t just be happening in Nashville and Memphis – the only two places  currently targeted with the ESA’s (which is why Shelby and Davidson are taking legal action) – over the cries of the reps from those districts.

Lee wants vouchers to eventually be everywhere. And then he’s open to other “alternative” ways to dismantle public schools and get their hands on those public dollars.

Lee very clearly did not dismiss the woman’s vision for a future in which nobody who doesn’t want to support public schools has to, where people can instead take all those public tax dollars and steer them to private schools under the guise of “school choice” – “Advancing God’s Kingdom” as Betsy Devos puts it.

This is only the beginning.

In the same meeting, Clay Doggett also reminded us again that the only reason he and 49 other reps voted for the vouchers was because they were promised vouchers wouldn’t come anywhere near their districts.

Senator Jack Johnson told Williamson County the same, and Rep. Crawford told The Holler that no he wouldn’t like it if vouchers were imposed on his district against his will, as is being done to Shelby and Davidson.

For more on vouchers, read The TN Ed Report’s recent piece on it.

Thank you Kristina for going there and showing up. We’d like to encourage everyone to show up at all town halls across the state and ask tough questions, and Holler at us with your videos.

 

Mayor Briley and Rep. John Ray Clemmons Clash Over Vouchers

At Last Night’s #StateOfBlackNashville Mayoral Forum, John Ray Clemmons for Mayor & Mayor David Briley clashed over Briley’s public silence when Gov. Bill Lee‘s school vouchers were being passed.

Briley says he was lobbying Republicans behind the scenes to kill the bill.

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!

Reps Hawk & Ramsey Say Casada Tried to Buy Voucher Votes, Casada Denies It – But Zachary Is Living Proof

As you’ve probably heard by now, Governor Lee’s school vouchers plan barely passed the house this week after some last-minute shenanigans by Speaker Casada, who held the vote open for 40 minutes so he could twist the arm of Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).

Zachary eventually flipped from a “No” to a “Yes”, giving Casada and Governor Lee the 50-48 win they needed.

After the vote, Zachary took to the floor with Casada in tow to explain to the press that his reasons for flipping were that Knox County wouldn’t be affected and would be held “fiscally harmless” – meaning this plan that will supposedly be so great for Nashville & Memphis is something he and many others want nowhere near their own counties.

When asked if Casada had promised him anything else in return for his vote, Zachary first indicated that he did, saying something about teacher raises – which some teachers have taken great exception to –   before then reversing that and saying he didn’t have anything he needed money for.

Hard to keep up with all these reversals.

That Zachary got nothing in return was hard to believe considering the reports of various rural legislators being promised grants and appropriations by Governor Lee in exchange for their support.

Now the Tennessean has just posted an article listing those giveaways – and wouldn’t you know it? Rep. Zachary has the highest number on the list next to his name. His $1 million is peanuts compared to the harm it will do to public schools in the areas where vouchers are affected, but it’s hard to believe his topping the list is a coincidence.

It’s also hard to believe Zachary considering the other quotes in the article from Republican Representatives David Hawk (Greenville) and Bob Ramsey (Maryville), who say Casada was sending his $200,000 chief of staff Cade Cothren to ask them what they wanted in exchange for their votes during the vouchers debate.

From the Tennessean:

“Two Republican lawmakers who voted against Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher bill said they were offered incentives to change their minds and vote in favor of the legislation… Several House lawmakers have told the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee in recent weeks there were efforts by those in the speaker’s and governor’s office to sway them to vote yes on the bill by offering to fund projects in their districts.

Such lobbying continued Tuesday.

Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who unsuccessfully challenged Glen Casada in the race for speaker, said Wednesday he was approached by Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff on the House floor.

“He came to me and said that he and the speaker needed my vote on vouchers and asked me what I wanted in return,” said Hawk, who characterized the conversation as very heated. “I told him that he and the speaker had nothing that I wanted.”

And then on Ramsey:

Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, said he had been approached and offered incentives before and during the voucher vote in an attempt to persuade him to flip.

“There was efforts that had repeated visits from advocates hired apparently by the administration, and lobbyists, over the last few weeks,” Ramsey said Wednesday. “I let the administration know early on that I couldn’t support the vouchers.”

Ramsey said he received no threats of funding being cut in his district in Blount County, but that he was offered unspecified incentives.

“The only insinuation was that there would be the possibility of revenue expenditures for projects in my district at some point that would be facilitated by my support of vouchers,” Ramsey said.

Again at that time, Ramsey said, members of the Republican leadership hinted that additional funding would be made available to him for district projects if he switched his vote. Ramsey said no specific dollar amount was mentioned. He still declined to change his vote.

Hawk and Ramsey voted against the bill.

Good for them for sticking to their guns.

It’s one thing to be a vouchers truther, as Rep. Dunn, who is carrying the bill, appears to be. But If you believe steering public funds to private schools will hurt public schools, yet you’re willing to sell out our kids for your own political interests, something is very wrong there.

Casada went on to deny the efforts to bribe representatives for their votes, likely because he knows how it looks:

Casada, R-Franklin, said he met with several members and “asked them to do the right thing” on the education bill. But the speaker denied offering anything to the members.

“If one or two (members) misunderstood what I was saying — that happens too — I was asking them to step up and be leaders and do what’s good for the children of Tennessee,” he said.

“Misunderstood”. Riiight.

Unfortunately for Casada, he’s already on record as having lied about multiple important issues, including something as easily disprovable as meeting with the victims of Rep. David Byrd, who Casada promoted to chair of an education subcommittee even after he apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who accuse him of molesting them as teenagers.

Casada had not met with them, and still hasn’t. We’re going to go ahead and believe Ramsey and Hawk on this one.

The Tennessean goes on to point to the appropriations that were given to legislators who voted for the vouchers:

24 of the 32 House lawmakers to have their appropriation requests fulfilled voted for the voucher bill. Those who voted for the ESA bill had $7.3 million in appropriations included in the House budget.

Casada denied any correlation between House members who voted for the ESA bill and having their budget requests funded.

The funded appropriation requests come after the governor released a recently amended state budget that provided 16 community grants totaling $2.1 million to many lawmakers who ended up voting for the ESA bill.

“Casada denied any correlation”. Okay.

And here’s Zachary, ever the good soldier, denying it too, while the Tennessean reminds us his district receives the highest number on the list:

Among the funded appropriation requests in the House budget was one from Zachary for $1 million to provide grants to four accredited zoos in the state and the Tennessee Aquarium. On Tuesday, Zachary cast the deciding vote to ensure the passage of the governor’s education savings account bill.

Zachary denied receiving anything in return for changing his vote — which initially was a no — and said he received adequate assurances that Knox County would be removed from the legislation in the coming days.

It appears Casada’s habit of playing fast and loose with the truth is contagious.

The Tennessean goes on to point out that there are some who voted against the bill who also got money, but the numbers on the other side speak for themselves (see below).

The vouchers fight is far from over, which is probably why Lee & Casada called upon President Trump for a congratulatory tweet yesterday.

The senate still needs to vote on their version (TODAY), and then there will be another vote in the house to reconcile the two bills. Holler at your reps to let them know you’re watching, especially Zachary, Hawk, Ramsey, & Casada.

The following list includes House members who voted for the ESA bill and had their appropriation amendments funded (includes funding totals):

  • House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin: $40,000
  • House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, $3.5 million 
  • House finance committee chair Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet: $619,000 
  • Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon: $200,000
  • Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis: $10,000
  • Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville: $2,000
  • Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville: $50,000
  • Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dredsen: $100,000
  • Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport: $467,000
  • Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield: $25,000
  • Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington: $30,000
  • Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson: $10,000
  • Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville – $10,500
  • Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville: $37,000
  • Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge: $100,000
  • Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin: $15,000
  • Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro: $50,000
  • Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton: $215,000
  • Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta: $30,000
  • Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna: $10,000
  • Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg: $28,000
  • Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson: $20,000
  • Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis: $675,000
  • Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville: $1 million
  • we’re also told Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Lawrenceburg got Half a million for theater renovations)

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

VIDEO: TEACHERS PROTEST VOUCHERS – VOUCHERS VOTE THIS WEEK

This week there are vouchers votes in both the TN House and the TN Senate. Last week teachers showed up at the capitol to make their voices heard against public school-harming vouchers.

Watch and share this VIDEO, and holler at your reps and Governor Lee to let them know public money belongs in public schools.

Read one of our previous articles about vouchers HERE.