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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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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

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.

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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.

Williamson County’s Sen. Jack Johnson: “SCHOOL VOUCHERS FOR THEE, NOT FOR ME”

Fireworks about Speaker Casada’s support for Rep. David Byrd grabbed the headlines at a Williamson County town hall Friday morning when Lawrence County resident Ashley Massey confronted the rest of the Williamson delegation about the issue – prompting Rep. Sam Whitson to get up and leave the event.

Whitson took heat for his actions on social media. He later said he had told the audience he would be leaving early, but not stopping to apologize to an emotional Massey raised some eyebrows.

Whitson deserves more credit than Speaker Casada though, who was conveniently a no-show despite having been scheduled to be there, leaving his colleagues to handle his mess in front of CNN cameras.

As Massey spoke, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson sat silently. The incident took the focus away from the policy discussions that had taken place earlier in the morning, where Johnson had more to say, particularly on the issue of school vouchers.

The idea behind vouchers, which are supported by Governor Lee, is that students in struggling Tennessee schools should be able to take the taxpayer dollars and use them towards tuition at other schools, including private schools.

It’s an issue that has become a source of contention throughout the country, particularly as Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has championed it despite “dismal” results in areas that have tried them.

Critics are concerned taking public dollars away from public schools do nothing to solve the issue of having troubled schools, and instead simply make matters worse for the kids who are left behind.

Some feel the agenda is being pushed on behalf of private religious school lobbyists, particularly Christian schools, which have their eyes on public dollars yet are not required to observe the same rules as public schools, meaning public dollars would be subsidizing schools that discriminate against certain communities with impunity, and who aren’t required to follow the same codes of conduct.

Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos famously replied:

“There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Public schools in rural communities would be acutely impacted, as private schools in those areas could theoretically be created to vulture those much-needed dollars away.

It’s worth noting that the idea of vouchers began when schools were desegregated and some white parents in the South didn’t want their children to go to school with black children.

At the town hall, Rep. Whitson said vouchers were going to be a difficult fight in the TN House, where there were strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) on the other hand said he supported vouchers “1000%” – although in the next breath he made it clear they would in no way affect Williamson County, which is where he lives, and which is where the town hall was being held:

He reiterated the point during the Q & A session when Franklin Alderman Bev Burger spoke up in support of vouchers, which she mistakenly appeared to believe would mean more money for the city.

They would not.

Johnson again hammered home the point that his pro-voucher stance is for all parts of Tennessee aside from Williamson County, which begs the question: If vouchers are a good thing for every other part of the state, why is Johnson being so careful to make sure the voters who vote for HIM know THEIR schools won’t be impacted?

Tennessee ranks near the bottom in per-student spending. If Johnson is concerned with Tennessee having “failing” schools, how about maybe addressing that problem itself by spending more money to fix that issue, rather than steering money away from those schools towards private schools owned by those who have money for lobbyists?

Imagine for a second a town. There’s one road in, one road out. The road has been decimated by a flood. There’s no way to drive on it. People can’t get out.

Now imagine if instead of fixing that road, the state offered to pay for helicopters for just a handful of kids whose parents can afford to pay for a portion of the helicopters themselves. What are the kids who can’t afford it supposed to do? How are they supposed to get out?

Vouchers don’t fix the issue of failing schools. Vouchers pick winners and losers, making the problem worse for a majority of students. If the governor wants to add money to help kids in failing schools and start a scholarship program, great.

But steering public dollars away from already struggling public schools is not a solution.

There’s a reason county commissions and school boards throughout the state are passing resolutions against them. Holler at yours if you think they should also, and holler at Jack Johnson to let him know you see his hypocrisy.

If vouchers are bad for Williamson County, they’re bad for the rest of Tennessee.