After a press conference to introduce the new plan to overhaul how public education is funded in Tennessee, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn sat down with us for 5 minutes to talk to us about the concerns many are having that Lee’s true intentions are to privatize the public education system by flooding Tennessee with charter schools and allowing public dollars to flow to the private entities that run them.
Here’s Holler editor Justin Kanew’s op-ed in the Tennessean about that “Hillsdale Heist” this week.
Our question was simple: Can Governor Lee promise that the funding overhaul paired with the state charter approval board overriding local school board decisions about charter schools will not lead to LESS funding for traditional public schools in the long run?
US: “Can you promise traditional public schools they won’t get less💰through this formula as you flood TN with charter schools?” @GovBillLee: “Charter schools are public schools.”
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) February 24, 2022
They very clearly are making no guarantees about this. Governor Lee abruptly left the press conference when we asked, instead repeating their line that “charter schools are public schools”, which they are not. Charter schools are only public in that they receive public dollars, but just because something receives public dollars doesn’t make it a public entity – just ask every single defense department contractor.
This is an issue that will keep coming up as Governor Lee continues to use it as an excuse to funnel public dollars to the private, ideologically-driven (and yes religiously-driven) entities he is inviting to bring HUNDREDS of charters to Tennessee.
We have been trying to get Lee and Schwinn to talk to us about this. To her credit, Schwinn finally did sit down with us. Below is that conversation in its entirety – but the basic gist is Schwinn is insistent the new funding formula is separate from the charter school influx, and the Lee administration is adamant that charter schools are public schools, and therefore they do not intend to put a cap on how much funding can flow to them, or how many students can leave public schools to go there (with the “student based funding formula” helping the money follow them).
Many advocates feel it all amounts to a death knell for Tennessee public schools, which are already towards the bottom of the country both in terms of performance and funding.
A 2019 U.S. Department of Education study found that there was no meaningful difference between the eighth graders in charter schools and public schools when it came to math or English proficiency, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called “the nation’s report card.”
If you agree that the privatization/voucherization of our public education system is not in the best interest of ALL of our kids, the time to speak up against this is now.
Here’s our full conversation with TN Ed Dept Commissioner Penny Schwinn:
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