WATCH: “Commissioner, did you hear the calls for you to resign? Are you legally qualified?” @TNDemocrats say @GovBillLee’s @TNedu commissioner isn’t legally qualified. (She points to her “decades long career” — translation: a lobbyist here to push Lee’s private school vouchers) pic.twitter.com/yz4L46Dzdy
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) January 23, 2024
Unveiling the Layers of Concern Surrounding School Vouchers in Tennessee
The promise of school vouchers in Tennessee shimmers with the allure of parental choice, but a closer look reveals a tapestry woven with concerns. While the notion of increased options holds undeniable appeal, a critical examination exposes potential pitfalls for academic achievement, student equity, and the broader educational landscape.
The central pillar of the voucher argument rests on its impact on student learning. However, initial optimism crumbles in the face of stark data. Studies like Hanushek et al.’s (2017) Louisiana research paint a sobering picture, with students participating in voucher programs lagging behind their public school counterparts by an average of 5 points in math and 3 points in reading after three years (Greene et al., 2017). Similar echoes resonate in Indiana, where Greene et al.’s (2017) investigation revealed minimal academic gains and even slight declines of 5 points in math and 3 points in reading for voucher students. These findings, mirrored in Tennessee-specific studies like Carnoy et al. (2020) and Hansen et al. (2021), necessitate caution before assuming widespread academic benefits from vouchers.
Oversight and Equity
Unlike public schools bound by stringent standards, private institutions participating in voucher programs operate with varying degrees of oversight. This raises concerns about the quality and inclusivity of the education provided. As Greene (2023) highlights, inadequate monitoring risks misallocation of public funds and exacerbating existing educational inequities. This issue amplifies when considering underrepresented groups and students with special needs, who require robust safeguards to ensure access to appropriate support and prevent further marginalization (Carnoy et al., 2020; Hansen et al., 2021). Notably, only 40% of private schools participating in Tennessee’s voucher program received a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ rating on state assessments (Carnoy et al., 2020).
The question of who truly benefits from voucher programs deserves scrutiny. Evidence suggests a growing trend of families not facing financial hardship utilizing vouchers, casting doubt on whether the intended beneficiaries reap the rewards. In Tennessee, only 18% of participants come from the lowest income quartile, highlighting a shift towards wealthier families taking advantage of the program (Hansen et al., 2021). This phenomenon challenges the principle of equitable resource allocation and necessitates a closer examination of how voucher programs incentivize participation across socioeconomic brackets.
Impact on Educators
The introduction of vouchers affects not only students but also the teaching community. While proponents argue for potential improvements in public education through increased competition, concerns arise about funding cuts, reduced salaries, and increased workloads for teachers. Moreover, while autonomy might appear appealing, market-driven pressures introduced by vouchers can constrain pedagogical freedom. Research by Hansen et al. (2021) underscores the need for careful consideration of these competing forces, while Greene et al.’s (2017) study highlights potential challenges in professional development and accountability within voucher systems. Tennessee’s voucher program could divert up to $1 billion away from public schools over the next five years, potentially impacting staffing and resources (Hansen et al., 2021).
Unveiling the Myth of Need
The narrative that vouchers primarily benefit families facing financial hardship crumbles under closer scrutiny. Studies like Greene’s (2023) indicate a growing trend of wealthier families opting for vouchers, raising questions about the program’s effectiveness in addressing educational disparities. This misalignment between intended beneficiaries and actual users calls for a reevaluation of voucher programs’ ability to deliver on their promises of equal educational opportunities.
A Call for Evidence-Based Choices
As Tennesseans navigate the complex landscape of education reform, the decision on school vouchers demands a measured approach rooted in evidence and a dedication to inclusivity. The concerns outlined here, ranging from academic performance to societal consequences, necessitate thorough consideration and open dialogue. Only through careful analysis, informed by rigorous research and diverse perspectives, can Tennessee craft an educational system that truly serves the needs of all its students and paves the way for a brighter future.
Joe Peeden is a current private school teacher but spent 10 years in Knox Co Schools.
Carnoy, M., Jacobsen, R., Mishel, L., & Rothstein, R. (2020). The Education Savings Account Pilot Program in Tennessee: Preliminary Impacts on Student Achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 42(4), 407-428.
Greene, J. (2023, March 29). Research on school vouchers suggests concerns ahead for education savings accounts. Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/give-vouchers-time-low-income-families-need-as-many-quali ty-school-options-as-possible/
Greene, J. P., Hitt, C. L., Krieshok, T. S., & Shuls, J. M. (2017). The Effects of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program on Student Achievement: A Matching Study. Education Finance and Policy, 12(4), 407-447.
Hansen, M. T., Rodriguez, O., & Smith, R. W. (2021). Does School Choice Improve Achievement? Evidence from Tennessee’s Education Savings Account Program. Educational Policy, 35(3), 456-502.
Hanushek, E. A., Kain, J. P., Markman, J. D., & Rivkin, S. G. (2017). The Effects of School Vouchers on Student Achievement in Louisiana: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(4), 147-201.
Walsh, A. (2023, January 4). How School Voucher Programs Hurt Students. TIME. https://time.com/6272666/school-voucher-programs-hurt-students/
“This moment offers us, yet again, an opportunity to believe the gospel of the God who does not coerce or control, but can work grace into the world even through The Satanic Temple.”
When I stepped up to preach last Sunday, I never imagined that by the end of the week I would be penning an Op-Ed in defense of The Satanic Temple. But here we are.
Despite the objection of petitioning pastors, Chimney Rock Elementary and the local school board did the right thing by providing space for The Satanic Temple. They refused to infringe upon First Amendment rights. They refused to apply religious freedom inconsistently by allowing Christians special privileges they would not allow other groups.
Instead of criticizing and protesting their decision, Christians should applaud it.
Yes, we can disagree with The Satanic Temple’s atheism (they are, in fact, atheists not satanists). We can even feel revulsion at their choice of name. But what we cannot do, what we should not do, is force the school to act upon our religious beliefs. To do so would confirm for The Satanic Temple that Christians are, in fact, the fascists they think we are.
Schools give churches maximal latitude, inviting us to help fundraise, provide for underprivileged students, and even conduct after school Bible studies. This permeation of the wall of separation between church and state is a privilege they offer us not a right we can demand. To deny that privilege to others because we do not like their organization’s name is not only to deny them something that is not ours to deny, but it is also to resist the application of their constitutional rights. The American courts have affirmed this repeatedly.
But the courts should never have had to decide it. American Christians should excitedly support it. Early American Protestants argued for a Principled Pluralism, which affirmed the God-given rights of people to disagree with my religion and still participate in the American experiment. They determined that for this country to be a functional democracy, pluralism must be valued on principle. More than just good nation-building, Principled Pluralism flowed from Protestant theology: the Christian God is not interested in coercion or control. The Christian God honors free will and the freedom of conscience. The Christian gospel can stand on its own without legal force behind it. Authoritarianism undercuts the Christian message that God died on a cross rather than taking Satan’s temptation to control the kingdoms of the world.
In a state where voucher programs are threatening to cut the funds flowing to public schools in order to support private schools for the wealthy, the truly true evil at work in our educational system is not atheists trying to help our kids think rationally. With The Satanic Temple, the church might find a worthy partner in resisting the commodification of education, the exploitation of teacher labor, and the funneling of taxpayer funds to private schools. Indeed, we might find in The Satanic Temple, an ally in the education of our most vulnerable students. And in that they might be the unwitting agents of God’s grace in the life of a child.
When I prayed before my congregation on Sunday, I never imagined that by the end of the week I would be writing an Op-Ed defending The Satanic Temple. But here we are. Fortunately, we do not have to stay where we are. This moment offers us, yet again, an opportunity to believe the gospel of the God who does not coerce or control, but can work grace into the world even through The Satanic Temple.
Tom Fuerst is the lead pastor of Memphis First UMC. He received his B.A. in Biblical Studies from Hannibal LaGrange University (2003), a M.A. in Religious Studies at the University of Missouri (2006), a M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary (2010), and a PhD. in Rhetoric from the University of Memphis (2022)
During a committee meeting a few months ago, Republicans Senator Janice Bowling and Rep. Mary Littleton perpetuated the myth that there are students in Tennessee identifying as cats and using “litter boxes” to go to the bathroom in some Tennessee schools.
Yes, this happened in the Tennessee legislature this week! Rep. @78RepLittleton (R-Dickson) and Sen. @janicebowlingtn (R-Tullahoma) asked about the “growing crisis” of furries being allowed to use litter boxes in the classroom. (Spoiler: there’s zero evidence that it’s true!) pic.twitter.com/qQAnmjQH2t
— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) September 28, 2022
The lie is part of a wave of misinformation intended to harm public education by giving public schools a bad reputation, and also to target LGBTQ people. As SALON puts it:
“The first notable instance of furry panic occurred when right-wing activists pushed a false claim about schools in Michigan placing litter boxes in bathrooms to allow furry students to use them, and the bogus rumors about furry infiltration into the public education system have only grown from there.”
Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire, known for his transphobia, talked about it in an anti-trans propaganda film he made, and Joe Rogan helped add fuel to the fire before eventually admitting he had no evidence of it.
That brings us back to Janice and Mary. Since their comments were made when the legislature was out of session we didn’t have a chance to ask them about it until yesterday, when we finally caught Senator Bowling coming out of Day 1 of the Tennessee state senate.
We asked her if being featured on an NBC NEWS debunking was enough to get her to admit she was wrong and apologize.
NBC: “NO EVIDENCE any school has deployed litter boxes for its students.” 🐈
The @tnsenategop’s @janicebowlingtn makes an appearance on NBC for being one of the most gullible, detached-from-reality elected officials in 🇺🇸. Y’all must be so proud. 🤦🏻♂️ 🤦🏾♀️ pic.twitter.com/GS1RMaHm10
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) October 15, 2022
Surprise! She would not.
Instead, Janice doubled down. Senator Bowling repeatedly insisted the myth of furries in schools was not a lie, but instead of “litter boxes in schools”, which is what she initially claimed, she now said it was “LEASHES” in schools – meaning kids were walking around attached to leashes intended for pets.
WATCH: “IT WAS A LIE.” 🤥 🐈
Tennessee Republican Senator @janicebowlingtn still won’t apologize for perpetuating the lie schools were providing “LITTER BOXES” for students who ID as “furries” — insists the debunked furries myth is true🤔
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) January 11, 2023
The natural question: “Where is this happening?”
“Franklin County schools,” Janice said, claiming she talked with the superintendent, who told her about all of these leashes and furries and such.
The thing is, Franklin County Schools has telephones. The superintendent’s name is Stanley Bean.
So we called Mr. Bean and asked him ourselves about Janice Bowling’s accusations that his schools had children walking around on leashes.
Mr. Bean’s response: “There are no litter boxes in our schools. There are no students on leashes. I don’t know where Senator Bowling is coming up with this stuff.”
Apparently Mr. Bean was made aware of Bowling’s lies about furries and litter boxes in their schools back when she initially talked about them in committee, when the superintendent of Tullahoma schools, who is a friend of Bean’s, told him Senator Bowling was claiming such things were going on in their district.
Superintendent Bean says he called Senator Bowling himself and asked her where she was getting that information. Bowling told him it was coming from parents, so Mr. Bean did the logical thing and asked Senator Bowling to bring the parents to a meeting with him so they could talk about what they had seen, and where.
When the time came for the meeting, Senator Bowling showed up, but there were no parents to be found. “She told me they were afraid to tell me in person,” Bean said. “So I told her that without any evidence she needed to retract what she had said about out schools. She said she would.”
Bean says the next thing he knew, Bowling was on local radio – but instead of retracting and apologizing, Senator Bowling was claiming to have put a stop to all the furrying and litter boxing and what-not, by issuing an order to Mr. Bean to put a stop to it.
Bowling made herself sound not like a fool who had fallen for a lie, but a hero.
Bean was angry. But he decided to let it go.
Unfortunately for Senator Bowling, letting things go isn’t something we at the Holler are very good at. So yesterday we asked Bowling about it at the legislature, and instead of apologizing, she insisted Mr. Bean told her there were kids on leashes in Franklin County Schools, and angrily told us we simply couldn’t handle the truth.
As it turns out, it’s Senator Bowling who very clearly has trouble with the truth.
There are no furries in Franklin County Schools. Or Leashes. Or Litter Boxes.
Senator Janet Bowling has been duped, but instead of admitting her mistake, she childishly and irresponsibly added to the problem by piling lie after lie on top of it – behavior unbecoming of anyone, but especially of a sitting state Senator who is supposed to be representing her constituents and her local school districts, not lying about them and defaming them.
At least Meow we know the truth.
WATCH: “Are we doing a disservice to the other universities?”
After DECADES of underinvestment @SenBoWatson @SenGardenhire & a white @tnsenategop grill @gloverpres of TN’s only public HBCU @TSUedu for too much enrollment w/o housing & taking Black students from other schools.🤔 pic.twitter.com/jpuz73GI3a
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) November 22, 2022
These are the times we save receipts for. Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine took the time to lash out at Phil Williams for calling out the conflicts of interest of Governor Lee’s handpicked charter schools appeal board – but Phil is absolutely right.
Levine is hardly the best messenger for this, having been the subject of a 60 Minutes medicare fraud piece when he worked at HMA.
WATCH: “I had to get that off my chest.”
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) October 18, 2022
THE QUIET PART OUT LOUD
As Governor Lee pushed his TISA education funding overhaul, many of us were hollering from the Smoky Mountaintops that the new “student-based funding formula” was intended to enable MORE money to follow kids OUT of the public schools system MORE EASILY to private schools through vouchers, charter schools and the like.
We knew this because we saw it happen in OHIO, where step 2 of their plan is already in progress, and already harming public schools.
We repeatedly asked Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn if their Ed funding overhaul TISA will help steer public money to private schools. They denied it.
But this week, The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a group behind much of the TISA push, just admitted in an op-Ed in the Washington Examiner that Governor Lee’s Ed funding overhaul TISA is in fact intended to help steer PUBLICTO PRIVATE SCHOOLS.
There it is in black and white.
It seems with the formula passed, they now feel comfortable saying what it was really all about.
We warned about this. We posted about it daily. We even asked Governor Lee about it-– FLASHBACK: “Isn’t this just the VOUCHERIZATION of our public education system?” (of course, he ran from us)
But Education commish Penny Schwinn denied this repeatedly when we asked her SHE LIED RIGHT TO OUR FACE: “Step 2 after Ohio’s funding overhaul was private school vouchers & charters—can you guarantee it won’t happen here?”
COMMISSIONER SCHWINN: “I haven’t been part of any of those kinds of conversations.”
So many lies. Right to our faces.
And the marketing blitz now being unleashed on Tennessee to sway public opinion in favor of PRIVATIZERS should tell you how much taxpayer is at stake. #HillsdaleHeist
Who is paying for this marketing? Us? Is this where that $32 million in the budget went that you gave them in the budget, Governor Lee?
Yes. Governor Lee gave teacher-trashing Hillsdale $32 MILLION of our money — for what, Exactly? Where’d that go?
And now HILLSDALE is texting Tennesseans that they’re not getting taxpayer money ?
The lies never stop.
As a reminder, Lee’s RIGGED STATE CHARTER APPEAL BOARD is poised to help Hillsdale-affiliated schools overturn rejections by local school boards.
Meet the (Privately Run) Charter School commission Governor Lee picked to overrule locals that reject (Hillsdale) charter schools seeking taxpayer
email: [email protected]
We’re going to keep yelling the truth about this, but the truth is a lot of damage has already been done.
If your reps supported TISA, and vouchers, and the creation of the state charter commission, they supported the dismantling of our public schools, which Republican Rep. Bob Ramsey told us last week is Governor Lee’s goal.
And they should be held accountable for it.
People need to know. Spread the word. You can’t support Governor Lee if you support public schools. Period. Hopefully Tennessee will choose another option, which they have in Dr. Jason Martin.
We’ll keep yelling the truth about all this. Please consider chipping in monthly if you can. We depend on your support.
– The Holler
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REPUBLICAN REP: “GOVERNOR LEE WANTS TO DO AWAY WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS”
Yesterday, for the first time ever, we had a Republican legislator on the Holler.
The lack of Republicans hasn’t been by choice – we’ve invited them, they just haven’t accepted our invitations. Until now.
Rep. Bob Ramsey out of Maryville agreed to come on, having just been unseated in a primary by a challenger backed by a big war chest from school privatization PACs who were mad at him for standing against Governor Lee’s efforts to steer public dollars to private schools through privately run charter schools, vouchers, and his TISA ed funding (privatization) overhaul.
The main takeaway from Ramsey’s appearance was that he confirmed everything we’ve been warning about when it comes to the privatization attacks on our public schools, which Governor Lee is spearheading. Rep. Ramsey, a Republican, even SAYS LEE WANTS TO END PUBLIC EDUCATION: “I do believe Governor Lee’s goal is to do away with public education.”
REP. RAMSEY also says “Preparations have been made to make overturning local rejections (of Hillsdale-affiliated schools) a slam-dunk, and that LOCAL EDUCATION AUTHORITIES REALLY HAVE NO POWER.”
As we’ve been saying, Lee’s state appeal board is rigged to strip local control and push Charter Schools through even where locals have rejected them.
And Ramsey’s reward for standing up for public schools? He lost his seat. Governor Lee and his privatization pals sent a message to Ramsey and Weaver that standing against their attacks on public schools will not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, GOVERNOR LEE is out there blatantly lying about his connection to Hillsdale, telling reporters “I’m not engaged in Hillsdale’s efforts.”
Lee tries to distance himself from Hillsdale’s teacher-trashing as their (privately run) charters try to get local rejections overturned by his rigged state board, but he already gave them $32 MILLION of ourin the budget.
Ramsey is telling the truth. Governor Lee wants to do away with public education. You can’t support Lee and public schools, which is why we hope people will get behind Jason Martin in November.
We’ll keep covering this attack on our schools, and trying to talk to Republicans like Bob who will tell us the truth.
Please consider chipping in monthly if you can. We depend on your support.
– The Holler
(CHIP IN MONTHLY HERE)
Please consider chipping in even just $5 or $10 monthly to help us continue this work.
Charles Siler used to work for the privatizers. Now he fights against them. He joins us to explain why he changed, why CRT is just the latest boogeyman, and how the real goal of Governor Lee and the privatizers here in Tennessee is to eradicate public schools.