We spoke with Rep. Mark White for 10 minutes about charter schools and Governor Lee’s potentially poisonous ed funding overhaul.
🔥WATCH: “CENSORSHIP IS NEVER THE ANSWER.” 📚
Brave @_youthcoalition students help kill @CepickyTn64 & @joey_senator Hensley’s book ban and librarian criminalization bill with powerful testimony that gets even some Republicans to back @SenatorLamar’s motion to summer study it. pic.twitter.com/bj8VzCe588
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 11, 2022
WATCH: “If Dems did any of these things, like that TN bill, the right would LOSE ITS COLLECTIVE MIND.”@chrislhayes mentions the @TNGOP child marriage bill😳with ACTUAL/alleged GOP child sex abusers (Hastert, Moore, Gaetz, etc)— rips the “BAD FAITH” framing of Dems as “groomers” pic.twitter.com/6Dm7ssBPG1
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) April 6, 2022
💥WATCH: “You’re eliminating the school boards’ power.” @RepMikeStewart calls out Rep. Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro) for his bill ENDING LOCAL CONTROL of charter schools recruiting across county lines… which Baum previously had lied about repeatedly 🤥 (and ran from us 🏃🏻) pic.twitter.com/alFu0xyNSn
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 15, 2022
They blocked @HakeemForHouse’s corporal punishment ban, claiming “local control” — but TN Republicans violate that premise daily.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) March 10, 2022
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:
On Thursday, singer John Rich showed up at the Tennessee state legislature to testify on behalf of Rep. Scott Cepicky’s HB 1944, a bill to crack down on library books Scott and his friends feel violate the definition of “obscenity”, which appears to vary from state to state and from legislator to legislator.
The Tennessee Library Association has spoken out against this bill. So have many teachers and parents. But it has a lot of support from those Moms For Ignorance aka Bored Moms for Liberty (whose Williamson County chapter was just scorched to the ground by a Republican school board member this week).
It also has the support of John Rich, who has been very outspoken about the issue of obscene library books and the curriculum, despite the fact that his kids go to an expensive private school, and despite the fact that his big hit was “SAVE A HORSE, RIDE A COWBOY”, with a music video featuring women dancing provocatively on a bridge in Nashville.
Rich took to the podium during the committee meeting and honed in on one point in particular, reading the legal definition of “Grooming”, saying that he only sees one difference between library books having what he deems to be sexual content in them and pedophiles in white vans luring kids in to show them sexually illicit content: “Kids can run away from the guy with the van.”
Here’s the VIDEO:
Y’all —- Today at the TN legislature, testifying for @CepickyTn64’s pro-censorship bill, singer @johnrich accused schools/librarians of “grooming” kids because there some library books may discuss sexual content.
(Reminder: His big hit was “Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy” 🤷🏻♂️) pic.twitter.com/KTVIiLoCxm
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) February 24, 2022
Never mind that teachers and librarians are trained to educate kids. Never mind that pedophiles are actually out to physically harm children. Never mind that there’s a state rep named David Byrd STILL in the Tennessee legislature who has apologized on tape to 1 of 3 women who say he sexually abused them when they were on his high school basketball team in Wayne County, and these same Republicans still continue to serve with him every day without saying a damn thing.
None of that matters to Rich. Nor, apparently, do the feelings of librarians and educators in our state, who had to be horrified by being compared to “groomers” and pedophiles in white vans.
What a disgrace.
He owes them an apology, as do the legislators who brought him there that day (hi Scott Cepicky).
Last week at a Williamson County works session the head of the WCEA gave a tearful speech saying teachers in Tennessee feel attacked these days, and that it feels like “death by 1000 cuts”.
WATCH: “THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR PROFESSION. DEATH BY 1000 CUTS.”
Leann White of WCEA delivers an emotional plea on behalf of TEACHERS @WCSedu’s work session.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) February 18, 2022
And understandably so. Rich and the bored moms attacking them over books is just a small part of a much bigger attack on our public schools intended to help Governor Lee and his co-conspirators overhaul our public education funding system to steer billions of taxpayer dollars to privately run charter schools to fill kids with their moral , political, and yes religious ideologies.
READ Holler founder Justin Kanew’s op-ed in the Tennessean that lays it all out.
It’s a heist happening right before our eyes. Now is the time to speak up – not only against HB 1944, but also against the many bills intended to help privatize and voucherize our public education system, even against the will of local school boards.
Our librarians, and our schools, are under attack. Who will defend them?
LEE’S NEW PUBLIC SCHOOL MONEY GRAB COMES INTO VIEW
Previously, Governor Lee did all he could to get private school vouchers passed, even reportedly offering military promotions as bribes to squeak it through the house. Unfortunately for him, the courts held up his unconstitutional plan (SO FAR).Now, instead of steering public dollars to private schools, Lee has begun a partnership with HILLSDALE COLLEGE, a private Christian school in MICHIGAN with close ties to BETSY DEVOS led by Larry Arnn, who Trump appointed to lead his history-whitewashing “1776 Commission” in response to the 1619 Project.
In the State of the State, Lee talked about bringing in Hillsdale to teach our kids to be “informed patriots”, by which he means he wants to fill their heads with propaganda and avoid them learning the the harsh truths of our past.
What Lee didn’t mention in his speech was the fact that he has apparently asked Hillsadale to bring 50-100 CHARTER SCHOOLS to Tennessee, which Arnn mentioned at a meeting in Franklin last September in AUDIO WE UNCOVERED THIS WEEK:
“Governor Lee wanted 100 charter schools in TN.”
When asked about it at a press conference yesterday, Lee did not deny it. He instead leaned into it, saying CHARTER SCHOOLS are a big part of his plan, and repeatedly making a point to call them “PUBLIC” schools – by which he means they’ll be taking our PUBLIC SCHOOL funds.
So instead of strengthening our public schools and funding them properly, Lee is telling us he’s willing to pour another $1 BILLION into our schools BUT ONLY IF WE ADOPT HIS STUDENT-LED FUNDING PROGRAM – which would mean those dollars would follow kids to Charter schools like these Hillsdale schools.
Charters are privately run enterprises. Now Lee thinks he can dodge the accusation of “Steering public funds to private schools” by saying these charter schools are “public schools”, but as someone said recently: Calling charter schools “PUBLIC” because they get public funds is like calling defense contractors public companies.
This has clearly been the plan for a long time. Even the MOMS FOR LIBERTY WILLIAMSON COUNTY CHAIR has been posting about the Hillsdale Charter school planned for Williamson since last year – and we’re told a petition has been pulled in Montgomery county as well.
They want our (underfunded) public school funds to send their kids to what will essentially amount to a publicly-funded private school.
It’s an attack on our public schools. A heist. They’re steering our public school funds towards a network of private schools by another name, run by a Trump loyalist who wants to whitewash our history and fill kids’ heads with propaganda.
And to top it all off, Lee has rigged the charter approval process. So even when communities vote to REJECT these schools, a state board handpicked by the governor can overrule these local decisions.
Worried yet? You should be. Strengthening our public schools should be our top priority. This new “STUDENT-BASED FUNDING FORMULA” SCHEME is just a new way for Governor Lee to steer our public dollars to private companies run by his friends, and he’s using these “PUBLIC” Charter schools as a vessel to do it… and our public schools will suffer.
Florida’s ed commish praised Lee and put it in this distasteful way at Hillsdale CollegeWATCH: “YOU CAN’T PUT THE ANIMALS BACK IN THE BARN” – meaning once kids go to a charter school, we have no choice but to keep sending them money because you can’t force them to go back.
OUR QUESTION: Is Gov. Lee’s attempt to use public funds to create a network of private schools (while calling them “public”) even constitutional? Hopefully someone smarter than us can figure that out.
We’ll be here to cover it, and that’s thanks to your support, so Please consider chipping in monthly if you’re not yet doing so, even if it’s just a few bucks – the monthly support truly keeps us going.
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This week at the propaganda-filled State of the State Governor Lee went on a diatribe about “informed patriotism”, saying schools have become “centers of anti-American thought” it would be a priority of his to make sure Tennessee kids learn “unbiased” history – by which he meant very biased history viewed only through his own white, Confederate-uniform-in-college-wearing prism.
To *help* TN kids learn that Deformed Patriotism, Lee said he was going to hire HILLSDALE COLLEGE, a Christian school in Michigan headed up by Larry Arnn, who Trump appointed to lead his “1776 Commission” to write a report to county the harsh truths of the 161 Project. (the first thing Biden did was unpublish its whitewashing view of our history… Arnn once made headlines for calling minority students “dark ones”)
Lee’s speech contained few details about the contract, but we’ve since uncovered some audio from a meeting in FRANKLIN, TN in September of last year (see below) when Arnn revealed that Governor Lee had asked him to bring 100 CHARTER SCHOOLS (!) to Tennessee.
Arnn says he only promised to deliver 50.
We know from sources that charter school applications have already been submitted in WILLIAMSON and MONTGOMERY Counties at least – possibly more.
This is more evidence that Governor Lee is no friend to public schools. The $1 BILLION in new funding he promised our public schools is coming with strings, and the goal is clearly to fund a network of private Christian schools in Tennessee, where he can steer our money to through his vouchers – and the state-level charter school approval board he has rigged to overrule local officials that may not want charters in their area is clearly also part of the plan.
This is an attack on public schools. All of it. From the book censorship, to history-whitewashing, threatening teachers, the mask fight, vouchers, Lee’s charter program…
There is a LOT of money in education, and they’re coming for it.
Are you paying attention yet?
👂LISTEN: “@GovBillLee talked me into starting 50 CHARTER SCHOOLS IN TENNESSEE BY HIS SELL-BY DATE”
9/29/21 in FRANKLIN, @Hillsdale prez @LarryArnn says anti-public schools Gov. Lee wanted 100 (!)—Lee just announced a “patriotism” partnership with the Christian Michigan college pic.twitter.com/kroIFF7dhW
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) February 1, 2022
Here’s the part of Lee’s speech we’re referring to:
WATCH: “INFORMED PATRIOTISM” 🧐@GovBillLee announces he’s hiring a Christian school in Michigan to teach TN kids to be better “patriots” with “true 🇺🇸 history” (according to who? ☹️) — calling colleges “centers for anti-American thought” (because they teach the truth).
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) February 1, 2022
Continuing the recent spate of conservative book-banning initiatives, The Mcminn County School board just voted to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “MAUS” by Art Spiegelman from all of its schools, citing the inclusion of words like “God Damn” and “naked pictures” (illustrations) of women.
There is no video available of the meeting, but here are the MINUTES in their entirety.
We called the board and asked if the book being about the Holocaust had anything to do with the decision, and were told it did not. Still, the climate of conservative censorship, the passage of history-whitewashing laws that threaten fines to teachers who teach the truth, and the push towards the banning of books across the state by groups like “Moms for Liberty” makes it fair to question the timing.
The Vote was 10-0, with Yes votes from: Denise Cunningham, Bill Irvin, Quinten Howard, Sharon Brown, Mike Cochran, Mike Lowry, Donna Casteel, Jonathan Pierce, Tony Allman, Rob Shamblin.
Much of the discussion revolved around how books are selected for the curriculum, with finger-pointing at state standards which have become a popular punching bag among conservatives lately. They also discussed the possibility of redacting the words they found objectionable, but decided it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.
Let’s also remember that in East Tennessee we recently saw Coach Hawn fired after 17 years for leading a discussion about White Privilege, which is as real as oxygen. And the Tennessee state legislature recently passed their history-whitewashing “anti-CRT ban” which actually threatens to impose massive fines on teachers/districts that teach the truth about our history, and race.
Regardless of why this decision was made, we’re in a climate where a sustained attack is being made on our schools, our teachers, and the truth. The anti-Critical Race Theory furor ginned up by Republican think tanks for political gain morphed into an excuse for right wing folks to try to cancel diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and things they don’t agree with in general — and now Conservative book-banning is really having a moment.
We have to teach the truth about our history. Or it will be repeated.
Below is what some of the various board members had to say in the meeting (contact info here):
Tony Allman, School Board Member: “Why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy… I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel. It’s like when you’re watching tv and a cuss word or nude scene comes on it would be the same movie without it. Well, this would be the same book without it… If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”
Jonathan Pierce, School Board Member: “My objection, and I apologize to everyone sitting here, is that my standards matter- and I am probably the biggest sinner and crudest person in this room, can I lay that in front of a child and say read it, or this is part of your reading assignment?”
Mike Cochran, School Board Member: “I went to school here thirteen years. I learned math, English, Reading and History. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. In third grade I had one of my classmates come up to me and say hey what’s this word? I sounded it out and it was “damn,” and I was real proud of myself because I sounded it out. She ran straight to the teacher and told her I was cussing. Besides that one book which I think she brought from home, now I’ve seen a cuss word in a textbook at school. So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it. “
A few in the room came to the book’s defense. We’re told many teachers in the county are upset about the decision, some seemed in favor of just removing the objectionable words:
Julie Goodin, Instructional Supervisor: “I can talk of the history, I was a history teacher and there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history. Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away and we are almost 80 years away. It’s hard for this generation, these kids don’t even know 9/11, they were not even born. For me this was his way to convey the message. Are the words objectionable? Yes, there is no one that thinks they aren’t but by taking away the first part, it’s not changing the meaning of what he is trying to portray and copyright… I have an eighth grader and even if you did pull this book I would want him to read it because we have to teach our kids. Are these words ok? No, not at all that is not acceptable, but the problem is that we are 80 years removed from the Holocaust itself. I just think this is a grave starting point for our teachers. I am very passionate about history, and I would hate to rob our kids of this opportunity. Are we going to be teaching these words outside of this book as vocabulary words? No, you know me better than that Tony Allman. ”
Melasawn Knights, Federal Programs Supervisor: “I think any time you are teaching something from history, people did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed, over six million were murdered. I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that. He is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses that would relate to that time, maybe to help people who haven’t been in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language objectionable? Sure. I think that is how he uses that language to portray that… We are trying our best to redact the best we can and follow the law and that is what we felt like we have done to address the concerns of that language, the best we could. We think it is a valuable book and most of the supervisors here have read it.”
Steven Brady, Instructional Supervisor: “Every lesson we teach gives us a chance to make a change for the better for our students. When we teach habits of character, we are teaching our students how to be better people. There was a time where that happened every day at home, but when we think about what’s going on now and in the lives our students live in, many of them live in broken homes when they are at one house one day and another house the next. The list goes on and on of the things they have to deal with. Whether we realize it or not, school is the most stable thing in many of our students lives. What students see and hear where they live, may not be appropriate in some settings and we have a chance with every lesson to change what our students see is ok. We get a chance to kind of influence their ethics, their morals, their upbringing. I appreciate the stand that you all are taking to assure the public that we care about our kids, and we believe it’s important to teach our students the difference between right and wrong and help them be ethical people with compassion and morals with respect for others. We are not promoting the use of these words, if anything we are promoting that these words are inappropriate and it’s best that we not use them. It’s inappropriate for school, for our conversation here and you may hear that at home, you may see that on tv, but we do not promote that. There are many lessons that can be learned through this book about how we treat others, how we speak, things that we say, how we act and how to persevere. I just wanted you to get an idea of why these lessons are structured like they are and how this text is just surrounded by excerpts and articles and the things we do to build that background knowledge and the opportunity we have to make a difference in our students lives.”
❤️ 📚 WATCH: “FILTERING HISTORY IS MUCH MORE DESTRUCTIVE TO OUR GROWING MINDS.”
As radical @Moms4Liberty and board member Rhonda Thurman force @hamcoschools to create a committee to censor library books (to censor MLK, other black authors) — A WISE 5TH GRADER PUSHES BACK.🙏🏽💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/F11PT9qA8C
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) December 10, 2021