TN ED REPORT: Public Money, Private Schools – Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is an unapologetic champion of school privatization. While the Tennessee Supreme Court has delayed implementation of the voucher scheme Lee succeeded in passing in 2019, Lee has put on a full court press of other measures in order to bring privatization to the Volunteer State.

The latest effort comes by way of Lee attempting to “reform” the state’s school funding formula, known as the BEP. The move includes 18 subcommittees designed to make recommendations for revising the formula – even though Lee has indicated he has no plans to actually increasing funding for schools.

On that note, the Tennessee Education Association suggests Lee’s efforts are missing the mark:

Tennessee ranks 46th in the nation for what we invest per student. It is irresponsible and harmful to Tennessee children to continue the pattern of insufficient state investment in our schools, especially at a time when Tennessee has the largest revenue surpluses in state history. We can and must do better for our students.

Any review of the BEP funding formula must include more than recommendations on how to change the formula. Until the state makes a significant increase in public education funding to address many challenges plaguing our schools, updating a formula will not get us where we need to be to provide the high-quality public education Tennessee children deserve.”

Nashville education blogger TC Weber notes that the BEP is often studied, but never actually improved:

Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Nakia Towns puts it succinctly when pointing out that without a commitment from the governor and the legislature to put more money into funding education, “this whole conversation is without any real teeth.”

There is no need for further study, but Bill Lee insists on acting in a manner not dissimilar to my children’s behavior. If you don’t like what Mom says, go try to engage Dad. If that doesn’t work, try asking the question with different wording. Likely to work out as well for him as it does for them.

J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee embraces Lee’s promise of including more voices, but with a caveat,

“If we want different outcomes, we need different voices in the room. I hope there is an honest attempt to let people truly express their opinions, and that the outcome is not already decided,” he said. “This cannot be an exercise in futility. We need to address some giant issues.”


Lee has tipped his hand a bit by suggesting the new formula will be “student-centered” – that money will follow kids. This is exactly the type of rhetoric used by voucher advocates who suggest we should fund “students not systems.” Student-centered funding is also an approach pushed by privatization advocates over at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).

If Lee were serious about improving public schools, his major announcement around the BEP would have included his commitment to a way to make up for the $1.7 billion shortfall in Tennessee’s current school funding.


Photo by Celyn Kang on Unsplash

Meanwhile, a Pro-Privatization PAC Ramps Up

Just as Gov. Lee is moving forward with his funding formula privatization scheme, a political action committee allied with Lee’s interests is ramping up activity. Team Kid PAC is now on the scene and sure to be a player in the 2022 elections.

Team Kid PAC is the political arm of Tennesseans for Student Success – a supposedly pro-schools nonprofit that is heavily involved in legislative and political advocacy with an aim toward school privatization. Plus, the group has close ties to the payday lending industry.

Finally, the Teacher Shortage Crisis is Here

I mean, we don’t actually want a teacher shortage crisis. But, for those who have been warning about it for some time, the moment may finally be here. Policy makers are actually making some noise about a crisis years in the making. One that was entirely predictable.

Few are suggesting one key solution: Raise teacher pay substantially. Yes, adjusting responsibilities and providing a more welcoming work environment are also important. But, it is long past time to pay teachers significantly more. Tennessee has a $2 billion surplus from the recently-concluded fiscal year. We could fully close the teacher wage gap (a raise of about 20% for most teachers) and still have plenty of cash left over without raising taxes one dime.

Subscribe to the TN Education Report HERE

RUTHERFORD COUNTY TEACHER: “I’m scared I’m going to walk away from a field I genuinely love.”


“Teachers will do what we have always done. We will make it work!” 

This was a quote from my last teacher blog post at the end of teaching in my first pandemic school year. While we are still experiencing the effects, this post has nothing to do with the actual nature of the pandemic on my teaching experience.

I am absolutely tired, y’all!

I am tired of just making it. I am tired of breaking my back to get it done. I am tired of the endless nights of worrying how I will complete my tasks. I am tired of smiling and shukin’ and jivin’ with other adults when there is not a single thing humorous occurring within this educational institution of which I am employed.

Imagine being so excited to receive a gift. You know that feeling of anticipation and giddiness that you experience while sitting with your eyes closed waiting for it to be placed in the palm of your hands?

That was me waiting for the beginning of the school year. I couldn’t barely sleep the night leading up to the first day to get back. I had made contact with my parents in mid June, set up my teacher webpage, made my rosters and started preparing first week “get to know you” activities. Two months in, and my students and their parents met my level of excitement. Working with them has been amazing. Such great support and open communication. It has been wonderful.

But, what I also found out two months in, was that the anticipation of the gift was all I had.

The actual gift of the school year wasn’t wrapped in pretty packaging or neatly put together. The gift that was placed within my hands was wrapped with barbed wire paper, taped tackily together with pieces of controlling micromanagement, held poorly together with a large and abrasive bow of disrespect and disregard for teacher individuality, and lastly slapped on with a crooked label of mistrust of teacher intelligence.

To know me, is to know that my teaching passion is as wide as the ocean is deep and as high as the endless sky above. I care about students. I do extra for them. I push them. I motivate them. I will dance and sing for them to learn. I will attend their sporting and after school events. I will hug them when they’re scared. I will tend to them when they are hurt. I tie dirty shoelaces. I go above and beyond for them because I think it’s important and school should be a place of magic and fun while kids learn.

The current demands being placed on me are zapping the last bit of energy I have and making it so difficult to go that extra mile. I hear the phrase “you can’t give from an empty cup.” Well my cup has a million pinholes and the water is trickling out at such an alarming rate that I can’t fill it quick enough to quench my thirst.

I’m scared I’m going to walk away from a field that I genuinely love. I’m scared I’m going to  dread when the alarm goes off and I have to go to work. I’m scared that my negative attitude is going to be noticed and impact my students. I’m scared that I won’t be a good teammate because of the frustration I feel.

I recently called the board of education to see what my “contractual obligations” were just to be aware. I found that our “contract” is basically terms of service dates and most of the day to day and expectations of teachers are generally at building administrator discretion.

Here in lies my issue…

Each building administrator chooses the guidelines and expectations of their building and then as teachers talk from school to school within a district we see how our experiences are often drastically different. While there are always positives and negatives, I personally feel that I am on a slippery slope to the negative neighborhood right now.

I don’t know where many of the expectations that we are being asked to meet are coming from, and I understand that we all have a job to do, but what I do know is that these expectations often feel unreasonable and leave me and my peers in a state of confusion as we try to implement them.

I constantly have to juggle doing what I think is a best within my classroom and meeting a bullet point on an unrealistic checklist. I often go with my gut and trust myself to do what I know works.

It is truly so much that people outside the education field don’t know about our profession, but when those of us in the profession try to speak out we are ridiculed and told our job isn’t that hard and if we don’t like it then we should quit.

Well let me tell you it is hard as hell!

It’s hard seeing your coworkers in tears because they are struggling to meet a goal, it’s hard to be a teacher mentor when you are trying to navigate a school year yourself, it’s hard to ask for help when others look like they have it together so you think something is wrong with you instead, it’s hard to sit up all night to make a lesson plan that you won’t even use because you don’t need it, it’s hard to want to go the extra mile and be creative when you have a guide to follow and can barely deviate from it without explicit evidence as to why you are doing so, it’s hard to listen to people tell you that they are there to help you, but they rarely do anything to help. It’s hard to care so much, but you can’t do anything to make it better. It’s hard to listen to people who have never worked with children make the rules.

I’m exhausted from just pushing through the hard stuff.

The teammates I have this year are basically rockstars. We all contribute doing what we can to create successful learning opportunities within our classes. We share, collaborate, and communicate effectively during school and even after hours. We go hard for our students, help each other out and sometimes it feels like we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t from outside spectators. They don’t see our day to day or how we work our butts off. It’s all about what we aren’t doing and that is damaging to our spirit!

When you feel like your creativity is being blocked  every step of the way and you’re being restricted to follow a certain plan, you find yourself with an internal struggle. You ask yourself, do I do what I know doesn’t work or do I do what is best for kids that will get them to grow? My passion has been and will always be for my students and making their learning experience amazing any way that I can.

I can no longer stand for being questioned at every turn, asked to implement trivial tasks, or just go with the flow when it’s detrimental to keeping my mental peace and protecting my joyful spirit.

My job is to teach kids and I will continue to do that to my best ability. However, that may now mean that I get reprimanded for speaking out, get labeled abrasive, or that I am not a team player, but I will always go against the grain in my profession when I know that what I am doing is right.

I can’t “just make it” anymore because that’s not good enough for me or my students. If it’s just to meet an institutions absurd often impossible requirements, I will question it. If I know you aren’t answering my questions I will question you. If you are wasting my time, I will remind you I have important things to do and that you need to get to the point, respectfully.

I will show up on time and leave on time. I will work hard in my room with my students and go hard for my teammates. I won’t break myself for the sake of unrealistic, emotionally taxing, and unattainable expectations handed down to me to be implemented without rhyme or reason.

As far as this topsy turvy educational system goes, I will do what I have always done. I will continue to make it work, but within reason and with respect to my peace of mind.

I’ve learned that teaching is a wonderful, enriching part of my life that I genuinely have passion for, but this educational system will not ruin my life. I’m setting boundaries and sticking to them. I value myself too much to second guess my abilities by a system that I feel truly doesn’t value me.

Jessica Trice

Rutherford County Teacher 

INTERVIEW: REP. GLORIA JOHNSON On the anti-mask backlash closing schools

REP. GLORIA JOHNSON joins us to discuss the threats to block schools and the overall Anti-Mask backlash that got Knox Schools closed today.



Subscribe to “The Education Report” by Andy Spears HERE

Jennifer Berkshire writes in The New Republic about the unraveling of the charter school coalition. She notes that while progressives have previously expressed support for charters, that support is waning. Meanwhile, those on the right are moving rapidly toward their actual goal: full privatization of public schools.

Yet today the charter school movement itself is perhaps more vulnerable than it has ever been. Unlikely allies in the best of times, its coalition of suppo

rters—which has included progressives, free-market Republicans, and civil rights advocates, and which has been handsomely funded by deep-pocketed donors and Silicon Valley moguls—is unraveling.

David Menefee-Libey, a professor of politics at Pomona College, likened the original political coalition that came together to back charter schools to a treaty. “You see this bipartisan embrace of a market-based approach to schooling, but both sides also had to give something up,” he said. For Democrats, that meant weakening the party’s support for teachers’ unions—a key constituency—and retreating on demands for school integration. Republicans, meanwhile, accepted charter schools as a watered-down alternative to private school vouchers.

Berkshire references West Virginia as a clear example of the rapid movement from charters to private school vouchers:

Starting in 2022, West Virginia parents who withdraw their children from public schools will receive their child’s state share of public education funding—approximately $4,600 in 2021—to spend on virtually any educational cost: private school tuition, online education programs, homeschooling, tutors, even out-of-state boarding schools.

Take Me Home, Mountain Vouchers
Lawmakers in West Virginia and Kentucky last week passed legislation that would create school voucher programs in those states. Both states saw teacher strikes in recent years over school funding and teacher pension issues. Now, policymakers there are planning to divert public dollars to fund unaccountable private schools…

The bottom line: Privatizers want privatization. Period. No half-measures here. A recent story out of Tennessee further bears this out. It seems the ed reform groups who have been driving “disruption” in public education in the state for years are now lamenting the outcomes of all that disruption.

Groups like Tennesseans for Student Success are joined by other privatization apologists such as Bill Frist’s ed reform group known as SCORE in an ongoing and seemingly never-ending push for BOLD! REFORM! NOW! It’s odd because one might think that with all the bold reform of the last decade, we’d finally have achieved some element of “success.” Instead, we must keep reforming because our students are still “behind” and there’s all this “learning loss.”

Meanwhile, a shortage of educators and education support professionals is creating all sorts of interesting situations in schools. Here’s one example out of Baltimore:

Baltimore City Public Schools is offering to pay several hundred parents to transport their own children to school this month.

The payment for September would be a $250 stipend, according to a reimbursement form obtained by WBFF News in Baltimore.

And, the school funding fight rages on in Tennessee:

The State of Tennessee now has a court date to face allegations of inadequate school funding. The lawsuit, originally filed by school systems in Nashville and Memphis, has been joined by Tennessee School Systems for Equity, a group representing smaller systems around the state. The suit alleges that as it currently stands, the state’s school funding formula (BEP) does not provide sufficient funding for the operation of schools.


We spoke with fired teacher Matthew Hawn & Poet Kyla Jenee Lacey. Hawn is popular with students, a victim of anti-CRT furor. It’s under review, and would be Sullivan County’s loss.



Watch the FULL INTERVIEW with Rep. Gloria Johnson about Speaker Sexton’s “unhinged” presser threatening to call a special session to punish school districts that take measures to keep their students safe.


UPDATE: Sullivan Co. Teacher Got Termination Letter Hours After TN House Passed School Censorship Bill

Coach Hawn

Coach Hawn

We recently posted a link from March about Sullivan County Central High School social studies teacher Matthew Hawn, who was reprimanded officially for having his social studies class read “The First White President” – an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

The Board of Education voted 6-0 to uphold the written reprimand of the 16-year tenured teacher & assistant baseball coach.

The article also says Hawn was verbally warned last fall about a video he made about white privilege, the existence of which conservatives generally hate to acknowledge, especially in a school that’s almost entirely white.

We’ve now spoken with a source who tells us the story does not end there, and that in fact Hawn has been hit with a letter recommending his termination in the wake of another incident brought to the attention of school brass by the same student and their parent, who took exception to a lesson taught by Hawn involving a female poet Kyla Janae Lacey who used language the source says was almost entirely censored.

The source says Hawn received the letter within hours of Tennessee Republicans passing their bill to censor what Tennessee teachers can teach about race and systemic racism – because if anyone should be deciding what can and can’t be said about those topics, it’s the group of almost entirely white legislators who refuse to remove the KKK GRAND WIZARD bust from our capitol, and the Governor who was found to have dressed up in a Confederate solider outfit in college.

Republicans love to complain about “Censorship!” and “Overreach!”, yet here they are over-reaching into our classrooms to censor our teachers, paying lip service to banning Critical Race Theory when very few of them can even describe what exactly it is. (Definitely don’t ask Justin Lafferty of Knoxville, who made national news painting the 3/5ths compromise as some sort of heroism during discussion of this very bill)

The letter Hawn received was a recommendation for termination, which means the final decision once again lands with the Sullivan County School Board, which meets June 8th. They should expect company, as Coach Hawn clearly has supporters.

If you believe this sort of censorship and overreach in our classrooms has gone too far, show up at the school board meeting to support him, and HOLLER AT the board HERE. 

Schwinn’s Conflict of Interest

Why Did TN Education Commish Schwinn’s Husband’s Company Land A Huge State Contract? Senator Heidi Campbell grilled her about exactly that.

This isn’t the first time Schwinn has been embroiled in conflict of interest scandals. It’s kind of her thing.

Lee Gives Non-Answer on LGBTQ Curriculum Opt-Out Bill

HOLLER to Governor Bill Lee: “You said you’ll support the LGBT curriculum opt-out bill…would you support a bill that requires teachers to warn parents if they plan to mention black people? Jews? Do you see the moral issue there?”