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.

Academic Achievement

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).

Representation Matters

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. 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.



 For months Governor Lee has been touting his new “STUDENT BASED FUNDING FORMULA” which he says will revolutionize how Tennessee funds our public schools. The plan has been very short on details by design, but after the press conference he gave yesterday we now have enough clues to understand what’s really going on.
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 College👇🏽WATCH: “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. 

The Holler


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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.


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.


The Burden of Proof

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” ― Albert Einstein

 on  “Dad Gone Wild.”

Two days ago the Tennessean ran an article reporting that MNPS had received a letter from the Commissioner of Education accusing them of fiscal malfeasance regarding their management of federal funds delivered through the CARES Act. In the commissioner’s words,

“I cannot underscore enough the seriousness of the current financial management of federal funds and compliance issues in MNPS,” Schwinn wrote Monday. “It is imperative that these issues be resolved quickly, accurately, and comprehensively, so as to provide students with the resources that they need and to move the district to a space of compliance with federal and state law.”

Yikes, dems are some strong words. Department spokesman Victoria Robinson followed up with strong words of her own,

“The issues addressed in the letter represent systemic financial and programmatic concerns documented by multiple oversight agencies at both state and federal levels over multiple years,

Governor Lee’s spokesman Laine Arnold piled on,

“When student achievement, teacher compensation and all manner of public education issues are blamed on lack of funding, $110 million sitting idly by is not acceptable for Nashville families,”

Apparently, things are a little slow in Memphis because Representative Mark White felt the need to offer his two cents,

“Unless we have accountability from these school districts, we can’t keep throwing money at them if we don’t see improvement,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis,

As the basis for their criticism, several references were made to a recent audit put forth by the comptroller’s office. Per Schwinn,

“Within 45 days, the district must also remedy findings from a recent comptroller’s audit.”

Being the crazy guy that I am, I decided to read the comptroller’s report to get an idea of the severity of the issues. After spending 30 minutes on the state website and being unable to locate the said report, I called the comptroller, where I was promptly informed that the reason I couldn’t locate the report was that the report wasn’t yet available. It wouldn’t be available until…March. In fact, the comptroller’s office was still in the process of constructing the report.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with how the audit process works. Once the subject of the audit is defined, a field team is sent out to investigate. They compile data and notes. These findings are preliminarily shared internally to possibly get more clarity. All involved are allowed to offer a rebuttal to any findings. After the rebuttals are submitted the report is compiled and only then is released with the stamp of approval from the comptroller’s office. It is an arduous and rigorous undertaking.

Per the comptroller, the field investigation into MNPS spending has just recently been concluded. Speculation, that affords a generous amount of grace, is that Schwinn saw some irregularities in the preliminary findings, conducted her own investigations, maybe substantiated those initial suspicions, and then dashed off her letter. How extensive an investigation the DOE could have completed is questionable, as the impression I got from the comptroller’s office was that fieldwork had just been completed in the last few weeks.

I reached out to Victoria Robinson, TDOE spokeswoman, and asked if I could see the report that TDOE generated to support their allegations or at least the notes connected to the investigation. As of now, I’ve yet to hear a response and if history with this administration holds true, I likely won’t see a response until mid-July or August. Regardless of her reply, the facts still hold true, Governor Lee and Penny Schwinn, are attempting to punish MNPS while citing a report that does not exist. And based on their interference may never exist. The whole thing smells like a plot cooked up over Happy Hour at the Capital Grill.

The bigger issue is that it makes others complicit in the Schwinigans. The comptroller’s office prides itself on its non-partisanship – just the facts mam. With Lee and Schwinn, citing a report that is still under construction, that mission in this instance is possibly tainted.

Will the writers find themselves under pressure to craft a report that backs the Governor up in an effort not to embarrass him, or do they try and be kind to MNPS because perhaps they have kids in the system? Either way, the impartiality of the report is tainted. People’s motives will likely come in to question through no fault of their own, but rather due to the selfishness of the two bureaucrats.

That’s a loss for all of us because, in order to have a functioning society, there has to faith in the impartiality of our democratic institutions. The comptroller’s office, like the Supreme Court, is a key component in our democratic structure and as such, should never be carelessly used for political fodder.

If this was the first occurrence of such behavior by Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn it would still be disturbing, but defensible. The problem is, it’s not. It is just another instance, in a lengthy list of instances, of deception perpetrated by the bumbling duo.

Think back to August when the two put forth the idea that due to the pandemic, students were facing learning losses of 50% in ELA and 65% in math. When pressed to supply data to back up these suppositions, they just created a cloud of confusion, while failing to produce confirmation. The inability to substantiate their claims is because “learning loss” is a political construct and not a real measurement. Currently, no assessment measures learning loss. We can measure performance levels, and growth, but not “learning loss.” Anything put forth under that banner should be considered pure speculation and subject to personal desires.

Fortunately for the dynamic duo, nobody really delved into their claims. So they were free to continue to spout their falsehoods, and they did at every opportunity. Sure there was some mention that some people “questioned” the numbers, but most media outlets and politicians continued to talk about “learning loss” as if it was carved on tablets from Mount Sinai. Until this week, when Memphis television station WMC5 started digging into Schwinn and Lee’s claims. What they found, is that they didn’t hold water.

Despite new data suggesting COVID-19 learning loss wasn’t as severe as predicted, state leaders continue to use old data, which some have called misleading, to pressure school districts like Shelby County Schools to reopen for in-person classes.

Once again, a political agenda took precedence over accuracy. We now know that Lee along with Schwinn pulled the numbers out of their ass. A crass accusation, but due to the depth of their deception, a necessary one.

As a nation, we’ve just emerged from a deep conversation about the importance of leaders being truthful, and the potential of dire consequences when our elected leaders fail to adhere to that standard. Throughout their tenure, both Lee and Schwinn have continually acted in a manner that pays little heed to accuracy and honesty. Instead of choosing to pick and choose nuggets to use to make their arguments independent of their veracity.

It’s a pattern of evidence that includes an ever-growing list of instances. From the wasting of taxpayer money by inventing a costly excuse to avoid meeting with the US Secretary of Education to offering testimony to the head of the state’s Senate Education Committee, that she hasn’t met with vendors over a pending RFP despite video evidence to the contrary available on the department website, Schwinn and company continue to abuse the trust of Tennessee taxpayers through their machinations of the truth. Schwinn achieves new heights in the use of doublespeak. At one point during her recent special session testimony, education experts pondered whether she was actually using real words describing real circumstances.

Other instances include a willingness to receive a six-figure paycheck as Executive Director from a state-funded charter school for impoverished children in California while collecting a paycheck as a senior state official across the country in Delaware. As well as recently claiming in Senate hearings during a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly that the department will create an ELA screener that adheres to Tennessee state standards and is nationally normed. Something that is impossible to create.

Political insiders on both sides of the aisle have long marveled at Ms. Schwinn’s ability to contradict herself regularly in testimony to the General Assembly. So much so that at a Senate Education Committee meeting last Spring, where the Commissioner was slated to testify, the chair felt compelled to take the virtually unprecedented action of having the rules of perjury read before opening proceedings. You didn’t think that was just a coincidence, did you?

If MNPS is not properly spending or accounting for federal resources, they should be held accountable. But the accusations should be derived from existing transparently created documents that support the allegations. Not some half baked assumptions pulled from a collection of data still being compiled. Documents that in their completed form, should be used in a manner that protects the interests of kids, not in a manner that further the agenda of adults.

The truth matters. Being able to believe the words of our leaders is essential. At some point, the question has to be raised, does the Commissioner model behavior that we want to be emulated by the state’s children? Does the Governor? Not to be an ass, but currently, there is a whole lot of talk about christ around the statehouse, and a decided lack of Christian behavior. Somebody might want to work on that.

The Tennessee Department of Education currently is seeking submissions for a contract to construct a state-wide course on civics, one designed to help develop students into better citizens. It will ultimately be overseen by one person who has engaged in bully tactics – that report does exist – and another who suffers from the inability to separate fact from personal interest. That’s a scary proposition. Maybe I’m a bit of a square, but as a parent, while I aspire to be my children’s’ role model, I also want them to be able to look to the country’s leaders for evidence that doing the right thing matters. That leaders are people of character.

Based on his long history of working with those less fortunate than himself, I was under the impression the Governor felt the same way. I just haven’t seen a lot of evidence to support that assumption as of late.

Education doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. we are all works in progress and we all create the rules that govern our society. In order to create a society that works for all of us, it has to be rooted in truth and honesty. That starts with all of us and it shouldn’t be too much to ask that before we make accusations we make sure they rise to the challenge of meeting the burden of proof.

Conservative writer and Delaware State School board member Andy Smarick sums it up better than I,

When most leaders implicitly trust institutions and then work through them, the decisions of those institutions are generally understood as legitimate. But those institutions become even more trustworthy when their processes and outcomes are scrutinized and deemed to be fair. Said another way, good institutions aren’t merely trustworthy because they are reflexively trusted; they are trustworthy when they behave in ways worthy of trust.


Last night the MNPS School Board engaged in some discussion about the reopening of school buildings. It was reiterated that for that to happen, the district’s COVID-19 tracker would have to drop below 7. Today it rests at 7.7.

Even as the conversation around re-opening schools flares up in Nashville, it continues to grow nationwide as well. Lack of in-person learning is a challenge faced by all large urban districts. It’s a discussion that has wreaked havoc in communities and created division among former allies. Per an article in the Intelligencer,

On social media, everyone was an amateur epidemiologist. Commenters tore Fry apart, accusing her of misreading the data, underestimating the unknown menace of the virus. Some of the most vehement attacks came from commenters who identified themselves as teachers. “I couldn’t believe it,” Fry said. “I was arguing with teachers about the importance of education.”

The arguments got mean. The holdouts called reopeners selfish, lazy, and cavalier — willing to sacrifice lives for child care. “I still get called a granny killer,” says Maya Ziobro, a parent who supports reopening. “If we say anything about wanting our kids to return to school, we’re painted as Trumpers.”

“I’ve never been on the other side of the teachers union in my entire life,” Fry said. “I’m afraid of the long-term damage this is going to do between teachers and parents, because people think that their kids are suffering, and it makes it hard to sympathize with the union struggle.”

Much of what is outlined in the article is uncomfortably familiar to what’s happening in Nashville. Hopefully, some cooler heads will soon prevail and kids can safely return to school buildings. But the latter shouldn’t happen till the former is secured. No matter what side of the argument you find yourself on, I urge you to read the whole article. It’s long but well worth it.

Education writer, and professional educator, Peter Greene shares his list of education writers worthy of reading and it’s worth sharing. Yours truly is extremely proud to be included in his roll call.

TC Weber covers Tennessee thoroughly and with sharp wit and pithy quotes. “Nobody reads it. Everybody quotes it.”

Bookmark him and the rest of the list, you’ll be better for it.

Bill Lee may not like to talk to Tennessee reporters, but yesterday he set down with the Washington Examiner where he made the erroneous claim that only 2 districts in Tennessee remained all-virtual. Apparently, he doesn’t read his COVID tracker either. For the record, as of last week, 13 of Tennessee’s districts were still virtual. One in fact remains closed, Kingsport. Below is the list of those remaining remote, with the names of those local representatives who supported a bill forcing schools open in parenthesis.

Alvin C York Institute – state-run school
Bledsoe County
Cheatham (Littleton)
Decatur (Haston)
Kingsport  – closed
Montgomery – (Reedy)
Richard City (Warner)
Shelby (White)
Sullivan (plan to return this week)
TN School for Blind – state-run school
TN State Board of Education – state-run schools
Washington (Tim Hicks and Rebecca Alexander)
Oh…and the Department of Education? As I was informed this morning on the phone…they are working remotely as well. When asked by the Examiner about how he was going to bring schools around that weren’t open for in-person instruction, Lee had this to say,

It is Nashville and Memphis. And we’re actually working on that issue right now. We had a special session last week that I called for our legislature to address learning loss and to address accountability, really testing, learning loss, how we’re going to address the challenges to education going forward. And when people were railing at me for opening schools because kids were going to die in the school buildings, and we did it anyway because the science didn’t indicate that, and certainly, it hasn’t happened.

So, we’ve been open in-person for the most part since school opened in August. And we are pushing the large districts to open as well because we think that’s really important. Pressure is a very important component here. That’s the reason I got up and really just called those school districts out publicly because here’s the thing: Parents want their kids to be at school. And the saddest part from my perspective is that Memphis is the biggest school district that we have. It also has the most number of low-income children who get the greatest negative impacts from being out of the classroom. I mean, these are the kids that have the least access to technology. They have the least resources, the family structures, oftentimes — they’re not there to support the needs of them. And so, these are the kids that are sitting at home, and the negative impacts on these children is staggering. Calling that out, publicly talking about why parents want their kids to be in school, has already begun.

Hmmmmm…fortunately Memphis is not rolling over for this egregious attack and have already mounted their counter-attack.

This is a good place to stop for today.

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If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

The Lesson Is, Elections Matter

“Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.” – Amanda Gorman


 on Dad Gone Wild.”

Elections have consequences – it’s a phrase most of us are familiar with. Currently, it’s a trope on full display in Tennessee where legislators have passed major bills on education and healthcare in the first few weeks of the new year.

Regarding the latter, members of the General Assembly raced to rush through a block grant authorization that would make Tennessee the first state in the union to receive federal Medicaid funds in one lump zoom. The impetus for the quick action wasn’t born out of a desire to serve Tennessee citizens, but rather out of a recognition that on January 20th Joe Biden would become president and likely rescind the grant awarded in the waning days of the Trump presidency. In other words, they were serving the needs of politicians, not citizens.

Yesterday, as a special session designed to pass Governor Lee’s favored initiative successfully wrapped up, politics were once again front and center. All of the proposed legislation was passed into law without testimony from a single one of the state’s educators and over the protestations of one of Tennessee’s most respected superintendents. Despite my deep disappointment over legislation that clearly benefits the friends and family of Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn over the state’s children, I recognize that the outcome was never really in doubt.

Tennessee is a state with a GOP supermajority with an unstated desire not to embarrass the Governor, a fellow Republican. And not passing his favored legislation during a special session called by him, would certainly serve as an embarrassment at a time when the GOP doesn’t any more embarrassments or signs of discord. As a result, some good people were put in a position of promoting bad policy and passing bad laws.

Few legislators have worked harder over the last two years on education than Maury County Representative Scott Cepicky. The Rep has dived deep into education issues, talking with a variety of stakeholders to truly understand the issues facing the state’s school. He’s been receptive to input, even when the information countered his preconceived notions, yet here he was touting legislation that couldn’t possibly be supported by this personal research, let alone that of education experts.

Legislation that proposed, among other things, to retain third-graders who fell short on state tests, inadequately fund a tutoring force, grant extended powers to an education department that can charitably be described as inept, along with passing a raise for teachers that does little but create campaign slogans for politicians. You see the 4% raise, as it was pointed out in Committee, is not a raise for teachers, but rather a one for the BEP funding line that is intended for teachers.

Unfortunately, the BEP funding doesn’t adequately cover all the teachers that districts need to hire to meet mandates. The BEP formula may cover 10 teachers, while the LEA hires 15 to meet the needs of their students. As a result, the allotment meant to cover 10 teachers must be spread out to cover the 15 with local funds required to make up the shortfall. In the case of MNPS, estimates put the proposed 4% raise as being in actuality around 1.5%. An amount that translates, if earning 50K annually, to about $750 annually before taxes.  Assuming taxes take at least 15%, that leaves roughly 600 to be divided up over a year of paychecks. Raise your hand if you feel that is an adequate representation of the number of extra hours teachers have contributed this year.

As a result of this proposed increase, large urban districts will be left scrambling to find extra funds in order to even attempt to reward teachers in a manner they’ve earned. But the poison financial pills in these bills don’t end there.

In the past, districts selected the curriculum they would use to best teach their students off of an approved materials list. Legislators recognized the costs of materials and allowed for districts to adopt but not purchase. Contrary to Ms. Schwinn’s testimony, failure to purchase was usually a result of funding and not an effort to circumvent the process. Thanks to the bills that passed yesterday, districts will no longer have that leeway and will be forced to purchase all materials adopted. It’ll be up to Schwinn and posse to decide who can afford what.

Starting immediately, LEAs will be required to submit a plan for approval to the department of education outlining their k-5 early literacy instruction plan using materials off of the state’s approved list, unless granted a waiver. Remember, during the recently completed ELA textbook adoption process the DOE approved over 70 waivers for districts to adopt materials of favored vendors not on the approved for adoption list. Roughly half of the state’s LEAs are now using materials not approved by the Tennessee Textbook Adoption process, and some would argue that the number is much higher due to the actions of the DOE. This is who we’ve granted even more power to. The sad part is, most of Tennessee’s legislators are well versed in the commissioner’s machinations, yet decided to turn a deaf ear out of deference to the Governor.

LEAs better start looking for some more funding for tutors and summer schools as well. Discussions in the finance committee revealed that for summer school, each classroom will be afforded $1400 to cover expenses including busing costs, most of which will be eaten up by teacher salaries. As explained by commissioner Schwinn, most larger districts will benefit from the economics of scale. They’ll have numerous classes in each grade level from which to draw money to cover all costs. Smaller districts won’t be so lucky, and by all accounts, the $400 per class won’t even begin to cover associated costs.

It was also revealed in Finance that districts will be required to cover half the costs of tutoring services that will be required to prevent 3rd-grade retention. In smaller districts that may not represent a significant cost, but for large districts it could be quite significant.

For me, the most troubling revelation of the day was that we fund after school programs, and propose to fund future tutoring programs, summer school, and after school camps, out of a fund that is created by lottery winnings that go unclaimed. A revenue stream that varies greatly from year to year, last year it was $6 million, the year before 2, and before that 3.

Try this exercise, Tell your banker that you plan to refinance your house and that you’ll be making payments with change found in your couch. What do you think, 3…4 seconds before you are laughed out of their office? But no one was laughing in the General Assembly. They felt it was a perfectly stable revenue stream, even when under questioning the current level of after-school funding wasn’t available.

For me, the most valuable thing that happened during Special Session was when Commissioner Schwinn testified before the Senate that 3rd-grade TNReady wasn’t a reading test but rather a measurement of knowledge of Tennessee ELA standards. Think about the significance of that for a minute, the Commissioner regularly makes commentary on the skill level of Tennessee students based on data that is derived from an assessment that she publicly acknowledges doesn’t assess reading. Yesterday, Portland Representative William Lambreth lectured fellow House members to follow the “science” when it comes to COVID, yet he fails to apply the same standard when it comes to education issues.

Allow me to digress here, and be blunt for a minute. During yesterday’s proceeding Lambreth behaved in session in a manner we Tennesseans like to call “showing your ass”, as in, “man he really showed his as”. For those unfamiliar with the term, it loosely translates into behaving in an unflattering or embarrassing manner.

On Wednesday during an exchange with Rep Mitchell, Lamberth behaved in a manner that reflected his status as a senior member of the House’s leadership team. He came off as a gentleman and somebody who did their homework. On Thursday, it was the opposite. In response to Mitchell’s legitimate concerns around the proposed legislation, he resorted to behavior that more closely resembled that of a schoolyard bully.

He was demeaning and belligerent to both Mitchell and those who have legitimate concerns about the dangers of COVID. Despite expressing an unwillingness to debate the effects of the pandemic, he brought forth materials that he had clearly carried with him in hopes that such a debate would arise. Materials that while arguing for the safety of opening schools also carried the caveat that schools were safe as long as community spread wasn’t exceedingly high. Later he blasted anyone who dared question whether the funding designated for the bills would be significant,

“Not only is there not an unfunded mandate, we have funded it well above anything we did last year,” Lamberth said. “Our kids don’t know how to read. If they don’t know how to read well, they can’t do anything else.”

That’s a pretty sweeping generalization. Words that come from the same guys that crafted this message,

In 2012, I ran for and was elected State Representative. I ran because I believe in low taxes, small government, and traditional family values. I know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. The money you earn through your hard work belongs in YOUR pocket and nowhere else. Government intervention in our daily lives should be as minor as possible. These values are at the core of who I am and I will always hold true to them as I serve you.

Mr. Small Government with limited intrusion is also the architect of proposed legislation that would in effect force open Memphis and Nashville schools before their leaders felt it was safe. Not sure how that aligns with the referenced statement.

Let me offer further clarification, Lamberth lives in Portland Tennessee. A lovely town that I’ve enjoyed visiting, There used to be a bar called the Jungle Room just north of the city that was a “third shift” joint. In other words, it served local factory workers just coming off third shift. I used to enjoy going in there at 7 Am and the joint would be jumping like it was midnight on a Friday. But back to my point.

I’m continually fascinated by these representatives from outside the urban centers that seem to believe they know what’s best for the students of our large cities. Bill Dunn from Knoxville made a whole career out of trying to save Memphis students, why? I wouldn’t presume for a second to understand the unique challenges of Portland’s students, why does Lambreth feel the need to comment on MNPS students and try to force them into bending to his will? If he feels that kids aren’t learning remotely and Portland students are in-person, why does he feel the need to comment on Nashville’s strategy over the officials Nashville residents have elected?

When I look at Sumner County Schools, currently at a 43.9% ELA success rate, they’ve been pretty flat for the last several years. Admittedly, their schools outperform Nashville but they only serve about a third of the number of students as MNPS with nowhere near the diversity. If Lamberth thinks he has the secret sauce, he’s more than welcome to move a few miles down the road, run for election, and if he wins, start offering prescriptions. Until then…he ain’t from around here, is he?

As I mentioned earlier, yesterday’s results depressed me, but upon reflection, I think there is still cause for optimism. During the Special Session, several legislators brought up the importance of implementation, and that’s where I turn for solace. There is a lot in these bills, which is going to require a great deal of work. Putting it mildly, Commissioner Schwinn hasn’t exactly produced a record populated with a history of successful implementation.

The charter school she founded in California barely secured its reauthorization, and to this day it produces mixed results. In Delaware, her attempt at revamping priority schools was met with controversy and she left before any meaningful action was taken. In Texas, again she made a lot of noise, but the only thing that she produced were lawsuits and another fast exit. There is nothing in her resume, or revealed in her extensive testimony during the special session, that indicates results will be any different going forth in Tennessee.

Over the last decade, she has produced a record that she can be judged by. It is one that indicates more political skill than accomplishment. Expecting her to produce something different than in the past is akin to expecting in baseball, a career 220 hitter to start hitting 350. Ain’t going to happen.

During committee reviews, senators brought up legislation, passed back in 2015, that would assign a letter grade to each of the state’s school districts. Despite being passed 6 years ago, it has yet to be implemented. Due to legislation passed this week, it’s implementation will be delayed for at least another year. A fact that serves to reiterate, just because legislation has been passed, does not mean that it will be implemented, or if implemented, done correctly.

By all accounts the department of education is understaffed. Currently, 17 supervisory positions are posted on the department’s website – including that of senior director of early literacy, director of Achievement School District, and Chief Operating Officer. The exodus of employees nice the Commissioners arrival is well documented. None of which could be considered indicators of a great place to work or one capable of attracting high-quality talent. Two things are required to make real change.

Equally important to remember is that Schwinn and the DOE are not the final say. They still have to answer to the Federal Department of Education. Despite Ms. Schwinn’s reassurances to legislators that she could secure favored responses to Tennessee’s requests for waiver, in reality, there is a new Secretary of Education in charge, one who comes from the ranks of the opposite party and likely doesn’t share the same cozy relationship as that enjoyed by Schwinn with Betsy DeVos.

The USDOE may reject the TDOE’s proposal that districts only be required to test 80% of students, deciding instead to hold fast on the nation’s requirement of 95%.  They may take a position that states either ask for a complete waiver or meet the requirements as stated. In which case, Tennessee would now be at a disadvantage.

An aside about those requirements, the TDOE is demanding that all TNReady tests be taken in person, despite district benchmarks being administered remotely. If MNPS opens up schools entirely tomorrow, that translates to only 55% of students returning to the buildings. My family, among others, will be remote this entire year. The reasoning being that I’ve already signed them up for one experiment this year, why jump to another before completion of the first?

Ms. Schwinn is demanding that I bring my kids to school for the sole purpose of giving them a test. A test that purportedly holds no meaning. Why would I do that? Why would any other parent that has chosen to remain remote? That 80% threshold is going to be awful difficult to meet, even with the department widening the window to 9.5 weeks. Again, perhaps the commissioner would have been better served by asking for a testing waiver instead of this cobbled-together proposal.

There is still hope that during the upcoming general session, many of the shortcomings of the recently passed bills can be addressed away from the spotlight. The make-up of the education committees and their leadership as designated by Speaker Sexton, give me cause for optimism. There are several very smart people, who value public education, on those committees.

For now, let Governor Lee and his enablers take their victory lap. Passing bad legislation is always the easy part, turning a sow’s ear into a purse is infinitely more difficult. But lest they forget, elections matter and Governor Lee will be facing one in less than 2 years. One that might not be tied to support from the sitting president. One that will likely judge him on actions, and not intentions. An election, that will come after his constituents have been provided with ample opportunity to actually read and evaluate his proposed legislation. One that’s likely to come with challengers from his own party, as well as the opposition.

Hopefully, those opposed to Mr. Lee’s legislation and practices, have been sufficiently reminded that elections matter as well. The next election day will be here before you know it.


Christmas Eve was a busy day for the Department of Education, Not only did they quietly push out a multi-million dollar RFP, but the first report by the recently constructed Tennessee Commission on Education Recovery and Innovation was also released. It’s a fascinating read and one that doesn’t exactly line up with legislation recently passed in Special Session.

The report cites data from NWEA, CREDO, and a recently completed Tennessee Superintendent survey, as the basis for the data considered in the report. By their own admission, the reference survey did not exactly produce a robust response,

In November 2020, all 147 Tennessee superintendents received a voluntary survey from the ERIC. This survey required districts to identify themselves as urban, rural, or suburban but did not require them to disclose the district’s name, nor did the survey require respondents to answer all questions (a full list of questions is listed in the appendix). Eighty-one or 55.1% of the districts responded, of those, 6.17% urban, 17.28% suburban, 76.54% rural.

In case you are doing the math, that 6.7% translates to 5 districts. There is no definition provided by the report as to what constitutes an “urban” district, so it is impossible to say with certainty whether MNPS or SCS participated.

To adequately dive into this report is going to require more than today’s space affords. I’ll try and delve more into it come Monday, but until then, let me draw attention to this observation/recommendation.

  • New expectations in educator preparation need to include virtual teaching/learning and renewed focus on early childhood education success.

Now forgive me if I overlooked that item in recently passed legislation. I know that elected officials had no issue in dictating to educators about what should be included in literacy prep, but apparently, this gem slipped their mind. Wonder why?


MNPS COVID-19 tracker has now dipped to 7.9 today. New metrics are being met with both optimism and caution.

The third-grade retention component of recently passed legislation raised concerns with many people, but uniquely so with Representative Ogles from Franklin,

“There is an unintended consequence of holding some of those children back, and that’s the fact they’re going to age out, possibly not being able to play sports their senior year,” Ogles said to colleagues on the House floor. “So some of these seniors now are going to be 19 and 20 years old and they’re going to be going to prom with a 15-year-old child.”

Ah, yeah…let me slowly back away.

Tuesday is an MNPS School Board meeting. Based on the agenda, it looks like it might be a doozy. The Orion contract is back up for approval after being tabled due to board concerns. Four charter schools are up for renewal. There is mention of Dr. Battle’s contract being discussed. And, the board will be considering a resolution calling for the state to suspend teacher evaluations for the 2020/2021 school year. Betting is now open on the over/under for meeting duration and how much of the meeting board member Dr. Gentry sticks around for.

There ya have it.

If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to [email protected]. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.


Carol Swain Insanity

This past Sunday morning, The Holler’s Kanew joined FOX 17’s “Nashville in Focus” political panel along with the infamous Carol Swain. Swain is known for spewing top-notch GOP propaganda, and her talking points on this panel were no different. From downplaying the COVID19 pandemic to claiming that teachers shouldn’t be paid as much to teach remotely, Swain is in rare form on this panel.

Swain on Masks:

Swain on schools re-opening during COVID19:

Watch the full panel here.

OP-ED: ‘TIL DEATH DO US PART – Being a Teacher in 2020


Being a Teacher in 2020

By Tiffany Crow

A Shelby County Schools teacher, parent, and a COVID survivor.

She wrote this letter to share her experience.

As schools across the nation prepare for the upcoming school year (whether it be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual) teachers and families are writhing in agony with a sense of impending doom. One minute, we hear from superintendents and elected officials that we will be following data and “science” in efforts to plan for the upcoming year, and the next, we are being threatened with reduced funding and told that we will be going back to school buildings, in person, regardless of climbing case numbers, increasing death rates, and individuals being left with lifelong residual health issues from a virus that we still know so little about.

The decision facing parents is certainly a difficult one, but I must ask you… What about the TEACHERS?

What about the teachers who have historically spent all of their own extra time and money to make up for deficits in funding and staffing capacity?

What about the teacher who has cancer, and will now be asked to enter into the world’s largest experimental petri-dish of infection?

What about the teacher who has a child at home awaiting an organ transplant, in a one income household?

What about all of the teachers who will get sick and experience lifelong health complications, financial ruin due to excessive absence, or death?

Have we really convinced ourselves that these people don’t matter?

What about teachers like myself, a Covid-19 “survivor?”

Did I survive Covid-19? Yes, I did survive, but I, a previously healthy 27 year old, am now faced with what could be lifelong and possibly debilitating health issues. I have been “well” for quite some time now, yet I am not “well.” Plagued with daily fatigue, muscle weakness, rashes, heart rate fluctuations, chronic head and neck pain, insomnia, PTSD, digestive issues, and cognitive/memory issues. I am still unsure just how extensive or lasting these issues will be, but now that I am two months out from having a “mild” case of Covid-19, I am STILL facing these health complications. I’ve read more about life insurance in the past two months than I ever have, which is something I never thought I would be doing at age 27.

But it’s not just me. Teachers across the nation are preparing for the worst. We are finalizing wills, upping our disability insurance, and maxing out on life insurance benefits. Those of us who don’t already have life insurance are trying to find more information on which policy is the best option for them. Many teachers are already purchasing PPE, cleaning products, plexiglass dividers, and other band-aid solutions to the astronomical catastrophe that awaits upon school re-entry. Of course, Covid-19 has made significant impacts on the way we used to live. Teachers are now having to purchase protective equipment to keep themselves, and the children, safe. Education is such an important sector though, so many teachers do understand that they are essential workers. More people are even looking to become teachers after this pandemic. People are contacting resume writers, such as those at, to help them create an engaging resume to increase their chances of getting hired.

Is virtual instruction anyone’s first choice, during normal circumstances? Most of us would say “NO!” I, too, believe there is no replacement for in person schooling, but I disagree with people who say virtual instruction cannot be valuable. I taught virtual summer school, and found it to be quite similar in strength and weakness to in person schooling. The advantages were great, however. My students were able to become true 21st century learners, and I was able to become a true 21st century teacher. I learned valuable tools that will work with virtual instruction, but will also be highly effective and enriching when we do return to “normal.” I was able to build community with students and parents, and my students were able to develop a sense of intrinsic motivation that I had not seen at large during the regular school year.

What began as a stressful virtual experience, ended with both student and teacher growth. I urge people to understand that planned virtual instruction is completely different from the patchwork crisis schooling that was offered last spring.

While I understand the need for schools to be open for working families, I respectfully ask that you remember that schools were never meant to serve as free childcare. Teachers are not trained or educated to serve as babysitters. We are also not trained or educated to serve as healthcare professionals or nurses. The bulk of our training and coursework centers around providing a service.

Although teachers and schools, for decades, have offered a variety of services outside of the realm of the service we actually offer (education), we have finally met our match with the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem that may be beyond our efforts to “fix,” as teachers have done for so long. I certainly do not have the answers to solve the ills of a capitalist-obsessed society, but I want to be clear that the service we provide CAN and SHOULD be offered remotely until it is safe to physically enter school buildings.

The current state of our existence is filled with unrest, anxiety, sadness, and pain. It’s honestly not surprising to me that, according to this article looking at the target market of hemp products, Millenials like myself are spending more money on CBD solutions to help us manage our mental health during these uncertain times. Like the rest of the world, I wish that we could press a magic button and return to “normal,” but the reality is that we can’t, not for some time, anyway. What and who are we willing to risk in an effort to re-enter schools in person? How many deaths are acceptable? How many people, like me, who will live with health issues for the foreseeable future is acceptable? Does your fear of an educational setback outweigh my fear for my life?

For once, teachers are voicing hesitation, frustration, and fear, instead of just coming up with a self-sacrificing solution to the problem, and society is appalled. For once, we are begging to be able to put our own family and health first, and the backlash has been intense. Our passion is being weaponized, we are being accused of not caring about children, or not being flexible enough, or even being lazy and unwilling to work. How soon we forget the “backbone” of our society, along with all of the good work we have done. Teachers are strong, resilient, and creative, but this is one situation I don’t think we can “Donors Choose” our way out of.

SORRY, FORT CAMPBELL KIDS: Rep. Green Supports Taking Wall $$ From Fort Middle School

We’ve all heard by now that President Trump has declared a “National Emergency” at the border as an end-run around congress to get money for his Wall.

As we mentioned this weekend, Senator Lamar Alexander spoke out against the move calling it “Unconstitutional”, while the rest of the Republican Tennessee delegation has been supportive despite fancying themselves *strict constitutionalists* in favor of *limited government*.

That group includes Rep. Mark Green of TN-7, an army veteran who lives just outside of Clarksville in Ashland City.

What we’re now learning is that included in the list of 400+ projects the president would be steering funds away from to build the wall is “the operation of a middle school at Fort Campbell”, which would likely be unwelcome news to our brave men and women up in Clarksville, where half the base is located.

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle has already made note of this, asking Green for his position on it just yesterday. Green had this to say:

“I support it because I believe it’s a crisis. My biggest concern is the narcotics. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s certainly within his legal rights. I think very clearly people want the legislative branch doing legislative stuff, and the executive branch doing executive branch stuff. But the legislative branch has given authority to the executive branch in those certain circumstances where emergencies require action that Congress can’t be quick enough to respond to.”

Reading betweens the line of this “stuff”, Green has tried to make the case that this emergency declaration by Trump is not unprecedented since there have been 58 emergency declarations by presidents in the past – but not one of those has involved a president going around congress to get money for a campaign promise.

As for why the “emergency” is suddenly an emergency now when it didn’t seem to be for the first 2 years of the Trump presidency, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.

Green added:

“This is all within the power that’s been granted to the president.”

That will be for the courts to decide. Lawsuits have been filed, and they will likely cite the president saying “I didn’t have to do this” in the very press conference where he made the announcement as evidence for why this emergency is not actually an emergency at all.

More from Green:

“He made a promise to the American people. I think he’s just doing what he thinks he was elected to do.”

Green on the other hand was elected to look out for the interests of Clarksville, a military-heavy district, and it will be up to the residents and the soldiers there to decide how they feel about his decision to prioritize a wall on the Southern border over a school in their own backyard.

Incredibly, when asked about this, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina actually said the kids will be better off not getting the money:

“I would say it’s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We’ll get them the school they need. Right now we’ve got a national emergency on our hands.”

It seems Rep. Mark Green agrees. We wonder if the parents up in the Clarksville area do too.

It’s funny how the people who are the loudest about their undying support for The Constitution seem to forget what it says when it gets in the way of the things they want.

Holler at Rep. Green HERE if you’re in Clarksville and have any thoughts.

In the meantime, enjoy a fun cartoon from Modman, showing that there really is nothing this president does that Mark Green won’t support: