Charles Siler used to work for the privatizers. Now he fights against them. He joins us to explain why he changed, why CRT is just the latest boogeyman, and how the real goal of Governor Lee and the privatizers here in Tennessee is to eradicate public schools.
Plus, a teacher shortage crisis
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:
Nashville education blogger TC Weber notes that the BEP is often studied, but never actually improved:
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.
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.
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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.
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.”
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.
Elizabeth Madiera, House Candidate for District 63, discusses the murkiness surrounding the passage of the voucher bill under her opponent Glen Casada’s “leadership”. It’s unpopular, unconstitutional, under investigation by the FBI, and unseated him as leader of the house. We need the General Assembly to be out of the Republican supermajority, better balanced, and more transparent to achieve better legislation.
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) October 16, 2020
WATCH: “Delete the voucher program… it’s ILLEGAL… we’re wasting the courts’ time with something we know is wrong.”
WATCH: “Delete the voucher program… it’s ILLEGAL… we’re wasting the courts’ time with something we know is wrong.” @VoteBo’s bill to kill @GovBillLee’s “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” private school vouchers fails for lack of a second.
(Byrd, Moody, Dunn, White, Deberry, Cochran) pic.twitter.com/VEohDaixNw
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) May 26, 2020
If you’ve been following us for any amount of time hopefully you have some context on this, but just in case, here’s a quick rundown of how we got to this point…
Governor Lee made public school-harming private school vouchers his #1 priority coming into office.
Not fixing our public schools, which get an “F” for funding. Not fixing health care, which has us at #1 in Medical bankruptcies & rural hospital closures per capita, which could easily be addressed by expanding medicaid and accepting the $1 BILLION of OUR OWN TAX DOLLARS earmarked for us every year.
Lee wants to see MILLIONS of public school funds steered to private (often religious/Christian) schools. To get it passed, he had the help of Trump Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who is on record saying her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” by raiding the public school war chest in America, and disgraced former speaker Glen Casada, who held the tie vote open for 35 minutes until he finally coerced Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville into flipping his vote and selling out Tennessee’s public schools.
To be clear, NONE of the rural reps wanted vouchers for their own districts. They only wanted to impose them on Nashville and Memphis and their more diverse student bodies… even though many admitted they wouldn’t want that done to their districts.
The rollout was equally problematic. The Tennessee Dept. of Education handed out an expensive no-bid contract for more than the amount that was allocated to the program, and Lee intentionally sped up the rollout an extra year for no apparent reason other than impatience. Many Republican representatives began to regret their votes for the bill, including TN GOP House Caucus leader Jeremy Faison.
There were also rumors of an FBI investigation, the offering of military promotions, the list goes on… which brings us to last night, when the program was finally declared “unconstitutional” by a court after Shelby & Davidson counties sued.
Another L for Lee.
It isn’t over. There will be challenges. But Lee’s losing streak in the courts continues, a natural extension of a radical right agenda in a GOP supermajority state where the only backstop the constitution has is the judicial branch. Thankfully, for now, it seems to be holding up.
HERE WERE SOME REACTIONS:
Great news. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end for this failed policy. https://t.co/h7Sg5uakvH
— Mike Stewart (@RepMikeStewart) May 5, 2020
Vouchers = bad policy, bad politics, bad budgeting, and now bad law.
Hopefully, we can now re-direct the voucher funding to something constitutional that the state actually needs. https://t.co/z8dNuK5DSK
— Jeff Yarbro (@yarbro) May 5, 2020
— Senator Brenda Gilmore (@SenatorGilmore) May 5, 2020
This gem sums up the whole voucher charade. It’s simply a scheme to funnel ? away from public schools by Lee and Schwinn.
— Amber Rountree (@Dr_Rountree) May 5, 2020
Of course, not everyone is thrilled. Senator Brian Kelsey makes it clear there will be appeals.
While Metro may have won the first round on ESAs, there are two rounds left to help our schools, parents, and students. Thankfully, Chancellor Martin is allowing us to appeal her order right away, and we will do so all the way to the state Supreme Court! @MariahTimms
— Brian Kelsey (@BrianKelsey) May 5, 2020
Gov. Bill Lee’s public school-harming vouchers barely passed thru “sketchy” “bribes & threats” after disgraced former speaker Glen Casada held the board open for 35 minutes — until Rep. Jason Zachary finally flipped his vote and pushed through a program that will ONLY effect Nashville & Memphis, whose reps voted AGAINST it. (Zachary’s math was way off, but we digress)
The FBI supposedly opened an inquiry.
There’s a $4 Million Slush fund that seems to have been used to bribe rural reps for their votes, but nobody wants to talk about it.
Lawsuits have begun.
Today, I announced that the Metro Government, including our Board of Public Education, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the State of Tennessee’s controversial 2019 school voucher law.
— Mayor John Cooper (@JohnCooper4Nash) February 6, 2020
Now it seems the Tennessee Department of Education “robbed” a teacher bonus program to fund a no-bid $2.5 MILLION Class Wallet contract to implement the program that far exceeds what the allocation was… without the comptroller even reviewing it “for merit.
A mess. The mess is so bad even TN GOP House Caucus chair Jeremy Faison regrets his vote, and Appropriations Committee Chair Matthew Hill wants answers. He voted for the bill also.
Meanwhile Governor Lee blames everyone but himself, as he always does.
Watch what he does, not what he says.
Rep. Mike Stewart & Rep. Bo Mitchell confront Gov. Bill Lee Tennessee Department of Education commish Penny Schwinn about a no-bid $2 MILLION ClassWallet contract that exceeds the total?allocated for his voucher program, echoing controversy from her past.
Here’s more on Class Wallet: http://www.mommabears.org/blog/whos-in-your-wallet
The extra funding came from a Lamar Alexander-era program intended for teacher bonuses. Yes, taking from teachers to pay for the voucher program.
“It’s The Role Of This Committee To Get to the Bottom Of a $4 MILLION SLUSH FUND” Rep. Mike Stewart and Rep. Bo Mitchell call on Rep. Martin Daniel to investigate mysterious MONEY Gov. Lee may have used to get public school-harming vouchers passed. Even speaker Cameron Sexton calls it “troubling”.