Pickler Named “Catalyst for Change”

An education advocate from Shelby County has been named a finalist for a national award recognizing change agents in education policy. David Pickler, who has served as a school board member, Tennessee School Boards Association leader, and President of the National School Boards Association is a finalist in the 2019 “Invest in Others” Awards. Here’s more from a press release:


David A. Pickler, President of Pickler Wealth Advisors in Collierville, has been announced as one of three national finalists for the Catalyst Award as part of the 13th Annual Invest in Others Awards. Pickler is being honored for his work with the American Public Education Foundation, which will receive a $10,000 donation from the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation. If Pickler wins his category, the donation will increase to $40,000.
 
The Invest in Others Awards program recognizes the charitable work of financial advisors in communities across the country and around the world. Advisors are nominated for actively giving back to nonprofits to improve their communities and make a difference in the lives of others. Invest in Others received hundreds of nominations this year. Finalists are selected based on their leadership, dedication, contribution, inspiration, and impact on a nonprofit and the community it serves.
 
David Pickler has been a steadfast supporter of public education for the past thirty years, advocating for K-12 youth locally in Shelby County, Tennessee and more broadly on a national scale. David built upon these experiences in creating the American Public Education Foundation, a national 501c3 nonprofit focused on inspiring K-12 youth. The Foundation’s two core focuses include Financial Literacy and Workforce Development. David has structured these twin pillars intentionally, as they are specifically targeted to address critical needs nationwide both now and in the future. Some of David’s greatest accomplishments in his work with the Foundation include playing a major advocacy role in getting Tennessee to mandate financial education as a high school requirement. Additionally, the Foundation has played a pivotal role in creating innovative partnerships between educators and business leaders in Tennessee to align workforce development initiatives. David strongly believes that public education is the great American equalizer and that children who receive great educations will have the capacity to fulfill their potential as productive adults.
 
Awards will be presented at the 13th Annual Invest in Others Awards Gala, a premier event attended by over 700 financial advisors and financial services executives, on September 26, 2019 in Boston, Mass.

According to his bio, Pickler has been a staunch advocate of public schools and a leader in the resistance to school privatization:


Pickler was elected President of the National School Boards Association in 2013, leading more than 90,000 school board members. During his tenure, Pickler led the fight to stop the privatization and profitization of public schools; well-funded movements that could ultimately end the promise of public education. As part of the campaign to promote public education, David helped the NSBA launch its Army of Advocates, a movement that gained more than five million members in less than one year. Under his guidance, Pickler also established the “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” red wristband program; a simple way for people to show their support for the 50 million children and 6.2 million employees in public education.



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TC Talks Nashville Mayor’s Race

Nashville education blogger TC Weber focuses on the Mayor’s race in his latest post. Here are some of his observations:

How did you spend your weekend? If you were one of roughly 300 teachers and parents in Nashville you met downtown at Third and Lindsey and then marched to the Howard School Building to cast your early vote for State Representative John Ray Clemmons to become the next Mayor of Nashville.

Regarding momentum building for state representative John Ray Clemmons:


The news out of last week’s forum held by the Panhellenic Society, Urban League of Middle Tennessee, NAACP Nashville, and Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship indicates that it is a distinct possibility.
Per the Tennessee Tribune,
At the end of the forum, all of the attendees were asked to vote in a straw poll for no more than two candidates vying for Mayor in the August 1 election. Clemmons decisively won the crowd of nearly 300, gaining 46% of the vote. John Cooper came in second with 26%, with David Briley close behind at 25%. Carol Swain suffered a decisive fourth place with 3% of the attendee’s vote. 

READ MORE from TC Weber about education in Nashville.

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Fiscus Set to Challenge Casada

Williamson County School Board member Brad Fiscus plans to challenge state representative and outgoing House Speaker Glen Casada in the 2020 elections, the Tennessean reports:

Williamson County Board of Education member Brad Fiscus, 4th District, confirmed on Monday he plans to pull a petition to run against embattled lawmaker Rep. Glen Casada, 63rd District, in the 2020 state House election. 

Fiscus, a 22-year resident of Williamson County, was elected as a school board member in 2018 and serves as a director of Next Gen Discipleship ministry as part of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Fiscus was also heavily involved in Pastors for Tennessee Children, a faith-based advocacy group dedicated to supporting public schools. In his role with the organization, he was a leader in opposing the school voucher scheme that ultimately passed the House under Casada’s leadership.

Fiscus will make the challenge to Casada as Independent.

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Clemmons: The Education Mayor

The Tennessee Tribune has the story of how State Representative John Ray Clemmons is positioning himself to be Nashville’s “Education Mayor.”

Last Saturday, State Representative John Ray Clemmons, candidate for mayor of Nashville,
hosted an Educators VOTE Rally and March to the Polls with members of the MNEA union and fellow MNEA-endorsed candidates. Starting at 3rd and Lindsley, Amanda Kail, president of MNEA, greeted the crowd before introducing Representative Clemmons. “We endorsed John Ray because of his commitment to our schools and our children. He’s the only candidate with kids in public schools, and he’s the only candidate who’s committed to supporting us,” Kail said.

Rep. Clemmons took the stage with thunderous applause from over 200 educators in the room. Once reaching the stage, Clemmons invited all the children in the room to join him on stage. Wearing red, in solidarity with the educators in the room, Clemmons showed his support for Nashville’s educators and shared his plans for increasing the quality of public schools in the city.

Clemmons has been endorsed by MNEA — the Nashville union representing teachers and enjoys the support of more than 100 teachers and supporters of public schools who signed an OpEd written by teacher and blogger Mary Holden.

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Vroom Vroom Vouchers

Governor Bill Lee is putting his school privatization scheme on the fast track. Marta Aldrich of Chalkbeat is all over the story, with news of Lee’s desire to rapidly grow the voucher program and reports of a new hire in the Department of Education to advance the voucher agenda.

Here’s more:


When Tennessee lawmakers signed off on an education voucher program this spring, they included a deadline: The program must start by the 2021-22 school year. 


Now, Gov. Bill Lee wants to cut that timeline in half, launching the program just a year from now — a prospect that has advocates and even some allies expressing concerns.


The Republican governor has directed the state education department to work with the Tennessee Board of Education so the controversial program can kick off for the 2020-21 school year, Chalkbeat has confirmed.

And, Amity Schuyler has been tapped to oversee voucher implementation:


“She comes from Florida where they already have education savings accounts, she’s done lots of voucher-ESA work, and she understands what it’s like from a district perspective,” Schwinn said of Schuyler.


“She also believes in education savings accounts. And to take the lead on this project, I need someone who believes in it,” Schwinn said.

Here’s how the Orlando Sentinel views Florida’s voucher scheme:


In its “Schools Without Rules” series, Sentinel reporters found voucher (or “scholarship”) schools faking safety reports, hiring felons, hiring high-school dropouts as teachers and operating in second-rate strip malls. They discovered curricula full of falsehoods and subpar lesson plans.


If you confront defenders of this system, be they legislators or school operators, many start mumbling about the virtue of “choice”— as if funding a hot mess of a school is a swell thing, as long parents choose that mess.


Horse hockey. I choose accountability. And transparency. And standards.

Here’s an example of how Florida’s choice programs are working out for kids:


South Florida Prep received significant funds from the Florida Department of Education under the McKay program. Here’s how that school was run:


Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.


“We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”

While it should come as no surprise that Bill Lee is moving quickly to privatize Tennessee’s public schools, it should certainly be of concern that the person chosen to lead the program comes from a state where the voucher program has been a source of fraud and abuse.

Then, there’s the issue of ongoing FBI investigations into both the House vote on vouchers AND the Senate sponsor of voucher legislation.

I will say this again: Bill Lee will stop at nothing in his quest to privatize public education in our state.

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Bill Lee’s ED

Governor Bill Lee has been on a tour of rural Tennessee counties the last two weeks. During his stops, he’s touting what he’s calling a successful first legislative session. If by success, he means securing passage of a school voucher scheme by any means necessary, sure, he’s been successful. Maybe he means siphoning public money to private schools by way of his Education Savings Account (ESA) plan to the tune of as much as $300 million? Or, perhaps he means demonstrating how he really feels about public school teachers by including the lowest increase in BEP salary funds in the last four budget cycles in his budget — all offering new money and easier access to charter schools.

What Bill Lee hasn’t done on these stops is tell the real story. Because it’s embarrassing. No one likes to talk about it. It’s Bill Lee’s ED. His Education Deficit. Since Bill Lee won’t admit it, I took the liberty of compiling some data to help him talk about it.

Here’s a look at each of the seven counties Lee visited in the past two weeks on his ED tour. I’ve noted first the average salary increase teachers in those counties received since 2015. Next, I’ve indicated the “BEP Gap” — that is, the number of positions each county pays for above what the state funding formula generates. Here’s what this means: The school system NEEDS those employees in order to provide a quality education. But, the state formula won’t pay for them. So, local taxpayers are left footing 100% of the cost of those positions. Data provided by the Comptroller of the Treasury and the Department of Education.

County Avg. salary increase BEP Gap

Bledsoe 3.4% 13

Meigs 1.5% 20

Loudon 1.4% 46

Giles 0.925% 81

Lawrence 1.9% 94

Lincoln 1.8% 49

Bedford 2.25% 24

As you can see, we’ve got some work to do. Teachers in these rural counties have salaries that lag below the state average and receive relatively low annual salary increases. Plus, taxpayers in these communities are left footing the bill for a BEP that simply isn’t adequate to meet the needs of our schools in 2019. Bill Lee did nothing to address the structural deficits in the BEP. Plus, he offered teachers the lowest state funds for raises in the last four budget cycles.

While Lee likes to ride around on a horse to tout his vitality, it’s clear there’s an ED problem he just doesn’t want to talk about.

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The Fight for Nashville

Nashville teacher Mary Holden talks about why she and many of her colleagues are backing John Ray Clemmons for Mayor of Nashville:

But one frustration in all of this is that we shouldn’t have to be doing all of this. We should have a city behind us, fully invested in the success of our public schools. Fully funding our school shouldn’t be something we have to constantly fight for. And so, we will continue fighting to change that paradigm.

We are long overdue for a leader who cares deeply about the people in this city, for someone who can balance the needs of a growing city with all the things that make Nashville great. For someone who has the impetus to make life better for all of us – teachers, police officers, fire fighters, bus drivers, city workers, and families.

That person is John Ray Clemmons.

He leads with heart and a conviction that our lives and our livelihoods matter. This conviction shows in his professional life as a lawyer and state legislator and in his personal life. He is the only mayoral candidate with children in our very own Metro Nashville Public Schools. This decision cannot be overstated; it shows a personal commitment to our public schools that many of our leaders lack.

John Ray Clemmons has a solid history of standing with teachers and community leaders for what we need in Nashville. He is genuine and humble, two qualities we have not seen for a long time. Clemmons has a true desire to be a public servant and has said that he will serve with less concern about being reelected than doing what is right.

Read more from Mary about why she (and so many teachers) believe John Ray Clemmons is the right choice to be Nashville’s next Mayor.

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Epic Recruiting

An Oklahoma virtual charter school used shady (though legal) tactics to recruit teachers … and there’s more. The Enid News & Eagle reports:

Davis never signed up with Epic for any emails, and he had never given them his home address. Turns out, Epic had acquired his contact information, and that of thousands of other certified public school teachers across the state, through different means.

On April 5, Epic spokeswoman Shelly Hickman sent an open records request to the Oklahoma State Department of Education asking for physical addresses of every person certified to teach in the state of Oklahoma. 

Why might this matter to Tennessee? Because Governor Bill Lee was successful in securing passage of legislation creating an independent state charter authorizer. It’s the type of body that could enable groups like Epic to engage in the same sort of aggressive recruiting tactics. Additionally, current lawsuits in Tennessee seem likely to end up forcing Nashville and Memphis to turn over student data to charter operators.

Here’s more about Epic:

Last week Oklahoma Watch published a story in which “at least seven former teachers” claimed Epic administrators had been “allowing, encouraging or pressuring” teachers to withdraw poor-performing students in order to boost employee bonus pay. The school, in a response written by two former journalists who’ve been hired by Epic to teach journalism, denied the allegations. Oklahoma Watch executive editor David Fritze published a note on Monday saying the organization stands by its reporting.

And:

Some students were allegedly enrolled at Epic and various private schools simultaneously, something that could violate the law as public funds cannot be used to aid private schools. Epic receives tens of millions of dollars each year in state funds. It is operated by Epic Youth Services, a for-profit that collects a 10 percent cut of the school’s revenues each year.

Here you have a virtual charter school set up as a non-profit and being used as a conduit to funnel state dollars to a private entity. This scenario should be cause for concern for Tennessee policymakers and school boards alike.

The bottom line: Entities like Epic not only carry significant cost to local districts, but they also work to turn public money into private profits.

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Voucher Vultures Swoop Down on Nashville

Roughly one month after Governor Bill Lee signed his Education Savings Account voucher scheme into law, a North Carolina-based private school announced it is expanding operations to Nashville. Perhaps not surprisingly, tuition at the school is similar to the amount available to families in Nashville and Memphis under the ESA program.

The school, Thales Academy, is operated by the CEO of a commercial kitchen ventilation company. Bob Luddy is also a top GOP donor in North Carolina.

Here’s Luddy on how great his schools are:

“We get results. If you look consistently over a period of time, kindergarten students come in, they can barely walk in the door, they can barely sit down, and then you see them progress as they learn sounds, and they learn to decode. By the time they progress into the 3rd or 4th grade they’re doing very sophisticated work, which is going to prepare them to be excellent students in the long term,” Luddy says in a video on the Thales Academy website.

And here’s more on accreditation straight from the school’s website:

The accreditation process does not align with Thales Academy’s mission and would prevent Thales from maintaining our standard of the highest quality education.

Thales and Luddy are not new to Tennessee. In fact, in 2015, voucher advocate Lee Barfield paid for a private plane to take former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and then-House Speaker Beth Harwell to North Carolina to visit the Thales schools. Like Bill Lee, Barfield is a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children and even served on the group’s Board of Directors.

Those in the GOP cozying up to Luddy should beware, though, he’s known for expressing his disappointment where it hurts politicians the most: campaign contributions.

Here’s how he treated the House GOP in North Carolina:

A major conservative donor’s decision this week to divert a planned $25,000 contribution away from state House Republicans highlights an increasingly bitter divide within the party over tax policy and government spending.

Raleigh businessman Bob Luddy, who chairs the board of the conservative Civitas Institute think tank and is an influential financial supporter of conservative candidates, emailed a sharp critique of the House budget to House Republicans, who are in the majority.

Luddy complained that the budget advancing to a major vote on Thursday does not include new tax cuts and extends tax breaks for specific industries. He called the spending plan too “liberal” and said he’s decided to withold his planned, annual donation to the House Republicans’ campaign committee.

Luddy instead directed his money to Americans for Prosperity and then issued this sharp rebuke to those who had taken his money in the past but were not doing his bidding:

But Luddy says the state shouldn’t prop up the solar industry. “These guys couldn’t exist without government subsidies, and those subsidies have to come from every working taxpayer who are capable of creating way more jobs than the solar industry could ever create,” he said.

Here’s a guy who plans on using public money to fund his private school scheme and he’s decrying the use of public funds to support an industry he simply doesn’t like. Perhaps if public money shouldn’t be used to “prop up the solar industry” it also shouldn’t be used to prop up Luddy’s Thales Academy.

Those who warned that passage of vouchers would lead to “pop-up” private schools have already been proven right. Thales Academy and Bob Luddy were invited into Tennessee by Bill Lee and friends and are now perched like hungry vultures ready to suck funds from Nashville’s public schools.

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Bill Lee’s Beach Buddy

Governor Bill Lee has appointed unregistered voucher lobbyist Mark Gill to the Tennessee Board of Regents, according to a report in the Tennessean.

Lee appointed Mark Gill, a longtime advocate for school vouchers who made headlines after treating five lawmakers to a stay at his Alabama seaside condo and a deep-sea fishing trip, to the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Gill has served on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Federation for Children, the Tennessee arm of Betsy DeVos‘s American Federation for Children. Lee is both a long-time voucher advocate and a financial backer of DeVos’s school privatization efforts.

Readers may recall Gill’s pro-voucher antics, including hosting lawmakers at his beachfront condo:

So, Mark Gill serves on the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Federation for Children, is a large donor to the group, and hosts five Tennessee lawmakers at his beachside condo and then those same lawmakers just happen to co-sponsor pro-voucher legislation at the General Assembly?

No, this isn’t illegal. Yes, it actually happened. This is the type of behavior these same lawmakers decry about DC politicians.

Make no mistake, Bill Lee depends on shady characters like Lee Beaman, Shaka Mitchell, and Mark Gill in order to claim victory in his quest to take public money and shift it to private schools.

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