Education Coalition Calls on Governor to Boost Funding for Schools

Just one day after Gov. Bill Lee introduced his budget amendment that included no new funds for K-12 education, a coalition of education advocates from across the state called on Lee and the General Assembly to improve the amendment and boost funding for public schools. The move follows a statement from the Tennessee Education Association on Tuesday that said Lee’s budget for education comes up “woefully short.”

Here’s more from the Tennessee Public Education Coalition (TPEC):

Members of TPEC are deeply disappointed in Governor Lee’s failure to meet even the minimum funding needs of Tennessee’s schools, teachers, and students. Tennessee has long failed to adequately invest in its children. Tennessee ranks 46th nationally in education funding, and the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations reports that Tennessee’s K-12 funding formula underfunds public schools by $1.7 billion per year. 

Tennessee’s coffers are awash in excess revenue, and our schools’ needs are immense. Tennessee’s surplus for the current fiscal year, with over five months to go, is over $1.3 billion, with lawmakers expected to have at least $3.1 billion in excess revenue to budget in the current cycle. Tennessee also has $7.5 billion in cash reserves. Our children need excellent schools, and our teachers need adequate pay. Public schools need more resources- social workers, school nurses, counselors, and adequate support staff. With tax revenues exceeding state expenses by more than $2 billion per year and more than $7 billion cash reserves, there is no longer any excuse for failing to invest in our children.

Here are some comments from members of TPEC on the education budget:

Jerri Green, public school parent, Memphis:

“We love our school, our teachers and the other staff, but we hate that they underpaid and overworked. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars each year on basic supplies. This would not be necessary if the state supported our schools adequately. Governor Lee, please increase funding for our public schools.”

Peg Watkins, state & local education advocate for more than 30 years, speaking on behalf of the League of Women voters of Tennessee, Memphis:

“Underfunding our schools is not new. The BEP Review Committee has been pointing to these failures for years while Tennessee runs yearly surpluses. This year we are on track to run a $2 billion surplus. We call on the legislature to properly fund our schools.”

Candace Bannister, retired teacher, Knoxville:

“Gov. Lee is right that our school children have unmet mental health needs.  Unfortunately, his budget provides none of the additional resources our schools need to hire enough school counselors, social workers, nurses and mental health professionals.  We call on Gov. Lee to increase BEP funding for in-school mental health staff to meet the needs of our children.”

Amy Frogge– Former Nashville school board representative and Executive Director of Pastors for Tennessee Children:

“The lack of adequate school funding is especially hard on rural schools. In low-income, rural counties, students suffer from inadequate facilities, overcrowded classes, and a lack of opportunities that parents in more prosperous counties take for granted: art, music, and advanced classes, career and technical training, and after-school activities like sports and clubs. I saw this myself recently when I visited a Morgan County high school, which had no money for art and music classes. Students there also wanted to run track and play softball and soccer, but the school had no money for sports fields or a track. I urge Governor Lee to increase school funding so all children have opportunities for after school activities.”

Rev. Laura Becker, parent and pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga:

“And any public school parent can tell you that teachers are always begging for school supplies, such as Kleenex, paper, Clorox wipes, pencils, and more. Our church annually collects these items for our neighborhood school, because the state doesn’t provide adequate funding for them, and it is unjust to expect every family to be able to provide them. They really shouldn’t have to beg for basics in a state as prosperous as Tennessee. While adding no additional funds for public schools, Governor Lee is proposing $114 million in tax cuts. It is unconscionable to cut taxes while the needs of our school children go unmet. We call on the governor to adequately fund our public schools.”

Paula Treece– A public school parent, PTA leader and former school board member, Johnson City:

“The state has repeatedly failed to fund the numerous mandates it has placed on local school districts, forcing local taxpayers to bear a greater burden than necessary. Not only should the state fully fund all school mandates that it imposes, but it should also allow local school boards to decide how best to utilize the resources.”

The coalition joins groups like the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the League of Women Voters of Tennessee who have also recently called on Gov. Lee and the General Assembly to make additional investments in schools.

In his own words . . .

In a press release announcing the budget amendment, Lee listed tax cuts first and in a budget amendment that includes no new money for public schools, the release indicated:

This amendment reflects the Governor’s priorities . . .

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Woefully Short

The Tennessee Education responded to Gov. Bill Lee’s budget amendment today calling the announcement and Lee’s overall education investment “woefully short” of what the state needs to fund schools.

Lee unveiled the budget amendment with no appreciable increase in K-12 spending, merely a rehash of previous announcements regarding holding districts harmless in the BEP formula and an investment in mental health that had been planned in 2020.

Lee’s statement says:

This amendment reflects the Governor’s priorities and includes record investments in broadband, economic development, safety and law enforcement, increasing reserves, and education.

The amendment itself actually does not include record investments in education and it’s interesting that on the list of supposed priorities here, education is mentioned last.

Here’s the TEA response:

“With the state bringing in record surplus month after month, there is no excuse to not make significant increases to public education funding. The governor’s budget amendment is woefully short on meaningful K-12 investment.

Without sufficient state investment, school districts cannot afford the nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers our students need. Without sufficient state investment, underpaid teachers will continue to spend hundreds of their own dollars on classroom resources.

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) outlined the chronic problems with the BEP, indicating that “fully funding” the state formula would require an additional $1.7 billion in state funding. The current administration proposal is a little more than $200 million.

It is time for the state to do better. The money is there to get Tennessee out of the bottom 5 in state funding. There is no need to raise taxes, only a need to prioritize Tennessee students and public education.”

The budget amendment continues a trend of Lee talking about funding schools while failing to make actual investments in schools.

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Unity Group in Chattanooga Opposes ASD 2.0

Amid reports that Gov. Bill Lee is pushing legislation to extend the life of the failed Achievement School District, the Unity Group of Chattanooga has announced opposition to the move.

In an opinion piece, Sherman Matthews and Eric Atkins (Chair and Corresponding Secretary, respectively) expressed the group’s concerns.

A new proposal being pushed through the Tennessee House Education Committee is the latest saga in the long effort to takeover schools through privatization. In order to accomplish this, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the state would create the Achievement School District 2.0. The ASD has been the embattled mostly charter run district, which operates a majority of its schools in Memphis and Nashville; has been plagued by multiple executive directors; constant teacher turnover; funding irregularities; school closures; dwindling student enrollment numbers; and has failed to demonstrate substantial student academic progress as compared to their traditional counterparts. Despite a 2020 announcement that ASD schools could potentially return to their local districts, what has since developed is a replication of prior practices which are aimed at the ultimate takeover of public schools by the state.  

Unlike a phoenix, the Achievement School District 2.0 will not rise from the ashes but will be like embers charred by smoldering flames. If the legislature chooses to advance this and similar bills, they will be striking the albatross, and students and schools will be the worse for it. We are opposed to granting the commissioner of Education the authority to fire a school system’s superintendent and remove duly elected school board members from any municipality. We are opposed to the privatization of schools, be it through ESAs and neo-vouchers, virtual charter schools, or for- profit charter schools which would decimate and undermine public schools in urban and rural communities alike. We reject the negative over- reliance on high stakes testing to be the sole determinant of a student’s growth and potential when TN Ready has not been ready in five years and can’t account for career and technical education, the digital divide, or achievement gaps. 

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Is This Who We Want on the Textbook Commission?

A national civil rights group is calling on the Tennessee Senate to reject the appointment of Laurie Cardoza-Moore to state’s Textbook Commission in light of her anti-Muslim views and her propensity to peddle conspiracy theories.

Here’s more from a press release:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today renewed its call for Tennessee to drop consideration of anti-Muslim activist and possible 9/11 truther Laurie Cardoza-Moore to that state’s Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission. Cardoza-Moore leads the Franklin, Tenn., group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN).

Last Fall, CAIR called on Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton to rescind Cardoza-Moore’s appointment.

SEE: CAIR Calls on Tennessee House Speaker to Rescind Appointment of Anti-Muslim Activist to Textbook Commission

CAIR Calls on Tennessee House Speaker to Rescind Appointment of Anti-Muslim Activist to Textbook Commission

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee voted 7-1 Wednesday to move Cardoza-Moore appointment forward. Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) voted against the appointment. Cardoza-Moore’s appointment now moves to a vote by the full state Senate.

[NOTE: The 16-member commission oversees Tennessee’s list of textbooks and other educational materials recommended for use by public schools. Cardoza-Moore is already serving on the commission while awaiting confirmation.]

In her questioning of Cardoza-More, Sen. Akbari cited a textbook review from PJTN that seemed to promote the 9/11 truther hoax.

After referring to a textbook passage that said, “on September 11th, 2001, members of al-Qaeda carried out a terrorist attack on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania,” the PJTN report highlighted the phrase “members of al-Qaeda carried out.” The PJTN report stated: (page 23) “given the plethora of evidence, the reviewer suggests removing the underlined section of sentence. . .This is a highly contested (per architects and engineers for 9/11 Truth, and demolition experts) argument. . .There is ample evidence that refute the ‘official’ story of what was perpetrated that day.”

Akbari pressed Cardoza-Moore on these statements by her organization but did not receive a clear reply. “This person has peddled hate, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and a conspiracy theory about what happened on 9/11, the most tragic event the United States where 3,000 people died,” said Sen. Akbari.

In responding to another question by Sen. Akbari, Cardoza-Moore stood by her false 2010 statement that a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was a “terrorist training camp.”

“Someone with such bigoted, un-American and conspiratorial views should never be in charge of any state’s educational materials, which are designed to help shape young minds in a diverse society,” said CAIR Director of Government Affairs Department Robert S. McCaw. “We urge the Tennessee Senate to vote down this appointment as a clear sign that textbooks must reflect facts and reality, not conspiracy theories and hate.”

CAIR Research and Advocacy Coordinator Huzaifa Shahbaz said: “Her anti-Muslim comments and conspiratorial views should be nowhere near an educational institution. Our students deserve to have an education free from hate. The textbook commission needs to do a better job in fostering a healthy environment for our students — one that acknowledges diversity and cultural differences.”

BACKGROUNDER:

PJTN initiatives include “Stop Access Islam.” Cardoza-Moore led opposition to a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and opposed a mosque in New York City. On “The Daily Show,” she falsely claimed that “30 percent” of Muslims “are terrorists.”

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Penny’s Power Grab

Legislation that would give Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn broad authority to fire a school system’s superintendent and remove the school board is advancing in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Chalkbeat has more:

A bill outlining reasons the state may take over a local school district cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday. 

Rep. Scott Cepicky, a Republican from Maury County, said his proposal aims to strengthen Tennessee law by providing a clear process for when the state education commissioner should take control of a district, which could include firing the superintendent and replacing elected school board members.

It’s no surprise that Gov. Bill Lee, who has long expressed distrust of local school boards, is behind this measure.

Cepicky’s comments in support of the bill, however, indicate he is disconnected from the reality of how schools operate in Tennessee.

“I’m here arguing for students, folks — the students that are trapped in failing school systems,” he said. “Most of our school systems are doing the best they can … but there are districts out here that are failing these kids year after year after year, and we’ve got to address that moving forward.”

It’s interesting that Cepicky serves on the education committees of the House, even chairing the Education Instruction subcommittee and yet he has made exactly zero moves to improve the state’s failing school funding formula.

If Cepicky would like to talk about who has been failing Tennessee’s students year after year after year, he need only look around at the legislature and note that the body’s majority party has done precious little to improve the situation.

Tennessee ranks 46th in school funding and consistently receives an “F” in both funding level and funding effort in national rankings. The legislature’s own advisory commission suggests the school funding formula (BEP) is $1.7 billion behind where it should be.

Still, Cepicky cheerily carries the water for a governor who has so far refused to demonstrate any sort of commitment to investing our state’s resources into schools in a meaningful way.

If only Cepicky chaired a key education subcommittee or sat on another education committee or maybe if he were a member of the majority party or a representative trusted to carry key pieces of the governor’s agenda, maybe then he could actually make a difference where it mattered.

Instead, he’ll have to be content to lament the failing schools allowed to beg for cash from a position of zero power or influence.

Oh, and since Cepicky is so concerned about failing schools, one can only assume he opposes Lee’s efforts to extend the reach and control of the Achievement School District.

I’ll be waiting for Cepicky’s statement on the matter.

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