Tennessee’s purveyors of privatization are going apeshit over a newly-released poll showing a majority of Tennesseans (53%) believe the state’s education system is on the wrong track.

Here’s a tweet from Tennesseans for Student Success:

What’s amusing about this “outrage” is that Tennesseans for Student Success is part of a cabal of pro-privatization groups that has been setting the agenda on education in the state for more than a decade.

In other words, if we need bold reform now, we need to move away from the snake oil sold as solutions by these hucksters.

Oh, and here’s some more about Tennesseans for Student Success, just in case you’re not familiar with them:

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.”

Here’s a little reminder from an earlier post about the results of all the “reform” we’ve been getting under the leadership of Governors Bill Haslam and Bill Lee and a GOP supermajority. All of this supported and pushed forward by SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success, and similar groups.

  1. $616.5 million sounds great, and it’s neat to aggregate data over a decade, but that BIG number averages out to about $62 million per year. That’s about a 2% increase in the BEP salary allocation (not actual money in paychecks) each year. Calm down a little, already.
  2. Did I mention that $616.5 million might sound great? So, the TN House GOP is all excited about spending $616 million plus over TEN years, while the state is sitting on a $3.1 billion surplus this year alone! That means we could spend $616 million in teacher salaries THIS YEAR and still have more than $2.4 billion LEFT to spend. Read that again. Republicans are bragging about taking an entire decade to allocate in total what is available THIS year and could be funded while still leaving $2.4 billion for other priorities.
  3. A bipartisan group of policymakers reports that we need $1.7 billion in a SINGLE year in order to adequately fund the BEP. That’s because the BEP badly underestimates the number of teachers actually needed to staff schools. Of course, the BEP also fails to take into account proper ratios for school nurses or school counselors. The BEP is pretty much broken, and has been for some time.
  4. It was Republican Gov. Bill Haslam who stopped the BEP 2.0 formula that was an attempt to correct and improve the BEP allocation.
  5. Remember that time when Gov. Haslam got all excited about our NAEP scores and promised a big raise to teachers and then cancelled the raise? Remember how after he cancelled the raise, revenue numbers came in at a level that meant the raise really could have been funded? Good times.
  6. Oh, yeah. School districts fund significantly more teachers than the BEP allocates. Yes, this has been a known problem for some time. Yes, the GOP has been running most of state government for over a decade. No, they haven’t done anything to fix it.
  7. There was also that time when the Haslam Department of Education called on the State Board of Education to give local districts flexibility with BEP salary money. Essentially, this created a situation where the 4% BEP salary allocation increase became a 2% (or less) raise.
  8. Remember the time when Gov. Bill Lee gave a big increase in state funding to charter schools and a tiny raise to teachers? Wonder if teachers remember that? I bet that makes them feel really appreciated.
  9. Remember the year when Gov. Lee became the second governor in a row named Bill to promise teachers a big raise and then cancel it when things got tough? Because, yeah, that was 2020. How’d that tough budget Lee was worried about turn out? Oh, right, that’s the one with the $3.1 billion surplus.
  10. Finally, in the recently concluded special session, Gov. Lee proposed and his legislative leadership secured passage of legislation giving teachers a 10 cents on the dollar COVID raise. That’s right, in a year when there’s plenty of cash and teachers are working more and harder than ever, Gov. Lee is placing the value of teachers at 10 cents on the dollar.
  11. Oh, and yes, Tennessee consistently receives a grade of “F” in both school funding and school funding effort from national groups who analyze state level investment in schools.

All of this outcry over a situation caused by the privatizers would be pretty amusing if it was not also rather familiar. You see, these groups thrive in chaos – when they create the chaos, they swoop in quickly with BOLD! REFORM! NOW! solutions and shiny presentations about how if we just did MORE of what they were saying, we’d be getting all the results Tennesseans actually desire.

Another example of this same phenomenon can be found in the Critical Race Theory hysteria:

This is really about creating another issue for political advantage. Lee, SCORE, and others suspect that no one will notice that it’s the state’s GOP leadership pushing down this curriculum – plus, a little dust-up over seahorses takes attention away from the messed up process.

But, the real goal seems to be the re-election of Bill Lee and the undermining of local school boards. Lee signed the bill banning CRT so he can’t also be promoting it, right?

To be clear, Wit and Wisdom may or may not be great curriculum. But, that’s not really the point. The point is, there are larger forces at work – groups from outside the state seeking to stir up trouble for political wins. A governor who is taking both sides of an issue and hoping no one notices.

Oh, and just to make the point even more clear, Lee used “emergency funds” earlier this year (after the legislature adjourned) in order to foist charter schools on districts that don’t have them and are unlikely to authorize them on their own.

To sum it all up, Tennessee has some actual education problems – we could probably do a better job in math and literacy. And, the BOLD! REFORM! NOW! we have YET to try is this: Funding the schools. We’re still $1.7 billion short of adequate funding. We had a $2 billion+ surplus this past budget year. We have the resources to pay for schools at a high level without raising ANY taxes or cutting ANY services. Doing this would almost guarantee relatively low property taxes in most Tennessee counties.

So, tell me again about all the BOLD! REFORM! NOW! we need, Tennesseans for Student Success.

We don’t get the results we claim to want because policymakers aren’t willing to pay for them. If any agenda is failing, it’s the one pushed by the privatizers – they are the status quo in our state. They set the agenda and have for years. If we’re on the wrong track, it’s because groups like SCORE and Tennesseans for Student Success are not only driving the train but also have built the track we’re currently using.

These groups are right – we are on the wrong track – and we should tell them to get out of the way so parents and educators can get us moving in the right direction.

train in railway
Photo by Mark Plötz on

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