Stand for Something

Education “reform” group Stand for Children is promoting Gov. Bill Lee’s BEP changes ahead of the expected January announcement of a new school funding formula.

Here’s what the Tennessee affiliate of the Portland, Oregon-based group said in a recent email:

The State of Tennessee funds schools through the Basic Education Plan (BEP), an overly complex and poorly understood funding formula that has not been meaningfully updated for 30 years. Currently, TN ranks 44th of the 50 states in terms of funding K-12 Education, and the state faces a lawsuit in February that could result in an overhaul of the current funding model. Earlier in 2021, Governor Bill Lee announced that the state would review the BEP and invited communities around TN to weigh in on updating the state education funding model through town halls and public comment. 

While Stand for Children is applauding the update process and noting the need for more funding, other groups have been more explicit about the need for significant new investments in Tennessee’s public schools.

While many are apparently excited about the planned BEP update, one group has been calling for meaningful reform for years. That group? The state’s BEP Review Committee. This committee of educators meets every year to recommend improvements to the formula. Of course, the legislature and Governor are notorious for ignoring those recommendations. But, let’s look back to 2015 and see what was recommended:

Eliminate Cost Differential Factor (CDF)  $(71,182,000)

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20  — COST: $28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200  COST: $2,866,000

CBER at 100%  $(2,639,000)

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State  COST: $153,448,000

Insurance at 50%  COST: $26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented  COST: $133,910,000

Other Requests:

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250  $39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250  $18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250  $57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard  $11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students  $87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions)  $17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries)  $25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200  $4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100  $6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA)  $5,268,000

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500  $57,518,000

The point? We don’t really need ANOTHER examination of the BEP formula. We know it is broken. We know it falls short. In fact, a bipartisan group of state and local policymakers suggests we’re $1.7 billion behind where we should be in terms of K-12 education funding.

Still, education reform groups like SCORE are acting all excited this time as if there’s never been a serious discussion of improving the BEP before.

The fact is, the BEP Review Committee has consistently asked for both an updated formula and MORE investment. And, routinely, the Tennessee General Assembly has simply told this group education experts and practitioners that their voices don’t matter.

It’s time for Bill Lee and legislators to stop pretending they haven’t heard about what needs to be done for schools. The reports from the BEP Review Committee provide a clear blueprint for funding formula improvement and a priority list for new investment.

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BEP Changes to be Announced in January

WPLN reports that Gov. Bill Lee’s administration will announce its proposed changes to the state’s school funding formula (BEP) in mid-January.

The Tennessee Department of Education plans to release details of its policy recommendations in mid-January.

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn laid out the timetable in a meeting with legislators on Tuesday. She says the new approach will make it easier to see how much education costs for each student.

While there has been much discussion on changing the formula, there has (so far) been little mention among key education leaders about increasing the overall amount of money dedicated to schools.

This comes in spite of the state falling $1.7 billion short of adequately funding schools, according to a report by a bipartisan commission.

Meanwhile, some key education advocacy groups are calling on Gov. Lee to not only change the formula, but also to increase the overall amount of money invested in schools:

And, it’s worth noting that the state has billions in surplus dollars to spend on education:

While it’s not exactly clear what the new formula will look like, some are speculating it could be a pathway to vouchers:

One possible hint of where Lee is headed can be found in the recent SCORE for schools conference:

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Voucher Case Gets New Court Hearing

Chalkbeat reports that a case against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme will receive another hearing before the Tennessee Supreme Court as that body attempts to assess the constitutionality of the program.

The Tennessee Supreme Court will rehear arguments in the case of educational savings accounts, also known as vouchers. The court’s announcement on Tuesday comes in the wake of the death of Justice Cornelia Clark who was on the bench in June to hear the arguments, but died of cancer in September before the court was able to issue a ruling.

In the brief order, court members said that “in light of the untimely death of Clark, this court has concluded that re-argument will aid the resolution of this appeal.”

At stake in the case is the future of school vouchers in Tennessee. Republican Gov. Bill Lee pushed the educational savings accounts, or school voucher law, in 2019, as a way for students in Nashville and Memphis to use public funds to pay for private education, supplies, and tutoring. The program was to begin with 5,000 students and grow to 15,000 by the fifth year, but the program never got off the ground as multiple courts blocked it.

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Last week, Gov. Bill announced a 37% salary increase for new correctional officers hired by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). The move makes the starting salary for a Tennessee correctional officer $44,500.

This is a needed improvement to the salary of hard-working state employees with a difficult job.

In announcing the move, Lee said:

“As we face staffing shortages across the country, rewarding officers with competitive pay will ensure we recruit and retain the most highly qualified individuals in our workforce,” said Gov. Lee. “These Tennesseans play a crucial role in ensuring public safety and we remain committed to valuing their important work.”

What’s interesting about the move is that Tennessee is also facing a teacher shortage and yet there has been no serious discussion by Lee or other state education policy leaders on dramatically increasing teacher pay.

The current state minimum salary schedule for teachers sets the minimum salary for a Tennessee teacher at $38,000.

A Tennessee teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to work for 10 years in order to achieve a mandated minimum salary above $44,000.

Now, however, brand new correctional officers will earn more than teachers with 10 years of experience. Yes, corrections officers deserve a raise.

But, it is a clear statement of priorities that Gov. Lee made this move – raising pay for corrections officers – before making any serious move to raise teacher pay. Even as Lee discusses a new education funding formula, he has not yet committed to any significant, dramatic increase in teacher salaries.

Tennessee has a significant budget surplus – $3 billion or more – and so can afford to raise pay for state employees and teachers without raising taxes a single penny.

Teachers, parents, and Tennessee communities are still waiting for Lee to put education first. Last week’s announcement continues to underscore where education falls on Lee’s list of priorities.

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Pinkston Talks Partisan School Board Races

Former MNPS School Board member Will Pinkston talks about what partisan school board races could mean in Davidson County in a compelling Twitter thread:

As a former reporter, I’ve been patiently waiting to see if any vestiges of local media would explain to voters what partisan local school board elections could actually mean. Seeing no explanatory journalism, I’ll unpack it on this thread. 1/ cc @TheAndySpears @TNRepParkinson

Because the Davidson County Democratic and Republican parties decided to opt-in to the legislature’s plan for partisan school boards, they’re now responsible for policing candidates to ensure that they’re bonafide — in the same way they vet legislative races. This means … 2/

… ensuring that candidates subscribe to the county parties’ “platforms” — which mirror the national parties’ platforms. While the GOP didn’t adopt a platform in 2020, the education plank in their 2016 platform is a love letter to vouchers and their kissing cousin — charters. 3/

Meanwhile, the edu-plank in the Democrats’ platform includes language that won’t sit well with all the local charter zealots who masquerade as Democrats but who, under the party’s platform, would be easily disqualified from running as Democrats. For example … 4/

… the Democrats’ platform rightly calls for increased accountability for charters, which are not public schools but rather taxpayer-funded private schools. Specifically, they call for the same standards as “traditional public schools” in areas like admissions and discipline. 5/

Back in 2015, the Nashville School Board — in a move foreshadowing the Democrats’ platform — adopted charter accountability rules that have since been relaxed but now almost certainly will be revisited during partisan local school board elections. 6/

Setting aside the Democrats’ official platform, major constituencies go farther. For example, the National Education Association wants elected officials to fight efforts to strip local control — something Nashville School Board members gripe about but don’t do anything about. 7/

Meanwhile, the nation’s leading civil-rights organizations have demanded a moratorium on new charter schools, due to the now-undisputed failure of the charter movement and negative fiscal impact that unabated charter growth has on public schools. 8/

Bottom line: The 2022 Nashville School Board elections will be a fascinating case study in whether the Davidson County Democratic Party is going to toe the party line and vet candidates — or thumb its nose at the party platform and crawl into the charter bed with Republicans. 9/9

Originally tweeted by Will Pinkston (@WillPinkston) on December 15, 2021.

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Know the SCORE

Today, SCORE (Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education) – a group formed by Bill Frist to influence education policy in Tennessee – held its annual “state of education” event. At the event, SCORE highlighted priorities for 2022.

Here they are:

Note that these priorities do not include improving school funding by way of increasing dollars allocated to the BEP.

Never fear, however, SCORE has a document on school funding.

The document contains an interesting analysis of reasons why the current school funding formula falls short. And, while the document notes that Tennessee schools don’t have enough teachers, nurses, or support staff, SCORE stops short of making an outright call for dramatically improved school funding.

Here’s how the funding issue is handled (on page 28 of the document):

Tennessee policymakers have continued to fully fund the
state’s share of the current formula in recent years, but the $1.7
billion in additional non-BEP, locally funded education spending
clearly indicates that the formula does not reflect the full cost
of educating today’s students.55 While specific technical
methods and assumptions can influence the amounts needed
to educate students, Tennessee has a clear opportunity to
improve beyond previous investments.

And, in a graph on page 24, SCORE suggests:

While there is no consensus about the amount that Tennessee should spend on K-12 education, current education funding levels show Tennessee trailing the nation by a variety of measures.

So, these are some pretty nice ways of saying Tennessee schools need more investment. But, so as not to get sideways with Gov. Lee and political types who balk at “throwing money at schools,” SCORE stops short of using its significant power and influence to make a clear, direct call for billions in new investment in Tennessee schools.

Reading these statements makes it sound like if we make a slightly larger pie and just slice it a little differently, all will be well.

But, well, it won’t.

It’s also worth noting that SCORE has been the key influencer on Tennessee education policy for the last decade. Here are some reminders of how that’s been going:

A note from the end of the 2021 legislative session:

“The budget passed by the General Assembly is disappointing when we have a historic opportunity to get Tennessee out of the bottom five in education funding. With a record revenue surplus and hundreds of millions unappropriated, this was the time to stop underfunding our schools.

There were bills to provide for more nurses, counselors, RTI specialists and social workers that our students need today and moving forward to meet their mental and academic challenges cause by the pandemic and the problems of chronic underfunding. Instead, we saw a trust fund set up that will cover barely a fraction of the needs years down the road.    

It’s unconscionable for state leaders to not include significant increases for K-12 funding, especially at a time when the state has racked up $1.42 billion in surplus year-to-date. The money is there to make a significant increase to K-12 funding, but Gov. Lee and the General Assembly have instead chosen to continue stuffing mattresses full of cash. 

Tennessee consistently ranks in the 44-46 range when it comes to overall investment in public schools. National groups that study school funding consistently grade Tennessee at an “F” when it comes to funding effort. Our school systems are facing significant teacher and staffing shortages. All of this has happened while SCORE has been driving the education policy train. Now, SCORE is asking state policymakers and Tennessee citizens to follow them – to keep rolling with a train that has led to – as SCORE puts it on page 23:

The Tennessee education finance system is rated among
worst in the nation. Tennessee’s finance system has
earned a ranking that sits among the lowest in the nation.
According to Education Week’s Quality Counts analysis of
state education systems, Tennessee received a D+ (69.0) in
school finance against a national grade of C (76.1), ranking
among the bottom 10 states nationally and third lowest in
the Southeast, ahead of Florida and North Carolina.

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Absolutely Nothing

Tennessee schools with mask mandates may keep them in place in spite of an effort by Gov. Bill Lee to prohibit districts from issuing and enforcing such mandates.

Lee continues to lose in court on this highly politicized issue.

The Tennessean reports on the decision:

A federal judge in Nashville on Friday temporarily blocked Tennessee from preventing schools from issuing mask mandates and from stripping local health and school officials of their ability to set COVID-19 quarantine policies.

U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw issued the 54-page ruling on a motion to block the law after the parents of students with disabilities in Tennessee schools filed a lawsuit last month against the new law. 

Crenshaw wrote that it is in the “public’s interest to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee’s schools.”

“Defendants have proffered absolutely nothing to suggest that any harm would come from allowing individual school districts to determine what is best for their schools, just as they did prior to the enactment” of the new state law, Crenshaw said. 

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TC’s Got Questions

Nashville education blogger TC Weber has some questions about a multi-million dollar contract extension for The New Teacher Project (TNTP) from the Tennessee Department of Education.

The key concern: Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn’s spouse is an employee of TNTP and stands to financially benefit from the contract.

As Weber notes, though, another element of importance is this: The contract is very likely not necessary.

Here’s more:

Kline and McClellan brought no data to support the extension of the contract, but lots of feel-good anecdotes and platitudes. They could not divulge the number of teachers who’ve participated, the number left requiring training, the demographics of those attending training, but they could relate how beautiful it was to see all these teachers shoulder to shoulder studying the curriculum as if one curriculum could reach all students.

State Senator Brenda Gilmore had the audacity to ask for actual data to support the renewal of the contract. She was told in response, “the Education Department hopes to have student reading scores by late December to show whether children improved their reading skills.” maybe they’ll drop that data by her house on Christmas morning.

McCallum offered that data would be available through the required universal screener by the end of next month, and TNReady data in the late Spring. What was glossed over is what data the new data would be benchmarked against.

At one point in the proceedings, McClellan made the argument that it was important to renew this contract because calls were coming in daily for teachers desperately wanting to take this training. This supposed desire of teachers demanding more professional development has also been raised at the townhalls associated with the Governor’s drive to revamp the BEP formula.

I must be talking to the wrong teachers because none of the ones I talk to are looking for more training. In fact, what I more commonly hear is complaints of their time being eaten up by signature initiatives that prevent them from utilizing training already completed. In other words, how about a little space in order to incorporate acquired skills and experience?

Here’s the problem with that, if you allow teachers to practice their craft unencumbered by bureaucrats and legislators, it becomes hard for the latter to claim credit for success. And that’s what this always comes down to – money and justifying the salaries of those outsides of school buildings.

Read MORE from Weber about the TNTP deal and dig in to his piece, because he’s got some truth about SCORE, too.

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The Teacher Exodus

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 is reporting that more than 1 in 5 Tennessee teachers want to leave the profession. The teachers in a survey conducted by Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) indicated that low morale caused by low pay and lack of support is driving the exodus from the profession. The story notes that while teachers are leaving the field, there is a serious shortage of new teachers waiting to replace them.

Among the comments in the survey:

“Support isn’t a blue jean day. It’s giving them the time they need to work on the assigned tasks without sacrificing their own families.”

“I feel underpaid and overworked. I spend extra money and time trying to provide a decent education to my students.”

The mood echoes a national trend that is reaching crisis levels.

The PET survey also noted that Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system is overly onerous, and is based on outdated practices no longer in regular use in the business world. Essentially, the Tennessee Educator Evaluation Model (TEAM) is based on the premise that schools can simply fire their way to better performance.

Here’s what educator and blogger Peter Greene has to say about this flawed idea:

A working paper just issued by five researchers concludes that the “massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems,” had essentially no effect on “student achievement.”

The term “student achievement” was thrown around a lot, but all it ever actually meant was “test scores.” Therefore, in the classrooms where these policies lurched to life, “improve student achievement” really meant “raise test scores.” Linking that to teacher evaluation sent a clear message to teachers: we don’t care what else you do, because your job is now defined as “raise test scores on this one test.”

Stack Ranking:

Meanwhile, as is often the case, public education was about a decade behind private industry. The test-linked teacher evaluation system was a form of stack ranking, where employees are rated, stacked in order of rating, and then the bottom chunk are fired. Microsoft jettisoned that system in 2013, saying it blocked teamwork and innovation (don’t take chances that might hurt your ranking, and don’t help someone because that might just move them ahead of you). By the late 2010s, education was one of the few places left where people were still claiming you could fire your way to excellence.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee is supposedly re-working the state’s school funding formula – without committing (yet) to new funding for schools or more money for teacher salaries.

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A Plea for Teachers

Williamson County school advocacy group Williamson Strong posted a plea for residents to take action to urge policymakers to improve teacher pay.

Here’s what they posted to Facebook relative to the teacher shortage and staffing crisis:

· URGENT: We’re hearing multiple reports of a massive teacher/staff exodus from WCS.

YOU have the power to fix this. If you can’t be loud for this, don’t complain when your kid’s teacher doesn’t show up on Jan. 5th. What did you do to advocate for them? Starbucks and Target gift cards 1-2 times a year aren’t going to cut it.

Do you know your county commissioners’ names? You should. They approve the budget that pays for your children’s school staff salaries. (PS They also get “free” health insurance for a *very* part-time job, which is rich when our teachers have had their benefits cut short.)

If you’re a WCS parent, you know all about the staffing shortages in our schools this year. Many kids don’t have a science teacher, math, foreign language, special ed, etc. – and they can’t find enough subs to cover every day. Cafeteria workers, bus drivers, SACC workers, the things we’ve all gotten numb to hearing about because we think it’s normal to not have them in place.

It is *not normal* to ask parents to work the school lunch lines serving food.

But it’s about to get worse, starting THIS month. WCS teachers & staff are opting for early retirement or moving to other districts for 3 reasons from what we’re hearing:

1. Better pay. WCS is not competitive with Metro, for starters. Yet many of our young teachers live in Nashville (sure can’t afford to live here on those salaries in this housing market!) with tough commutes (especially with our ridiculously early start times in middle/high school) because they want to teach in WCS, despite the lower pay. Our kids are awesome. Everyone says that.

2. Benefits. Our retirement health benefits are not competitive with surrounding districts, and teachers start to figure that out as they have more experience and start thinking about retirement down the road.

3. The parents can be pretty tough here. We’ll leave it at that, but the insane abuse of the last 1.5+ years directed at teachers, staff, and administrators has many at a breaking point. (Stop being mean to school staff. Seriously. Cut it out.)


The County Commissioners are beginning their budgeting process right now. And they’re the ones holding the purse strings! They all love to say we can’t afford to increase our school budget, 85%+ of which goes towards salaries – because although we may be one of the wealthiest counties in the entire COUNTRY, we can’t find the money for teachers even at the state average, much less the national one. It’s beyond shameful.

DEMAND that the Commission fix this. They have the power. Literally! They know how to solve this, don’t let them tell you otherwise. You, the voters, are their constituents. You’re their boss.

Tell them to pay our teaches what they deserve, and if not? We’re all going to elect new County Commissioners who care about teachers come August. Every single one of them is up for re-election in 2022, and they’re going to start campaigning any month now.

And School Board members? Tell them the same. They should be kicking and screaming about this issue (instead of howling over curriculum like some of them are doing, month after month.) Priorities are showing. Half of them are up for election in 2022 as well.

Email them all. Today. Every day. Tell your friends to do the same. If you can’t find time to do this, don’t complain when your child’s teacher quits and leaves….when there’s a new face there in January, or they just have rotating subs every day or week.

Don’t complain if you don’t do your part to fix this. YOU are the constituent. YOUR tax dollars pay for teacher salaries. Tell the people who set the budgets how you want those dollars spent.

It’s a crisis. What we’ve been in national headlines for lately? NOT a crisis. Stop being distracted by the noise and let’s collectively start fighting for our educators.

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