Cash Rains Down on Tennessee While Schools Left to Starve

State set for surplus in excess of $2 billion

While Gov. Bill Lee “dreams” of being able to pay starting teachers $50,000 eventually and while the state’s schools languish in the bottom 10 in the nation in overall funding, the state continues to rake in extra cash.

Lots and lots of extra cash.

The numbers this year show a surplus exceeding $2 billion.

Tennessee also had a surplus of more than $2 billion LAST YEAR.

In fact, we keep having extra revenue and policymakers keep NOT investing it in schools.

What should we do with the money?

House Speaker Cameron Sexton thinks we should use our surplus to replace $2 billion in federal education funding.

To be clear, doing so would not change the total dollar amount going to schools – we’d still be in the bottom 10 in the nation in school funding.

Of course, we could use the money to raise teacher pay, invest in infrastructure, and support early literacy.

The state could also afford to make school meals free for all kids.

Alas, instead of actually taking the yearly surpluses and investing more in schools, Tennessee policymakers seem content to leave us at the bottom:

When it comes to school funding, Tennessee lags far behind our neighbors in Kentucky.

Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown points out the significance of this disparity in a recent email to educators. In it, she notes:

“It’s not about how the funds are divided, it’s about how many state dollars are put into education,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “To get to the Kentucky level of school funding, Tennessee needs $3 billion added to the state education budget.”

Our state’s schools have a range of needs and our state has a pile of cash. Seems like an easy fix – just use the cash to fund the schools.

So far, though, policymakers and Gov. Lee seem reluctant to do that.

Instead, our education policy is focused on funneling public funds to private schools and extreme charter networks.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Should the Mayor of Nashville Run the City’s Schools?

One Mayoral candidate pitches Karl Dean’s old idea

Nashville Mayoral candidate Alice Rolli says she’s ready to run the city’s public schools in addition to the rest of the city should she become Mayor.

The remarks came at a recent forum as reported by the Nashville Banner:

Alice Rolli said at a mayoral forum Tuesday night that as mayor she would consider seeking a takeover of the school system unless charter schools are renewed. 

Candidates were asked whether or not they supported getting rid of the elected school board. The only person on stage seemingly open to the idea was Rolli, who said she would give the authority two years to get their act together before “holding them accountable.” She said the city’s school system should strive to be like Miami-Dade’s, and that without accountability, Nashville’s schools will become like Detroit’s. 

As the Banner notes, former Nashville Mayor and charter school proponent Karl Dean sought the authority to take over the city’s schools, but then-Gov. Phil Bredesen rejected the ridiculous idea.

It’s telling that Rolli wants Nashville schools to look like Detroit or Miami.

I’m not sure Nashville wants their school system to look like The Hunger Games, which is how some describe the situation in Detroit:

It is encouraging, though, that no other candidate seemed all that interested in the idea.

In perhaps some more encouraging news:


Taking on Teach for America

Hillsdale College and the Collapse of Public Schools

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Behn on Schools

State House candidate has a record of standing for public education

Progressive activist Aftyn Behn recently announced her candidacy for the Tennessee House of Representatives in Nashville’s District 51. Behn is running in a special election to replace former Rep. Bill Beck.

As an organizer for Indivisible, Behn was active in efforts to protect public education, including organizing resistance to Gov. Lee’s plans to privatize by way of school vouchers.

Here’s more from Behn’s website on her position on education:

Behn’s statement on public education from her campaign website

More Education News

North Carolina and Ghost Vouchers

A History of TNReady

TEA to Lee: We’ll See You in Court

Tennessee Education Association challenges Gov. Lee’s attempt at union busting

The Tennessee Education Association is challenging a new state law that prevents local school districts from allowing teachers to have their association dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

The move by the Lee Administration was tied to a teacher pay raise and widely seen as an effort to weaken the oldest and largest organization advocating for teachers in the state.

In recent years, TEA has been the source of the strongest opposition to Lee’s agenda of using public money to fund private schools.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Tennessee’s largest professional teachers organization is challenging the constitutionality of a new state law that prohibits school districts from making payroll deductions for employees’ professional association dues.

The Tennessee Education Association filed its lawsuit Tuesday in Davidson County Chancery Court on behalf of its local education associations and 41,000 members statewide. The complaint names Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, which pushed for the change, and the state education department as defendants. Several local education associations have joined the suit.

Photo by Money Knack, on Unsplash

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

On the Futility of State Testing

In the latest edition of The Education Report, I write about standardized testing and note that Tennessee’s version has seen its share of problems.

Here’s more from that piece:

State standardized testing is supposed to help identify areas in public education that need improvement – and is often used to highlight achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status. However, a new piece in Jacobin suggests that high-stakes testing has done little to help in this regard and may, in fact, be creating more problems than it solves.

When we sort children into “proficient” and “failing” categories based on test scores, we’re not solving the opportunity gaps that show up in public education; we’re creating new ones. No one is helped, and many people are hurt, when we give students, teachers, and schools an impossible assignment and then sanction them for failing to complete it. Looking forward to the ESEA’s now overdue reauthorization, it’s high time we built accountability systems that nurture the humanity and potential of all kids — rather than placing artificial roadblocks in their way.

Tennessee’s experience with standardized testing has certainly been problematic.

It’s difficult to say this particular iteration of the state’s testing system has done anything helpful. Still, this year, the results determined whether or not third graders would be allowed to move on to fourth grade.

Previous analysis of the state’s testing system found it to be a solid way to identify the relative concentration of poverty in a school district – but otherwise, not really useful at all.

An analysis of TCAP performance over time indicates that those school systems with consistently high levels of poverty tend to have consistently low scores on TCAP. Likewise, those systems with the least amount of poverty tend to have consistently higher scores on TCAP.

Nevertheless, Tennessee’s testing vendor, Pearson, recently received a $40 million increase in its contract.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Columbia Mayor Takes on Hillsdale Charter School

Mayor of Maury County’s largest city questions need for Michigan-based charter school

Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder says Maury County does not need a charter school – and especially not one backed by Michigan-based Hillsdale College.

Molder notes:

American Classical Education, a charter operator affiliated with Michigan-based Hillsdale College, is proposing to create taxpayer-funded privately run charters in Middle and West Tennessee. They’ve cherry-picked the counties where they believe they have the easiest path for approval, and Maury County was a direct target. ACE’s preferred instructional approach: A national curriculum known as Core Knowledge, which shares “connective tissue” with Common Core, according to the conservative Fordham Institute think tank.

Our local school board wisely rejected ACE in April, despite significant lobbying, if not bullying by ACE representatives and partisan board members who seem to be more interested in scoring a business or political win than solving the many pressing issues we have facing our local school system, and public education as a whole. Public education is in a crisis in this state. And, it’s not because of the quality of our teachers, or the promise of our youth.

Hillsdale has been the subject of controversy since not long after Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to allow the private college to open 50 charter schools in the state – handing over access to millions in local tax dollars with little accountability.

More on Hillsdale

Hillsdale’s Quest for Tennessee Tax Dollars

A Violent Revolution to Overthrow Public Schools?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport