Vultures Swoop into Franklin

A North Carolina-based private school hungry for voucher dollars is headed to middle Tennessee, with a first stop in Franklin. Here’s more on the revelation that Thales Academy will open its first Tennessee school in Williamson County:


Thales Academy-Franklin will be the first school in Tennessee added to Thales Academy’s successful roster of eight current campuses in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. Founder Bob Luddy emphasized their methodology of direct instruction (DI) Tuesday night and expressed the passion in their mission of teaching to master and creating connections for their students.

TNEdReport has previously reported on Thales Academy, including the founder’s strong desire to have a school based in the Nashville area:


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.

Thales also held an informational meeting in Wilson County.

The announcement regarding the opening of the Franklin-based school lends credence to the warning that “pop-up” private schools will swoop into Tennessee to feast on voucher funds:


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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Robbing Teachers to Pay ClassWallet

Here’s some video of a House legislative committee hearing focused on how ClassWallet won a no-bid contract worth more than $1.2 million OVER what the legislature allocated:

MORE on ClassWallet and Vouchers in Tennessee:

It’s getting hot in here

Bragging Rights

NO BID!

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“Detractors”

Governor Bill Lee isn’t happy that members of his own party aren’t happy with the rocky rollout of the state’s voucher program, according to the Tennessean.


Gov. Bill Lee says the state should continue to move forward with implementing a school voucher program as quickly as possible, despite ongoing concerns being raised by legislators on both sides of the aisle.


Lee said Thursday the implementation of the program was being “hampered” by “detractors to a process,” and reiterated that he pushed for the program to “give kids in our state a high-quality education.”

Those “detractors” are worried about pesky little details like no-bid contracts and overspending.

It’s also worth noting that significant evidence indicates that vouchers don’t actually help kids, and in fact, can leave them lagging behind academically:


The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.


The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.
They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.


In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

It’s no wonder so many “detractors” are trying to “hamper the process.”

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“REAL PROBLEMS”

Lawmakers in Governor Bill Lee’s own party are expressing concern over the rushed rollout of the state’s school voucher program, according to a story at WPLN.


Legislators are worried that the Department of Education is rushing to get school vouchers started. The agency hired an outside vendor, Florida-based ClassWallet, to help with the rollout and to track education expenses.


“When they ask for $750,000 and then spend $2.5 million without telling us, those are real problems,” Hill said.


But House GOP Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison told reporters he regrets supporting the law. He says the program isn’t being the run correctly, and although school vouchers are supposed to be implemented this year, Faison predicts that’s not going to happen.

While Republican lawmakers are questioning Lee’s Administration over the rapid rollout and no-bid contracts, Democrats have already called for a formal audit of how ClassWallet became the chosen vendor to administer vouchers.

It’s almost as if those who warned the voucher scheme would quickly get out of control were exactly right.

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Nashville Pushes for State Funding Boost for Schools

The Metro Nashville school board is calling on the State of Tennessee to step up when it comes to school funding, according to a story on WPLN.


Nashville leaders are calling on state lawmakers to increase education funding. 


A resolution adopted by the Metro school board Tuesday night says the district needs more money to retain teachers. 


District 9 school board member Amy Frogge, who proposed the resolution, says the state has over $5 billion in reserves that could be used for education funding.   


Last week, board members expressed their support for a Metro lawsuit challenging the state’s new school voucher law — which they say will take money from the district. 


“It’s critically important that we get that money to our schools,” says Frogge. “As a school board member but also as a parent, the needs in our schools are great and we’re losing teachers.”

While Governor Bill Lee’s proposed budget makes some investment in teacher pay, Tennessee teachers are still paid at a rate lower than they were in 2009, according to a report from the Sycamore Institute.


After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

And, of course there’s the reality that the state grossly underfunds its school funding formula, the BEP.


In Tennessee, classroom size requirements have forced districts to hire more than 9,000 teachers beyond what the BEP provides to pay for their salaries, according to a statewide analysis presented by the Department of Education in December to the BEP Review Committee.

To address the BEP shortfall, the state needs at least $468 million. To address stagnant teacher pay, the state needs another $300 million. As Frogge notes, Tennessee has the money. Will our policymakers make a nearly $800 million investment in public schools?

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ClassWallet Controversy Heats Up

Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville is asking for a formal investigation into how a contract to manage the state’s voucher program was awarded to ClassWallet, according to a story in Chalkbeat.


A Nashville lawmaker wants Tennessee’s chief internal investigator to look into how the Department of Education is paying for the early rollout of Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program.


The Republican governor ordered the early rollout last summer but set aside only $771,300 for voucher work in the 2019-20 budget approved last spring. The education department has since signed a two-year contract for $2.5 million with ClassWallet, a Florida-based vendor hired to manage online accounts and applications for the voucher program. 


The education department irked many lawmakers when it signed the ClassWallet contract last fall without going through competitive bids or the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee. 

Mitchell’s push for an investigation follows concerns over how the contract was awarded to ClassWallet:


The lack of adherence to bidding procedures should come as no surprise as Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn faced similar challenges when she held a senior level position in the Texas Education Agency.

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More on the ClassWallet Controversy

I reported previously on the controversy surrounding ClassWallet and their contract to manage the voucher program in Tennessee. This week, members of a key legislative committee questioned Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn about the issue. Here’s more:

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Party like it’s 2009

Tennessee teachers may want to hop in the wayback machine in order to see a bigger paycheck. That’s according to data released by the Sycamore Institute that indicates that teachers in Tennessee now earn about $2400 less per year than they did in 2009.

Here’s more from the group’s analysis of Governor Lee’s 2020-21 budget:


Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, lawmakers enacted a total of $429 million in recurring increases for teacher pay. Since that time, growth in Tennessee teachers’ average pay has begun to catch up with inflation. After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

To approach the salaries teachers enjoyed all the way back in 2009, the General Assembly would need to add roughly $100 million to Lee’s proposed increase for this year. That’s entirely doable, as the state has enjoyed multiple years of surplus revenue. That is, we can significantly raise teacher pay AND not raise taxes.

Of course, adding $100 million would only mean our teachers are BACK to the 2009 level. To make a real improvement, we’d need to at least double that number. Does Tennessee have more than $300 million available to commit to teacher pay? YES! It’s now up to the General Assembly to decide whether or not to make this investment.

Adjusting pay in this way could mean an average increase in teacher pay of just under $4000 for every teacher in Tennessee.

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About Lunch

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons again pursues his anti-lunch shaming bill and you can watch legislators respond thanks to TN Holler:

THE TN ANTI-LUNCH SHAMING ACT

NEW: “THE TN ANTI-LUNCH SHAMING ACT”Rep. John Ray Clemmons pushes his bill to stop schools from punishing kids to force parents to pay meal debt".GOP Representative Terri Lynn Weaver State Representative Jerry Sexton State Representative Scott Cepicky & More struggle with it, while State Representative John Ragan wants to make meal debt a possible child abuse/DCS issue.Rep. Vincent Dixie & State Rep. Antonio Parkinson say "pass the bill".

Posted by The Tennessee Holler on Friday, February 7, 2020

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Testing, Vouchers No Recipe for Success in Schools

Dr. Bill Smith of Johnson City writes about the reality of current education policy in his latest piece for the Johnson City Press.


In the 40 years since Anyon’s article was published, accountability measures have standardized public school curricula, and testing pressures have kept teachers from deviating from these standards. Although there has been some effort in recent years to include higher-level learning expectations in mandated curricula, the inherent limitations of standardized testing make it unlikely that many of today’s classrooms — even in the most well-funded schools — can provide the rich, engaging learning experiences children had in the affluent professional and executive elite schools Anyon studied.


However, as Nikhil Goyal wrote in 2016, it’s noteworthy that most of our politicians have enrolled their children “in schools outside the wrath of their own education policies.” Austere budgets and high stakes testing measures that narrow the curriculum and diminish the joy of learning are good enough for our children, but not for theirs.


That’s worth remembering whenever you hear politicians yammering about how they’re going to eliminate the achievement gap with $7,000 vouchers and more incentives to raise test scores.

Smith makes the point that what our leaders have not done so far is actually meaningfully increase investment in schools. Neither a more intense focus on testing nor the offering of vouchers will actually move the needle when it comes to student outcomes.

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