$1.5 Billion

That’s how much Tennessee is under-funding public schools. Senators Jeff Yarbro of Nashville and Raumesh Akbari of Memphis take on the issue of school funding in a recent OpEd in the Tennessean. Here’s some of their argument:

The “fully funded” story line falls apart every time a teacher digs into their own bank account to purchase essential school supplies for their students. The claim unravels when teachers work second or even third jobs just to make ends meet. When we see children and teachers stacked into mobile trailers, describing schools as fully funded amounts to gaslighting. 

Here’s the truth: The state needs to put at least $1.5 billion more into public education each year just to meet the bare minimum. And even that investment may not be enough to get out of the bottom 10 states for school funding. 

Here’s MORE from Yarbro and Akbari

Their article follows a report from the Department of Education indicating that Tennessee is severely underfunding teaching positions in our state — to the tune of at least $500 million.

The article notes that Tennessee has had significant revenue surpluses in recent years. This means the state CAN fund public schools at an adequate level without raising state taxes. In fact, proper state funding of schools would mean local governments could keep taxes low. It would also relieve the burden that hits poorer districts the hardest.

Here are some likely responses:

  • The state just can’t promise that level of funding year after year
  • We need to try new experiments like expanding charters and moving forward with vouchers
  • Districts simply can’t absorb ALL that money at once
  • Our tax policy is critical to our business climate, so that comes first
  • We’re already getting results, why do we need more money?
  • We can’t just throw money at schools (we’d rather throw it at Amazon)

And here’s the reality: Tennessee consistently receives an “F” in both school funding and funding effort. We’re not even trying.

Yes, we have the money. Yes, our schools deserve it. Yes, WE CAN FUND SCHOOLS!

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Frogge vs. Broad

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge takes to Facebook to expose the Broad/Ed Reform agenda of privatization. Her post follows:

Dear Nashville (and others),

Please pay attention to those with whom you choose to align yourself on education issues. If you are supporting anyone funded or trained by California billionaire Eli Broad, you can bet you’ll end up on the wrong side of history.

Eli Broad created and funds a blog called Education Post. The folks who run it would like for you to believe they are just activists for low-income families and minority children- but in reality, they are dripping with dirty money. Education Post’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1 million for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Board member Chris Stewart, known online as “Citizen Stewart,” was paid $422,925 for 40 hours a week across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” As author/blogger Mercedes Schneider concludes, “In ed reform, blogging pays juicy salaries.” (For the record, I have never earned a penny for any of my social media posts, of course.)

Paid Education Post leaders regularly try to infiltrate online Nashville education discussions (Nashville is a national target for charter expansion), and Education Post also pays local bloggers to write posts. Local bloggers Zack Barnes and Vesia Hawkins are both listed as network members on the Education Post blog.

Many of the big players in Tennessee were “trained” by Eli Broad through his Broad Superintendents Academy, which recruits business leaders with no background in education to be superintendents- with the purpose of privatizing schools (closing existing schools and opening more charter schools). The current Tennessee Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, is a “Broadie.” Two former heads of Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District (a ploy to expand charter schools without local approval) were Broadies: Chris Barbic and Malika Anderson. Former superintendents Jim McIntyre (of Knoxville) and Shawn Joseph (of Nashville) were also affiliated with the Broad network. Shawn Joseph claimed both McIntyre and former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, a member of Education Post’s network, as his mentors.

The school “reforms” pushed by Broadies all center around profit-making through public education: standardized testing (money for private test companies), computer learning (money for IT companies and cost-savings on hiring teachers), charter schools, vouchers, scripted curriculum that can be monetized, etc. Broadies typically see teachers as expendable and believe teaching can be mechanized.

Since charters and vouchers have become an increasingly unpopular cause, the latest angle is for Broadies to increase the number of (sometimes rigged) vendor contracts for programs and services, as well as consultants, with school districts. Former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance went to federal prison for rigging no-bid contracts in a kick-back scheme. In a similar scheme, his mentee (Nashville superintendent) Shawn Joseph was caught inflating no-bid contract prices (in violation of state law) for vendors connected with the recruiter and Broadies who placed him in Nashville through a rigged superintendent search. (See comments for further information.)

Billionaires like Eli Broad who fund school profiteering efforts like to hire/fund people of color to act as front-men for their efforts. This provides the appearance that the push for “school choice” (i.e., charters and vouchers) is grassroots. When these folks are questioned or caught in the midst of wrong-doing, they are able to cry racism. Meanwhile, everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of funding meant to serve children.

The ploys used in school profiteering are particularly nasty- the worst of dirty politics. The goal is usually to smear, humiliate, shame and discredit anyone who is an effective critic of the school privatization agenda. Lots of money is spent on PR for this purpose. (I’ve even been attacked on this Facebook page by a paid “social media specialist” for my opposition to charter schools.)

You’ll notice that the atmosphere tends to become particularly dysfunctional and circus-like when Broadies are in charge or involved. You’ll also notice that Broadies like to push the narrative that locally-elected school boards are too dysfunctional to lead (even when the Broadie in charge is causing all the dysfunction!). This is because Eli Broad and those affiliated with him want no public oversight of public education spending.

So- when you witness education conversations on social media, be sure to figure out who is funding those claiming to promote “school choice” or to advocate for children in poverty. Follow the money, y’all. Always!

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

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The Five Pillars of Privatization

Tennesseans for Student Success recently released a 2020 policy agenda and noted the following five pillars guiding this agenda:


Tennesseans for Student Success is kicking off the 2020 legislative session by outlining our policy pillars and how they affect student success. Our five pillars are higher academic standards, an aligned assessment to those standards, protecting accountability, innovation in education, and securing economic freedom for all. 

This sounds pretty nice, or at least rather innocuous. But, who is Tennesseans for Student Success? Here’s what their website says:


Tennesseans for Student Success is a statewide network of teachers, parents, community leaders, and volunteers who are dedicated to supporting, championing, and fighting for Tennessee’s students and their futures.

This sounds even better, right? Look! It’s everyone! All coming together to fight for our kids! We should ALL love TSS, right?!

Well, let’s take another look. It seems TSS is all about privatizing public schools. Sure, they attacked staunch public education defender and state representative Gloria Johnson a few years back. But, maybe that was an anomaly.

Then, of course, there are the candidates they strongly back.

It’s a who’s who of school voucher backers.

TSS has consistently indicated support for voucher-backers like Senators Dolores Gresham and Brian Kelsey. And, they’ve taken out ads against Republicans who dare stand in the way of Gov. Lee and the school privatization agenda:

The five pillars of TSS are nothing more than the five horsemen of the public education apocalypse. Standards and Assessment simply mean ever more testing. Protecting Accountability means using voodoo science to evaluate (and remove) teachers and keep salaries (costs) low. Education “innovation” means charter schools and vouchers (as seen in the ads above). Economic freedom for all is nothing more than saying the “market” is what should guide education policy — it’s saying we should privatize above all.

TSS is, in fact, non-partisan. They’ll attack anyone, Republican or Democrat, who stands in the way of letting privatizing profiteers get their hands on public schools.

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57 Hands Out

There are 57 private schools who have taken the first step toward receiving public support for their operations, according to a story in Chalkbeat. The news comes as Governor Lee continues to ramp up his Education Savings Account voucher scheme. The vote to authorize the plan remains under investigation by the TBI and the FBI.

From Chalkbeat:


At least 57 private schools have taken the first formal step to participate in Tennessee’s new voucher program beginning with the upcoming school year.


Leaders for 30 schools in the Memphis area, 26 in the Nashville area, and one in Knoxville have completed the state’s online form indicating their intent to participate. The list is based on information provided to Chalkbeat by the Department of Education through a public records request.

Here’s the list of those schools seeking taxpayer support without any real accountability:

Memphis area

  • Bodine School, Germantown
  • Bornblum Jewish Community School, Memphis
  • Brinkley Heights Urban Academy, Memphis
  • Central Baptist School, Memphis
  • Christian Brothers High School, Memphis
  • Christ the King Lutheran School, Memphis
  • Collegiate School of Memphis
  • Creative Life Inc., Memphis
  • Evangelical Christian School, Cordova
  • Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School, Memphis
  • Greater Praise Christian Academy, Memphis
  • Immaculate Conception Cathedral School, Memphis
  • Immanuel Lutheran School, Memphis
  • Incarnation Catholic School, Collierville
  • Harding Academy of Memphis
  • Holy Rosary Catholic School, Memphis
  • Hutchison School, Memphis
  • Memphis Heritage Christian School, Memphis
  • Pleasant View School, Memphis
  • Presbyterian Day School, Memphis
  • SE Academy Independent School, Memphis
  • Sensational Enlightenment, Memphis
  • St. Ann Catholic School, Bartlett
  • St. Benedict at Auburndale, Cordova
  • St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Cordova
  • St. George’s Independent School, Collierville
  • St. Louis Catholic School, Memphis
  • St. Paul Catholic School, Memphis
  • Woodland Presbyterian School, Memphis
  • Word of Faith Christian Academy, Memphis

Nashville area

  • Akiva School, Nashville
  • Benton Hall Academy, Nashville
  • Born Again Christian Academy, Nashville
  • Christ the King School, Nashville
  • Dayspring Academy, Greenbrier
  • Ezell-Harding Christian School, Antioch
  • Gateway Academy, Nashville
  • Lighthouse Christian School, Antioch
  • Linden Waldorf School, Nashville
  • Hendersonville Christian Academy, Hendersonville
  • Holy Rosary Academy, Nashville
  • Montessori East, Nashville
  • Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville
  • Pleasant View Christian School, Pleasant View
  • Pope John Paul II High School, Hendersonville
  • St. Ann School, Nashville
  • St. Henry School, Nashville
  • St. John Vianney School, Gallatin
  • St. Rose of Lima Catholic School, Murfreesboro
  • St. Clement Coptic Orthodox Christian Academy, Nashville
  • St. Edward School, Nashville
  • St. Joseph School, Madison
  • St. Matthew School, Franklin
  • St. Pius X Classical Academy, Nashville
  • South Haven Christian School, Springfield
  • Templeton Academy, Nashville

Elsewhere

  • First Lutheran School, Knoxville

The voucher plan is facing a serious repeal effort and also threatens to divide Republicans, at least in the House.




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Frogge the Fighter

The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss features an excerpt from Diane Ravitch’s latest book Slaying Goliath that tells the story of Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge and her relentless advocacy for public schools. Highlights follow. The short version: Don’t f*** with Frogge.


Amy Frogge is a lawyer and a parent of children who attended Gower Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2010, the city suffered a devastating flood, and people came together from across the city and even from out of state to help rebuild the damaged neighborhoods. Frogge was impressed by the energy that is generated when people coalesce behind a common goal. Aware that the Parent Teacher Organization at Gower Elementary was moribund, she and another parent decided to rebuild it. Over a year, they enhanced parent engagement, developed new community partnerships, and helped to bring about major improvements in the school’s performance, atmosphere, and culture.


Determined to “give back to her community,” Frogge decided to run for the Metro Nashville school board in 2012. With the help of many volunteers, she rang doorbells across her district. She raised $25,000. Her opponent was endorsed by Nashville mayor Karl Dean, the Chamber of Commerce, the local teachers’ union, and the Gates-funded group called Stand for Children. Her opponent spent $125,000, five times what Frogge spent. But Frogge won by a two-to-one landslide. When she ran, she was unaware of the national debates about privatization. She just wanted to do her part as a citizen. She quickly learned about the efforts by national charter chains to gain a foothold in Nashville and decided that this was not good for the local public schools.


Frogge emerged as an articulate critic of privatization and Corporate Disruption. In her role as a board member, she wanted expanded recess time, more time for art and music, less time devoted to testing, and increased funding for the schools, but these issues were overshadowed by the persistent struggle between the school board and the state over charter expansion. She courageously stood up to the right-wing governor, the legislature, the state commissioner, and Mayor Dean, who were all pushing for more charters in Nashville. The local newspapers criticized her as “divisive” and “shrill” for taking a stand (these are the words applied to women who speak out but not to men, who are seen as “forceful” and “strong”). The newspapers grew tired of her complaints about the large amounts of outside money that poured into school board races.


In 2016, Frogge ran again for the school board, and she was now Enemy Number One for the Disrupters. In hopes of ousting her, they funneled over $200,000 into the race, most of it directed through the Gates-funded Stand for Children. She won again, receiving 65 percent of the vote. Voters liked the principled stand that she took supporting public schools and demanding accountability and transparency for charters.


Amy Frogge recalled in an interview with T. C. Weber, a Nashville parent-blogger, that her husband had given her a clip of the Reverend William Barber, the charismatic leader of the Resistance in North Carolina who has often been compared to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend Barber has championed progressive causes of every kind, including public education. Frogge remembered this message:


“When you’re called to service it’s often not convenient. It’s often very difficult and it is exhausting, but we are not allowed to give up. We don’t get to determine when it’s done. I think many of us have made huge sacrifices to continue to try to advocate for students and our teachers and our families.

READ MORE about Amy Frogge’s fight against the powerful forces that would disrupt our public schools for their own private gain.

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Exacerbate

Dr. Bill Smith writes in the Johnson City Press that the General Assembly’s recent education policies will only exacerbate inequality.


Crowe, a 28-year veteran of the General Assembly and member of the Senate Education Committee, and his colleagues have grotesquely underfunded the BEP in recent years, and the money diverted to vouchers will exacerbate this shortcoming. Tennessee is 45th nationally in per-pupil funding and well below the Southeastern average. Expanding the voucher program will compromise funding for public education even more, and local schools will surely feel the impact.


In a May 1 article, The Tennessean reported that last year’s voucher law could cost $330 million by 2024, money that could be used instead to improve education across the state. Further, if we’ve learned anything over the years about school funding and the achievement gap, it’s that the children who most need our embrace are the ones who suffer most when educational funding is inadequate.

MORE>

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The Collapse of the ASD

Gary Rubinstein writes about the collapse of the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD). Here are some highlights:


Since 2011 I have been following the biggest, and most predictable, disasters of the education reform movement — the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).  It was formed in a perfect storm of reform theory.  First, Tennessee won Race To The Top money.  Then they hired a TFA-alum and the ex-husband of Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman to be their state commissioner.  Then he hired TFA-alum and charter school founder Chris Barbic to design and run the ASD.  The initial promise of the ASD was that they would take schools in the bottom 5% and convert them into charter schools in order to ‘catapult’ them into the top 25% in five years.  They started with 6 schools in 2012 and grew to over 30 schools within a few years.


They completely failed at this mission.  Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned, Barbic’s replacement’s replacement resigned.  Of the 30 schools they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5% except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10%.


Chalkbeat TN recently had a post with the enticing title ‘All 30 schools in Tennessee’s turnaround district would exit by 2022 in a massive restructuring proposal.’  It would seem like this is good news.  The ASD was such a costly failure, costing about $100 million over the years I think, the only thing to do was to put it out of its misery and dissolve it completely.


But I’ve been studying reformers enough over the years not to get too excited about this.  The headline would make the most optimistic readers think that the 30 schools going back to the district would again become public schools.  The charter schools supposedly traded flexibility for accountability so their failure to deliver on their promises should result in them being sent packing.


But according to the article, it is not clear yet if being returned to the district means that they will become public schools again.  Also they say that there still will be an ASD after this.  Now there can’t be a school district with zero schools, so what’s going on?

MORE from Rubinstein on the ASD>

MORE on the TN ASD>

Peter Greene on the ASD

Race to the Bottom: ASD

Mission Creep

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50 Days

Kindergarten teachers in Tennessee spend at least 50 days administering or working on some form of student assessment, according to a group of teachers from Knox County. WBIR-TV has more:


On Wednesday night, West Hills Elementary School fourth grade teacher Hedy Hilts Collins shared some concerns about kindergarten testing in Knox County Schools. 


“I am gravely concerned that the expectations that our school district has set upon our kindergarten students are causing feelings of frustration and failure,” she said that night. 


Collins said she got the idea after she saw her colleagues calendar for the rest of the years. She said through flipping through it she noticed over 50 days teachers had to administer or work on some type of student measurement. 

The heightened concern over instructional time lost due to Kindergarten testing comes as the state continues to utilize a Kindergarten portfolio evaluation system referred to by teachers as a complete “fiasco.”

The portfolio system had problems from the outset, and those problems have only gotten worse as the Tennessee Department of Education makes excuses instead of developing solutions.

Teachers, parents, and students continue to raise concerns about both the amount of testing and the value of that testing. Will lawmakers take action?

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

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A Nashville Reality Check

While Nashville is now the largest city in Tennessee and among the fastest-growing in the nation, a new report reveals that for many, the economy just isn’t working. Fox 17 reports on a study that reveals Nashville is a national leader in percentage of students living in poverty. Here’s more:


Music City is breaking national records, but not in a good way this time. According to a new report by Metro Social Services, the city ranks ninth in the country for students living in poverty in comparison to other districts. The three page report was presented to the 11 member Minority Caucus of the Metro Council on Monday.


The report found half of the city’s workforce makes less than $35,000 a year and when companies move to town, a majority of those jobs go to those not from Nashville. The report also shows working class families are starting to leave Nashville. Moreover, at least seven people a day are relocating.

The report comes amid a major budget crisis in the city and follows previous reporting indicating Nashville’s teachers are paid well below what it takes to actually live in the city.


Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

What’s perhaps most striking about these numbers is that Nashville’s leaders have been aware of these issues for years and have so far done little to actually address them.

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Team Lee Staffs Up with more Voucher Vultures

Governor Bill Lee’s administration is adding more voucher advocates to the mix as Lee continues to pursue a policy of “disruption” rather than investment and support when it comes to public education. Chalkbeat has more on the new staffers:


Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is hiring three more leaders with ties to groups that lobby for school vouchers and charter schools.


Gillum Ferguson, recently communications director for the American Federation for Children in Tennessee, is Lee’s interim press secretary.


Charlie Bufalino, director of policy and strategy for TennesseeCAN, will become the Department of Education’s chief liaison to state lawmakers on legislation and policy.


Chelsea Crawford, who has served as TennesseeCAN’s media contact, will lead communications for the education department.


The hires are expected to further expand the influence of organizations advocating for hot-button education policies such as vouchers and charter schools. 

As Lee was first building his senior staff in late 2018, his early hires reflected a push toward school privatization:


As Governor-elect Bill Lee staffs up ahead of taking office in January, he’s making it clear he plans to push forward heavily on vouchers. He’s already named one key voucher backer to a top policy role and now, he’s announced his Legislative Director will be the former Director of Students First/Tennessee CAN.

Lee has so far made good on his promise to deliver vouchers and charters to Tennessee, securing passage of a voucher bill by a narrow margin and also aggressively pushing charter schools.

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