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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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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Bill Lee’s 2020 Vision Blurred by Voucher Scheme

Governor Bill Lee renewed his commitment to fast-tracking the privatization of public schools in a speech in Jackson where he laid out his policy goals for 2020. Lee doubled-down on support of a voucher scheme that is dividing the state Republican Party. The vote on Lee’s controversial plan remains under investigation by both the FBI and TBI. Here’s more on Lee’s remarks from LocalMemphis.com:


The Governor said this year, he’s also optimistic the first Shelby County students in low-achieving public schools will be eligible for an education savings account to cover tuition for private school. SCS leaders opposed vouchers, and the legislation narrowly passed last year.


“Those children who are zoned for those non-performing schools will have an opportunity to have a high-quality education, hopefully starting this fall if that process is rolled out in the way that we hope it will be,” Gov. Lee said.

Lee failed to mention that vouchers have not been proven to help students academically. In fact, there’s growing evidence that voucher schemes actually have a negative academic impact. Neither actual evidence nor the existence of an FBI probe into the vote seems likely to deter Lee from pursuing an agenda that will both cost taxpayers money and actually harm students.

Those following Lee and his alliance with privatizers like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the years are not surprised by his antics. In fact, in December of 2018, I noted:


Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

Now, here we are in 2020. Let’s be sure Tennesseans have a clear vision of where Gov. Lee is taking us: Directly down the very expensive road to the privatization of our public schools.

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Weingarten Talks DeVos

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten talks about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s attempts to privatize American public education in a recent article in the Guardian. Here are some highlights:


“We’ve had plenty of Republican as well as Democratic secretaries of education but none of them, even those who believed in alternatives to public education, actually tried to eviscerate public education,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Here is someone who in her first budget tried to eliminate every single summer school programme, every single after-school programme, and who has done everything in her power to try to make it harder for us to strengthen public [sector] schools.”


Weingarten commented: “Here you have someone whose job it is to help students, 90% of whom go to public schools in America, and to help students in higher education navigate through their student debt or try to mitigate it. She’s failed on both accounts. Instead, she’s tried to defund and dismantle public education and make it harder for us to help kids in public education.”


Weingarten commented: “I’m not surprised that a judge held her in contempt because, just like her boss, she mocks the rule of law. Her rule is: she’s rich and she’s a believer in her ideology and that should drive it, not her oath of office, not that this is democracy, not that she is the secretary of education. So the mood [among teachers] is: we told you so, we knew she’d be like this.”

MORE on how DeVos is scheming against America’s public schools.

Still, Governor Bill Lee is fully embracing the DeVos agenda in Tennessee. From fast-tracking vouchers to building a slush fund for charter schools, Lee is all-in on DeVos-style dismantling of public education.

Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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Charters: The God that Failed

In 2002, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act. The law allowed for local school districts to authorize charter schools — schools that would operate independently from district control and be run by private, non-profit boards. The move was hailed as a way to improve educational opportunity, especially for students in districts with high concentrations of low-income families. Then, in 2011, the legislature lifted the cap on charter schools, allowing for further proliferation of the publicly-authorized, privately-run entities.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools notes that Tennessee has 112 charter schools serving more than 40,000 students.

Governor Bill Haslam created a charter school capital fund and Governor Bill Lee moved to double this slush fund in his first legislative session. Additionally, Lee created a state charter commission, designed to allow charter operators to circumvent local school boards in seeking authorization. In fairness to Lee, Democrats nominated Karl Dean for Governor in 2018. Dean was an avid charter advocate, bringing the Charter School Incubator to Nashville.

Since charters are (for now) embedded in Tennessee’s education system, a recent report from the Network for Public Education should be of interest. The report notes that more than $500 million in federal spending was wasted on charter schools that are either now defunct OR never even opened. In Tennessee, 49% of the schools that received grants are now closed or never even opened. Here’s more from the report:

One hundred and twenty-one grants were given to open or expand charter schools in Tennessee from the federal charter schools program between 2006-2014. At this time, at least 59 (49%) of those charter schools are now closed or never opened at all. Forty-three of the 59 grant recipients never opened at all.


Of the 43 that never opened, 38 did not even have a name. Only a grant amount was listed

In total, $7,374,025.00 was awarded to Tennessee charter schools during those years that either never opened or shut down.

This report comes as the charter-dominated Achievement School District is under fire for failing to produce results.

Those pushing charters as the savior to our state’s education woes would do well to remember the parting words offered by the ASD’s first Superintendent, Chris Barbic:


In his email early Friday, Barbic offered a dim prognosis on that pioneering approach. “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

In other words, poverty matters. And, making the investments to combat it matters, too.


In other words, money matters. Districts with concentrated poverty face two challenges: Students with significant economic needs AND the inability of the district to generate the revenue necessary to adequately invest in schools.

But, by all means, let’s continue to worship at the feet of the Charter God hoping that our faith in “free markets” will be enough to move the needle for the kids who most need the opportunities provided by public education.

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We’re #1

A new report indicates Tennessee is a national leader in at least one education category. Jason Gonzales in the Tennessean notes that Tennessee has one of the lowest investments in the nation in rural schools.

Specifically, the report states:


For example, the report said: “22 states have decreased their state contributions for every local dollar invested in rural schools. Tennessee has seen the greatest drop ($1.68, down from $2.11 per local dollar).”

So, six years ago education officials touted the “fastest-improving” NAEP scores — which turned out to be an outlier. Now, we’ll see how (if) they do anything to improve funding for rural schools.

We’re already in a state where teachers earn less than similarly-trained professionals and we’re at the bottom in both overall investment in schools and funding effort relative to ability. In fact, another recent report gave Tennessee a grade of “F” in funding effort:


The report notes that Tennessee is 43rd in the nation in overall funding level and 47th in effort. The effort category is of particular interest because it indicates that Tennessee has significant room for improvement in terms of funding level. That is, there are untapped resources Tennessee is NOT using to fund schools.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Lee is out finding a new plaid shirt for this weekend’s faux farmer update. He’ll post to Twitter and pretend he cares about rural schools while pushing an aggressive privatization agenda.

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A Different Kind of Test

Amid reports of lead in the water at schools across Tennessee, health experts are advising parents to have children tested, according to WREG in Memphis. Here’s more:

Health experts said there’s a wide range of severity and symptoms when dealing with lead poisoning, with anything from mild nausea and headaches to developmental problems. But with the levels found in the two dozen SCS locations, doctors are optimistic for student and faculty safety.

“With the amount of lead that they’re talking about, 1% above the EPA threshold, the likelihood that those children ingested toxic amounts of lead is low,” said Dale Criner, medical director of St. Francis Hospital Bartlett. “There’s still a possibility, but it’s low.”

Doctors recommend a simple blood test to determine exposure levels.

As a result of state legislation, school systems across the state are testing buildings for lead. The results have not been encouraging:

So far, 134 schools in Tennessee have at least one water source with unacceptably high levels of lead, according to a story in Chalkbeat:


So far, more than 100 schools in 31 districts across Tennessee found at least one water source above 20 parts per billion.

As noted before, the infrastructure concerns are being raised at a time when Gov. Lee is pushing state funds to charter schools by way of a “capital improvement slush fund.”

It’s also worth noting that studies have consistently indicated that the quality of the buildings where a student learn impact overall student achievement:

Studies have shown that conditions such as cold classrooms can affect student learning. One study found that poor building conditions can lead to higher rates of frequent student absences. Another found that students in deteriorating buildings score 5 to 17 points lower on standardized tests than students in newer facilities. Several studies, including two in Tennessee, show that students learn more when they are in newer facilities.


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Voucher Vultures on the March

It seems Governor Bill Lee’s HVAC buddy Bob Luddy is bringing his no frills private school pitch to Wilson County, too. I previously reported on Luddy and his Thales Academy as they held an initial interest meeting in Nashville in July. Here’s more on the interest meeting the school held in Wilson County:

Informational meeting for parents interested in Thales Academy in Wilson County, TN featuring Thales Academy Academic Director Dr. Tim Hall

About this Event

At Thales Academy, our mission is to provide an excellent and affordable education for students through the use of Direct Instruction and a Classical Curriculum that embodies traditional American values.

Thales provides a rigorous academic environment that fosters ethical behavior, critical thinking, virtuous leadership, lifelong learning, and truth seeking with a firm foundation in cognitive, non-cognitive, and technical skills. As a result, Thales Academy students are well prepared to succeed in higher education, career, and life while positively impacting the world around them.

We’ll discuss this and more on Thursday, August 1 with Thales Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Tim Hall, PhD.

Join us for an evening of learning Thursday, Aug 01 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

It’s interesting that Thales is attempting to recruit students from Wilson County, even though Wilson is not (yet) a part of the Education Savings Account voucher scheme.

As noted before, here’s the deal with Thales:

No special education. No transportation. No cafeteria. Luddy calls it “no frills” and hails the use of “direct instruction.”

And here’s more on Luddy’s past dealings in Tennessee:

Thales and Luddy are not new to Tennessee. In fact, in 2015, voucher advocate Lee Barfield paid for a private plane to take former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and then-House Speaker Beth Harwell to North Carolina to visit the Thales schools. Like Bill Lee, Barfield is a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children and even served on the group’s Board of Directors.

Not surprisingly, tuition at Thales roughly mirrors the amount available to parents under the ESA program.

This is exactly the kind of “pop-up” private school critics of vouchers have warned about. In fact, new House Speaker Cameron Sexton once said:

This type of opportunistic expansion is just what new House Speaker Sexton warned about in an address to a local school board in his district back in 2017:

“For Sexton, the vouchers offer ‘false hope’ because the vouchers can’t cover the entire cost of private school tuition,” reported the Crossville Chronicle at the time. “That could lead to a boom of private for-profit schools opening that would accept the voucher funds, ‘which may or may not be great schools,’ Sexton said.”

Maybe all this expansion talk by the likes of Thales will lead to even more momentum for a repeal of the voucher scheme.

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Republican Joins Voucher Repeal Effort

Legislation that would repeal Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislative victory on school vouchers has gained bipartisan support. Republican Bruce Griffey of Paris became the first GOP legislator to sign-on to a bill sponsored by Nashville Democrat Bo Mitchell and co-sponsored by every House Democrat except John DeBerry of Memphis.

The repeal effort is gaining momentum even as both the FBI and TBI continue investigations into the narrow House vote that led to passage of Education Savings Accounts (Lee’s euphemistic name for his voucher scheme).

In addition to the investigations into the House vote, the Senate sponsor of the voucher bill is facing a separate FBI investigation.

I wrote earlier about how the voucher legislation threatens to divide the GOP in Tennessee heading into the 2020 session:

The story of how Tennessee became the latest state to succumb to the Betsy DeVos-backed voucher craze involves more than just an earnest first-term governor using his political goodwill to secure passage of controversial legislation. There’s an ongoing FBI probe. There’s a scandal that took down the pro-voucher House Speaker featuring cocaine and texts about a sexual encounter in a hot chicken restaurant


It’s worth noting that new House Speaker Cameron Sexton has consistently opposed vouchers, including voting against Lee’s plan this year. Here’s more of what he’s said about vouchers:

“For Sexton, the vouchers offer ‘false hope’ because the vouchers can’t cover the entire cost of private school tuition,” reported the Crossville Chronicle at the time. “That could lead to a boom of private for-profit schools opening that would accept the voucher funds, ‘which may or may not be great schools,’ Sexton said.”

It will be interesting to see if more Republicans join the repeal effort and what, if any, work Sexton does to undo the voucher plan.

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Penny’s Problems

An earlier story indicated some staffers in the Tennessee Department of Education are worried the current climate there means the state won’t be ready for this year’s round of TNReady. Now, a new report in Chalkbeat suggests a department in turmoil, with high turnover and chaos in the ranks. Here’s more:

Tennessee’s education department has experienced an exodus under Commissioner Penny Schwinn, with almost a fifth of its employees leaving in the nine months since she took over.


The exits include people with decades of institutional knowledge, leaving many local school leaders wondering whom to call about everything from testing to information technology to early intervention programs for students with learning disabilities. Also gone are dozens of mid- and lower-level employees responsible for executing essential department responsibilities, including the state’s testing program.

American cent

For his part, Governor Bill Lee stands by the disruption led by Schwinn at the DOE:

“The Department of Education has a clear directive to challenge the status quo by developing solutions that best advocate for students and teachers,” Arnold said. “We are confident that changes in structure reflect a desire to build the most effective team that will deliver on this mission.”

While Lee seems ready to “disrupt” both the DOE and public schools, it’s clear that he’s not on board with efforts to disrupt poverty.

An alternative explanation? Bill Lee is not exactly sure how to run state government, so he’s just keeping his head in the sand.

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