Byrd in the Hand

Bill Lee has had his eye on the privatizing of Tennessee public schools long before he became Governor. However, when he announced his “Education Savings Account” plan along with a state charter authorizer that would undermine local school boards, many predicted he’d face some difficulty this legislative session. Turns out, Lee may have a Byrd in the hand by way of a clever move to gain a vote for his ill-designed plan.

Recently, Governor Lee met with one of the women who has accused state representative David Byrd of inappropriate sexual conduct when he was her high school basketball coach. Byrd apologized directly and has not denied the conduct. Lee refused to condemn Byrd or suggest he resign. This despite former House Speaker Beth Harwell calling on Byrd to resign and current Lt. Governor Randy McNally have called for Byrd’s resignation in 2018 and more recently, suggesting an ethics investigation might be in order.

Why is Bill Lee reluctant to make a strong statement on Byrd? Well, Erik Schelzig of Tennessee Journal may have the answer:

The charter authorizer bill advanced out of that committee on a 13-9 vote, but only after House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) came to the panel to personally intervene. Casada was able to get several freshman Republican who voiced concerns about the measure to get on board.

The bill also got the support of embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), whom school choice advocates have tried for years to to defeat because of his support for traditional public schools.

By all accounts, Lee is working overtime to get the votes he needs to pass his voucher plan. With Byrd’s support, Lee may be able to move the plan one step closer to final passage. Some have suggested Lee won’t criticize Byrd as long as Byrd goes along with a plan to devastate the state’s public school systems.

The next vote on vouchers is Wednesday at 8:00 AM in the full House Education Committee. David Byrd sits on that committee and his vote could be pivotal. Does Bill Lee really have a Byrd in the hand?

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This is Success?

What happens when legislators stand up for their local public schools and also support accountability in charter schools?

They get attacked as tools of “Hillary Clinton’s NEA.”

That’s exactly what happened when two Republican lawmakers opposed Governor Bill Lee’s proposal to allow charter schools to circumvent local school boards.

Supposedly non-partisan group Tennesseans for Student Success immediately went on the attack against Mark Cochran and Chris Hurt.

Apparently, being for student success also means being ok with outright lies and deliberate deception in order to advance an agenda detrimental to the actual success of our state’s public schools.

Here are those ads:

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Inconvenient Facts

As Governor Lee’s school voucher proposal begins its legislative journey today, the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) is out with some key facts about the bill as it is currently constructed. These facts expose the plan for what it is: A large scale transfer of public money to fund unaccountable private schools. The plan fails to significantly address fraud and fails to hold schools receiving taxpayer dollars to the same standard as our state’s traditional public schools must meet.

Here’s more from TSBA:

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS (ESA)
This week, the the Administration filed Amendment 005240 to HB939/SB795 by Lamberth/Johnson, a caption bill, which is the Governor’s Education Savings Accounts (ESA) proposal. Click here to view the Amendment. There has been much speculation and reporting over the last several weeks about the details of the bill and we finally have the specific language. Some noteworthy provisions of the ESA bill are as follows:

  • Accountability. The accountability of participating ESA providers was a point of emphasis for many legislators. The Governor’s proposal only requires the ESA student to participate in annually administered TCAP tests for math and English language arts. There is no requirement for standardized or end-of-course testing in science, social studies, the Governor’s civics program, or the ACT, which is required in 11th grade. Public dollars will pay for education that is inconsistent with what the General Assembly has mandated of public schools. Recent emphasis on accountability has made Tennessee one of the fastest improving states in education. This ESA proposal abandons those efforts. 
  • Zoning. An eligible student must be zoned to attend an LEA with 3 or more schools among the bottom 10%. However, there is no requisite time period for the student to have been zoned in that LEA. It appears a student could move to a qualifying LEA and immediately be eligible for the ESA program. 
  • Postsecondary Funding. The bill defines a “legacy student” as a student who had graduated high school and has funds remaining in their ESA account. A legacy student can utilize the remaining funds for approved postsecondary expenses. This may create an unintended incentive for participants to minimize early education costs in order to save the funds for college. 
  • Approved Expenses. Among the approved expenditures for ESA funds are contributions to a § 529 college savings educational investment trust account. However, there is nothing in the bill that requires the student/parent to actually use the fund for college or that prohibits withdrawal from the college savings account. In theory, a parent could apply all ESA funds from K-12 (approximately $100,000) to a § 529 account, then decide not use the funds for college and pocket the money, subject to withdrawal penalties. 
  • Return to the LEA. A participating student may return to the LEA at any time, at which point, the ESA would be closed and any remaining funds returned to the state. However, there is no requirement that any balance remain in the ESA at the time of return. An ESA participant could use all disbursements up to that point (e.g. approved computer hardware or other technological devices) and return to the LEA without penalty, at which point the LEA bears the entire financial burden of educating the child for the remainder of the school year. 
  • Enrollment Limit. Enrollment is capped at 5,000 in the first year, but will triple to 15,000 by the fifth year and grow by 1,000 each year thereafter, assuming sufficient applications are submitted. The Governor plans to budget $25 million in each of the next three years to fund the anticipated first year of implementation in 2021-2022. It is difficult to image how this ESA program with a maximum enrollment could be funded in five years without significantly reducing the funds available for public education. 
  • LEA Reimbursement. The Governor’s proposal was reported to include a reimbursement model to compensate LEAs for loss of funds associated with ESAs. While the bill creates an annual grant to reimburse LEAs in the amount of BEP funds diverted to ESAs, it limits the reimbursement period to 3 years and restricts the use to school improvements. Following that 3 year period, the grant funding will go exclusively to priority schools. This begs the question, how are LEAs supposed to compensate for the loss of funding due to ESAs? There is no indication that any funding will be provided for the loss after year 3 of the program. 
  • Fraud Prevention. Other states with ESA programs have experienced rampant fraud. Some states only provide funds on a reimbursement basis after receipts are provided. The Governor’s proposal, on the other hand, requires the department to fund the ESA account at least quarterly and not on a reimbursement basis. The Department of Education is required to establish a fraud reporting service and may contract or conduct random, quarterly or annual review of accounts, but it is unclear exactly what monitoring and auditing procedures will ensure appropriate use of ESA funds. 

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Vouchers: A Lesson from Indiana

As Governor Bill Lee’s voucher legislation begins the legislative process this week with a hearing in a House Education subcommittee, this information from Indiana offers a word of caution. The voucher program in Indiana expanded rapidly and now results in a $154 million decrease in state funds available for public schools.

Here’s more:


Executive Summary
Growth in Indiana’s budget for public school personnel has not kept up with growth in its general fund or even inflation. Specifically, the current budget for public school personnel is almost $300M behind the 2009-10 budget when inflation is taken into account.


Vouchers are also funded from the budget for public school personnel. In 2018-2019, over $150M of this budget was utilized to fund Vouchers — with very little accountability.


The girls and boys attending Indiana’s public schools are currently educated utilizing a budget that is lagging by $450M.


Indiana’s General Fund (i.e., monies legislators control)


The Consumer Price Index (inflation rate) has grown by 16.71%
The Indiana General Fund has grown by 20.96%
K-12 Tuition Support Budget has grown by only 12.12%
Tuition Support funds nearly all personnel working in public schools
Considering inflation, but momentarily ignoring the impact of Vouchers, the Tuition Support Budget is $295,031,840 behind 2010 funding for the current school year


How Vouchers Work


Depending on family income, a qualifying child can receive a Voucher worth up to 90% of their local public school’s per student funding
Nearly 60% of voucher recipients have never attended a public school, but are now an additional cost taken from the Tuition Support Budget
Of the remaining 40%, the majority attended public schools for only one year before the Voucher program, but not the same year
The average public school student receives a little less than $6000, the average Voucher student receives $4258
The Voucher money is not taken from the local school, it is taken out of the Tuition Support Budget, (there is not a simple transfer of funds between the two schools) thereby decreasing the dollars for all public schools


Number of students’ educations funded by the tuition support budget


Public school enrollment during 2009-2019 is volatile, ranging from an increase of 3523 students in 2017-18 to a decrease of 4877 students in 2011-12
From 2010 to 2017, the US Census Bureau projects Indiana has lost 20,806 school-aged children. In that same period of time Indiana’s public and charter schools’ enrollment has only dropped by 6,158 from 1,036,839 students to 1,030,681 students.
There were 36,328 voucher requests in 2018-19
The 36,328 vouchers in 2018-19 result in a 3.41% increase in students to be funded this year


Impact on the amount of money allocated per student by Indiana


The Voucher Program decreases funding for all public school students
In 2009-10, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by enrolled public school students was $6,192
In 2018-19, the Tuition Support Budget allocation divided by only the enrolled public school students would be $6998, which is a 13% increase from 2009-10. However, the addition of Voucher students cut the average to $6,826 – only a 10.25% increase while the rate of inflation was 16.71%
This results in approximately $154 million taxpayer dollars spent to fund vouchers that could have been utilized for the benefit of girls and boys attending public school


Fiduciary Oversight


There is no fiduciary oversight by the state of the Voucher money
There are no requirements that keep Voucher taxpayer dollars from being used to enable the receiving organization to redirect its existing money for non-education purposes

Not only are vouchers costing Indiana taxpayers a lot of money, they simply aren’t getting results for kids.

Tennessee lawmakers would be wise to look at the impact of vouchers in other states. They’ll see a very expensive program that doesn’t get results.

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The Case for Vouchers

In an absolutely epic Twitter thread, Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch makes a case for vouchers. Actually, he makes a case for voucher-level funding for public schools. Welch uses math to make his case. Here are some examples:

Welch notes the significant funding gap between vouchers and the dollar amount per student Williamson County receives from the state based on the BEP formula. This is an important distinction. The BEP formula generates a per student dollar amount (currently $7300) and then devises an amount owed to local districts based on each district’s ability to pay. So, in some districts, the state sends a lot of money and in others, like Williamson, not so much.

Factors involved in generating the total number are based on a school system’s average daily attendance. That number then generates a number of teachers, administrators, and other positions. The state funds each system’s BEP teacher number at 70% — that is, the state sends 70% of the average weighted salary (around $45,000 currently) to the district for each teaching position generated by the BEP.

Let’s be clear: The BEP is inadequate. Every single district hires more teachers (and other positions) than generated by the BEP. Local districts fund 100% of those costs.

Before the state was taken to court over inadequate funding, the BEP Review Committee used to list a series of recommendations on ways to improve the funding formula to adequately meet the needs of our state’s public schools.

While routinely ignored by policymakers, this list provided a guide to where Tennessee should be investing money to improve the overall public education offered in our state.

Here are some examples from the most recent version of this list:

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

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

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

Some notes here –

First, BEP 2.0 was frozen by Governor Haslam as he “re-worked” funding distribution and supposedly focused on teacher pay.

Next, the state currently provides districts 45% of employee health insurance for ONLY the BEP -generated positions. Districts must fund 100% of the benefit cost for teachers hired about the BEP number.

Finally, beefing up the instructional component by 5% as recommended here would mean significant new dollars available for either hiring teachers or boosting teacher pay or both.

Here are some “wish list” items on teacher pay, which reflect that our state has long known we’re not paying our teachers well:

BEP Salary at $45,447  COST: $266,165,000

BEP Salary at $50,447  COST: $532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average $50,359  COST: $527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) $50,116    COST: $514,703,000

These are FY14 numbers — so, that’s been a few years. Still, funding teacher pay at the actual average spent by districts (just over $50,000 a year) would mean significant new funding for schools that could be invested in teacher salaries. We don’t fund teacher pay at the actual average, though, we fund it at a “weighted” average that is thousands less than this actual number. Then, districts receive only 70% of that weighted number per BEP position.

Making the large scale jump necessary to truly help direct state BEP dollars into teacher paychecks and provide a much-needed boost to salaries would cost close to $500 million. Bill Lee’s budget this year provides a paltry $71 million, continuing the tradition of talking a good game while letting teacher pay in our state continue to stagnate.

Here are some other recommendations — ideas that Welch suggests districts could pursue if only they were funded at the same level Bill Lee is proposing for private schools:

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

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

If you look at these numbers, you see that a state committee of professional educators (the BEP Review Committee) has been telling state policymakers that Tennessee needs to do more.

They’ve been saying it for years.

Now, we have a Governor who is suggesting that instead of spending state dollars to meet these needs, we’re going to spend them to prop up private schools with little to no accountability.

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Kelsey, White Named Co-Conspirators in Lee’s Assault on Local School Boards

It should come as no surprise that Governor Bill Lee is pursuing an aggressive agenda of school privatization complete with a fast-growing voucher program, additional money for charter schools, and a way for charter operators to bypass the accountability of local school boards. Now, however, it seems Lee has enlisted co-conspirators from the school district likely to be most negatively impacted by his agenda.

Senator Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White have agreed to carry Lee’s legislation creating a state charter authorizer. It’s a bill some critics are calling the worst charter legislation in the nation.

The Daily Memphian has more:


State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, and State Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, are carrying Senate Bill 796 and House Bill 940, one of the signature pieces of Gov. Bill Lee’s K-12 education initiative.


White didn’t want to use the word “bypass” but acknowledged the legislation would remove the step for charter applicants to go to the Tennessee Board of Education if turned down by local boards.


“But basically, yeah, you would come to the state without going through that process,” White said.

The change is significant because current law requires a charter operator to first apply to the local board of education to determine if the proposed charter is a good fit for the district. The case of Rocketship in Nashville is a good example:


In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.


If Governor Lee’s proposal is successful, schools like Rocketship will now be able to circumvent local input altogether. In this case, MNPS identified key problems with Rocketship and decided an expansion was not in the best interests of the students of the district.

It’s not yet clear whether there is broad support for circumventing local school boards. The legislation did pass a hurdle today, clearing a House subcommittee and moving forward in the process.

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TEA Talks Vouchers, Charters

The Tennessee Education Association is raising concerns about Gov. Bill Lee’s school privatization agenda. More from a recent article posted on the TEA website:

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Lee announced his intent to allocate more than one-fifth of his K-12 education budget to advance privatization in Tennessee. His proposed budget includes more than $25 million for education savings accounts and $12 million for a charter school building slush fund.

“TEA has serious concerns about the governor’s plan to fund a program that is essentially private school vouchers with even less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “At a time when classrooms lack needed resources and teachers are digging into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies, it is discouraging to see funding going to something proven to harm student achievement in other states.”

The increase in the building fund for private charter operators is partnered with a proposal to make it easier for new charter schools to be approved. While details on this are still not final, TEA strongly opposes any charter legislation that limits the authority of the locally elected school board to be the final voice on new charter school applications.

“Charter schools need to be a local decision, because local taxpayers bear a majority of the costs,” Brown said. “Also, local boards of education better understand the needs of their district and are better equipped to make the right decision for the students they serve.”

Both charter schools and any form of private school vouchers have proven to destabilize public school budgets and negatively impact existing classrooms. These privatization schemes also have a track record of harming student achievement.

“We have seen in other states where students in voucher programs and unaccountable charter schools are not keeping up with their peers in traditional public schools,” Brown said. “There are many proven ways to improve public education for all schools; unfortunately, the governor is choosing to invest significant resources in two dangerous paths.”

The more than $35 million currently slated for education savings accounts and rapid charter expansion would be better used in ways proven to increase student performance, like reducing class sizes and updating text books and classroom technology. 

“As a rural educator, I understand the assumption that these risks will only impact metro areas, but that is simply untrue,” said Brown. “Educators and public education advocates from every corner of the state need to stand together to defeat every single attempt to privatize education. If passed, these proposals would erode the foundation of all public schools.”

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Bill Lee Doesn’t Trust Your School Board

Governor Bill Lee gave his State of the State address last night and outlined his budget and vision as he begins his first term. Among the items he discussed was the creation of a state charter school authorizer.

Nashville Public Radio has more:


Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is proposing legislation that would make it easier to establish charter schools.
He announced the plan Monday night during his State of the State address. If it passes, it would allow a sponsor to go directly to a state-run authorizer for approval, instead of a local school district.

The proposed change is significant because current law requires a charter operator to submit a proposal to a local school board first. The local board then evaluates the proposal and makes a decision as to whether or not it would be a good fit for the needs of students in the district. If the local board rejects the proposal, the operator may appeal to the State Board of Education.

The State BOE often looks to the local board’s evaluation of the charter application for guidance. Sometimes, operators revise and improve the application. Sometimes, the State BOE determines the local board made a sound decision based on the evidence, as was the case with Rocketship in Nashville not long ago:


Let’s review. Rocketship was denied expansion by MNPS and the State Board of Education last year. Rocketship applied again. MNPS denied them. Rocketship appealed. MNPS denied the amended application by an 8-1 vote. Rocketship is now appealing based on a technicality instead of working with MNPS to find a satisfactory way to address concerns.

Here’s what MNPS said when they reviewed the Rocketship application:


In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.

If Governor Lee’s proposal is successful, schools like Rocketship will now be able to circumvent local input altogether. In this case, MNPS identified key problems with Rocketship and decided an expansion was not in the best interests of the students of the district.

Why shouldn’t charters be required to present a proposal to a local board of education first? Shouldn’t the citizens of a community, by way of their duly elected school board, be able to weigh-in on the appropriateness of a given charter school proposal?

Moreover, why doesn’t Bill Lee trust local school boards?

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TEA on State of the State

Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown offered these remarks in response to Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State:

“The Tennessee Education Association is pleased to hear Gov. Bill Lee intends to build on the substantial investments made in recent years to increase state funding of our great public schools. TEA supports his commitment to increasing career technical education programs, STEM initiatives and teacher salaries.

The teacher salary funding is substantial at $71 million, making it approximately a 2.5 percent increase. The key will be to ensure that money actually ends up in teacher paychecks. Additionally, if the $25 million going to vouchers and the $12 million earmarked for privately owned charter buildings were redirected to teacher salaries, the state could keep up with the cost of inflation and reimburse teachers for the hundreds of dollars they spend on classroom supplies.  

We have concerns about Lee’s proposal to increase funding for charter schools and pave the way for rapid charter school expansion. Charter schools are proven to destabilize public school budgets and damage existing classrooms where there is rapid expansion. Charter schools need to be a local decision, because local taxpayers bear a majority of the costs. The Tennessee Constitution clearly states that we have a responsibility to provide a quality public education for every student in Tennessee. Improving public schools requires more money, not less, to provide a well-rounded education for students.   

TEA also has deep concerns about massive funding for Education Savings Accounts, which are vouchers with less accountability that are more susceptible to fraud and abuse. In a time when teachers across the state have to dig deep into their pockets for needed classroom supplies, it is discouraging to see funding going to something proven to harm students in other states. Let’s support Tennessee students and teachers by directing taxpayer dollars to our public school classrooms, not vouchers that harm student achievement.     

There are many proven ways to improve public schools, such as reducing class sizes so educators can spend more one-on-one time helping students. We should invest in what we know works, including recruiting and retaining qualified and committed educators, creating inviting classrooms, supplying students with modern textbooks, and providing the other resources that can set all students off toward a great future. That’s how taxpayer funds should be spent.  

I believe we have common ground with the governor around the state TNReady assessment. While we welcome his commitment to ensuring students and educators do not experience the system failures of years past, it is important to recognize that even in a year where there are no issues administering the test, standardized test scores of a test like TNReady are not valid measures of student achievement, teacher effectiveness or school performance.

Students and teachers benefit most when tests are used as diagnostic tools to identify where students may be struggling and need extra instruction. The high-stakes TNReady system we have in place does not equip educators to diagnose and teach. TEA wants to see educators involved in the design and implementation of accountability alternatives, including a proper pre-test/post-test system, creative use of benchmark testing, and other accurate gauges to ensure student progress. TEA members statewide are committed to working with Gov. Lee’s administration and the General Assembly to advocate for legislation that is in the best interest of all Tennessee children.”

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PET on State of the State

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offered these comments in response to Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State:

Governor Bill Lee gave his first state of the state speech on Monday, March 4, 2019, from our state Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. A highly anticipated address, it focused heavily on education issues including career and technical education initiatives, increased funding for school safety programs, and expansion of various school choice initiatives.

Since the beginning of his campaign, one of Governor Lee’s biggest priorities has been workforce development through expanding and strengthening career and technical education programs. As expected, he spoke more in-depth about his proposed Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Initiative (GIVE) and how it fits into his administration’s proposed budget. Governor Lee sees this as an opportunity to help students develop the practical skills that help them perform in project-based environments, learn to work with others, and grow the discipline needed for success in a competitive workplace. It facilitates new partnerships between industry and our schools, and a more concrete connection between labor and education, which is a direction that the federal government has taken the past few years. The state will also expand and improve offerings in STEM, and CTE is a major priority. We applaud those investments in education.

TEACHER COMPENSATION
We are pleased that Governor Lee is fully funding the Basic Education Program and recommending $71 million for a well-deserved 2.5% pay raise for teachers. Compensation is the key to recruitment and retention of our educators. Our teacher compensation model needs to be competitive nationally. There is currently pending legislation from the administration that would require school districts to report to the department of education and the BEP review committee how they have implemented increased funding from the state for instructional wages and salaries, intended by legislators for teacher raises. This is a positive development. Governor Lee is sending a message to educators that he recognizes and appreciates their efforts and will work to see they are fairly compensated for their efforts.

TESTING
Policymakers and stakeholders have been waiting on a message from the governor about how he plans to improve our assessment system, to ensure that our metrics are empowering and informing, not inhibiting quality instruction, while providing accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. The Governor talked about the frustration around the administration of the state test, and he has charged the Commissioner with the procurement process. Going forward, he stated that his focus will be on executing a testing regimen that is trustworthy, helpful, and on time. However, he did not address other adjustments to testing, like a pilot project that allowed some districts to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment or flexibility in high performing districts to use alternative evaluations.

SCHOOL SAFETY
School safety is also a high priority for the Governor. The proposed School Safety Grant program includes $40 million aimed at addressing the need for an SRO in every school. This includes an increase in current recurring expenditures and a one-time infusion of an additional $20 million. The program will prioritize the approximately 500 schools that do not currently have an SRO. While there is a local match requirement, schools may include the costs of current safety measures in that calculation. For schools who already have SROs, there will be an application process for them to request grant funds for other safety-related initiatives as outlined in the proposed legislation.

“School safety has been a high priority for Professional Educators of Tennessee,” according to the executive director of the organization JC Bowman. The organization conducted a statewide assessment on safety in 2018. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Bowman also conducted a well-publicized School Safety Town Hall in Hamilton County in 2018.

“One of the highest priorities we can have in American society is the safety and protection of children – and the men and women who teach them,” according to Bowman. He added, “we think this is a very positive step in keeping our schools safe and reducing school violence.”

Helping students with mental health issues is another important component of school safety – especially children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Professional Educators of Tennessee has advocated for an increase in school counselors, whose work with students in this area of concern is of equal concern as their work helping student prepare to be college and career ready. The TN Department of Education launched a Trauma-Informed Schools initiative last fall to designate schools that have undergone training on how to create a school environment that both helps students and empowers teachers in their daily interactions with students. The program trains adults in the school to recognize and respond to those who have been affected by traumatic stress and includes training on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We must make every school a safer place for all of our children.

CHARTER SCHOOLS
If a charter school is effective, then facility dollars may be a good investment. However, if a charter school fails to deliver on its promise of a quality education then the investment is a waste. Public schools are likely to also want to secure facility funding. We look forward to this debate and likely discussion. The state will eventually need to address facility growth in rapidly growing communities.

ED SAVINGS ACCOUNTS
For the most part, school choice is already available to upper-class families through residential mobility. However, low-income and middle-income parents/guardians have been subjected to limited choices for their children. This proposal by the Governor on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will allow parents in the most under-performing school districts to use a portion of state education money in a way that fits with what they believe that their children need. ESAs will most certainly be the most problematic piece for the Governor to pass and enact. The Tennessee Education Savings Account will provide approximately $7,300 to eligible, participating students. Eligibility is limited to low-income students in districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10% of schools. This currently includes Metro-Nashville Public Schools, Hamilton County, Knox County, Jackson-Madison County, Shelby County, and the Achievement School District.

“They will likely pose capacity limitations for low socio-economic parents,” noted Executive Director JC Bowman. “By targeting districts that are lower performing, Governor Lee may be able to pass it through the Tennessee General Assembly. Nevertheless, ESAs do not guarantee improved school effectiveness or outcomes, better parental involvement, and certainly no increased systemic investments in public education. A positive to Lee’s ESA plan is that it will invest at least $25 million new dollars in public schools in the first year to fill the gap when a student transfers to another school. However, we have concerns regarding the implementation of the plan as presented, as well as future expansion.”

CONCLUSION
There was much to like in Governor Lee’s State of the State. The debate over ESAs will likely be the most contentious and draw the most debate. A fully funded Basic Education Program (BEP), recommending $71 million and a 2.5% pay raise for teachers is much needed. We had hoped he would address other issues like school finance and discuss the possibilities of a school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. However, in general, we think most Tennesseans will react positively to the speech by Governor Lee. Those on the right will certainly love the attention to civics and character formation, as well as on curriculum in which he pledged to “root out” the influence of Common Core in our state. Those on the left will like increased funding for school safety programs going to SROs. He laid out a fairly ambitious agenda; it is now the Tennessee General Assembly’s turn to vote their opinion.

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