Williamson County House Races

Williamson Strong has a breakdown of the education views of candidates in House districts 63 and 65, in Williamson County. The races feature Glen Casada vs. Courtenay Rogers (District 63) and Holly McCall vs. Sam Whitson (District 65).

It’s worth noting that both McCall and Rogers oppose school vouchers while Casada clearly supports them. Whitson’s position on the issue is less clear.

Take a look to see where these candidates stand on education issues.

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


 

Interview With Senator Steve Dickerson

dickersonToday, we welcome Senator Steve Dickerson to the blog. Steve Dickerson is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Erin Coleman.

You can read Erin Coleman’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am an anesthesiologist and father of three. My wife and I have lived in Nashville for 20 years. I am running for re-election to continue to expand prospects for Tennesseans to live the American dream. I believe this is accomplished by creating an environment that fosters economic development, enhances educational opportunity and provides government services in an efficient and cost-effective manner. As a city and state, we have made great strides over my first term but there will always be room for improvement. Our best days are ahead of us.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

There is a dynamic relationship between local school boards, local governments, the General Assembly and the federal government. Overall, the General Assembly has a role in aligning curricula with workforce needs; funding and setting overall state standards. There will always be some tension between all of those stakeholders so it is important to have representatives who understand this, will try to build consensus and advocate for good policy.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

I think the best thing we have done is to continue to discuss the importance of education. While virtually everyone would agree as to the key role education plays, over the last several years we have really re-focused on education’s essential contribution to the future of our city and state. As far as specific, tangible policy, the state has increased funding at an unprecedented rate without increasing taxes.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

I believe there is widespread “over-testing.” Recently, the state decreased requirements for standardized testing. While this is a good start, I think we need to continue to look for ways to decrease the volume of testing and the reliance on “high stakes” testing. This process involves LEAs, school boards and the General Assembly and is one of our areas where we all need to work together. I have toured dozens of MNPS schools over my term and the burden of testing and test-preparation has been the most common concern voiced by teachers.

If reelected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

I will support a more nuanced agenda of educational reform. Six years ago, when Governor Haslam took office, there was universal concern over our state’s performance on national tests. As a result, our state undertook an aggressive reform package. Now, it is time to take stock of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I view this somewhat from my perspective as a physician. If a patient is in critical condition, one needs to be aggressive. But, once the patient is stabilized, a more long-term, balanced approach is required. I believe we are at that point in our current wave of education reform. In my first term, I sponsored numerous education bills. Two of note were the “Quality Pre-K Act” and the “Charter Accountability Act.” I will continue to seek these same sort of policies that look for data-driven solutions that are supported by advocates all across the spectrum.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

I have enjoyed a very solid relationship with MNPS over my first term and expect that it will only grow stronger over the next four years. There are three specific actions I will pursue on behalf of MNPS. First, I will be an advocate for MNPS in and out of the General Assembly. I am proud of the work we are doing in Nashville and will make sure everyone knows it. Second, I will continue to sponsor bills on behalf of MNPS. Third, I will continue to look for ways to enhance funding. MNPS has one of the most diverse student populations in the state. This is a strength that adds vibrancy to our city but also entails additional costs.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

I have spent the last four years learning how to build coalitions and I have sponsored bills that have gained support from a wide range of groups and individuals. In my next term, I will continue to seek thoughtful solutions to help enhance educational opportunity for all Tennesseans. For more on my campaign, please visit my website at www.votestevedickerson.com

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


 

 

Interview With Senate Candidate Erin Coleman

colemanToday, we welcome Erin Coleman to the blog. Erin Coleman is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Senator Steve Dickerson.

You can read Steve Dickerson’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am a mother of three young children, a small-business owner, an attorney, and a U.S. Army veteran. Currently, there are no mothers of young children in the Tennessee Senate, and that viewpoint is sorely lacking. The state legislature has gotten sidetracked on wedge issues and bad behavior. The only way to change the culture of the state legislature is to change who serves in the state legislature. Senate District 20 deserves a senator that will put Nashville first. Let us decide issues and stop the state legislature from overriding our wishes every chance they get.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

The state legislature plays a huge role in funding education, in approving textbooks, in curriculum oversight,and in setting teaching licensure standards. In terms of funding, the state must get the BEP right and ensure that our large urban systems are getting the funding they need, especially for ELL. On the other issues, the legislature should work to ensure that the state is a productive partner with local officials. The state shouldn’t simply dictate to LEA’s. For example, the state should not have the authority to override local decisions on which charter schools are approved and which are not. Local officials are on the ground and know better than the state what is best for their districts.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

The state has two primary responsibilities- funding and assessment – and it is doing neither well. Prior to 2011, Tennessee was a national leader in education reform. Due to a lack of leadership, the state has since thrown that away. The responsibility for this failure falls most heavily on the members of the legislature’s Education Committees. They have led the race to the bottom in education in Tennessee.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

The state should not have the authority to override local decisions on charter schools. Charters have a valuable place in our education system, and locals know best what that place is. We should let our elected school boards do their jobs and keep the state out of it.

If elected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

Getting the BEP right. In order to thrive, school systems need financial resources. Nashville has a tremendous need for ELL funding. That must be taken into account in the BEP. I will also work to further expand Pre-K. There is no single education investment that can have as much of an impact as quality Pre-K.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

Over the past year, I have developed strong relationships with our MNPS Board members. I will meet with them regularly to determine their needs and how best I can help them in the Senate. I will also keep an open door for any parent, student, teacher, administrator, or school staffer that wants to talk to me. As a mom to three young children, I know how important a quality education is. In fact, I believe that educating our children is the single most-important thing our government does.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

Visit erinfornashville.com or facebook.com/erinfornashville or twitter.com/ErinCforSD20 for the latest information about my campaign. This election presents a contrast between two distinct visions of what Nashville and Tennessee should be. I believe that our public education system is an essential building block in our community and it should be fully funded and supported. Our state legislature works to undercut public education at every turn. Unless we change who serves in the General Assembly, that will continue.

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


 

 

Timing of Amy Frogge’s Town Hall Questioned

Questions have arisen about the timing of an official town hall hosted by Amy Frogge. With early voting already starting, Amy Frogge will host an official MNPS town hall about bringing a new high school to Bellevue.

The discussion of a new high school has been a campaign platform for both Amy Frogge and Thom Druffel, and her support for a new school is listed on a campaign direct mail piece that also invites people out for her town hall.

While allowed under law, Amy Frogge has invited people to this town hall through her campaign email account and through direct mail paid with campaign funds. By holding an official town hall event during early voting, is this event more of a campaign event to help Amy Frogge in the upcoming election?

unnamedunnamed-1

 

It’s similar to what State Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) is doing by using over $30,000 dollars in state money to send out constituent mail over the past few months. While both Frogge and Dickerson are allowed to use government funds in this way, it does not look good from the outside.

Bellevue residents who have been to many of these high school proposal events in the past were never contacted about this event, even though they have left their contact information at each event they attended.

The invite states that the Mayor’s Office, Metro Schools, Metro Parks, Metro Planning, and MTA will be in attendance at the event.

Metro Nashville Public Schools will have representatives from the Student Assignment & Planning Department and the Construction Department at the town hall. MTA will be sending sending staffers to the event.

When reached, the Mayor’s Office stated they were invited a few weeks ago by Councilmember Sheri Weiner, but that they do not believe anyone will be available for the event. The Metro Planning department will also not be at the event after a special meeting was called for the Planning Commission.

From the outside, this looks shady.

Update: 7/20: Metro Parks will not be attending the event. 

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


 

TC Weber, Amy Frogge, and The Tennessean

TC Weber is up with a post today on the Tennessean’s recent endorsements in Nashville’s School Board races.

He provides a thorough rundown of each endorsement, but I want to focus on his comments regarding Amy Frogge and the Tennessean’s decision to not only endorse her opponent but also chastise her for her social media and other behavior.

Here’s what TC had to say:

This brings us to District 9, quite possibly the most egregious of all the endorsements. The Tennessean chose to endorse challenger Thom Druffel over incumbent Amy Frogge. In doing so, they didn’t only endorse Druffel, but utilized this opportunity to take Frogge out to the proverbial woodshed in a manner that runs counter to their call for greater civility among board members and honestly, came off as a personal attack. They wrote, “A passionate parent and attorney, Frogge also has served as a disruptive force unwilling to step outside her box and has shown a pattern of being responsive and respectful only when constituents agree with her. Whether it involves social media behavior like writing acerbic posts and deleting comments that are critical of her, this behavior is not conducive to productive community engagement.”

Hmmm… let’s take a look at some of those posts and you be the judge. There was a piece Frogge wrote on excessive testing that was picked up by the Washington Post, another from The Tennessean about the importance of teacher voice in the national discussion on education, and one that Diane Ravitch picked up on her blog where Frogge discusses discipline issues in a local charter school. The tone throughout these posts is direct, factual, and research-based. The one on discipline caused the most uproar, but tell me, how is that different from the what Secretary of Education John King has been recently saying about discipline practices in charter schools? I guess when the Secretary of Education says it, it’s thought provoking, but coming out of the mouth of an intelligent and vocal woman, it’s being a disruptive force. (emphasis added)

Here, TC nails it. In the same endorsement piece where the Tennessean endorses Will Pinkston in spite of what they claim is his bad behavior on social media, they call out Frogge for being disruptive and endorse her “nice” opponent.

What else did the Tennessean find disruptive? The fact that Frogge advocated to have a woman included among the finalists for MNPS Director of Schools. They claim her push for this inclusion could have derailed the entire process. First of all, there’s little evidence that simply adding a candidate for consideration, even fairly late in the process, would have taken the whole search off track. Second, let’s look at the MNPS directors of the past — all men.

Frogge should be commended for raising the issue. And likewise, when her colleagues pushed to move on without adding a candidate, Frogge didn’t throw a fit or leave the game, she kept on going. She stayed engaged. And she was part of the team that helped bring Shawn Joseph to Nashville. The same Shawn Joseph the Tennessean is excited about having here.

Amy Frogge is a fierce advocate for her schools and constituents and a strong presence on social media. She raises issues that are sometimes uncomfortable but that need to be addressed. As TC intimates, the Tennessean appears to be applying a double standard.

Fortunately, Frogge overcame a significant tidal wave of spending and negativity when she was first elected in 2012 and she’s well-equipped to weather the storm this time.

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


 

Jackson Miller’s Ex-Wife Speaks Out and Endorses Miller

The race for the District 7 school board seat is one of the toughest fought races in Nashville.

It has included the Tennessean saying that Will Pinkston will use his power to “bully, demean and intimidate critics and adversaries” while they also said that Jackson Miller’s “court filings on child support stemming from a messy divorce, and past crass, sometimes hostile tweets” played a role in their endorsement process.

Social media is full of reports on Jackson Miller’s divorce. The screen shots of his divorce proceeding have been happily spread by Miller’s opponents on social media.  

Miller’s campaign has released a video endorsement from Miller’s ex-wife, Sabrina, who is a District 7 resident.

In the video, Sabrina discusses how these attacks have hurt their kids.

View the video and transcript below.

My ex-husband, Jackson Miller, is running for District 7 school board, and my kids are extremely proud of him — and I think they should be. I didn’t really intend to get involved in this race, but what started to happen is that personal and private details of our divorce — things that I don’t think have any bearing on this election — have been publicized and so it’s really impacted my kids. It’s really hurt them.

And so I felt like I needed to say something: and that is that I support Jackson. I think that throughout this campaign, he’s stayed positive and he’s shown the things that he can do and will do for the community, and for the kids, and for the schools. And I think that integrity is what we need in office. I, like many voters, think that how somebody runs their campaign really reflects their character, whether they win or lose.

So when someone decides to drag another person’s family through the mud in order to win, I just question their integrity. I’m a District 7 mom who wants the best for my kids, and I think the best choice here is Jackson.


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


 

Charter Schools Included in Democratic Party Platform

With the Democratic convention coming up at the end of this month, the draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform has been released. Charter Schools are part of that platform:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We instead support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

As a teacher, I love that that high-quality public schools are a part of the platform, but not everyone will see it that way.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the National Education Association’s (NEA) annual conference. When Clinton spoke about charter schools and public schools collaborating, boos came from the crowd.

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America,” she said, as the audience of educators interrupted her with boos.

The problem of not working together is not just within the charter movement, as some say. It’s a problem with all sides.

We need to truly work together because that is in the best interest of our students, and that should be how we make all decisions in education.

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


 

 

 

400 Attend Nashville Rise Forum

DSC_0264After controversy and boycotts, the Nashville Rise forum was held Thursday night with an estimated crowd of over 400. There were parents, families, teachers, administrators, and elected officials in the crowd. The crowd included many non-native speakers who were receiving live translation directly to the headphones they were wearing.

In all, four candidates did not attend. Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering boycotted the forum. Janette Carter, who is running against Sharon Gentry, was ill and was not able to make it.

Those who attended included: Sharon Gentry, Jane Grimes Meneely, Christiane Buggs, Miranda Christy, Corey Gathings, Erica Lanier, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

The questions for the candidates mainly came from parent members of Nashville Rise. While there are around 100 parent leaders in Nashville Rise, a few were selected to ask questions of the candidates.

“Tonight was important to inform the community on where candidates stand on issues,” said DeMica Robinson, a parent of Nashville Rise who also asked questions of the candidates. “There was also a consensus that change needs to happen now and that makes me hopeful.”

The questions asked during the forum were about traditional and charter schools collaborating, how we can best serve schools with a high ELL population, student based budgeting, retaining teachers, and closing the achievement gap. The questions allowed all the candidates to give their vision for the school board, something that would have been nice to hear from the three candidates that boycotted.

Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering refused to speak to 400 community members who care about the future of Nashville’s education. The stage would have been theirs to describe why they disagree with the other candidates and state where they see the future of Nashville’s education going under their watch.

Last night, many spoke to the future of respectful collaboration with Dr. Joseph and all members of the school board. This was an incredible opportunity for all candidates to participate in a positive, collaborative exchange.

Instead, there were empty chairs with their names on it.

Nashville Rise Fights Back

Wendy Tucker of Project Renaissance, which oversees Nashville Rise, is in the Tennessean disputing the lies made from a handful of school board members. Wendy Tucker does a great job at laying down the facts around Nashville Rise and Project Renaissance.

Like I have previously written about, Tucker first discusses that one of Will Pinkston’s demands was a list of schools that the parents of Nashville Rise send their kids.

We sincerely hope Mr. Pinkston is interested in the needs of all children in his district and across Nashville, not just of those who attend schools he condones.

She then delves into the fighting back the lies that have been spread.

Hasn’t Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise hidden their funding from everyone? Not true.

When reporters asked for our Schedule of Contributors, we provided it immediately. When The Tennessean asked for our tax return, we provided that immediately as well.

Isn’t Project Renaissance funded by the Eli Broad Foundation? Not true.

Mr. Pinkston and school board member Amy Frogge have attacked the Eli Broad Foundation and continue to insist that they are funding our work. We have never requested or received funding from the Broad Foundation.

What about the allegations Project Renaissance recruited Amy Frogge’s opponent? Not true.

We have also been accused of political activity, including a claim by Ms. Frogge on her public Facebook page that we recruited her opponent. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Project Renaissance has not engaged in any political activity, including recruiting candidates or participating in political campaigns, and our organization is not endorsing or advancing the cause of any candidates in this or any election.

Doesn’t Project Renaissance support vouchers and employ lobbyists? Not true.

We are not supporting vouchers. We do not employ a lobbyist and do not engage in any lobbying at the state legislature.

Sitting school board members are to blame for this false spread of information. It’s sad that our elected officials would rather spread lies than discuss education with Nashville’s parents.

Public officials should be mindful of the irreparable harm that false accusations cause. While lively debate is a reality in the education arena, defamation takes things too far.

Wendy Tucker again extends the invitation to the forum to Pinkston, Frogge, and Jill Speering.

Are these school board members too afraid to talk to a group of diverse parents? It looks that way so far.

 

The Slippery Slope of the Nashville Rise Pullout

This morning, School Board Member Amy Frogge released a statement about Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise on her Facebook page in response to a video that was released by Phil Williams that reveals the funding behind the organizations. Phil Williams reports the Scarlett Foundation as a major funder for Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge states in her Facebook post, “… we do know that the group is funded in part by the Scarlett Foundation, a pro-charter/voucher group that is tied to the Beacon Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council.”

Additionally, Amy Frogge, without any evidence whatsoever, threw out another baseless allegation that her opponent, Thom Druffel, was recruited by Project Renaissance.

First, Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise is a 501 c3 organization. By definition, they cannot contribute money on any election activities. They are only focusing on parent engagement, including hosting forums to get parents engaged. As a matter of fact, it was the parents of Nashville Rise that voted to do the forum, not Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering are not attending this event. Don’t let Amy Frogge’s post make you think it was this Phil Williams report that caused them to drop out. These decisions were already made before this piece was released.

The Investigation

In fact, we see that this “investigation” by Phil Williams came at the request of Will Pinkston, to whom Phil Williams only referred to as “an unnamed board member” in his piece. Emails obtained by Tennessee Education Report show Will Pinkston added 13 members of the press to his emails with Nashville Rise on June 9th.

Before Pinkston decided to attend the event, he wanted Nashville Rise to answer a variety of questions, including, “Of those parents who are part of the coalition, how many are residents of my School Board District 7 and what schools do their children attend?”

I find it strange that Will Pinkston wants to know the specific schools parents send their children to. He is a representative of all District 7, not just parents who send their children to schools he approves of. Does Will Pinkston treat parents differently if they send their students to JT Moore, Valor, or Harpeth Hall? If so, he does not deserve to be an elected official.

When reached by Tennessee Education Report, Nashville Rise released the following statement:

“On May 10th, we invited all school board candidates on the August 2016 ballot to participate in a city-wide, parent-led forum. Our hope was to have all candidates in attendance, so that parents could engage with them and make informed decisions about the race. We gave candidates a deadline for notifying us of participation. That deadline was June 13th at noon. Prior to the deadline, every candidate with the exception of Will Pinkston had responded. Jill Speering, who initially RSVPd that she planned to participate, notified us prior to the deadline that she would now be out of town. Amy Frogge declined our invitation. All other candidates, with the exception of Mr. Pinkston, plan to participate.”

Slippery Slope

If school board candidates start down the path of not attending events because of the organization’s funding, they will not be able to attend any events by the organizations listed below.

In the same 990 that shows that the Scarlett Foundation gave $250,000 to Project Renaissance, it also shows that they gave to many other organizations including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Conexion Americas, Communities in Schools, and United Way for the Read to Succeed program.

That means Will Pinkston couldn’t hold another campaign kickoff event at Conexion Americas, Amy Frogge couldn’t attend an event about wrap around services through Communities in Schools, and Jill Speering couldn’t attend a Read to Succeed event.

Are these school board members ready to go down this slippery slope? Should people boycott all of these nonprofits? Pinkston himself has touted the incredible work of Conexion Americas, and rightfully so. Frogge has been one of the largest advocates of Communities in Schools, and rightfully so.

Will Pinkston says that these organizations below should “return the dirty money.” Is that really what we want? I hope not because returning money will hurt the students of Nashville.

As someone who has put together a mayoral forum in the past, the goal is to get a moderator who is a member of the press in order to maintain impartiality. That’s what Nashville Rise has done. In good faith, they got David Plazas to moderate. Plazas has experience moderating many forums in Nashville, including a few mayoral forums last year.

Scarlett Foundation Funders

While the Scarlett Foundation gives to plenty of charter schools, they also give to a wide variety of nonprofits in Nashville that are making a huge difference in the lives of students in Nashville.

Here are some organizations that have received funding:

Almost 70 students have received tuition scholarships from the Scarlett Foundation
Metro Nashville Public Schools – $222,566 – Support program
Conexion Americas -$100,000 – Support of Parents as Partners Programs in MNPS
Oasis Center – $150,000 – Support for Nashville College Connection
Big Brothers Big Sisters – $50,000 – Support Programs
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $312,450 – Purchase Read to Succeed Program
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $35,000 – Books for Imagination Library
Book’em – $30,000 – Purchase new books for reading is fundamental programs
Backfield in Motion – $35,000 – Support for educational supplies for tutoring program for boys ages 10-18
Girl Scouts – $15,000 – Support of college access and college tutor program
Homework Hotline – $29,250 – Cost of middle school tutoring
Junior Achievement – $30,000 – Support “company program”
Martha O’Bryan Center – $80,000 – Thrive – Top Floor Zone
Nashville Adult Literacy Council – $50,000 – Support drop-in learning center to help adults learn to read
Pencil Foundation – $6,000 – Expansion of the reading partners program
Preston Taylor Ministries – $10,000 – Support afters chool program
Communities in Schools – $50,000 – Support for site directors at MNPS schools
Nashville Public Library Foundation – $53,043 – Support full time reading specialist
American Education Assistance Foundation – $125,000 – Support for Tennessee Promise Scholarship

There are other deserving organizations that do incredible work that are funded as well, but these are just a few. Like I said, charter schools in Nashville have been funded by this organization, but it’s not just an organization that gives only to charter schools. To me, it looks like an organization that cares about students. I love that we have a grant making organization that supports organizations in Middle Tennessee.

To discredit Nashville Rise because of their association with this generous foundation is unjustified from elected officials who say they are doing what’s best for students in Nashville.

Update (6/15): Will Pinkston has responded to the post by calling me a “nitwit” and stating my attacks on him are “kind of like powder puffs or a tickle fight. 😉