100% for Charters, 2.5% for Teachers

Tonight, Governor Bill Lee outlined his proposed budget for 2019-2020. Lee’s budget doubles the fund for charter school facilities to $12 million. This amounts to a benefit of $342 per student (there are roughly 35,000 Tennessee students in charter schools).

Meanwhile, he announced a meager improvement to teacher salaries of around 2% – $71 million. This amounts to $71 per student.

So, charter schools — which serve only 3.5% of the state’s students — will see a 100% increase in available facility funding from the state while teachers will see only a 2% increase in pay.

If the two investments were equal and funded at the rate granted to charter schools, there would be a $342 million investment in teacher salaries. That’s roughly a 10% raise. A raise that’s desperately needed as Tennessee leads the nation in percentage of teachers with little to no classroom experience. We also have one of the largest teacher wage gaps in the Southeast.

As one Nashville teacher pointed out, Nashville – and the entire state — have a failed business plan:


I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Now, those are numbers for Nashville. Some teachers around the state have to teach for 10 years before they even hit $40,000. Still, the point is clear: The value proposition for teachers in our state is not very good. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s first budget is not doing much to change that. It’s the status quo. A nominal increase that will likely not entirely make it into teacher paychecks.

Tennessee’s numbers when it comes to both investment in schools and educational attainment are disappointing. Continuing along the same path means we’ll keep getting the same results.

The bottom line: Money matters.

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Bad Vision

New Vision Academy, a Nashville charter school, is in trouble again.

The school, once selected as a winner of the SCORE prize for innovation in education, has faced questions over financial management and now is in violation of the city’s fire code.

The Tennessean notes:


The Nashville charter school New Vision Academy has been violating city fire code by enrolling more students than the capacity allowed at the south Nashville church building where it rents space.
Because of the overcrowding issue, Metro Nashville Public Schools is forced to remove at least 64 students from the school in the coming weeks, according to a letter from the district’s charter school chief.
It’s the latest development for a school that has been embroiled in turmoil. New Vision Academy remains under federal and state investigations related to financial irregularities, special education requirements and compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Back in 2015, SCORE — Bill Frist’s education think tank — romanticized New Vision like this:


A small, single-hallway school with nine instructors on staff, NVA has an exceptionally data-rich culture. Many tools for monitoring student growth are in use at this public charter school in Nashville – assessments, benchmarks, math and reading levels – and NVA sets a new standard for using this information productively. Data improves instruction, facilitates teacher collaboration, and aids communication with students and parents

Turns out, innovation may just mean bending, or even breaking, all the rules.

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Memphis Market Magic

Peter Greene takes on the myth of market magic in this explainer on the charter sector in Memphis. He notes:


Nor are the schools well-distributed. Check this map and you’ll see that some neighborhoods have clusters of charter schools, while other areas of the county have none at all. It’s almost as if market forces do not drive charter businesses to try to serve all students, but only concentrate on the markets they find attractive! Go figure.


The problem did not happen overnight– a local television station did a story entitled “Charter Schools– Too Many? Too Fast?” back in 2017. The answer was, “Probably yes to both.” But it also included the projection that SCS would some day be all charter. It does appear that Shelby County is in danger of entering the public school death spiral, where charters drain so much money from the public system that the public system stumbles, making the charters more appealing, so more students leave the public system, meaning the public system gets less and less money, making charters more appealing, so students leave, rinse and repeat until your public system collapses.

Greene does note there is some good news:


Shelby County Schools is developing guidelines that would determine if a neighborhood has too many charter schools, addressing a longtime concern of school board members.

The charter school guidelines, called the Educational Priorities Document/Rubric in a proposed district policy on charter schools, would also prioritize what the district wants charter schools to focus on, such as early literacy.

Greene asks that we all watch to see if market magic remains the focus, or if some semblance of sanity returns to public education in Shelby County.

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

Evidence Be Damned

Failed Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, never one to consult actual evidence before making a decision impacting Tennessee children, is now recommending that more schools in Nashville and Memphis be placed in the Achievement School District (ASD).

The state-run intervention district consisting mostly of charter schools has so far failed to produce tangible results.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

“Our recommendation will be: As we go into next school year, unless we see some dramatic changes in certain schools, we will move some schools into the Achievement School District,” McQueen told Chalkbeat this week.

Even more alarming, data from the consistently     unreliable TNReady test will be used to make these determinations.  This would certainly seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “No Adverse Action” legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Taking this action also places the kids in these schools into a cruel experiment… One where we know the outcome, but persist hoping this time will be different. It won’t be.

The next Commissioner of Education would do well to ignore this and any other recommendation from Candice McQueen.

Instead, Bill Lee and his team should focus on policies based on evidence (so not vouchers), teacher input, and student needs.

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

 


 

#Winning

I wrote in May about SCORE prize winner New Vision Academy and some problems they’d run into prompting an investigation by MNPS.

Now, the Tennessean reports the charter school is facing state and federal investigations:

New Vision Academy charter school is under federal and state investigations, which expand on the existing Metro Nashville Public Schools investigation launched earlier this year.

New Vision is being investigated for financial irregularities and compliance with federal laws regarding building accessibility for students with disabilities. The middle school is in a former church building on Havenhill Drive in South Nashville.

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


 

 

Policy Shift

Tennessee’s next Governor, Bill Lee, is an unabashed voucher supporter.

As the General Assembly prepares to return in January, it will be important for policymakers to focus on what gets results instead of what the new Governor thinks is the cool new thing for Tennessee schools.

Derek Black, who teaches law at the University of South Carolina and focuses on education policy issues, points out some flaws in arguments in favor of “school choice” in a recent column in Salon.

His argument is essentially that a lack of accountability in many choice programs combined with the financial strain they put on traditional K-12 schools has a devastating impact and must be re-examined:

The current debate over school funding must move beyond teacher salaries and whether the books in public schools are tattered. Those conversations ignore the systematic policies that disadvantage public schools. Increasing public school teachers’ salaries alone won’t fix the problem. The public school teaching force has already shrunk. Class sizes have already risen. And the rules that advantage charter and private schools remain firmly in place.

Long-term solutions require a reexamination of these preferences. As a state constitutional matter, the law requires that states make public education their first priority. It is not enough to make education one of several competing priorities. And as a practical matter, states cannot continue to ask public schools to work with whatever is left over and then criticize them for doing a poor job. This cycle creates a circular justification for dismantling public education when states should be repairing it.

Black’s analysis is especially relevant in a state that consistently brings up the rear in investment in education and also continues to lag behind in overall student achievement.

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


 

Frogge on Martha O’Bryan, Charters

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge talks about the Martha O’Bryan Center:

The Martha O’Bryan Center, led by Marsha Edwards of Brentwood, TN, “has rapidly transformed its focus from providing safety net services for the poor to growing its network of charter schools for more affluent families.”

“Martha O’Bryan was founded in 1951 to combat poverty issues.” Historically, the nonprofit has helped families with rent payments and utility bills, operated employment and tutoring programs, and provided a daycare. However, the non-profit seems to have lost focus on its mission in recent years.

Why? The non-profit has been operating in the red for the last couple of years, and “[t]he move to charter schools created a steady revenue stream. Unlike its other programs, which are dependent on fundraising and grants, charter schools come with a built-in revenue stream in the form of tax dollars from the state and local government that are attached to every student who enrolls.”

In 2016, Marsha Edwards illegally coordinated with Stand for Children during our school board elections, in violation of federal law. (“Federal tax law strictly forbids nonprofits like the Martha O’Bryan Center from getting involved, ‘directly or indirectly,’ in elections.”) Edwards sought to remove some school board members (including me) from the board.

In another questionable deal, MDHA selected “Martha O’Bryan as its partner for the charter school [as part of the Envision Cayce overhaul] without a formal bidding process, even though East Nashville has several charter school operators.” Martha O’Bryan will receive $28 million for this project, while our other district schools struggle. This was a back-room deal. The school board had no say in this agreement. Although we have no need for more charters in East Nashville, which is oversaturated with schools, Martha O’Bryan will open yet another charter there. Ironically, it’s located right next door to a charter school operated by KIPP, causing friction among charter proponents who have long argued for more “competition” between schools.

“Former employees [of Martha O’Bryan] say the increased emphasis on charter schools has come at the expense of other programs and damaged the Martha O’Bryan Center’s standing in the neighborhood it has served for so long. . . . [F]ormer staffers say . . . the center cut core programs and workers were laid off or resigned, some after decades of employment.”

“’The mission and vision that was promoted, it was not the mission and vision anymore,’ said Nina Lockert, who ran the child care center at the time of its closing. Lockert said parents felt disconnected from the nonprofit and viewed it as ‘not actually benefiting the community it was in.'”

Follow the money.

MORE>

 

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


 

Aspire Lower?

From Diane Ravitch’s blog:

The Aspire charter chain in Memphis is in trouble and debating its future.This is one of billionaire Reed Hastings’ investments, and it is not faring well.

Facing a roughly $2 million operating deficit and lagging academic progress, a California-based charter organization that runs four schools in Memphis is reconsidering its future in the city — even floating the possibility of pulling out of the area altogether.

At a public meeting on Friday, Aspire’s national board discussed with its Memphis staff four possible scenarios for moving forward. Board chair Jonathan Garfinkel said that changes are anticipated, given the budget deficit and the fact that academic “results have not been what we’ve hoped.”

As a result, Aspire could cease to oversee its four Memphis schools, which serve some 1,600 students in total. This wouldn’t mean the schools would close…

READ MORE about the future of Aspire in Memphis

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


 

 

Perspective: Dean and Lee on Charters and Vouchers

Retired educator Dr. Bill Smith offers some perspective on charters and vouchers as they relate to the Tennessee Governor’s race in a column he wrote for the Johnson City Press.

Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

When I read “Profit before Kids,” I wondered if our next governor will look closely at the Tennessee Virtual Academy in Union County, a charter that is operated by K12 Inc. If our state’s lawmakers are genuinely opposed to taxpayer dollars being funneled to for-profit educational entities, the findings reported in “Profit before Kids” should raise some concerns.

It’s no secret that non-profit charter schools often divert money intended for children’s instruction to other priorities. For example, many charters compensate their “CEOs” two to three times the salaries of principals who perform the same functions in regular public schools. Vision Academy in Nashville pays its two top executives (a married couple) a combined $562,000, while reportedly charging students for textbooks. (Imagine the outcry if a local public school engaged in such financial behavior.)

A Call to Action:

In this time of hyper-partisanship and extreme contentiousness over issues such as immigration and tax policy, the dangers of school choice are not going to attract the attention of most citizens until Democrats stand forcefully united against it. If they don’t, I’m afraid we will wake up one day and realize that what David Faris called the Republicans’ “slow-moving hostile takeover” of our educational system has been accomplished.

With one week to go before Election Day, this column is worth a read.

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


 

And the Winner is…

Back in 2015, SCORE — The Statewide Collaborative on Reforming Education — awarded the SCORE Prize for Middle Schools to New Vision Academy, a charter school in Nashville.

Here’s a bit of what they wrote about the school:

A small, single-hallway school with nine instructors on staff, NVA has an exceptionally data-rich culture. Many tools for monitoring student growth are in use at this public charter school in Nashville – assessments, benchmarks, math and reading levels – and NVA sets a new standard for using this information productively. Data improves instruction, facilitates teacher collaboration, and aids communication with students and parents.

SCORE lauded the school for an emphasis on TVAAS growth — even though that growth might not mean very much.

Fast forward to this week and a Tennessean story about what’s happening at New Vision Academy:

According to the whistleblower report, students were charged for textbooks even though the school earmarked thousands of dollars for classroom supplies. The top two executives at New Vision, who are married, make a combined $562,000.

The concerns on New Vision highlight the issue of how the district maintains oversight of charter schools. A charter school is funded with taxpayer money, but operates autonomously and is run by its own board of directors.

The teachers who exposed the situation at NVA have been invited to leave:

On Monday, the four teachers who talked to The Tennessean for this story were escorted out of the school.  Three were told not to return. One was allowed back into the school Tuesday to finish teaching the final three days of the school year. All four were told the school is accepting their resignations as of this week.

While the school is small (around 200 students), the top administrators earn more than top-level leaders in MNPS or other large districts in the state:

A financial concern raised in the whistleblower report is the salary of New Vision Academy’s executive director Tim Malone, who made $312,971 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, according to the organization’s most recent public tax documents. His wife, LaKesha Malone is New Vision’s second highest ranking executive. She earned $250,000 during that same period, documents showed.

The accusations prompted multiple investigations from MNPS:

Queen’s office is also investigating the school’s compliance with handicap accessibility laws. The school’s multi-story building does not have an elevator for wheelchair-bound students.

Queen said his office periodically audits charter schools and launches an inquiry when a complaint is levied. The New Vision Academy complaint, Queen said, was extremely detailed and documented, which prompted multiple investigations.

“This was extensive, well written and researched,” he said.

Stay tuned as this story unfolds.

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

Keep the education news coming!