New State Commission Pushes Charters on Nashville

Gov. Bill Lee won approval of a “super charter commission” back in 2019. Now, that commission is imposing an unwanted charter school on Nashville.

The Commission voted today to overturn the decision by the MNPS School Board to reject the charter application from Nashville Classical, which already operates an elementary and middle school in East Nashville. The new school is proposed for West Nashville.

Nate Rau has a great explainer on the fight over Nashville Classical in the Tennessee Lookout.

Nashville Classical, which has already been rejected once by the school board with a 7-1 vote, submitted its appeal last week.

But, the starting point for the local debate over Nashville Classical’s application is a new state law that says the Nashville school board’s decision is functionally irrelevant. If the appeal is rejected, as expected, the school can simply appeal to the new Republican-backed state charter school commission, which would likely grant its approval. Unless a political meteor strikes and creates some unforeseen circumstance, Nashville Classical will be open to enrolling kindergarten beginning next year.

This was written back in June. Now, here we are in mid-October, and Nashville Classical has gained the predicted approval from the Charter Commission.

This should come as no surprise given Gov. Lee’s strong penchant for privatization.

School Board member Abigail Tylor is speaking out on the decision, but the reality is this type of top-down privatization is exactly what Bill Lee wants and exactly why the super charter commission was started.

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So This Actually Happened

Here are some responses to a Facebook Post by Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) President Amanda Kail from MNPS School Board member Fran Bush.

Enough of your bull! We are going to open in person soon. Either you want to teach or quit your day job with MNPS, I am sick of your tactics and your agenda!! Our kids deserves better than this and they will not be held as pawns to your demands. Girl bye!!!😡

Franchata Goodrich-Bush

Oh, and I failed to mentioned, parents are signing up to be subs to mitigate the loss of teachers in the union who wants to leave. We are prepared to fill the gaps!! We are ready to lead!!!!

And a response from Board member Rachel Elrod:

As a MNPS Board Member and the Vice Chair of the board, any harassment, threats, or taunting of our teachers or staff by board members is unacceptable. Thank you to all MNPS teachers and staff for your continued dedication to our students and families, especially since March. I am grateful for your work and deeply appreciate you.

To read the entire thread and see for yourself, go here:

https://www.facebook.com/amanda.kail.73/posts/10158069246399157

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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Grace

In response to the responses she received to this post about poverty, school funding, and teacher pay in light of the realities laid bare by COVID-19, MNEA President Amanda Kail posted a follow-up.

Here’s what she has to say:

What a hard and heavy year. In the fierceness of all the rage and bitterness, I will do my part. I will apologize. If you are a parent, and you took my most recent post to be about blaming you, or blaming people living in poverty for anything, I am deeply sorry. That was not my intent at all. I was trying to say that asking underpaid public employees and underfunded public institutions to carry all the weight of our society’s problems without ever being willing to provide the funding is a terrible way to solve problems. But I don’t want to cause anyone pain. I have spent way too much time listening to my fellow educators break down, to my friends and family reeling with grief, to my fellow Americans spewing hatred and death threats to want to be a source of one more bit of pain or suffering. I am sorry. Period. And even though all the rage and sorrow this conversation provokes makes me want to scream, I’m going to choose not to. And I need you to do something. I need you to stop shouting and listen too because educators are in a whole lot of pain right now, and the shouting is only making it worse. Please. I am asking you to just listen to a few things.

1. All of the studies saying schools are safe have the caveat that schools can be safe under particular conditions, namely small class sizes and good ventilation and also controlled community spread. At MNPS you can find the first two only at our more affluent schools but not at many others, and obviously community spread is anything but controlled. That is why, and let me be clear because I think there has been a great deal of confusion about this, MNEA is calling for small class sizes, updated ventilation, and expanded paid sick leave for all employees (not raises) as a condition for being back in buildings.

2. The virus is not impacting everyone the same. If you don’t know a teacher or student who has lost over a dozen family members to Covid, you aren’t talking to the right people. And when you argue with teachers and tell them they are being hysterical and uninformed about not wanting to be back in buildings, you are touching that raw place of pain and loss and what teachers hear you say is “you and your family’s lives are expendable for our convenience”. I really, really, really need you to hear that. Regardless of what you mean, that is what we hear.

3. So maybe a better way to approach the argument is to say “I’m so sorry you have lost many people you love, that you are doing your best to care for an elderly parent, or a chronically ill child or spouse, that you are terrified that you are placing them or yourself or your pregnancy at risk by being in a school building while also trying to teach in very trying circumstances. How can we ensure we have safe schools for all, so that you won’t have to worry?” And here- I’m going to also say use caution, because the reality is you would have to come up with a great deal of funding very quickly, funding that has not been there for years. Teachers know this. That’s why we respond so skeptically to questions like that. We know the state of our schools. It’s not theoretical to us at all. It’s like saying, “what can we do to make you feel safe about getting into this leaky boat in the middle of a hurricane that under normal circumstances you have to spend as much time bailing as rowing to get anywhere?” So if you are going to ask teachers that, maybe a better way to say it is “We realize now that underfunding public schools has left you in a very precarious position and we are sorry. We have have learned from this and are now going to focus our energy on getting our schools fully funded as quickly as possible so you can actually have safe conditions.”

4. One of the main reasons classes are now online is that we don’t have enough adults available to keep kids safe. We have so many people out sick or in quarantine that we literally don’t have enough people to keep a building open. That will continue to be the case as community spread rages. Two things you can do to help with that, join the TN physicians at Protect My Care to demand Governor Lee issue a statewide mask mandate- https://protectmycare.org/covid-email/?ms=WebsiteMenu and sign up to be a substitute teacher. We have a huge shortage of substitutes. So if you truly believe school buildings are safe and we need to be in there, I am asking you walk the talk and help keep buildings open. Here is where you can apply- https://www.mnps.org/substitute-application-process

5. Kids who are attending in-person classes are more likely to have their learning disrupted than those who are online. Every time a kid quarantines, they are on their own academically for the duration of the quarantine. Also, because of there being so many people out, many teachers are reporting to us that they are having to just put all of the students in the gym in order to just monitor students. Not optimal learning conditions to say the least.

6. If we are going to require teachers to be back in buildings, we need expanded, paid sick leave. Teachers don’t get to choose whether they are in-person or not. They can apply for accommodations, but that doesn’t guarantee they can teach virtually. Often there aren’t enough virtual positions available. This has been particularly hard for teachers with serious health problems like cancer who have already had to use their FMLA (and so have burned the sick leave that is how they get paid during FMLA). Right now there are many such teachers who have had to either go back into buildings even though their doctor said not to, or who had to go back out on FMLA but are not getting paid at all. This has created a tremendous hardship on teachers who are already struggling with serious health problems. If all teachers were virtual, these are teachers who could teach no problem. Also, some teachers have had to quarantine several times and have burned up their federal Covid leave. Now if they actually test positive, they will have to use their sick days. Also, there are many school employees who don’t get paid sick leave at all, such as part time employees or substitutes.

7. Let’s move conversations about equity from theoretical to actual and do the work. MNEA has been reaching out to groups of parents that face the greatest challenges with online learning, starting with immigrant families. The thing I hear the most often is that it’s very difficult to keep up with what is happening, especially with language barriers, so communication and also that internet access is still a big problem. Instead of getting mad at a severely underfunded school district for not providing enough technology or internet access, we need to think seriously about how we can push for internet access to all parts of the city. We need to ask what tools do our schools need to better communicate in the 100s of languages, and also to parents whose lives are constantly disrupted by poverty resulting in disconnected phones and evictions. Also, many of the parents have to work in unsafe conditions in factories, construction sites, warehouses etc. They are also worried about bringing the virus home to their families. They do not want to place educators, their fellow workers, at risk and they wish others were fighting similarly to protect their health and safety. One thing we can all do is join groups like https://www.workersdignity.org/ to advocate for safe working conditions, not only for educators, but for all workers in our communities. Can we do this Nashville? Can we stop shouting and actually do some work together to support students, families, and educators in our city? Making equity happen can’t be about yelling at others to sacrifice on behalf of everyone, especially when you are asking people who don’t have very much to begin with to do the sacrificing. Let’s work together to bring down community spread. Let’s work together to make sure we have the schools all children deserve. Let’s work together to make sure there is equitable investment in all parts of our city. And finally, let’s ensure all workers are kept safe during this dangerous time. And maybe most importantly, let’s act from a place of compassion, where we think to ask “are you ok?” before we condemn and ridicule someone in this fight. There are just way too many people who are not ok right now.

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Nailed It

The President of the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) posted on her Facebook page about schools, poverty, teacher pay, and school funding.

Here’s what Amanda Kail has to say:

Dear good people emailing MNEA because you are mad at us for advocating for safe working conditions for educators: I am sorry that with school buildings closed there is nothing to shield you from the shocking number of children living in poverty. As you have noted, usually educators are there to provide not only education and school supplies, but food, clothing, rent assistance, and social and emotional support to kids in need, and we understand that you are concerned we are not doing that now. As the 17th best-paid teachers in the state of Tennessee, we are hoping you might think about acting on some of that righteous indignation to call for fully-funding Nashville’s public schools. Because honestly as the 17th best-paid teachers in Tennessee we are getting pretty tired of subsidizing what y’all won’t pay for. Maybe you can ask yourselves, why do we rely on the 17th best-paid teachers in Tennessee to ensure food, clothing, access to health care, housing, and internet access to so many families in Nashville? Perhaps there is a responsibility on us as a community to solve problems that don’t require the 17th best-paid teachers in Tennessee to personally sacrifice not only their own money, time, and emotional energy but their also their health and safety? P.S. Tennessee ranks 45th in the nation for per pupil spending.

Photo by Fausto Marqués on Unsplash

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A Post-Pandemic Dream

School Board member Emily Masters has a dream. It’s a dream of a Nashville that actually values public education. With actual money. Like dollars. Lots of them. She writes about this dream in a recent blog post.

Here’s some of what she has to say:

Shouting “kids need to be in school” is about as helpful as shouting “this virus needs to go away.” As of September 10th, children accounted for 9.2% of the 166,587 positive Covid cases in Tennessee. 208 of the 7,444 Covid-related hospitalizations in the state were children. Of the 1,931 deaths from Covid in Tennessee, .02% were children. Statistically insignificant, right? Probably not to the friends and families of the 5 children who died.

Simply insisting “kids need to be in school” and hoping for the best won’t eliminate the risk that teachers, family members, and even some children may become seriously ill or even die from the virus.

For more than a decade Nashville schools have not received full funding, yet now the additional costs for virtual school technology and Covid-related safety measures must be covered. If schools, families, and the entire community can work together to get through this, then perhaps the stage will be set for a real change post-pandemic: a Nashville that places value on education above all else and recognizes that the benefits of fully funding and resourcing schools will resonate throughout the entire community for years to come.  

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Very Strange and Stressful

That’s how the President of the Metro Nashville Education Association describes the environment students will face with in-person learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s here statement as reported by NewsChannel5:

“We know that online learning is far from ideal, especially for students with the most severe and profound disabilities and early elementary, and so it makes sense to begin in-person classes with these groups. We are concerned, however, that parents may believe their child will be returning to a ‘normal’ classroom, when in fact there will be little that is normal. Students will not be able to move about freely. They may be confined to their classrooms, or even an area of their classrooms. They will not be able to speak, work, or play with their classmates. They will be wearing masks all day except to eat, and their teachers will be wearing masks, face shields, gloves, and other protective equipment. There will be no reassuring hugs, and smiles will be impossible to see. For very young children, this may be a very strange and stressful situation. It is important that parents truly consider what an in-person classroom will look like in the midst of a deadly pandemic before they make the decision of whether to return in person or remain online.”

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Mystery Solved

Amy Frogge solved the mystery:

Here’s the story:

A few days ago, I shared a Tennessee Education Report piece about mailers sent out in the District 3 school board race on behalf of candidate Brian Hubert. It garnered a really interesting response. 

The mailers came from a group called the “Nashville Parents Committee,” and the address listed on the mailers was the same as that of the Tennessee Charter School Center. After TN Ed Report put out its blog post suggesting that the TN Charter Center was responsible for the mailers (a logical assumption), both Brian Hubert and his wife responded that they were unaware of these mailers and did not coordinate with the “Nashville Parents Committee.” Then, a couple of days later, the Tennessee Charter School Center issued a response disavowing the mailers. 

As it turns out, the registered agent for the “Nashville Parents Committee” is Todd Ervin, a tax attorney at the well-heeled Bass, Berry & Sims law firm. (I’m going to hazard a guess here that Mr. Ervin has not formed this committee to advocate for his children’s local public schools.) Mr. Ervin also just happens to be the registered agent for Tennesseans for Student Success.

Tennesseans for Student Success is a pro-school privatization organization that was set up to support Governor Haslam’s education agenda. This group shares the same agenda as the Tennessee Charter School Center and has recently inserted itself into Representative Mike Stewart’s Democratic primary by supporting his opponent James Turner (see comments). Although it appears that Haslam is no longer involved with Tennesseans for Student Success, it is still very active. It promotes charter schools, excessive standardized testing, and teacher “accountability” (our deeply flawed teacher evaluation model that evaluates 70% of TN teachers on classes they’ve never taught). These are all tentacles of the “school choice” movement. Unreliable standardized test scores are used to prove that TN schools are “failing” and thus to market new and “innovative” solutions, such as vouchers, more charter schools, and more tests and test prep to “assess” how our students and teachers are performing. The common theme here is profit for private interests. 

Over and over again, we find ourselves fighting the same battles in different guises against various forms of corruption. It becomes exhausting. During my 8 years on the board, we first had to fight against charter school proliferation (which drains money from public schools and directs it to private interests) and absurd amounts of standardized tests for our children. Then came vouchers (for the moment, defeated!). Now the battle has morphed once again. Former Nashville superintendent Shawn Joseph and current TN Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, both affiliated with the Eli Broad network, are part of the latest scam to direct public funds to private interests and education vendors in the form of no-bid contracts. (Broad also pushes charter schools.) Millions and millions of dollars are at stake in these efforts. But make no mistake, all of this is ultimately about personal greed at the expense of children.

On a related note, I mentioned in my original post that District 9 candidate Russelle Bradbury is a former Teach for America teacher who has made pro-charter school statements. This matters because TFA and charter schools have a symbiotic relationship, and TFA candidates, like former school board member and TFA executive Elissa Kim, typically view charter schools and standardized testing as the only “solutions” to public school challenges. (I know there are good TFA teachers in our school system, some of whom have even taught my own children, but all of this is beside the point.) Ms. Bradbury denied that she was ever a TFA teacher, to which I responded that she has said (both verbally and in writing) that her “Mom likes to tell people, ‘Russelle did Teach for America, on her own!'” I’ve invited her to respond, but have not heard back. 

Keep your eye on these dark money groups that don’t serve the best interests of Nashville’s students. Even when candidates don’t coordinate with groups like Tennesseans for Student Success, organizations like these typically fight against the candidate whom they view as the most effective advocate for true public education. And, as always, just follow the money!

TC Talks Masters

Nashville education blogger TC Weber extols the virtues of District 3 School Board candidate Emily Masters in his post today. Here’s what he has to say:

District 3 has a fantastic candidate in Emily Masters, one who is knowledgeable, experienced, personable, and capable of seeing the big picture. She understands the need to address teacher recruitment and retention in a meaningful way. She is ready to serve as a champion to reduce inequities, and address the capital needs of our buildings. As a parent of two MNPS children, she is well versed in the history of MNPS but not at the expense of being blind to the future challenges that the district will face.

It’s been said that school board elections are the perfect time to hold conversations about what a community’s schools should look like. Nobody is better poised to host that conversation than Masters. She’s knowledgable and articulate on the subjects that should be the focus.

But those weren’t the subjects that dominated this weekend’s conversation. A mailer for her opponent paid for by a previously undeclared PAC – Nashville Parents Committee – that shared an address with the Nashville Charter School Center hit mailboxes and started tongues a-wagging. Here we go again, talking about dark money, charter school proliferation, and their evil plans to destroy public education. Lost in the conversation were the high-quality traits of Mrs. Masters, and the reason her name should be on every voter’s ballot.

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A Full Year

The story of Armando Arzate and wage theft on an MNPS project:

Dear Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education:

For a full year, Armando Arzate has sought $43,000 in unpaid wages for his renovations at McMurray Middle School. Armando has gone into significant personal debt in order to pay his own team of workers, but he is still fighting for a fair resolution with MNPS and their contractor, Orion Building Corporation.

Recently, Armando visited Dr. Adrienne Battle’s house to seek her help. Instead of taking the opportunity at your last meeting to denounce wage theft, many of you used that time to rebuke Armando for demanding justice.

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https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2020/07/24/wage-theft-has-no-place-nashville-public-schools/5483168002/

Mystery Mail

The races for Nashville School Board are heating up and there appears to be a new player on the scene. A group called the Nashville Parents Committee is sending out mailers in support of Brian Hubert in the 3rd District race.

What’s interesting about the Nashville Parents Committee is that a google search for them yields no results. The group also hasn’t filed campaign finance disclosures with either the Davidson County Election Commission or the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. There’s no Facebook page or Twitter feed for this committee of parents.

So, let’s take a look at these pro-Hubert mailers and see if we can find some clues.

Let’s take a look at the return address for “Nashville Parents Committee.”

Well… this is interesting. Look who has the same address:

Yes, that’s right. The Tennessee Charter School Center. That’s the group started by former Nashville Mayor and charter school backer Karl Dean. I wonder how many Nashville “parents” make up this committee. Also, the Tennessee Charter School Center is not registered as a PAC or disclosed (so far) as a donor to Hubert.

Will we ever know who is pumping tens of thousands of dollars into this race in order to move the ball for charter schools? Possibly not, as the mailer doesn’t explicitly say to “vote for” Hubert. It’s pretty damn clear that those behind the mailer want you to vote for Hubert, though.

Should dark money like this be a driving force in our elections? Did Hubert know about the mailer and coordinate with the pro-charter group? Why is a charter school group backing Hubert?

As voters head to the polls, these are important questions that Hubert and his financial backers should answer.