The Ever-Changing Survey

After the Tennessee Department of Education received tons of pushback from parents and teachers over a controversial survey suggesting adding summer school and/or extended school days to make up for days missed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOE just … changed the survey so the questions generating controversy weren’t there.

Yep. They just … changed it.

Here are some tweets explaining the changes from former TN DOE spokesperson Jennifer Johnson and some other individuals who noticed the differences:

It seems no one at the Tennessee Department of Education thought anyone would notice these … pretty big changes.

The arrogance is stunning.

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Survey Says

The State of Tennessee has a survey out about how to use one-time funds from the COVID-19 stimulus. Among the suggestions: somehow “making up” for the weeks/months lost in this school year by adding time to school days or adding days to coming school years.

Here’s teacher Mike Stein’s tweet with a link to the survey:

Take just a few moments and fill it out and then let your lawmakers and local school boards know how you feel.

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A Lesson Not Learned

In a post at the Washington Post, Derek Black warns that investment in public education must not be denied in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and coming economic impacts.

Some notes:


During the Great Recession of the late 2000s, Congress hoped that most of a $54 billion set-aside in stimulus funds would be enough to save public school budgets, which had been savaged by state and local governments. It wasn’t enough.


States imposed education cuts so steep that many school budgets still have not fully rebounded — and Congress’s 2020 stimulus bill aimed at trying to save the economy from a new calamity fails to address the possibility of a sequel. Meanwhile, even before the economic effects of the current crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic are being fully felt, states are already looking to cut education funding.


If states cut public education with the same reckless abandon this time as last, the harm will be untold. A teaching profession that has spent the last two years protesting shamefully low salaries may simply break. The number quitting the profession altogether will further skyrocket — and it’s not likely there will be anyone to take their place.


The first signs of this possibility are here. In recent weeks, three states — Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee — have cut teacher salary increases for this coming year — increases intended at this late date to begin repairing the damage from the last recession. Education Week reports that teachers may lose all of an anticipated pay hike in Kentucky, and legislatures in at least five other states have not acted on salary hikes for educators.

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Black notes that Tennessee is among the states not learning the lesson of the Great Recession. It’s worth noting that Tennessee’s teachers already earn less in inflation-adjusted dollars than they did all the way back in 2009.


Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, lawmakers enacted a total of $429 million in recurring increases for teacher pay. Since that time, growth in Tennessee teachers’ average pay has begun to catch up with inflation. After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

So, the response to the coronavirus by Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly was to cut a planned investment in teacher compensation and instead fund a voucher scheme.

When (if?) the General Assembly returns in June, it will be interesting to see if commitments are made about investments in public education going forward. Tennessee is already $1.7 billion behind where we should be in school funding.

Perhaps the crisis caused by coronavirus will give lawmakers time to actually conduct a comprehensive review of our school funding formula and make necessary adjustments and improvements.

Alternatively, as Black suggests, lawmakers may look to “save money” by moving to cheaper, less reliable online learning options while foregoing investment in teachers and the resources students need.

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Coronavirus and Teacher Pay

Education Week has a story about how states that were planning investments in teacher compensation are now abandoning them in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The article mentions Tennessee, and Gov. Bill Lee’s preference for funding a voucher scheme instead of investing in teachers.


Just as the movement to pay teachers more money was gaining political steam, the economic fallout from the coronavirus is jeopardizing most of this year’s statewide initiatives to increase salaries, according to an Education Week analysis.


In recent weeks, lawmakers in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee, many citing a potential recession, have significantly reduced the pay bumps that teachers were expecting to get. In Kentucky, a much-anticipated $2,000 raise might get scrapped altogether. And in at least five states, proposals for teacher salary increases are in limbo as legislatures have either suspended their sessions or are retooling state budgets to account for the economic crisis.


“In the midst of a pandemic, you try not to put too much focus on that, but educators are very concerned about this decision,” said Tikeila Rucker, the president of the United Education Association, which represents teachers in Memphis, Tenn., of the governor cutting the proposed bump in the state’s contribution to teacher salaries from 4 percent to 2 percent. “It feels like a disservice to the people. … We’re already underappreciated, overworked, underpaid, and undervalued, and when there’s a need to make a cut, it feels like we’re dispensable.”

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Vouchers and School Budgets

At a time when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is creating uncertainty for school budgets, Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme received full funding in the state budget that passed just before the General Assembly left town on recess.

Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch makes this point succinctly in a tweet expressing frustration over the impact of the revised state budget on the district’s plan to invest in teachers:

Yes, with the coronavirus crisis wreaking havoc on local economies and school system and county budgets, Lee chose to stand with the Betsy DeVos agenda he’s long supported.

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COVID-19 and School Budgets

Even as the coronavirus highlights the value of public schools to our communities, school systems are facing significant budget uncertainty. Chalkbeat reports on how schools in Memphis are looking ahead and what COVID-19 might mean in 2020-21 and beyond.


Before a global pandemic closed Memphis schools indefinitely, Shelby County Schools was already planning staff cuts in its central office and in schools.


As of Saturday, Superintendent Joris Ray’s administration was expecting to eliminate 139 central office positions and 115 teacher positions, according to budget documents Chalkbeat obtained. Anticipated teacher raises would be 1% after state funding cuts last week. Overall spending for the $1 billion budget would be down $11.5 million, or about 1%.


Now as the new coronavirus spreads, the proposed 2020-21 budget is constantly changing as federal, state, and local governments adjust their spending plans for education.


And county officials, who provide local funding for schools, are researching what it would cost to get virtual classrooms fully functioning while also calculating an expected decline in sales tax money as households spend less on businesses that had to close or cut back operations during the pandemic. State officials rely on sales tax money for schools and are anticipating a significant drop in revenue.


“This is going to force us to be disciplined about what we invest in,” said Michael Whaley, who leads the county commission’s education committee. He added poverty should not be the reason students do not have access to online learning. “That’s just not fair to those students. I think this lights a fire to figure out how to do this.”

Funding is down under a recently approved barebones emergency budget, including money for teacher raises and other initiatives. Gov. Bill Lee has not yet earmarked money for districts to purchase equipment to launch online classes, so only districts that already had enough laptops for every student are fully switching to digital learning.

While state funding for investments in public school decreased from Gov. Lee’s original proposal, the budget does include more than $40 million to fund vouchers.

The legislature is slated to reconvene in June and it’s possible they could address long-term budget concerns for school districts based on the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.

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Make that 2%

In Governor Bill Lee’s initial budget address, he proposed a 4% adjustment to the BEP salary component (effectively a 2% raise for teachers). Now, in the face of the coronavirus threat, his revised budget adjusts that to a 2% increase. That effectively means most teachers will see a raise of less than 1% or, in many cases, no raise at all.

Here’s the budget amendment.

It reduces the BEP inflationary adjustment and cuts in half the initial proposed increase in the teacher salary component. It also completely deletes the charter school slush fund.

Also, according to Chalkbeat, the budget proposal retains $37 million to fund the first year of Lee’s voucher scheme:


Lee retained $37 million for education savings accounts, a controversial program set to start this fall to let eligible families in Memphis and Nashville use taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

Meanwhile, the proposal adds significantly to the Rainy Day fund.

Yes, instead of using the state’s billions in reserves to keep schools and other services moving forward, this budget proposal actually ADDS to the rainy day fund while cutting improvements to teacher pay.

It’s up to the General Assembly to approve this measure, of course, but there’s little indication Lee’s moves will be challenged.

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School Funding: A Renewed Call to Action

Despite cancelling a planned rally to drum up support for improved school funding, the Tennessee Education Association is still calling for teachers and public education advocates to take action on or around March 16th. More from TEA President Beth Brown.

Following the announcement yesterday of our decision to cancel the TEA Rally for Our Schools, I want to challenge you to still mark Monday, March 16, as a Day of Action for the funding our schools deserve. Our public schools need a $1.2 billion investment from the state to provide the resources, services and support our students need to succeed. 

It’s affordable: Tennessee can do this without raising taxes. It’s right: Strong public schools are the foundation of strong, thriving communities. It’s time: Underfunding our schools has gone on for too long; The students sitting in our classrooms right now, and the generations to come, deserve the very best education. 

Monday, March 16, 2020, is a day we have all been looking forward to since the delegates at the TEA RA in 2019 voted unanimously that a large-scale action was needed to increase state funding. While we can no long risk a large in-person gathering, we still have the opportunity for a statewide, large-scale action. 

I am asking each local association to identify a way for public education advocates in your community to show their support for increased state investment in public education. This can be anything from wearing red on Monday (including your Rally shirts, if you have them), to posting social media videos stating why your school deserves better funding, to a flood of phone calls to your state legislators. Better yet, you could do all three!

We must remain focused on this goal and not let the loss of the rally result in lost momentum. Elected officials in Nashville need to feel the pressure from folks back home that we are watching, and we expect better for Tennessee’s public schools. 

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Coronavirus Cancels School Funding Rally

The Tennessee Education Association has cancelled a planned March 16th rally for school funding because of fears around the coronavirus (COVID-19). Here’s more from an email:

For more than 150 years, TEA leadership and staff have been committed to working in the best interest of Tennessee students and educators. It is for that reason that we have made the decision to cancel the Rally for Our Schools on Monday, March 16. In an abundance of caution for the health of educators, students and TEA staff, we cannot responsibly ask hundreds of public education advocates to gather together in Nashville as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state.

While the rally has been cancelled, the fight continues. It is more important than ever that we do not lose our momentum or focus on accomplishing our goal to increase state funding to the Southeast average. We are in a critical moment for the future of public education funding in our state. Our students and schools need a dramatic increase in state investment in public education. Please watch for communication from TEA in the coming days via email, print publications and social media for details on the next step in this fight and how you can be involved.

TEA will also be sharing information with members on how we can all support our fellow educators and students affected by the tornados in Middle Tennessee.

Sincerely,

Beth Brown, TEA President

Carolyn Crowder, TEA Executive Director

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

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Wilson County Voters Approve Funds for Teacher Pay Raise

Yesterday’s election provided good news for teachers in Wilson County, as voters there approved a sales tax increase with a portion of the proceeds from increased revenue dedicated to increasing teacher pay. The Lebanon Democrat has more:


The sales tax in Wilson County will be going to 9.75 percent from 9.25 percent after voters overwhelmingly gave their OK Tuesday.


The referendum passed 58% to 42%, according to complete yet unofficial results posted by Wilson County Elections Administrator Phillip Warren.

The vote came as the result of a decision by the Wilson County Commission to put the issue of where to find new revenue to fund teacher pay to voters.


The move comes as Wilson County is feeling the impact of the national teacher shortage, driven in part by low pay for educators. Additionally, new reports indicate teacher pay in Tennessee has actually fallen over the last decade when adjusted for inflation. Wilson County also suffers from a pay scale tied to teacher value-added scores.

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

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