Voucher Backers Seek Knox School Board Seat

Two supporters of Gov. Bill Lee’s unconstitutional school voucher scheme are seeking seats on the Knox County School Board, CompassKnox reports. Here’s more on the three-person race that includes two voucher supporters:

Rob Gray

Gray supports Gov. Bill Lee’s effort to introduce school vouchers into Tennessee. Lee’s Education Savings Account program, which would only operate in Nashville and Memphis, has been blocked for the moment by a court ruling. Gray said competition for public dollars from private schools would force public schools to be better.

“You’ve got to be innovative,” Gray said. “Competition just makes you develop a better product.”

Betsy Henderson

On vouchers, Henderson said, “I am for school choice. And I think that comes in many forms, whether it’s through vouchers, through charter schools. You know, my family got the choice to live anywhere in Knoxville that we wanted to. And I think that every child should have the choice of where they go to school, or the school that meets their needs.”

It appears Hannah Kirby is the only candidate running who is unequivocally a supporter of public schools.

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Upheld

Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme is unconstitutional, according to a decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The Tennessean has more:

Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account program took another hit Tuesday, with the Tennessee Court of Appeals upholding a lower court’s decision that the controversial plan is unconstitutional. 

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeals upheld a previous decision by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin, who ruled against the school-voucher law because it only applies to Memphis and Nashville

“Davidson and Shelby counties sued the State of Tennessee to challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program. The trial court found that both counties had standing and that the act was unconstitutional,” said Judge Andy Bennett, who delivered the court’s opinion Tuesday. “The State and intervening defendants appealed. We affirm.”

Capitol Hill observers expect Lee to present a new voucher scheme to the legislature in the 2021 session.

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Do Something

This piece by leaders of Pastors for Tennessee Children exposes the failed agenda of school privatizers and offers a path forward that involves meaningful investment in Tennessee public schools.

When meeting with elected leaders tasked with improving education in Tennessee, we have heard a common refrain: “We have to do something.”

In response to public education challenges, our state has tried various “solutions,” almost all of which have involved privatization: vouchers, charter schools, excessive for-profit standardized testing, and expensive curriculums.

None of these options has made a sustainable difference. In fact, vouchers and charter schools have made it worse, serving to exacerbate existing inequities in school systems by draining desperately needed funding from the neighborhood schools that serve around 90% of Tennessee’s students.

Often, the real impetus behind these privatization efforts is not the well-being of children, but a desire for personal profit.

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MORE on the schemes privatizers are pushing in Tennessee:

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Policy of Truth

State Senate candidate Ronnie Glynn is holding incumbent Bill Powers accountable for his votes on public education in the 22nd district race. Specifically, Glynn notes in a recent tweet that Powers voted to cut funding to public schools while voting in favor of tax cuts for corporations that donated to his campaign.

It’s worth noting that Powers has a record of selling out public schools in favor of privatization. He also has an aversion to telling the truth. While campaigning for the Senate seat in 2019, Powers assured voters he would oppose private school voucher schemes. Then, less than three hours after being sworn-in, Powers voted in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account voucher plan.

During the campaign, Powers promised he’d be against vouchers if elected. The race, decided by around 1000 votes, was relatively close. It’s possible if he’d said he supported vouchers, he would have lost the race.

While new to the body, he’s apparently not new to the art of creative deception. The very first bill Powers voted on was Governor Bill Lee’s voucher proposal. How did Powers vote? He voted YES.

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Nail in the Coffin

Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme is not only constitutionally suspect, but also the likely cause of Rep. Matthew Hill’s ouster from the legislature. WJHL has more on how Hill’s turn against public education led to his defeat in the August Republican primary.

A controversial 2002 income tax vote helped usher in the Matthew Hill era in Northeast Tennessee politics. Another controversial vote — this one over school vouchers — likely contributed to that era’s end.

“Year after year he voted ‘no’ on voucher legislation,” area public school teacher Jenee Peters said. “He voted ‘no’ every year up until he didn’t.”

“I would like to think the local area teachers were the final nail in his coffin, but there were clearly other issues that brought about the demise of his campaign,” Peters said.

Peters communicated often with Hill and said he gave teachers “a few good years” starting in 2014 after an early adversarial relationship with them. But a seeming focus on political power within the Capitol became pretty clear to people, culminating for the education community in Hill’s abandonment of his anti-voucher position.

“He wasn’t grounded in his community,” Peters said. “He was more interested in playing politics in Nashville and currying favor with the governor and making a bid for the speakership.”

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Voucher Decline

A professor at Teachers College at Columbia University says interest in vouchers may be waning in part due to poor academic performance. This comes as Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme was delayed by court action.

Here’s more:

The demand by parents for education vouchers and Education Saving Accounts (ESA’s) – which allow them to use government funds to pay for private school tuition — is showing signs of flagging, possibly because private schools are not subject to public regulation and thus not required to meet government standards on measures that range from testing performance to teacher accreditation to instruction for special education students.

Yet the latest studies show that academic performance among voucher and ESA students is trending lower, according to Luis Huerta, Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy. Huerta and Kevin Welner, Professor of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education and co-founding Director of the National Education Policy Center, spoke in a recent webinar about the evolution of conventional school vouchers into vouchers funded by private, tax-free donations and, most recently, into Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s).

Of course, the poor performance and waning demand haven’t stopped Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander from pushing forward legislation to siphon COVID-19 relief funds to private schools.

Huerta also said that proposals by Republican Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee would siphon CARES COVID relief aid to fund private school scholarships. “But again, it’s too soon to know whether this will give private schools the advantage to open more readily compared to publics, especially since the money linked to these proposals is only in the form of portable scholarships and not infrastructure dollars.”

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We Don’t Need Another Hero

It appears there’s some miscommunication between James Turner’s campaign for the Tennessee House of Representatives and pro-privatization group Tennesseans for Student Success (TSS).

Last week, Turner released a statement denouncing any support from TSS.

However, TSS maintains a website dedicated to “Education Heroes” and it features James Turner.

Specifically, the site notes:

James Turner is committed to ensuring every student in Tennessee has access to great public education and opportunities for a bright future. James Turner will be a leader in helping Tennessee build on our historic gains in education by supporting school choice…

So, is James Turner the type of education “hero” who will sell our public schools out to privatizers? Or, is TSS just making things up?

Vouchers Remain Dead

WPLN reports that the Tennessee Supreme Court has refused to take action that would have allowed the state’s voucher program to be implemented.

The Tennessee Supreme Court decided Thursday morning that it will not take up the case of whether the state’s Education Savings Account program is legal. It also declined to reverse an order that bars the state from implementing the program.

This means the fight over school vouchers will proceed in August in the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the state will be unable to process voucher applications or make any awards until appeals courts have ruled.

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Delete Vouchers

A legislative attempt to effectively delete Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme failed in committee today due to a lack of a second. Rep. Bo Mitchell sponsored the bill. Here’s more:

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Lamar vs. Lee

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander apparently disagrees with Gov. Bill Lee’s backdoor voucher scheme, Chalkbeat reports.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday that federal coronavirus relief should be disbursed to help schools the same way as education funds for disadvantaged students, rather than rerouting millions of dollars to support private schools.

“My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distributed Title I money. I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting,” the Tennessee Republican said, referring to the federal program that supports students from low-income families.

The comments from Alexander, who chairs the Senate health and education committee, contradict recent guidance by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Following that advice, as Alexander’s home state plans to do, would provide more financial support to private schools than they expected, while high-poverty public school districts would receive less money.

The question now is will Alexander encourage Lee to keep public funds in public schools?

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