The BEP Voucher Plan

Tennessee teacher and education blogger Mike Stein offers his take on Gov. Bill Lee’s latest run at school vouchers. This time, Lee’s plan appears to be to use the state’s school funding formula (BEP) to create a voucher scheme.

Here are some highlights from Stein’s piece, written after he’d been to one of TN DOE’s BEP Town Hall events:

I had so much to say! I wanted to mention how atrocious it is that in 2021 teachers in this state are still limited on how many copies they can make for their classrooms. I wanted to go into how students’ mental health is poor. That fights during school are on the rise because they don’t know how to properly deal with their emotions and the need for school counselors, psychologists, and social workers is at a critical point. I wanted to mention my idea for attacking the substitute teacher crisis in Tennessee, which is to include substitute teacher pay as a component in the BEP. Rural systems like mine can not afford to pay them a decent wage (they can literally make more money at any fast food establishment), so if TDOE creates a baseline pay of $120 per day for non-licensed substitute teachers that is reimbursed to districts, then we will be much more likely to attract and keep quality substitute teachers. The $120 figure comes from paying them the equivalent of $15 an hour for the length of the school day. If the substitute is a certified teacher, then I believe that amount should equal $160 per day. I wanted to raise these points–and more–but the two minute time limit had me rethinking what I was going to say.

Is the answer already decided?

. . . because in January they plan on presenting their new BEP formula to the state legislature

Stop and reflect on that last sentence. If their timeline is to present their plan in January then it can only mean one thing–it’s either already written or close to it. This means that TDOE’s public town halls and their funding review committees are either entirely or mostly a farce. They’re going through the motions of eliciting public feedback because to redo the BEP formula without attempting to do so would mean their suggestion in January would most assuredly be D.O.A.

The tea leaves are not difficult to read here. The new BEP formula will include some form of vouchers (they, of course, won’t be called that) and because the BEP funds public schools across the state, then it will not violate the “Home Rule” provision. State legislators will be put in a position to either vote in favor of the new BEP formula (which will undoubtedly include actual needed improvements that will be popular with their constituents) or reject it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them. Either support the new BEP formula that will actually privatize public schools or be accused of being against public education. 

Stein then does a great job of breaking down the members of the Fiscal Responsibility Committee – noting that many of them are decidedly pro-voucher.

Check out his post for more on Bill Lee’s continued effort to send public money to private schools.

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Education Committee Chair May Lose Post Over Federal Indictment

Senator Brian Kelsey, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee and who has long been a champion of using public money to fund private schools, is facing a federal indictment on allegations of campaign finance misconduct. This is not just a legal headache for Kelsey, though, it also may result in him losing the gatekeeping role he now plays as Committee chair.

More on this from Chalkbeat:

A McNally spokesman said later that Kelsey had not requested a hearing before the Senate’s ethics committee on whether the indictment merits suspension from his leadership position. If Kelsey does not make the request within 10 days of his indictment, Senate rules say he will be suspended as chairman for as long as the indictment is being pursued.

“Lt. Gov. McNally will enforce the Senate rules as written,” said McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider.

Kelsey’s political future is being closely watched, especially since he ascended to lead the education committee after longtime Chairwoman Dolores Gresham retired last year. The panel is the gatekeeper of hundreds of proposals annually that can affect Tennessee students, educators, and schools.

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Paid For By . . .

At the end of this nice, happy story welcoming a new reporter to the education beat at WPLN, there’s a very interesting sentence:

Nashville Public Radio thanks the Thorne Family Charitable Fund, the Scarlett Foundation, the HCA Healthcare Foundation, the Joe C. Davis Foundation and the Andrew Allen Foundation for their generous support of our education beat.

It’s great that the education beat has some solid financial support. What’s noteworthy, though, is that two of the five sponsors of education news are also hard core privatization advocates.

First, there’s the Scarlett Foundation. This group, headed up by Joe Scarlett, is solidly in the privatization camp. Plus, as the Scarlett Foundation’s page notes about their board chair:

He serves as chairman of the Scarlett Hotel Group and vice-chairman of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

Yes, THAT Beacon Center – the conservative group pushing policy schemes like school vouchers and opposing meaningful investment in public schools.

Of course, the Scarlett Foundation was also involved in Metro Nashville School Board elections in 2016 under the guise of a group called Nashville Rise:

Project Renaissance Co-CEO Wendy Tucker refused to identify who is currently funding the group’s efforts, saying some of the money people did not want to be identified.

$250,000 from the Joe C. Davis Foundation in Nashville, which boasts that it is focused “on increasing the supply of high-performing charter schools.”

Project Renaissance, of course, was the project of former Nashville Mayor and charter backer Karl Dean.

And, of course, there’s the The Joe C. Davis Foundation which was also involved in that 2016 campaign. Sitting on the board of the Davis Foundation is Bill DeLoache:

In an annual report filed with the Secretary of State earlier this month, Project Renaissance named several members to its board, all with ties to the controversial independently-run publicly-funded schools known as charter schools. Among them is Bill DeLoache, a wealthy charter school backer who also sits on the board for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

DeLoache has a long history of advocacy for charters:

[Charter school company] Beacon was founded as Alternative Public Schools Inc. in Nashville in 1992 by local businessmen Bill DeLoache Jr. and John Eason. Even after the company moved to Westborough, Mass., and changed its name to Beacon, DeLoache remained chairman.

The bottom line is this: Those who would privatize our public schools will go to any lengths to ensure they control the message on education issues. Kudos to WPLN for their transparency here. However, just hearing the list of names of foundations only tells part of the story. It’s important to understand the agenda advanced by those who want to appear to be philanthropic voices just supporting local public radio.

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Voucher Vultures Continue to Lose in Court

Parent advocacy group Public Funds for Public Schools notes that the Tennessee Supreme Court denied a motion by school privatization advocates to allow implementation of Gov. Lee’s voucher scheme while the issue of the constitutionality of the program is sorted out.

Here’s more from a press release:

On February 22, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied a motion by pro-voucher groups to lift a lower court’s permanent injunction barring implementation of Tennessee’s 2019 “education savings account” voucher law. In May 2020, the Davidson County Chancery Court ruled the voucher law is unconstitutional because it violates the Home Rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution. In August 2020, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the Chancery Court’s decision. The case is now before the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The voucher law, which passed by only one vote in the State Legislature, illegally targeted just two Tennessee counties, Davidson and Shelby, which are home to the Nashville and Memphis public schools. Legislators from the two counties overwhelmingly opposed the voucher law, which would have drained millions of dollars from two school districts that are severely underfunded by the State.

The law was challenged in court by the two counties in Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education, and by public school parents and community members in a companion case called McEwen v. Lee. The McEwen plaintiffs are represented by Public Funds Public Schools, a collaboration of Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as by the ACLU of Tennessee and pro bono by the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd.

After the Chancery Court granted summary judgment in Metro Government, the State defendants and the pro-voucher groups that had intervened in the case unsuccessfully asked the Chancery Court to lift its injunction. The defendants were then rebuffed again by the Court of Appeals. Immediately thereafter, the defendants tried yet again, asking the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over the case and to stay the injunction. The Supreme Court refused both requests.

In an unusual move last month, the intervenors sought a fourth bite at the apple, requesting a “modification” of the injunction that would allow the State to take every step necessary to prepare and implement the voucher program, short of actually delivering the voucher funds. Notably, the State did not join in the intervenors’ motion.

In a one-paragraph order, and without calling for oral argument, the Tennessee Supreme Court summarily denied the intervenors’ motion.

The Supreme Court’s order to let the injunction stand is welcome news for parents and students in the underfunded and under-resourced Shelby County and Nashville public schools. While the appeal is pending, the State continues to be barred from spending any tax dollars on the voucher program.

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Voucher Vultures Getting FBI Scrutiny

NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to investigate the possibility of bribes involved in the 2019 vote to secure passage of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme.

Here’s more:

NewsChannel 5’s cameras were there last month as Casada woke up last month to an FBI raid on his Franklin condo.

Now, Casada has told associates that the FBI had questions about how he helped pass Lee’s legislation to create school vouchers to pay for private school tuition. Two independent sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said Casada described being questioned about allegations of bribes being offered for votes

The voucher bill itself has so far been ruled unconstitutional in Tennessee courts. Now, the Tennessee Supreme Court will take up the issue.

Casada and number of his associates faced FBI raids last month connected to an investigation of campaign finance irregularities. Now, it seems that investigation may also include questions about bribes related to the voucher vote.

Lee’s voucher scheme passed the House by a single vote after Casada and his legislative aides and lieutenants negotiated with lawmakers while holding the vote open for more than 30 minutes.

MORE on vouchers:

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Like Grasshoppers

A public school advocacy group in Ohio has taken notice of the rampant spread of school vouchers across the country and the role Tennessee is playing in the privatization game.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ voucher appeal. In 2019 a trial judge declared the Tennessee Voucher law unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the trial court decision. Now the pro-voucher crowd has been successful in getting the Supreme Court to hear the case.


Vouchers are spreading across the nation like the Kansas Grasshopper Plague of 1874. (The insects ate all the crops, even wool off the back of sheep). Vouchers eat up the funds of public school districts.

It’s really no surprise that a guy who sent out a Christmas card lauding the success of his voucher appeal would be this persistent in pursuit of privatization.

And of course, Gov. Bill Lee has been a long-time supporter of vouchers and a long-time skeptic of public schools.

Since 2012, DeVos has provided just under $100,000 to the Tennessee organization. She’s been joined by some key local donors, including Lee Beaman and Bill Lee. Yes, since 2012, Bill Lee has given $11,000 to the Tennessee Federation for Children, the state’s leading political organization supporting school vouchers.

Lee has consistently and publicly supported voucher schemes. That’s why I’m puzzled when I hear some local elected officials express support for both Bill Lee and public schools – it would seem the two are mutually exclusive.

Bill Lee renewed his commitment to fast-tracking the privatization of public schools in a speech in Jackson where he laid out his policy goals for 2020. Lee doubled-down on support of a voucher scheme that is dividing the state Republican Party. 

Lee has also been an advocate of silencing school boards, embracing a proposal by former state Rep. Jeremy Durham that would allow County Commissions to override board decisions when it comes to advocacy.

So, in Bill Lee, Tennesseans have a candidate for Governor who has expressed unqualified support for a voucher program that has failed in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana and that will almost certainly increase state and local costs. Additionally, he wants to be sure local elected officials can’t bring a strong voice of opposition to this proposal.

That’s why I remain shocked that some board members and other elected officials express surprise at Lee’s refusal to invest in public schools even when the state is swimming in cash.

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

Dear public school supporters: Bill Lee is not your friend. He has never been your friend. He will not be your friend in some magical future world.

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Always on the Attack

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Shelby County took some time today to attack the Shelby County Schools and get in a jab at the teachers union. He never misses a chance to attack public schools or the educators in them.

Here’s the video:

This is the same guy who sent out a Christmas card crowing about his legal work to voucherize public schools.

This is also the same Brian Kelsey who led efforts to eliminate the Hall Income Tax and $200 million a year in revenue for the state. Then, the issue was what to do with repeated years of surplus revenue. Kelsey’s answer was NOT to invest it in schools, but instead to create a tax giveaway for investors.

Brian Kelsey does not and has not supported our state’s public schools. Now, he’s using his position as chair of the Senate Education Committee to attack public school teachers. In other Kelsey news, he’s the lead sponsor of legislation that would undermine the ability of working Tennesseans to join a union.

MORE ON KELSEY:

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Voucher Vulture Kelsey Named Chair of Education Committee

Lt. Governor Randy McNally has named long-time school voucher advocate Brian Kelsey chair of the Senate Education Committee. Kelsey sponsored Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme (ultimately ruled unconstitutional) in 2019. He’s currently involved in litigation attempting to validate the scheme. He even mentioned it in his Christmas card this year.

The move could signal that legislative leaders will join Lee and again push for voucher legislation in 2021.

It should be noted that one of Kelsey’s first tasks as Education Committee chair will be to weigh-in on the appointment of Laurie Cardoza-Moore to the state Textbook Commission.

More on Kelsey>

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Voucher Vultures Face FBI Raid

Former House Speaker Glen Casada and other members of the House GOP as well as some staffers woke this morning to FBI agents searching their homes and offices. The raid appears to be targeting those involved in a plot to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme during the 2019 legislative session. That scheme has since been ruled unconstitutional by Tennessee courts.

Nashville’s NewsChannel5 has more:

FBI agents raided the homes of former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and other Republican allies early Friday morning, as well as their legislative offices, as part of an unspecified probe into possible public corruption.

Sources tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that searches were also executed at the homes of Robin Smith and newly elected Rep. Todd Warner, R-Lewisburg.

NewsChannel 5 also spotted FBI agents outside the homes of former Casada aides Cade Cothren and Holt Whitt. Agents were seen carrying evidence out of Cothren’s downtown Nashville apartment.

The raid comes just days before Gov. Bill Lee’s planned special session on education issues.

Tennessee Republicans have been trying for years to direct public dollars to private schools through a variety of voucher schemes. They narrowly succeeded (by a single vote) in 2019 when then-Speaker Casada held the vote on the voucher bill open for more than 30 minutes while he and top aides negotiated with legislators.

The subsequent FBI investigation into the vote and today’s raid suggest those negotiations went beyond typical legislative horse trading and into potentially illegal territory.

In typical fashion, Gov. Bill Lee said today he has no knowledge of the subject of the raid and that he trusts the current House Speaker, Cameron Sexton, to handle the situation with his members. Apparently, the buck never stops with Lee.

Lee has vowed to continue pursuit of a voucher scheme and his team continues to press their case in the courts. Certainly, today’s events may give pause to some potential supporters of the ill-advised program.

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MicroVouchers

The pursuit of privatization never ends with Gov. Bill Lee. Remember those CARES Act funds the governor and his team were NOT spending? Well, it turns out they now have a plan for those funds – a reading initiative that includes a voucher scheme.

Here’s more from The Center Square:

The new initiative, Reading 360, will provide an array of supports to districts, teachers and families, including opt-in training and coaching in literacy instruction for teachers, regional networks focused on literacy and an online platform for video lessons for teachers and families at home.

The initiative also will fund more than 13,000 microgrants for literacy tutoring for students and families.

Who will provide this tutoring?

The likely answer: Private providers profiting from taxpayer funds intended to help schools address the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key supporters of Lee’s misguided literacy initiative that includes this voucher scheme are long-time public school antagonists Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White.

Not only has Lee failed our state on COVID-19, he’s also using the pandemic as an opportunity to direct dollars to privatizers.

More on Bill Lee, COVID-19, and the Privatization Pandemic:

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