Bill Lee wants to Raise Your Taxes and Silence Your School Board

Ok, gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee didn’t actually say he wants to raise your taxes, though the policy proposal he’s put forward would likely result in local property tax increases. He did, however, suggest silencing school boards by way of curbing their ability to be represented in public policy debate in Nashville.

Erik Schelzig of the Associated Press reports:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee said he supports spending more public money on private school tuition around Tennessee, and that restrictions should be placed on lobbying by government entities that oppose school vouchers.

I wrote previously about how Lee has been a staunch advocate of using public money for private schools by way of vouchers. I also noted that the most recent evidence indicates he’s wrong when he asserts that vouchers will improve education outcomes for Tennessee students.

The proposal to silence local school boards because they oppose school vouchers is not a new one. In fact, legislation to that effect was previously proposed by Lee’s Williamson County neighbor, Jeremy Durham. Here’s more on that effort:

Joey Garrison has the story about some legislators who wish that local school boards didn’t hire lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature.

To that end, they’ve filed legislation that would allow County Commissions to revise a School Board’s budget as it relates to lobbying expenses (HB 229/SB 2525).

Many school boards in the state are members of the Tennessee School Boards Association, which hires a lobbyist to represent the interests of school boards at the General Assembly. Additionally, some local boards hire contract firms and/or in-house government relations specialists to monitor state policy.

Of course, many County Commissioners are members of the Tennessee County Commissioners Organization, which employs a lobbyist to represent the interests of County Commissions at the General Assembly.  And many local government bodies also contract for or hire government relations specialists.

The attempt at silencing voices opposed to school vouchers ultimately failed to advance. Lee’s embrace of the failed Durham proposal may be of note to school board and county commission members considering his campaign.

As it relates to taxes, Lee’s support for a broad voucher program would likely result in a tax increase of some form. I wrote last year about the cost of a “voucher school district” and noted that if a statewide proposal took hold, it would be rather costly:

Nearly 15,000 students who never attended public school suddenly receiving vouchers would mean a state cost of $98 million. That’s $98 million in new money. Of course, those funds would either be new money (which is not currently contemplated) or would take from the state’s BEP allocations in the districts where the students receive the vouchers.

Let’s look at Davidson County as an example. If three percent of the student population there took vouchers, and half of those were students who had never attended a public school, the loss to the district would be a minimum of $8.4 million.

Additionally, analysis by the County Commissioners Association (a group Lee would seem to want silenced as their positions don’t match his advocacy) shows that local property taxes would almost certainly go up as a result of a comprehensive statewide voucher program.

As TREE noted:

The property tax increases to offset vouchers seen on the spreadsheet is not something any county commissioner wants to pass on to property owners. Lauderdale County loses the most with an 84.23 cent increase per year. Davidson is looking at a 30.36 cent increase.

Even if you look at what’s happening in Indiana as an example, you’d see increases along the lines of 28 cents in Lauderdale County and around 10 cents in Davidson. Alternatively, Lee could look to state revenue to offset the increased costs of a voucher program.

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.

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


 

Bill Lee Wrong on Vouchers

Back in January of 2016, now-gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee wrote an op-ed claiming that adding school vouchers to the mix in Tennessee’s education landscape would lead to improved education outcomes.

Here’s what he had to say:

This is where opportunity scholarships come in. The Tennessee Choice & Opportunity Scholarship Act would allow families to take a portion of the funding already spent on their child’s education and send him or her to the private school of their choice. For children languishing in schools that are failing to meet their needs, especially in urban areas like Nashville and Memphis, this proposal represents a much-needed lifeline for Tennessee families.

Recent evidence tells us that’s not the case. In fact, studies of voucher programs in D.C., Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio indicate students lose ground academically when accepting a voucher and attending a private school.

Writers Mary Dynarski and Austin Nichols say this about the studies:

Four recent rigorous studies—in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—used different research designs and reached the same result: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools. The Louisiana and Indiana studies offer some hints that negative effects may diminish over time. Whether effects ever will become positive is unclear.

Last year, Lee was peddling the myth that private schools offered better opportunity for kids. After analyzing the date, Dynarski and Nichols say this:

If the four studies suggest anything, it’s that private schools have no secret key that unlocks educational potential.

Visiting Lee’s campaign website yields little information about his views on actual policy. Of course, it is early in the campaign. However, it’s not clear if he still believes Tennessee tax dollars should be spent on voucher schemes that have been shown to have negative results in other states.

If Lee does in fact continue to advocate for vouchers, he’ll need to explain why Tennessee should invest in a program that has gotten such bad results across the country.

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


 

Lobbyists Quit Amid Voucher Failure

Apparently, the fallout from this year’s defeat of voucher legislation has caused six lobbyists associated with Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children to quit.

Sheila Burke and Erik Schelzig of AP report:

Legislators couldn’t even enact a voucher pilot program limited to Shelby County, which includes Memphis.

The decision to put off the pilot program until at least next year incurred the wrath of the American Federation for Children, a school choice group DeVos once chaired. The group’s Tennessee political action committee has spent more than $1.5 million on direct mail, advertising and candidate contributions since 2012.

 

After the measure’s defeat, the group’s national spokesman, Tommy Schultz, placed the blame for what he called the “dysfunctional House process” on Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who is expected to run for governor next year.

 

“By allowing her hand-picked committee to not even bring the bill to a vote, she demonstrated to Tennessee’s Republican voters exactly how highly she regards them and the Republican Party platform,” Schultz said in a press release.

 

Since that release was sent, six lobbyists hired by the American Federation for Children have quit.

This marks the fifth consecutive year voucher legislation has been defeated, despite millions in spending from groups outside of Tennessee.

It’s telling that after AFC attacked Speaker Harwell, lobbyists decided to move on from an association with them. Of course, losing on your signature issue five years in a row doesn’t exactly help you attract and retain top talent.

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


 

Vouchers: Done for Now

Rep. Harry Brooks today rolled his controversial Shelby County school voucher pilot project legislation to 2018. This means the bill won’t move beyond the House Finance Subcommittee this year.

Grace Tatter from Chalkbeat reports:

Many had thought that the plan to limit vouchers to Memphis would give the proposal the necessary support to become law, winning over lawmakers who have wavered in their support for the school choice measure in recent years. They also hoped to benefit from national attention to private school choice efforts. President Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have both used their platforms to advocate for vouchers and other similar programs.

But in the end, disagreements over how private schools should be held accountable for academic results — as well as legislators’ exhaustion after passing a hotly debated gas tax — caused the measure to stall.

 

More on vouchers:

The Verdict on Vouchers

Voucher Backers vs. Facts

The Voucher School District

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


 

 

Key Voucher Vote Tomorrow

Tennesseans Reclaiming Education Excellence (TREE) has the details:

HB126, this year’s voucher bill, is up for a crucial vote tomorrow (Wednesday) morning in the House Budget Subcommittee.

Please take a moment to e-mail committee members and ask them to oppose this bill. You can do it using our one-click feature at http://treetn.org/act.

This insidious legislation will lead to bad outcomes for students and taxpayers across the state. We need your help to stop it.

Take action and share with your friends. http://treetn.org/act

Showing up in person at the committee hearing is also encouraged. It will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Enter Legislative Plaza at the corner of Union and 6th and take a right after security. The hearing is in Room 16.

More on vouchers:

The Evidence is In: Vouchers Don’t Work

What Do the Facts Say?

Arizona’s Voucher Lesson

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


 

 

TREE: A Takedown of Vouchers

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE) is out with an email detailing the latest efforts to pass vouchers at the Tennessee General Assembly. The message is clear: Vouchers don’t work and they’re pretty expensive.

Here’s the text:

The “Ever-Expanding Universe of Vouchers” was a blog post https://treetn.org/expanding-vouche… TREE did last year warning Tennessee about school voucher intentions. In that blog we stated, “Voucher supporters, along with money from outside interests, will stop at nothing to expand voucher programs in Tennessee, effectively creating a privatized black hole for taxpayer dollars. Tennessee ranks 47th in funding for public education, leaving schools to tread water while legislators look for ways to fund private schools.” And where are we AGAIN this year? Fighting back multiple attempts to expand public school vouchers.

One bill will expand the TN IEP voucher. Only 38 out of 20k qualifying families bothered to sign up for the current version of this voucher. But, it is not about what families want. It is about expanding. This new version wants to qualify more disabilities to wave their IDEA rights and take the money even though we have no idea if the pilot works. This IEP expansion is modeled after Arizona. The Arizona Legislature created its ESA program in 2011 for special-needs students and has since expanded it to allow children from poor-performing schools, from military families, and others. Watch for this pattern in Tennessee. It is all intentional.

MEMPHIS IS THE TARGET
The other voucher bill (HB126) left progressing through committee is squarely and unfairly aimed at Memphis as a pilotAnd Memphis parents, school boards, and elected officials have not been silent in their objection. Here is what we know about urban pilots. Every time a voucher starts as an urban pilot for a small number of students, it expands across the state. Flashback to charter schools as an urban pilot solution. And now several rural districts are seeing charter school intent letters. The playbook is followed in every state where privatized solutions proliferate. Vouchers will not stop at a pilot. Isn’t the point of a pilot to see if something works? The word pilot is a sham. We don’t even know if the IEP disability pilot is working and it is already expanding.

This Memphis pilot bill is stuck on whether it will even use the TNReady to see if the pilot works.  How is that fair? How do you show a voucher pilot improves educational outcomes for children if they don’t take TNReady? Then what kind of overreach will we see private school curriculum to make sure “the test” is addressed? It is a slippery slope.

THANK YOU COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Concerns are growing fast as the County Commissioners Association published a spreadsheet (shown above) that TREE obtained via email, sent to Association members outlining a rough idea, county by county illustrating “[H]ow a k-12 voucher program might impact county budgets, particularly if you compare revenue lost when a student transfers out of a school district and into a private school.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6… ) The chart shows the amount of county property tax needed to offset a 10-percent decrease in student population. [The Association] research has cross-checked many of the systems and, for the most part, it appears to be accurate. ” Of note: Carroll County sets its districts differently, so the formula used does not translate for that county.

The property tax increases to offset vouchers seen on the spreadsheet is not something any county commissioner wants to pass on to property owners. Lauderdale County loses the most with an 84.23 cent increase per year. Davidson is looking at a 30.36 cent increase. The Tennessee Ed Report did a post that outlined skyrocketing taxes in Indiana and some potential scenarios for Tennessee. http://tnedreport.com/2017/03/the-v…

School vouchers become a parallel school system to fund. One Tennessee cannot afford.

Parents feel vouchers are an empty promise. Study after study show they do not work to increase achievement. https://www.brookings.edu/research/… Without transportation and the ability to cover all the extras, a voucher is not really in reach of most public school families. The private schools most familiar won’t be taking vouchers. And in the end, voucher school choice is the choice of the private school to accept a student and to keep a student. It opens the door to discriminatory practices that leave Shelby County parents in doubt this is little more than a religious school subsidy with tax dollars that experiments on their children.

Our government needs to invest in neighborhood schools, invest in RTi2 small intervention classes, time with a teacher, community schools coordinators to coordinate wrap-around services and discipline supports. Fund opportunities to engage in learning. Not siphon off public dollars into private, unregulated hands. We must support Shelby County Schools, not public money for vouchers. Former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey confirmed that he supported intentions to expand the program statewide when he recently spoke to a group of Shelby County Republicans in Bartlett. These pilots are nothing more than seeds for state voucher program growth and higher taxes.

And here’s a breakdown of those costs at a 10 percent level:

TREE Vouchers 2017-1

 

TREE Vouchers 2017-2

In fairness, the Indiana experience has shown about a three percent rate of students taking vouchers. Still, that’d add up to a pretty hefty tax increase in many places. All to support a second school system. The Indiana experience shows that creating a voucher school system means an education funding deficit.

This is a key week for vouchers, as the Shelby County pilot bill is going before the House Finance Subcommittee.

Stay tuned to see if legislators will advance a voucher scheme.

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


 

 

Vouchers: A Warning from Arizona

Arizona just expanded its voucher program so that every child in the state will be eligible for a voucher.

This is worth noting as Tennessee continues to debate adopting a voucher “pilot program” this year. We’re told by voucher advocates this will be limited to Shelby County and won’t expand unless is “works.”

The evidence in states like Indiana and now Arizona, however, suggests that once voucher programs get started, they don’t stop. Instead, they grow and comprise more and more of a state’s education budget. Indiana’s voucher program grew from 7500 students to more than 30,000 in just five years and now costs the state $131 million.

Derek Black describes the Arizona situation this way:

 If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona “win.”  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.

And here’s what’s going on in Indiana:

Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

Vouchers don’t work. And those small programs quickly grow out of control — costing taxpayers more money and yielding disappointing results.

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


 

That’s Not What You Said Last Week

Earlier this legislative session, voucher bill sponsor Brian Kelsey said TNReady was a “disaster” and he wouldn’t want to force it on private schools accepting public funds by way of vouchers.

Then, last week, he changed his tune.

Here’s how Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reported it:

Sen. Brian Kelsey, the architect of Tennessee’s voucher bill, said he would prefer requiring students who use vouchers to take nationally normed tests, like they do in Florida and several other states with voucher programs.

But he said he understands why policymakers want to make “apple to apple” comparisons between public schools and private schools accepting government dollars. “If that gives policymakers greater comfort to vote for the bill, then I am all for that,” said the Germantown Republican.

And, with Kelsey’s blessing, the bill was amended in the House Government Operations Committee last week to include a requirement that students receiving vouchers take the TNReady test. Yes, the one Kelsey called a disaster.

Exactly one week later, this happened:

The panel voted narrowly to amend the bill so that voucher participants could take tests in their private schools that are different from what their counterparts take in public schools. But lawmakers stopped short of sending the amended bill to their finance committee after Rep. Mike Stewart, who opposes vouchers, moved to adjourn.

So, is TNReady a disaster, but one that’s worth risking in order for private schools to get public money? Or, should private schools choose their own tests?

Here’s what we do know: In states like Indiana and Louisiana, students receiving vouchers must take state tests. The results in those states paint a picture of vouchers as an education reform that not only doesn’t help kids, but also pushes them further behind. Yes, students in Indiana and Louisiana who received vouchers actually lost ground academically when they went to private schools.

For now, voucher legislation in Tennessee is stalled in the House Government Operations Committee. The Senate version is sitting in the Finance Committee there, still not scheduled for a vote.

To test or not to test? That seems to be the core question and the final answer may determine whether a voucher bill passes this session.

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


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

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


 

Vouchers: The Ultimate Non-Solution

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen expressed frustration recently at years of ineffective education reform efforts. Specifically, she said:

“We can’t keep throwing $10 million, $11 million, $12 million, $15 million at solutions that are not solutions,” she told legislators on House education committees.

McQueen was lamenting the lack of progress made in school turnaround efforts and pointing lawmakers toward proven solutions. In fact, she noted the state’s ESSA plan focuses on strategies that have gotten results:

While McQueen didn’t single out specific turnaround initiatives, she stressed that Tennessee needs to focus on what has worked — specifically, at 10 schools that have been moved off the state’s priority list so far and have undergone case studies. McQueen named common themes: strong school leaders, quality instruction, and community and wraparound supports, such as mental health care services.

Candice McQueen is frustrated, and rightly so. As a result, her Department of Education is using ESSA to focus Tennessee’s school improvement efforts and even rein-in the Achievement School District (ASD).

What’s interesting in all of this, then, is that some state lawmakers seem intent on pushing through a voucher program for Shelby County.

McQueen told lawmakers they can’t keep throwing millions of dollars at solutions that are not solutions. But, according to the Fiscal Note on SB 161/HB 126, the bill will result in spending nearly $9 million on the voucher “solution” next year and more than $18 million per year once fully implemented. Of course, those estimates assume the program doesn’t expand beyond Shelby County.

A voucher program that started small in Indiana just five years ago now costs that state $131 million per year.

Talk about an expensive non-solution. In fact, the most recent research indicates that vouchers actually can have a negative impact on student academic achievement.

Kevin Carey summarizes:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

So, we have an Education Commissioner pleading with the General Assembly to focus on what works AND we have evidence from other states telling us vouchers don’t get the job done. At the same time, we have evidence from schools right here in Tennessee that tells us what IS working.

It’s time for the Tennessee General Assembly to heed the advice of Candice McQueen and stop attempting to throw millions of dollars at “solutions that are not solutions.”

pile-of-cash-1024x576

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