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.”

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


 

Backpack Full of Cash Coming to Nashville

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge today announced that Matt Damon’s documentary “Backpack Full of Cash” will be coming to Nashville in April. Frogge posted on Facebook:

I’m excited to announce that “Backpack Full of Cash” has been selected for the Nashville Film Festival!

My children, their teachers, and I participated in this documentary, and although I’ve not yet seen it, I believe it will provide an eye-opening view of the school privatization movement affecting Nashville (and our state as a whole), as well as other urban areas across the country. The film, narrated by Matt Damon, focuses on market-based education reform and its impact on public schools.

It will be screened at the Regal Hollywood 27 on:
Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm
and
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm.

Join me for a screening (and possibly a Q & A following the film). This should be a timely and informative film!

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post says of the film:

Actually, it’s a 90-minute documentary about the real and ongoing movement to privatize public education and its effects on traditional public schools and the students they enroll. With actor and activist Matt Damon narrating, “Backpack” tells a scary but important story about corporate school reform policies that critics say are aimed at destroying the U.S. public education system, the country’s most important civic institution.

So, two dates in April offer a chance for those in and around Nashville to check out this important film that also features an MNPS Board member.

backpack

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


 

Voucher Opposition Growing

I reported last week on the Sumner County School Board passing a resolution opposing vouchers.

Here’s more from the Hendersonville Standard on that vote:

“We are just trying to keep it from ever getting implemented in the state to begin with because there’s no telling where it would go (from there),” board member Ted Wise said.

Board member Sarah Andrews agreed.

“I appreciate us looking at this,” she said. “I have been disappointed to see the number of bills coming up in the legislature concerning vouchers. To take money away from local schools is just very frustrating.”

The story noted that school systems impacted by the voucher proposal currently advancing in the General Assembly could stand to lose $37.2 million.

A program that started small in Indiana now costs $131 million, creating an education funding deficit of $54 million.

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


 

 

Senate Majority Leader Says Vouchers are “Problematic”

Senator Mark Norris, who has supported school voucher bills in the past, calls this year’s voucher plan “problematic.” The plan advancing this year is sponsored by Brian Kelsey — like Norris, from Shelby County — and it is a “pilot” program just for Shelby County.

The Nashville Ledger reports:

“It’s problematic,” Norris said when asked about the legislation in light of a Shelby County Commission vote opposing the voucher bill. The measure targets Shelby County because it has some 30 schools in the state’s lowest 5 percent for student performance.

But the measure is “problematic” for a combination of reasons, Norris said, mainly because of opposition by the Shelby County Commission and concerns about holding private schools “accountable” to the same standards as public schools.

Some opponents point out students who attend private schools as part of the program won’t be required to take the TNReady assessment, as public school students will.

School voucher advocates have failed in each of the last four legislative sessions to advance enabling legislation.

Now, they are trying to start their program only in Shelby County. Even before voucher proponents narrowed their focus to Shelby County in hopes of securing enough votes to advance the bill to the House floor, emerging research warned vouchers could actually be detrimental to student achievement. Those facts didn’t stop a House subcommittee from advancing the legislation, however.

Now, though, it seems the legislation is facing problems as lawmakers face the reality of a community not excited about Kelsey’s plan.

The Ledger notes:

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who opposes the legislation, commended Norris “for seeing” problems with the measure.

“There’s pressure building and people are sacrificing, taking off from work to be here, because they’re passionate against the fact that they targeted Shelby County, as if Shelby County caused all of the problems with regard to education,” Parkinson said. “It’s becoming personal for a Shelby County legislator to be carrying legislation like that.”

Parkinson pointed out Hamilton County has low-performing schools but is not included in the pilot program legislation, which he termed a “great experiment.”

A program in Indiana that started out six years ago as a small voucher plan has expanded rapidly and now costs $131 million. Research there suggests that while some advocates argued vouchers would save school systems money, they have actually created a $54 million funding deficit:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

Evidence says vouchers don’t work. Research shows they are expensive. The Senate Majority Leader calls them “problematic.” It’s time for vouchers to go.

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


 

Mary Holden Takes the Hill

Former educator and current blogger Mary Holden tells the tale of her “Day on the Hill” in Nashville. Definitely worth a read. Here’s some of what she had to say about her experience advocating for public education at the Tennessee General Assembly:

There are many things that bother me about voucher legislation. But here are the two biggies:

  1. Vouchers haven’t worked anywhere they’ve been implemented. The evidence is clear. See also herehere, and here.
  2. Look who opposes vouchers: Teachers! You know, those people who actually do the work of educating our children! They know a thing or two about what is needed in public education, and we should be listening to them! (I should know…. I was a teacher, in case you didn’t know!)

But seriously, if the people we trust to educate our children believe vouchers would be harmful to our schools AND if there is plenty of evidence showing that vouchers aren’t successful, then why???? Why do they keep getting proposed?

Read more about Mary’s visit to our legislators and her encounter with state Senator Steve Dickerson.

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


 

Sumner School Board Takes a Stand Against Vouchers

The Sumner County School Board tonight unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing school vouchers in Tennessee. The move comes as legislative debate over vouchers is heating up.

One member of Sumner County’s legislative delegation, state Senator Ferrell Haile, is a co-sponsor of the “Opportunity Scholarship” program targeted at Memphis.

Here’s the resolution:

WHEREAS, the Sumner County Board of Education is responsible for providing a local system of public education; and

WHEREAS, the Tennessee General Assembly in the 2017 legislative session will entertain legislation that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 years have passed since private school vouchers were first proposed, and during that time proponents have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public and lawmakers of the concept’s efficacy, and yet, five decades later, vouchers still remain controversial, unproven, and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools”, with no mention of the maintenance or support of private schools; and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee, through work of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Department of Education, the State Board of Education and local school boards, has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in major federal laws, including special education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, with the most credible research finding little or no difference in voucher and public school students’ performance; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave many students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private schools, not students and parents, since private schools decide if they want to accept vouchers, how many and which students they want to admit, and the potentially arbitrary reasons for which they might later dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, many proponents argue these programs will increase options, when in fact several options currently exist within public school systems; and

WHEREAS, voucher programs divert critical dollars and commitment from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are an inefficient use of tax payer money because they compel taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all the taxpayers supporting it; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Sumner County Board of Education opposes any expansion of the special education voucher program as well as any new legislation that would divert money intended for public education to private schools.

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


 

What Do the Facts Say?

The facts tells us that school vouchers don’t work — they are expensive and can actually have a negative impact on student achievement.

But, that didn’t matter last night as a subcommittee of lawmakers advanced a voucher bill proponents claim will only impact a small group of students.

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat reports:

… Tennessee lawmakers insisted Tuesday that the state can succeed where others have failed, and easily advanced a proposal that would start a five-year pilot program in Memphis.

The voice vote came after members of a House education subcommittee heard voucher opponents cite recent research showing that vouchers in other states have led to worse academic outcomes for students. But again and again, lawmakers said that Tennessee could be different.

Perennial voucher advocate John DeBerry of Memphis said that voucher opponents shouldn’t worry — the program will be small, and schools won’t lose that much money.

Tatter notes that he:

… projected that few students would actually opt to participate, meaning public schools would not lose as much funding as its leaders fear. “A lot of folks are not going to put in the time, the effort,” DeBerry said, “but for the handful of parents that do, why not give them that right?”

Let’s examine that a little more closely. DeBerry is acknowledging that public schools will lose money under the plan he supports. He’s willing to take money from a school system that finally appears to be turning around in order to help what he describes as a small group of students. Oh, and the evidence says the vouchers won’t actually help those students and may well harm them.

Now, let’s compare DeBerry’s remarks to what former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said when he started a voucher program in his state:

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

There are other similarities between Indiana’s voucher experience and the Tennessee proposal. Back in 2011, the program in Indiana was capped at 7500 students. The proposal advanced last night would initially provide vouchers for up to 5000 students.

That Indiana program was expanded rapidly, and now it serves more than 30,000 students.

If you think lawmakers won’t move to quickly expand vouchers in Tennessee once the door is opened, you are wrong. At the end of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers narrowly approved an IEA voucher bill. This bill was targeted at students with a specific list of special needs. Now, Senator Dolores Gresham is advancing legislation that would expand that program to include students who have never attended a public school. The program is in the first year of operation, there’s no data on student results, and yet voucher proponents are already seeking to expand.

Last night, facts didn’t matter. A majority on subcommittee ignored research and suggested Tennessee could be different. The track record in other states tells a different story.

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


 

 

 

The Voucher School District

This week, Education Committees in the House and Senate will consider a number of bills creating school vouchers in Tennessee. Proponents are pushing the bills even as growing evidence suggests vouchers fail kids.

So, what would happen if Tennessee started a voucher program, even a small-scale one, this year?

One state with a record on this is Indiana. Vouchers started there back in 2011 in a relatively small program with fairly strict eligibility requirements. At the time the vouchers were created, then-Governor Mitch Daniels said:

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

Initially, vouchers were only to serve some 7500 students.

Fast forward five years, and the program has expanded exponentially, serving more than 30,000 students — 3 percent of the state’s student population.

The qualifications have changed, too. Now, a student doesn’t even have to have attended a public school to qualify for a voucher. Reports suggest this provision means Indiana is spending some $54 million supporting private schools — money that would not have been spent without the voucher program:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

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To put that state’s program growth into perspective, 3 percent of Tennessee’s student population would be 29,936. The Tennessee voucher district would be the 8th largest district in the state, just larger than Sumner County and slightly smaller than Montgomery County. And, if our experience is at all like Indiana’s, about half of those students will never have attended a public school.

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.

This means local governments would be stuck picking up the tab to support private schools. The alternative would be a dedicated state fund to support the voucher school district. That’s a total cost of around $200 million, half of that new money.

Should taxpayers be asked to invest $100 million in a program that gets negative results? Studies in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana all indicate that vouchers have a negative impact on student academic outcomes.

Kevin Carey noted recently that even a study by the Fordham Institute showed negative results for vouchers:

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.

This week, we may hear that any new voucher program will start small and will only serve a fraction of our state’s students. Even if that’s true, the cost to taxpayers at the state and local level will be significant. Then, there’s the fact that studies are emerging showing vouchers just don’t work. Why spend more to get less?

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