McQueen Joins Chiefs for Change

Education Week reports that Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Candice McQueen, has joined education reform group Chiefs for Change. Her predecessor, Kevin Huffman, was also a member of the group that has advocated for expanding charter schools and using value-added data in teacher evaluations.

Here’s more:

Chiefs for Change, once part of the former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and comprised solely of state education chiefs, has spun off as an independent organization.

And on the addition of McQueen among the group’s four new members:

The lone state chief in the group is Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s commissioner of education.

While McQueen has been Tennessee’s Education Commissioner for three years now, she is new to Chiefs for Change.

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


 

Rally for Raises

Tonight’s MNPS Board meeting includes discussion of a revised budget that includes taking proposed employee raises from 3% down to 2%.

UPDATE – 3:20 PM: Jason Gonzales reports that the reworked budget keeps the original 3% raises as proposed.

Middle Tennessee CAPE is also organizing a “Rally for Raises” which is described this way:

Join MNPS teachers and staff as we rally at the MNPS budget hearing. Dr. Joseph recently stated that the district would not be able to provide the 3% raises he promised due to cuts to his requested budget from the mayor. However, we believe that people are our district’s most powerful resource. Both the Tennessean and TEA now rank MNPS teacher salary between 12th and 17th in the state, and many of our support staff receive wages that place them below the federal poverty line for a family of 4. These facts, combined with the astronomical rise in housing costs in Nashville hurts our district because our employees literally cannot afford to work for MNPS any more.

Our city has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth and garnered interanational attention as the new “it city” of the South. We ask that our leaders in the district and the city work to make our public schools reflect our civic pride by paying employees the wages that reflect a respect for our professionalism and that allow us to live in the city we love to serve.

The event starts at 5PM at the board offices at 2601 Bransford Ave.

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


 

Fitzhugh Wins Wild Poll

TC Weber posted an early poll over at his Dad Gone Wild blog on the 2018 Tennessee Governor’s race and Craig Fitzhugh — the Democratic Leader in the House, won handily.

Here’s how Weber reported it:

Next year is an election year for governor in Tennessee and since obviously the governor has a lot of influence on the state’s education policy, I though we’d do an early straw poll. This one wasn’t that surprising. Democrat Craig Fitzhugh was the winner, claiming 42% of the responses. Fitzhugh is my personal choice and one of the things that I find most appealing about him is the fact that no matter who you talk to, Republican or Democrat, they refer to him as someone who would be good for everyone. The runner up was Republican and former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd with 26% of the vote. I don’t know to much about Mr. Boyd but by all accounts he’s a centrist in the mold of current governor Bill Haslam. Democrat and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Republican and Franklin businessman Bill Lee were up next tied in a virtual dead heat.

Two points worth noting: Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville wasn’t in the top three and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean finished third. Both are significant in my view because TC writes primarily about issues in Nashville’s schools or that directly impact Nashville. His audience is heavily Nashville-based. But, the former Nashville Mayor finished third and the Speaker of the House from Nashville wasn’t in the top three.

Fitzhugh has not made a formal announcement, but observers expect that’s coming. He took the time to speak to the recent TEA convention and his legislative work on education is likely to be a key element of his campaign platform.

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


 

Definitely Not Ready

Last year, I wrote about how Tennessee students, teachers, and parents have come to expect that there will be issues with state tests and timely distribution of results. Last year was the biggest testing disaster in recent memory, but it seems there are problems popping up again this year.

Williamson County Schools recently posted this message about TNReady results and report cards:

The State Department of Education has notified the district that results from this spring’s TNReady testing will be delayed so grades cannot be calculated by the timeline established. The district is in the planning stages of determining how to proceed.

“We are disappointed in this delay,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney. “The school district is preparing an action plan so we can accurately communicate to parents how their student performed during the 2016-17 school year.”

This marks the fourth consecutive year the state has not been able to produce testing results as promised.

Interestingly, earlier this week, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen declared TNReady a “success.”

Here’s what Chalkbeat reported:

Testing results won’t be in for months, but Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is giving this year’s TNReady run an A-plus.

TNReady’s second year — and first full year for grades 3-8 — was a success on both paper and online, McQueen told education stakeholders in an email on Monday.

While the administration of the test may have been uneventful, the release of scores is proving problematic. I wrote in December about the State Board of Education getting involved late in the game on whether and how much TNReady scores should count in student grades.

Now, with a delay in scores being released, local school boards will have to decide what to do with the results. Will they hold report cards until quick scores can be reported OR will they release report cards with grades that don’t include TNReady scores?

In either case, we’re now on year four of testing trouble in Tennessee. Will next year continue the cycle?

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


 

Powell Moves to Protect Special Needs Students

Alanna Autler of WSMV noted yesterday that State Representative Jason Powell of Nashville has drafted legislation to be introduced in 2018 that will ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities. Powell had previously attempted to pass legislation banning the practice for all students, but that legislation never made it out of a subcommittee.

Autler reports:

A state lawmaker has vowed to file legislation that would ban the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs following an investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team.

“This seems like a no-brainer,” said Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

The I-Team found in a single school year students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Midstate schools.

Disparities could be found at dozens of schools, according to data released by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. The most recent data available is from the 2013-2014 school year.

At Allons Elementary in Overton County, 62.5 percent of students with disabilities received corporal punishment compared to 7.7 percent of students without disabilities.

“It’s absolutely unfair to have students with disabilities punished at a higher level than students without disabilities,” Powell said. “I would say it’s troubling. To say it’s shocking, it’s not.”

It’s still unclear why Tennessee lawmakers allow the practice of corporal punishment to continue or why more local school boards haven’t banned the practice.

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


 

A Troubling Disparity

WSMV’s Alanna Autler reports that students with disabilities in some middle Tennessee school districts are disciplined with corporal punishment at higher rates than their peers without disabilities.

From the story:

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation has found that at 60 schools in Middle Tennessee, students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities.

These are students protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with a variety of special needs ranging from autism to intellectual and physical disabilities.

The I-Team analyzed data from the 2013-2014 school year, which is the most recent data published by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

Autler’s story also notes that only seven middle Tennessee districts have banned corporal punishment.

Whether and when to use corporal punishment in Tennessee schools is a district-level decision.

Of course, one way to eliminate this disparity would be to ban corporal punishment at all Tennessee schools. That would require legislative action.

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


 

SCORE Announces Statewide Campaign To Recruit New Teachers

Today, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) announced a statewide campaign to recruit millennials into the teaching profession. The campaign–Teach Today. Change Tomorrow–will include statewide radio ads, resources for prospective teachers, and recruiting current teachers to help recruit others into the teaching profession.

I love the forwardness of this campaign to actively recruit the next generation of teachers, and I hope it works in recruiting great teachers. We need teachers out on the front lines showing college students how important education is for our country’s future. 

Here’s the press release:

Tennessee needs high-quality teachers across the state, and Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. is committed to helping place a great teacher in front of every student. With more than 20,000 anticipated job openings in education by 2024 in Tennessee, Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. seeks to motivate passionate young people to pursue a career in teaching and ensure future teachers are prepared.

The mission of Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. is to inspire talented young people across Tennessee to become our state’s next generation of teachers,” said Jamie Woodson, SCORE executive chairman and CEO. “By illustrating the positive impact that great teaching has on a community, we will show them that they have the power to change the future beyond the classroom.”

Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. will look to empower millennials to go into the teaching profession. Tennessee has many high-needs schools in rural and urban districts and needs to recruit more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teachers, an area where the state faces a critical shortage. Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. will also address the need for more diversity in Tennessee’s teacher ranks. Students of color make up 35 percent of the public school population, yet just 15 percent of teachers in the state identify as persons of color.

The campaign includes a website, TeachTodayTN.org, and presences on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, supported with statewide radio advertising. The website contains information about the path to an education career, testimonials from current teachers and links to all Tennessee educator preparation programs.

From mentorship through its Ambassador program, made up of teachers and education professionals throughout the state, to providing the tools and information necessary to become a teacher in Tennessee, Teach Today. Change Tomorrow. will be an essential resource for millennials who want to make a difference through teaching.

“Kids all across Tennessee deserve adults who will support them, cheer for them, and are champions for them,” said Cicely Woodard, a teacher at West End Middle Prep. “Our students need more educators who will listen to them and who want them to be successful in the future.”

More information can be found at TeachTodayTN.org.

Partners in this work include the Hyde Family Foundations, Nashville Public Education Foundation, Memphis Education Fund, Public Education Foundation Chattanooga, Conexión Américas, Lipscomb University, Teach for America Nashville, Crisp Communications, Tennessee Charter School Center and the Tennessee Department of Education.


 

 

Williamson Budget Woes

Apparently, Tennessee’s wealthiest county is having trouble figuring out how to properly fund schools. Here’s a story from the Tennessean on a proposed cut to the school system’s budget:

The county commission’s budget committee proposed a 1.46 percent cut Thursday to the operational budget.

The $5 million cut will impact dozens of employee positions as salaries comprise the majority of the district’s budget, said Leslie Holman, chief financial officer for Williamson County Schools.

Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney called the proposed cut tragic.

“It’s not like this budget hasn’t been vetted multiple times,” Looney said.

Principals submit requests to central office. Central office vets those requests, then the school board reviews the whole budget. Cuts are made at every level, Looney said.

“As a community, we have to decide what our priority is,” Looney said. “We can’t fund our school system with pennies.”

Parent advocacy group Williamson Strong notes there are several ways to generate revenue and also points out that Williamson County has the lowest property tax in middle Tennessee and the lowest among counties with a population greater than 100,000.

Here’s more from Williamson Strong on revenue options:

The Education Impact Fee

  • This is a fee on new construction. It is expected to raise a little less than $15 million annually when fully implemented next year.
  • This revenue will be allocated to the county’s debt service for WCS capital projects.
  • This fee was voted on by the County Commission. It can be changed by the County Commission.
  • This fee does not address turnover of existing homes in established communities like Brentwood. 7,641 homes are projected to be built in the Page zone while only 108 are projected in Brentwood.

Sales Tax

  • The state sales tax is 7%. The county sales tax rate is currently 2.25% (for a total Williamson County rate of 9.25%).
  • If the local rate were increased to 2.75% (maximum allowed), WCS could gain $11 million more in funding annually. Increasing the tax to 2.5% would yield approximately $8 million per year.
  • Increasing the county sales tax rate requires a two-thirds vote from the County Commission AND citizen approval from a county-wide voting referendum.
  • District 6 Commissioner Paul Webb plans to introduce a resolution for a referendum to be held asking voters to support a half-cent sales tax from 9.25% to the maximum 9.75%.
  • A local sales tax increase was considered in 2011 but withdrawn. We don’t know that a sales tax referendum has everbeen successfully passed in Williamson County. It requires voters to show up for a special election at an odd time of year, which drives down turnout, and it requires people to show up to specifically vote to raise their taxes. It also provides a more attractive focal point for anti-tax folks to organize around. Some may propose this option because they want it to pass and others because they think it will fail. Be thoughtful about motivations on this potential funding mechanism. Most experienced Williamson County political observers think it is unlikely to pass because turnout for a special election tends to be more anti-tax than the electorate as a whole.

Wheel Tax

  • The current wheel tax is $25.75. Increasing the wheel tax to $100 would mean approximately $18 million in revenue. In fiscal year 2015-16, the county sold approximately 180,000 stickers.
  • Like sales tax, an increase in the wheel tax would require a two-thirds vote from the County Commission and then citizen approval from a county-wide voting referendum.
  • Again, many longtime political observers believe a wheel tax has little likelihood of passage for the same reason as a sales tax. An increase in the wheel tax failed in 2000.

Property Tax

  • The current property tax rate is $2.15 (per $100 of a property’s assessed value). This rate represents the lowest tax rate in middle Tennessee and the lowest among Tennessee counties with populations greater than 100,000.

TaxRateMap

Property Appraisal = $400,000

Assessed Value (25%) = $100,000

Property Tax Rate = $2.15 per $100 of a property’s assessed value

Property Tax = $100,000/100 x $2.15 = $2,150

  • Each additional cent equates to roughly a million dollars so in order to increase revenue by $8 million, we’d need a rate of $2.23. On the sample $400K home, the annual tax bill increase would be $80.
  • Increasing the property tax would require a simple majority – 13 out of 24 County Commissioners.
  • County Commissioners, particularly the thirteen who voted for the property tax change last year, may be reluctant to vote for an increase especially with every seat up for election in May 2018 if they believe their constituents are against it.

District 2 Betsy Hester and Judy Herbert, District 3 Matt Milligan and David Pair, District 5 Tommy Little, District 6 Paul Webb, District 7 Bert Chalfant, District 8 Jack Walton, District 10 Matt Williams and David Landrum, and District 12 Dana Ausbrooks and Steve Smith voted yes. Another yes vote was Tom Bain (D7) who retired this year. Dwight Jones (D1), Lew Green (D5), and Brian Beathard (D11) were absent.

Most of the same commissioners who voted against the county budget also rejected the property tax change – District 4 Kathy Danner (voted for overall budget) and Gregg Lawrence, District 6 Jeff Ford, District 8 Barb Sturgeon, District 9 Todd Kaestner and Sherri Clark, District 11 Brandon Ryan, and District 1 Ricky Jones (abstained from voting on overall budget).

 

How about more money from the state?

Getting more money from the state would be excellent. Currently, the state only funds a portion its school funding formula, known as the BEP (Basic Education Program). A word of caution: state funding would still not solve our local school funding issues. If a local elected official tells you the money should come from the state, ask them to fill you in on their conversations with the legislative delegation. If they’re actually advocating for the state to fully fund the BEP, for example, that’s great. Otherwise, they’re just talking. The chance of getting more than our calculated share from the state is slim because Williamson County has the ability to generate more revenue than most counties in the state.

Williamson County is the wealthiest county in Tennessee. They have tremendous fiscal capacity (ability to generate revenue), and they have a very low tax rate. They could meet current and future needs with a relatively small increase in the property tax that would still leave them with the lowest rate in middle Tennessee. Instead, they are “struggling” to figure out how to pay for schools.

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


 

Did You Read the Whole Letter?

The BEP Review Committee met today as it begins the process of outlining priorities for BEP improvement for 2018. The group received an update on how Governor Haslam and the General Assembly responded to the priority list it created for this year.

Here’s the list of priorities the committee identified for 2017:

The five priorities, in order:

1. Sustained commitment to teacher compensation

2. English Language Learner funding (to bring ratios closer to the level called for in the BEP Enhancement Act of 2016)

3. Funding the number of guidance counselors at a level closer to national best practices

4. Funding Response to Instruction and Intervention positions

5. Sustained technology funding

Committee members noted that Governor Haslam funded an increase in teacher compensation and improvements in ELL funding. As of today, that budget has passed the House of Representatives and awaits final approval by the Senate on Monday.

The committee also noted that no movement was made to improve the ratio of school counselors to students and no funding was provided for RTI positions. Technology funding also remained constant.

There was an opportunity to address the RTI issue. Rep. Joe Pitts of Clarksville sponsored a bill that would have added to the BEP formula funding for 3 RTI positions for each public school in the state. That bill carried a cost of $167 million. Despite a nearly $1 billion surplus this year, funding was not provided for this legislation.

Committee members — representatives of school boards and superintendents — noted that the RTI program can be successful if properly implemented. Directors of Schools in particular expressed frustration at the state of RTI, noting the program is mandated, but not funded.

The legislature referred Pitts’ bill to the BEP Review Committee for study and further recommendations.

In addition to the lack of funding for RTI positions and school counselors, MNPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson noted that historically, the committee has recommended an improvement in funding for school nurses. While that wasn’t in the top 5 this past year, Henson advocated for getting it back on the list. Committee staff indicated members would be surveyed over the summer, with an eye toward a new list of priorities released by August.

One other issue worth noting: Committee staff highlighted increases in BEP funds for teacher compensation over the past three years and suggested this indicates a commitment to the committee’s top priority. However, the BEP Review Committee’s own 2016 report , actual total compensation for teachers has increased by only 1% per year over the last two years.That’s less than the rate of increase from a decade ago, when total teacher compensation was increasing at a rate of about 3% per year. This in spite of repeated commitments to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

So, the BEP Review Committee will make a new priority list. Issues like funding RTI positions and school counselors seem likely to make a repeat appearance. The question, then, is will these items receive the attention they deserve?

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