MNPS Teachers Plan Thursday March

Teachers in Nashville are planning a march to Metro Council to push for “full funding” of metro schools, including a significant pay raise for MNPS teachers.

Here’s more from a press release:

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Vouchers Already Impacting Teacher Pay, School Resources

A story out of Coffee County explains how Governor Bill Lee’s voucher scheme (currently under investigation by the FBI), is already impacting teacher pay raises and resources dedicated to public schools:

The day it passed in the senate, April 25 (May 1 for an amended version), the Coffee County Board of Education expressed their concerns and decided it would be more frugal to give their faculty a 1 percent raise instead of a 2 percent raise. This decision had multiple factors involved, including balancing the budget, but the uncertainty of the vouchers was part of the discussion, Aaron explained.

In Manchester, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen did not pledge money in their 2019-20 budget to assist College Street Elementary School with renovations due, in part, to the uncertainty of the voucher program as well. Alderman Ryan French pointed out the program has the potential to decimate Average Daily Attendance (a facet of BEP), which will reduce funding and therefore put more strain on the local population.

It’s still unclear what the total cost of Lee’s voucher scheme will be should it be fully implemented. Some estimates put the cost at more than $300 million. That’s a significant hit to the state’s school funding formula. Even at the conservative end of the scale, a total cost of around or just above $100 million would mean a significant loss to all districts across Tennessee. To put that amount in perspective, $100 million would fund a four percent raise for all of Tennessee’s teachers.

Lee has already demonstrated he prefers to spend money on voucher schemes and charter schools instead of teacher salaries. His initial budget proposal provided a big boost for charter school facilities while offering only a minor increase in funding for teacher salaries.

Previous analysis indicates that even if the voucher program grows only modestly, the impact to all school systems will be significant:

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.

In other words, don’t believe the lie that just because your school district isn’t in the current voucher plan, vouchers won’t impact your schools. They absolutely will. Taking $100 million off the table means a big hit to the BEP formula, a plan that already struggles to meet the needs of our state’s schools.

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Scary Moon

While Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislative victory, a school voucher plan, faces FBI scrutiny, legislators who backed the scheme are now facing the wrath of voters. Sure, one newly elected state Senator wasted no time in demonstrating his capacity for lying to constituents. Now, a retired teacher from Maryville takes Rep. Jerome Moon to task for his campaign lies:


I worked 34 years as a teacher in Maryville City Schools. I am horrified the voucher bill passed. I live in District 8. I am a constituent of state Rep. Jerome Moon. I hold Moon responsible for killing public schools in Maryville and in Tennessee.
He told representatives from the teachers’ union and school superintendents that he’d vote against the voucher bill, but then voted for it. He was dismissive of educators’ concerns, dodged emails, phone calls and pleas for conversations from his constituents and refuses to be held accountable. I want to know why?

The story told here about Moon is a story heard time and again across Tennessee. Yes, Jason Zachary pledged to be a voucher opponent. That is, until embattled Speaker Glen Casada needed a key vote. Then, there’s state representative Matthew Hill. Until this legislative session, Hill was a staunch opponent of school vouchers. Enter Glen Casada and his regime of lies, racism, backstabbing, lewd sexual conduct, and shady deals. This session, Hill became one of the most ardent supporters of vouchers, likely confusing his constituents while pleasing his new leader, Speaker Casada. How much did Hill’s soul cost? Was it more ore less expensive than Zachary’s?

What about your representative? Did they sell out your local schools? Are you represented by someone who was once a voucher opponent and now shifted their views? If you have a voucher story to share, email me at andy@tnedreport.com.

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Secret Voucher Man

So we know Governor Bill Lee’s controversial voucher plan narrowly passed after gaining the support of Lee’s besties Lee Beaman and Betsy DeVos while earning opposition from Tennesseans across the state. So much opposition, legislators representing 93 counties opted their districts out of the bill.

Now, we also know the FBI is investigating whether anything improper occurred in the backroom dealings that led to the bill’s passage. We saw at least one lawmaker change his vote at the last minute after arm-twisting by House Speaker Glen Casada. Other lawmakers reported receiving offers from Governor Lee or Speaker Casada in order to switch their votes.

Here’s what Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 is reporting:


FBI agents have begun interviewing Tennessee lawmakers about whether any improper incentives were offered to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school vouchers bill in the state House, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned.

It’s also interesting that in light of all the recent revelations about Glen Casada, Bill Lee has been reluctant to call on Casada to resign. It seems likely that without Casada’s help, Lee would have failed to achieve many of his legislative goals this session. Now, Casada’s true character is coming to light and Bill Lee is refusing to take a clear stand.

But hey, at least we have vouchers and a state charter authorizer, and as an added bonus, Lee signed the legislature’s bill that criminalized voter registration so that even if some Tennesseans are now motivated to vote Lee and his allies out, they’ll find it harder to get that done.

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Teacher Appreciation

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a time to provide lunches and gift cards to teachers in lieu of the salaries and support they deserve. Sure, gratitude is nice, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

Here’s what else happened in Tennessee this week: We learned that the Speaker of the House gave a $130,000 raise to an individual who had used cocaine while on the job and who had also exchanged sexually-explicit messages with the Speaker. He also has a history of racist text messages and social media posts.

Before his nearly $200,000 year a job as Speaker Casada’s Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren earned around $61,000 a year as a legislative employee.

It’s worth noting that many of Tennessee’s more than 70,000 teachers will NEVER see a salary of $61,000 a year in the course of their career.

For full disclosure, I’m married to a Tennessee teacher. She’s been teaching for nearly 20 years now. She’s been at the same school in the same job since 2003. She STILL doesn’t make $60,000 a year despite assurances from district leadership year after year that “we *wish* we could do more.”

My wife doesn’t do cocaine at her desk. She’s not in the habit of sending sexually explicit messages about who she f***d in the bathroom at a hot chicken restaurant. She shows up every single day and takes care of other people’s children.

Let’s be clear: If the text exchange between Cade Cothren and Glen Casada had been between a Tennessee teacher and her principal, there would be no question, both would be fired.

So, let’s be honest: Tennessee teachers are NOT appreciated. White men of any age at the highest levels of state government engage in abhorrent behavior and earn promotions and high salaries. Tennessee teachers, mostly women, take on the responsibility of caring for our state’s children and educating them every single day and receive little more than a “thank you” during a designated week of the year.

This year, instead of a larger raise for teachers, Governor Bill Lee proposed and the General Assembly passed legislation creating a new school voucher program. Instead of a minimum of a four percent increase in teacher raises, teachers will see 2.5%. When white men in Tennessee ask for something, they get it — whether it is school privatization or sex with a lobbyist in a Nashville restaurant. Meanwhile, the women who toil tirelessly in under-funded schools are told to “keep going” for the sake of “the kids.”

When teachers in Tennessee threaten to “strike” or engage in a “sick out” they are told it’s “against the law” and that they should “think of the kids.” At the same time, white men prey upon female interns and lobbyists at the Capitol and our supposedly Christian Governor can’t be bothered to comment. Even an admitted sex offender earns a top post on education policy while teachers remain short-changed when it comes to pay and respect.

It’s no accident that a profession dominated by women receives so little respect from our legislature and Governor. These are white men who have demonstrated time and again they care little for the women around them. Even those not directly involved are complicit by way of their silence. Both in policy and in personal practice, Tennessee’s elected leaders demonstrate they don’t care about teachers, about women, or about a truly better future for ALL of our state.

When you see Governor Lee trot out a resolution appreciating teachers — when Glen Casada or Randy McNally issue a proclamation about the importance of educators — it’s time to call BS. They don’t believe it. The evidence is clear.

Today, teachers across our state are showing up, teaching kids, and NOT doing cocaine or soliciting sex. They’re not asking for a reward, they’re just doing what’s right. It’s time our lawmakers looked to our teachers for leadership.

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

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PET on Teacher Pay

The Tennessee Comptroller recently released a report on teacher pay in Tennessee, noting that the salary funding increases approved by the legislature in recent years don’t seem to be making it into teacher paychecks. JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee offers some thoughts on this analysis.

The Basic Education Program (BEP), how Tennessee funds K-12 public schools, provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education. The state of Tennessee invested more than $300 million dollars for teacher salaries. As Tennessee teachers knew, and the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) proved through recent research, most of those dollars did not actually end up in teacher pockets. It does not inspire confidence for current or future educators. This is the challenge the Tennessee General Assembly must meet in order to recruit and retain effective educators in our classrooms.

The legislative intent was to increase teacher salaries across the state. In fact, there was slightly more than 6 percent increase total in average classroom salaries in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 through the Instructional Salaries and Wages category of the Basic Education Program (BEP). OREA reports that this increase of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), made Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. However, as evidenced, nobody can be certain those dollars actually reached the pockets of educators.

Many districts used increased state salary funding to add instructional positions and staff, in addition to providing pay raises, as allowed by the state statutes concerning the BEP. It was not clear to researchers how many districts added instructional staff, as opposed to increasing salaries of existing staff. That data would have been extremely useful to policymakers. The increased local funding spent on instructional salaries is also unknown according to researchers. When districts prepare their budgets, BEP funding from the state and local matching dollars are commingled and the dollars “lose their identity” in terms of where the revenue originates.

Districts were most likely to give raises by increasing the district salary schedule, which, in most districts, sets base pay for all teachers at specified education and experience levels. Onetime bonuses and across-the-board raises outside of the salary schedule was also used by districts to increase teacher pay. The state should take more interest in the pay plans submitted by districts and work to ensure that legislative intent to increase teacher salaries occurs, versus merely adding instructional staff.

OREA did not find any indicators of noncompliance but concluded that the available financial data for districts does not permit tracking salary expenditures back to their revenue sources. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid for with state funds versus local funds. That certainly needs to be corrected.

Most school districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP. Yet, some of these positions were mandated by the state for Response to Instruction and Intervention, which were not funded in the BEP until recently, and then only minimally.

It is also noted in the report that several districts allude to the need to stay competitive with the benefits they offer – like health insurance – to attract and retain employees. The analysis from OREA found “that most districts pay more than the state minimum requirement of 45 percent for licensed instructional employees’ premiums, with over half of districts paying at least 75 percent of the premium cost over the time period. Eight districts covered 100 percent of the cost.”

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations and identifies the need by the state to develop a more complete overview and understanding of salary trends by local districts. I would add, it would be helpful for the state to understand its role in this process. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. As a former businessman, Governor Lee is well positioned to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. We must support our teachers and make sure the dollars allocated to their salaries actually reach them, as policymakers intended.

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Elizabethton Students Win NPR Podcast Challenge

A group of students from Elizabethton High School won the high school division of NPR’s student podcast challenge. More from NPR:

In 1916, people hanged a circus elephant from a crane in Erwin. The students of nearby Elizabethton High School, in their winning podcast, told the bizarre story — and how people there today want to make things right.

“Through researching and talking to some of Erwin’s people, we have learned how they are determined to change how people think about Erwin and its tragic history,” the podcast concludes.

“This podcast took me on a journey,” says Lee Hale, one of our judges and a reporter at member station KUER in Utah. “Halfway in, I forgot I was judging a student competition because I got so wrapped up in the story. The voices, the pacing, the arc — everything worked.”

The work was submitted by English teacher Tim Wasem and social studies teacher Alex Campbell. When we broke the good news to Wasem, he said, “They really had a story they wanted to tell, and they wanted to tell it right.”

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PET on Voucher Passage

Immediately following yesterday’s passage of Governor Bill Lee’s “Education Savings Account” voucher program, Professional Educators of Tennessee sent out this statement:

The Tennessee General Assembly today voted to support a second Education Savings Account type program.  The legislation which passed today will serve up to 15,000 lower income students in Nashville and Memphis, after five years.  It will very likely face legal challenges.  Education policy must support all children in developing the skills, the knowledge, and the integrity that will allow them to be responsible, contributing members of their community and ultimately gain employment with a sustainable living wage. Public education still provides the best opportunity for most children to obtain that success.  We do not envision this limited pilot program changing that fact.   The vast majority of our schools are incredibly successful, as are the teachers who serve and students who attend them. 

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How Much is that Voucher in the Window?

Both the Tennessee House of Representatives and the Tennessee Senate today passed Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher (Education Savings Account) scheme and the measure now heads to his desk for signing.

The bill passed despite the fact that no one could clearly articulate the ultimate cost of the program. An early version of analysis by the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee indicated the cost could be as much as $335 million by 2024.

As the Senate began debate on the measure, that large amount caused some concern (our state underfunds schools by at least $500 million). Not long after that concern was expressed, a “new” fiscal analysis appeared. This time, the projected cost was some $165 million. But wait, that still seems pretty high, right.

Not to fear, Finance Committee Chair Bo Watson and Conference Committee Report author Brian Kelsey assured lawmakers the actual cost would be roughly HALF what the fiscal analysis suggest because there won’t be enough students to meet the program’s caps in the early years.

Wait, what?! We’re supposed to count on a program being unpopular so it won’t cost so much? But, Governor Lee says everyone wants this. He campaigned on it, even. In fact, the plan is so desirable, legislators in 93 counties worked their asses off to ensure it didn’t impact their school districts.

During the debate, Senator Richard Briggs of Knoxville noted that once the door to vouchers was opened, it wouldn’t be closed. He cited the example of the failed Tennessee Virtual Academy, operated by K-12, Inc. Despite years of poor performance, the school is STILL allowed to operate.

Of course, there’s also the experience of Indiana. There, a limited voucher program was started by then-Governor Mitch Daniels. Then, under Mike Pence, the program expanded rapidly and now costs more than $150 million per year.

What’s worse, the legislature supported a program backed by the Governor despite overwhelming evidence the plan simply won’t help kids. In fact, research suggests that kids who receive vouchers perform no better than their non-voucher peers in reading and actually fall behind in math.

Oh, and then there’s the fraud. Rep. Mark White of Memphis USED To care about this, until Governor Lee and Speaker Glen Casada told him to stop.

So, to summarize: We don’t know how much this plan will ultimately cost. We don’t know how many kids will use it. We don’t know how large it will grow. We don’t know how the state will prevent fraud. We don’t know how, or even if, we’ll be able to shut it down if the results are as bad as the Tennessee Virtual Academy.

We do know this: Vouchers haven’t worked. Anywhere. We also know that somewhere between $70 million and $200 million will be shifted from current education funding to a voucher scheme. We know the low end of that would give our state’s teachers a badly needed additional 2.5% raise. We know the $200 million+ price tag that’s very possible if our state tracks others in expansion would mean an 8% raise. We know our schools are underfunded by AT LEAST $500 million according to the state’s Republican Comptroller. We know Tennessee is 45th in education funding. We know we spend $67 less (inflation adjusted) per pupil now than we did in 2010.

Instead of addressing any of that, we’ve watched our lawmakers do Governor Lee’s bidding so he can claim victory on one of his signature initiatives.

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BOOM!

A joint statement from Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools on Governor Bill Lee’s ESA voucher scheme:

Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashviille Public Schools (MNPS) released a joint statement on Monday in opposition of the highly controversial Education Savings Account bill that passed both the state House and Senate last week.

In the statement, the districts call the bill unconstitutional because it affects only a small portion of school districts, which includes both SCS and MNPS. If the bill is signed into law, both districts say they are prepared to challenge its legality in court.

  You can read the full statement below:

The Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation violates Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution because it is arbitrarily limited to only a portion of the state when the Constitution requires any Act of the General Assembly to apply statewide unless approved by a local legislative body or through a local referendum.

The language, in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, reflects an arbitrary application to Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), as there are school districts, such as Madison County and Fayette County, with larger or nearly the same percentages of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. The legislation also applies to only certain districts with priority schools from the state’s 2015 priority school list even though there is a more current list from 2018 that includes schools in Campbell, Fayette, Madison and Maury Counties. These districts are arbitrarily left out of the legislation.

Should this legislation be signed into law, an immediate constitutional challenge is likely to ensure equal protection under the law. Shelby County is no stranger to asserting and prevailing on such constitutional challenges as reflected in the November 27, 2012 decision in the case of Board of Education of Shelby County Tennessee et al v. Memphis City Board of Education by federal Judge Hardy Mays which rendered a similar bill void that was local in effect.

“If the Governor and Legislature are determined to pass a general law that would apply arbitrarily only to us or a limited number of school systems, we will be sure to exhaust all of our legal options,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris M. Ray.

“No matter what you call them, vouchers are a bad idea. They are not what we need for public schools. We owe it to this generation of students — and to all of those who follow them – to fight for a system that is fairly funded,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Interim Director.

If the ESA bill becomes law, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools stand prepared to evaluate and pursue all legal remedies that ensure the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law remain intact for the children and families of our districts and state

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