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


 

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


 

Kendreanna Needs You

Earlier this week, I wrote about RePublic Charter’s unsolicited emails to teachers in a district outside of Nashville. Since then, I’ve received a version of an email sent to teachers in MNPS attempting to recruit them to teach at RePublic.

Here’s that email:

Reimagine Public Education in the South.
We’re doing the work where others aren’t – in parts of the country where educational inequity has the deepest roots. We’ve got a reputation for challenging the status quo. RePublic’s are some of the highest performing public schools in the state of Tennessee. Ours were the first charter schools to open in Mississippi history. We’re teaching thousands of kids to code – inside and outside the walls of our schools. Where others are limited by what has been – we’re inspired by what could be.

One Team. One Family.
Working at RePublic isn’t just a job. It’s a movement. It’s a family. It’s a community of staff, students, andfamilies who stop at nothing to ensure that every one of our scholars is prepared to succeed in college and life. With extensive professional development, coaching, content training, and teammates who will have your back with equal parts love and honesty – you’ll be among the best, and thus, become your best.

Pave Your Path – and Make Your Mark.
We’ve got ambitious plans to serve hundreds more kids across the South next year – and are searching the nation for top talent for roles in teaching, operations, culture, school leadership, and on our network team. As a stakeholder in an organization that is growing quickly, you’ll have the chance to help build something extraordinary.

APPLY NOW for 2017-18
Want to learn more about opportunities to join RePublic’s team next year?
Request a meeting with our Talent Team here.

Included in the email was a video of a student named Kendreanna. The pitch? Kendreanna and students like her need teachers — like those that are already working in MNPS and other districts.

My questions remain: Is this a typical recruiting tactic? Do other charter operators send unsolicited mass emails to teachers begging them to apply for jobs? Do district administrators engage in this type of recruiting tactic?

If you’ve received an email like this from RePublic or another charter operator, I’d like to hear about it. Email me: andy@spearsstrategy.com

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


 

Public School’s Got Talent

Apparently, RePublic Charter Schools is searching for talent among middle Tennessee public schools. Teachers at one school near Nashville received an email this week with the subject “Time to chat re: 2017-18 plans?”

The text of the email follows:

I hope you don’t mind me reaching out– I work with  RePublic Schools, a network of high performing public charter schools based out of Nashville, TN and Jackson, MS with a mission to reimagine public education in the South.

 

We’re #BuildingOurBracket for 2017-18 at RePublic. We’re stacking our roster with A-Players from across the nation to lock arms with our teams in Nashville and Jackson to reimagine public education in the South. I’d love to talk about your plans for next year – and why we think joining our family would be the jumping off point for the next phase of your leadership pathway.

Do you have 20 minutes to jump on the phone re: 2017-18? Shoot me a few times that work and the best number to reach you – and we’ll get it on the books.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few resources to help you learn a little more about RePublic – you can hear from the #PeopleOfRePublic (our staff members, our kids), check out our results here, and learn more about what’s important to us on our blog.
Can’t wait to hear from you,
Ashley

ADG

 

Ashley Davis Gallimore

Associate Director of Talent

RePublic Schools

3230 Brick Church Pike

Nashville, TN 37207

 

This message is an advertisement. If you do not wish to receive future emails, please let us know.

The disclaimer at the bottom describes the recruiting email as an advertisement. The message was sent to the school emails of many teachers at school near Nashville. It’s not clear whether this is a typical tactic of RePublic’s.

It’s difficult to imagine one public school district sending emails like this to teachers in another district via the school system’s email. Sure, principals and directors maintain contact and reach out to individual teachers, but sending a mass email to nearly every teacher in a single school asking about their teaching plans for the following year?

These emails were unsolicited. None of the teachers who shared an email with me had previously expressed any interest in RePublic.

I’m curious — are other teachers in Tennessee receiving recruiting emails from charter or other school systems? If so, email me at andy@spearsstrategy.com

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


 

Now that’s Teacher Appreciation

The Dickson County School Board is proposing a budget that includes a 10% raise for all school system employees.

The Tennessean reports:

The raises for certified and non-certified educators will increase the schools budget more than $3 million, according to preliminary numbers presented by Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks.

“I think that it’s important to the success of our school system and important to the future of the children in our county that we pay our educators competitively and commensurate to their value in our community,” said School Board Chairman Tim Potter. “Teacher pay should be substantially increased.”

Potter asked Weeks to determine the cost of 10 percent raises for teachers to the school board.

The proposed raise, if adopted, would bring the average teacher’s salary in Dickson County up to just over $47,000 per year. That rate would make Dickson County competitive with Montgomery and Williamson counties.

The County Commission will have to approve the budget, including the raises.

UPDATE: As of 5/2/2017, the County Commission has rejected the proposed budget. This means the School Board will have to submit a new proposal to the Commission. 

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


 

 

Haslam to Kids: Be Ready, Even Though TN Hasn’t Been

In a letter sent home to students ahead of TNReady testing season, Governor Bill Haslam encourages them to do well and tells them, “Tennessee is behind you.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

IMG_3182

These words of encouragement as well as a handy number 2 pencil were paid for by SCORE.

Here’s the thing: For the past few years, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” kids. Not in terms of delivering an annual test in an effective manner.

I wrote last year about the new “Rite of Spring.” Here’s what I said then:

Lately, this season has brought another ritual: The Tennessee Department of Education’s failure to deliver student test scores. Each of the last three years has seen TNDOE demonstrate it’s inability to get state testing right (nevermind the over-emphasis on testing to begin with).

Back in 2014, there was a delay in the release of the all-powerful “quick scores” used to help determine student grades. Ultimately, this failure led to an Assistant Commissioner losing her job.

Then, in 2015, the way “quick scores” were computed was changed, creating lots of confusion. The Department was quick to apologize, noting:

We regret this oversight, and we will continue to improve our processes such that we uphold our commitment to transparency, accuracy, and timeliness with regard to data returns, even as we experience changes in personnel.

The processes did not appear to be much improved at all as the 2016 testing cycle got into full swing, with a significant technical failure on Day One.

When it comes to actually getting test administration and subsequent details right, Tennessee hasn’t exactly been “behind” the kids taking the tests.

But this year, armed with a letter from the Governor and a new pencil, the kids are ready. Haslam wants them to do their best, even though the state has been letting them down.

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


 

Shelby County Passes TNReady Resolution

The Shelby County Commission last night unanimously passed a resolution calling on state lawmakers to suspend use of TNReady data for student grades and teacher evaluations this year.

Here’s what they had to say:

RESOLUTION URGING THE TENNESSEE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION, GOVERNOR BILL  HASLAM, AND THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO ELIMINATE THE TENNESSEE READY SCORES AS A COMPONENT OF TEACHER EVALUATIONS AND STUDENT SCORES.  SPONSORED BY COMMISIONER DAVID REAVES

 

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee has invested heavily in the development of educational standards known as Tennessee (TN) Ready, and

WHEREAS, standardized testing has become the cornerstone of measuring mastery of the TN educational standards, and

WHEREAS, TN Ready should be meant to be diagnostic in nature and help teachers and administrators understand and develop an educational plan to help students close the achievement gap in proficiency; and

WHEREAS, the TN Ready test has become a final exam for children instead of a continual diagnostic view; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has chosen to hold teachers accountable by linking student performance on the TN Ready exam to a teacher’s evaluation; and

WHEREAS the unintended consequence of such action has led to teachers teaching children to score high on a test versus teaching real mastery of subject matter; and

WHEREAS, while giving off the appearance of a better education, this type of teaching to the test behavior actually limits the amount of quality content in deference to test taking strategies; and

WHEREAS, the TN General Assembly has now also tied student scores to the results of standardized testing creating an unfair playing field for students and their college scholarship prospects with private school students who do not count standardized tests as part of their grade point average (GPA); and

WHEREAS, parents, students, and teachers are all impacted by the State of TN placing so much emphasis on testing instead of instruction; and

WHEREAS, record numbers of quality teachers are leaving the teaching profession and school districts are struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers due to the TN standards imposed in regards to standardized testing.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SHELBY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, that we urge the TN General Assembly to suspend the use of TN Ready Results as part of the teacher evaluations and as part of the students’ GPAs.

MORE on TNReady:

Will TNReady Yield Valid Data for Teacher Evaluations?

Washington County Joins Waiver Wave

State Board Makes Late Call on TNReady Data

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