Houston County Commission Takes Stand for Public Schools

The Houston County Commission joined the growing list of opponents to a school voucher program recently.

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle has more:

The Houston County Commission has approved a resolution opposing any state measure that would take funds from public schools for use at private schools.

Twelve out of 13 commissioners, with one abstaining, voted on Jan. 28 for a resolution affirming support for public education and educators to be sent to Gov. Bill Lee, members of the Tennessee Legislature and the Commissioner of Education.

Legislation was filed by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, in early January to create a voucher program. Since then, a number of school boards have passed similar resolutions in opposition to such a program.

Local school boards and county commissions are expressing their position on vouchers as Governor Bill Lee has indicated he intends to pursue voucher legislation.

The bottom line: Vouchers don’t work.

Voucher studies of statewide programs in Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana all suggest that not only do vouchers not improve student achievement, they in fact cause student performance to decline.

Some state policymakers (State Rep. Bill Dunn, State Senator Brian Kelsey, Governor Bill Haslam) are asking taxpayers to invest in a voucher scheme. These advocates suggest that a voucher program can provide a path to better outcomes for students. However, the results of statewide programs in three different studies indicate just the opposite: Vouchers offer a path to dismal achievement.

Tennessee lawmakers should take a look at the evidence. Vouchers just don’t work. In fact, they harm the very students voucher advocates claim to want to help.

Stay tuned to see if voucher legislation advances and how legislators respond to the local elected officials strongly opposing the use of public money to fund private schools.

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Still Waiting

In March of 2013, I wrote about a possible education agenda for Tennessee. It was a plan based on issues I felt were not receiving adequate attention at the time. Each was chosen for the potential to have a measurable impact on outcomes.

Now, with a new governor and General Assembly, it seems a good time to check-in on these proposals and see where Tennessee stands.

The items I included were: Pre-K, new teacher mentoring, BEP funding improvements, and a significant increase in teacher pay.

Specifically:

We should expand the Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017. 

Ok, it’s 2019 and we’re still not there. This despite clear evidence (especially in Nashville) that quality early education works. Instead, the previous Lt. Governor worked hard to keep the Pre-K program from expanding.

 

Tennessee policy-makers should build and launch a new BEP formula in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

This hasn’t happened. In fact, Governor Haslam froze BEP 2.0 and created a system where per pupil spending was essentially flat during his time in office. You can’t move forward by standing in place. We need an investment of between $500 million and $1 billion to adequately fund our state’s schools.

 

Tennessee policy-makers should build a new teacher mentoring program and ensure every new teacher has a trained mentor by the 2016-17 academic year.

No, this hasn’t been done. Hasn’t been seriously talked about. Not on the horizon. Investing in early career support and development for teachers is not yet a priority of our state’s policymakers.

 

Tennessee policy-makers should raise the starting pay for all teachers to $40,000 and adjust the pay scale to improve overall compensation by the 2015-16 academic year.

It is 2019 and we are still not there. Many teachers in our state start teaching at salaries below $40,000 and many will teach a full career and never see a salary above $60,000. This is an unsustainable model and is already having an impact in districts across the state.

 

So, I still think these four items make up a solid education policy agenda for our state. What do you think? Teachers, what are your policy goals?

 

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Not a Single Member

Yesterday, the House Education Administration Subcommittee met for the first time. The meeting was the first chaired by admitted sex offender David Byrd.

Readers will recall that while both former House Speaker Beth Harwell and current Lt. Governor Randy McNally called on Byrd to resign from the legislature last year, current House Speaker Glen Casada gave Byrd a key leadership role on education policy.

At yesterday’s meeting, Byrd asked each committee member to introduce himself (the committee is made up of seven men) and state an interesting fact.

Each member proceeded to attempt humor. Not a single member used the opportunity to call on Byrd to resign from his committee leadership post. Instead, they acted as if having an admitted sex offender at the helm of a legislative committee was just business as usual.

Here’s a link to the committee membership.

And here’s a picture of the six men who sat in silence while an admitted sex offender chaired a committee:

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This Seems Bad

Is Tennessee on track for another TNReady mess? It sure seems that way.

Chalkbeat has more on the rushed timeline to get a new vendor in place for Fall 2019:

With just months to go before a company is supposed to take over Tennessee’s troubled assessment program, the state has yet to release its request for proposals, potentially putting its next vendor on course for another rushed timeline to testing.

The state’s education department had aimed to solicit proposals by December, receive bids by February, and make a decision by April. Now officials are looking at February to unveil the document that will outline Tennessee’s testing requirements after three straight years of headaches under two different companies.

NOT OPTIMAL

Incoming Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn — who was recruited by new Gov. Bill Lee partly for her experience with assessments in two other states — acknowledges that the timetable is not optimal.

“If I look at other states, including the two that I’ve overseen in Delaware and Texas, the traditional timeline is that a new vendor has a year to set up processes that are really strong and then you execute,” she told Chalkbeat.

“That being said,” she continued, “the responsibility that we have at the department is to follow whatever guidelines, legislation, and expectations are set for us. The expectation is that we have a new vendor in place for next school year, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that is as strong a transition as possible.”

Umm??

Seriously, Tennessee?

Are we going to do this to our kids again?

It sure looks that way.

Hackers. Dump Trucks. Lies. Rushed Timelines. Welcome to Tennessee, Penny Schwinn!

 

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Will Bill Lee Get Serious About Teacher Pay?

New Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is expected to layout his first spending proposal for the state in late February, with a State of the State Address planned for early March. First, he’s holding hearings to learn from state departments about current expenditures and needs/desires going forward.

Yesterday, he heard from the Department of Education and indicated that improving teacher pay would be among his priorities, though he didn’t offer any specifics.

First, let’s be clear: Our state has the money available to make a significant investment in teacher pay.

TEA identifies more than $800 million in revenue from budget cycles dating back to 2015 that could be invested in schools. Additionally, there’s an estimated surplus of $200 million and new internet sales tax revenue of $200 million.

Next, let’s admit we have a crisis on our hands. Tennessee teachers are paid bargain basement prices and the situation is getting dire:

Tennessee has consistently under-funded schools while foregoing revenue and offering huge local and state tax incentives to Amazon.

In fact, while telling teachers significant raises were “unaffordable” last year, Metro Nashville somehow found millions to lure an Amazon hub to the city. This despite a long-building crisis in teacher pay in the city. Combine a city with low pay for teachers with a state government reluctant to invest in salaries, and you have a pretty low value proposition for teachers in our state.

Now, let’s talk about why this problem persists. It’s because our school funding formula, the BEP, is broken:

The state funds 70% of the BEP instructional component. That means the state sends districts $28,333.90 per BEP-generated teacher. But districts pay an average of $50,355 per teacher they employ. That’s a $22,000 disparity. In other words, instead of paying 70% of a district’s basic instructional costs, the state is paying 56%.

To be clear, those are 2014 numbers. So, let’s update a little. Now, the state pays 70% of $44,430.12, or roughly $31,000 per teacher generated by the BEP formula. But, the actual average cost of a teacher is $53,000. So, districts come up $22,000 short in their quest to stretch state dollars to meet salary needs. Of course, districts are also responsible for 100% of the cost of any teachers hired beyond the BEP generated number. Every single district in the state hires MORE teachers than the BEP generates. Here’s more on that:

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. This add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP.

Chalkbeat notes another challenge of getting money into teacher paychecks:

Under Haslam, the state increased allocations for teacher pay the last three years, but the money hasn’t always reached their paychecks. That’s because districts have discretion on how to invest state funding for instructional needs if they already pay their teachers the state’s average weighted annual salary of $45,038.

There are, of course, some clear solutions to these challenges. These solutions have yet to be tried. Mainly because they cost money and our political leaders have so far lacked the will to prioritize a meaningful investment in our teaching force. Here’s an outline of how those solutions might work:

There’s an easy fix to this and it has been contemplated by at least one large school system in the state. That fix? Moving the BEP instructional component to the state average. Doing so would cost just over $500 million. So, it’s actually NOT that easy. Another goal of those seeking greater equity is moving the BEP instructional match from 70% to 75%, essentially fulfilling the promise of BEP 2.0. Doing so would cost at least $150 million.

My guess? Bill Lee won’t propose either of these solutions. That doesn’t mean a legislator can’t or won’t — though it hasn’t happened so far.

Stay tuned for late February, when we’ll see what Bill Lee means when he says he’s committed to improving teacher pay.

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When are Teacher Strikes Coming to Tennessee?

Teachers working for substandard wages. Students attending school in trailers because of overcrowding. A lack of school counselors, nurses, and support staff. A funding shortfall of around $1 billion.

Yes, these conditions all describe Tennessee. But the story reporting on them is about schools in our neighboring state of Virginia.

Here’s more of what’s happening next door:

Just a few miles away from the moldy trailers of McLean high school is the proposed site of on Amazon’s new headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, right across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. The influx of new residents to northern Virginia attracted by Amazon is only likely to expand the trailer parks sitting outside of many northern Virginia schools.

While Virginia’s Democratic governor Ralph Northam is proposing to increase education funding by $269m, he has proposed to spend nearly three times as much, $750m, to lure Amazon to northern Virginia. The offer was made to secure Amazon’s “HQ2” – the tech company’s second headquarters which it split between Virginia and a second – equally controversial – site in Long Island City, New York.

Teachers are pushing back and now are going out in the first statewide teachers’ strikes in Virginia’s history.

Sound familiar?

It should.

Tennessee has consistently under-funded schools while foregoing revenue and offering huge local and state tax incentives to Amazon.

In fact, while telling teachers significant raises were “unaffordable” last year, Metro Nashville somehow found millions to lure an Amazon hub to the city. This despite a long-building crisis in teacher pay in the city. Combine a city with low pay for teachers with a state government reluctant to invest in salaries, and you have a pretty low value proposition for teachers in our state.

In fact, some teachers are openly expressing concern and highlighting our state’s failed business plan:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Los Angeles have experienced some level of success in recent strikes. Teachers in Virginia were on strike today. These strikes have earned the support of parents and community members and have yielded tangible results both in terms of new investments in schools and increased political power for teachers.

Here in Tennessee, however, teachers have yet to strike. In fact, it’s difficult to find serious discussion of a strike. Sure, our investment in schools is less now than when Bill Haslam took over ($67 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars). And yes, our teachers earn among the lowest salaries in the region with no significant improvement in recent years. Oh, and our own Comptroller says we’re at least $500 million short of what we need to adequately fund schools. A closer look at what the state’s BEP Committee leaves out reveals that number is very likely $1 billion.

So, when will Tennessee teachers strike?

Or, are the conditions that are unacceptable in so many places across the country just fine for our schools here in Tennessee?

If you’re a teacher and you have thoughts on striking, I’d love to hear from you: andy@tnedreport.com

 

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Vouchers Will Hurt Tennessee Students

Rev. David Kidd of Nashville, writing on behalf of Pastors for Tennessee Children, outlines the harms of school vouchers.

Kidd notes:

Although urban legislators have been divided on the question of private school vouchers, rural legislators have voted them down, realizing that vouchers offer no benefit to rural districts, but instead endanger their already fragile budgets.

Indiana’s voucher program, for example, has drawn rural students into religious schools to the detriment of small, vulnerable districts.  Only 15 children in Richland-Bean Blossom attendance district used vouchers in the 2013-2014 school year, soon after Indiana passed voucher legislation in 2011.

By 2016-2017 that number had increased to 41. Result? $200,000 less in revenue for Richland-Bean Blossom, sparking talk of closing schools.

He also outlines the academic harm caused by vouchers:

To make matters worse, vouchers often fail to improve outcomes for the students. Rigorous studies in three different states, Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio, (as well as the District of Columbia, the only federally funded voucher program), have shown that students who use vouchers to attend private schools fare worse academically than their closely matched peers attending public schools.

Kidd points out what the evidence shows: Vouchers are problematic for rural communities financially and end up leaving the kids they purport to help behind.

Our legislature should heed his warning.

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New Name, Same Game

The newly-established Pastors for Tennessee Children is already on the scene pointing out the dangers of the latest voucher scheme known as Education Savings Accounts.

Here’s their take on the latest threat to public schools with some explanatory material from the Network for Public Education:

Vouchers have proven to be unpopular in Tennessee, and after years of failed attempts to expand vouchers here, some lawmakers are considering “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) as an alternative. But make no mistake, vouchers and “Education Savings Accounts” are one and the same.

Will “Education Savings Accounts” lead to better results for Tennessee children and families? No.

Education Savings Accounts are not truly savings accounts. They “are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.”

The Pastors believe in God’s provision for ALL Tennessee children- not just the chosen few. We believe that our shared public tax dollars must be used is ways that align with public accountability so that all Tennessee children may prosper. We believe in the separation of church and state, and we oppose government oversight of religious schools.

The Pastors stand together in support of public education so that we may lift up the children of our state. Stand with us!

 

More from the Network for Public Education:

“Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) are another voucher-like scheme that redirects public money for educating all children to private, unaccountable education businesses, homeschoolers, and religious institutions. Privatization advocates created these programs because school vouchers are unpopular and because these programs are a way around prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools. But just like vouchers, ESA’s bleed public schools of essential funds and do little to improve education options for families.

MORE>

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Testing Priorities

Tennessee’s new Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, has said she will make getting TNReady “right” her top priority.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts for right-sizing testing in Tennessee:

 

When a test fails over and over again, students stop taking it seriously. When the data is either not returned on time or is the result of a badly botched test administration, teachers are not well-served. Further, parents can’t trust the results sent home — which undermines the entire process.

 

Our next Commissioner of Education must present a plan that moves us away from a test that does more harm than good. We should explore alternatives that reduce total testing time and even those that move away from testing kids every single year. It is also worth taking a year off of testing altogether in order to spend time developing a plan that actually serves our students well.

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


 

Wilson County School Board Opposes Vouchers

The Wilson County School Board unanimously passed a resolution opposing the creation of a voucher program in the state ahead of this year’s legislative session. Wilson County joins Knox County in speaking out about the dangers of a voucher scheme.

The move comes as Bill Lee is on the verge of taking over as Governor. Lee is strong proponent of using public money to fund unaccountable private schools.

Here’s more from the Lebanon Democrat:

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,” and the state has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education, according to the resolution

“Vouchers eliminate accountability, by channeling taxes to private schools without the same academic or testing requirements, public budgets or reports on student achievement, open meetings and records law adherence, public accountability requirements in major federal laws, including special education laws,” Wright said. “Vouchers have not been proven effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap, and vouchers leave 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.”

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