Bill Lee Skips TOSS

Every year, the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) holds a conference in Gatlinburg. The event is an opportunity for the state’s education leaders to come together, receive training, and learn from each other. Historically, during gubernatorial election years, the event has also featured the major party candidates for Governor outlining their education views and taking questions.

Not this year. Democratic candidate Karl Dean did attend the conference and gave a presentation on his agenda for public education in Tennessee.

However, Republican candidate Bill Lee did not attend. It’s true that Bill Lee has some education policy views that might not be welcomed by professional educators, but he certainly should take advantage of the opportunity to explain his vision in front of a nonpartisan group of state education leaders.

Back in 2016, Bill Lee wrote on op-ed supporting that year’s version of an education voucher scheme — one of many that have failed in the legislature in recent years. He’s also expressed support for legislation that would prevent school boards from actively lobbying against vouchers. During this year’s campaign, Lee has also indicated he would support a “voucher-like” program to use public funds to pay for private school tuition.

Lee’s support for vouchers is problematic not just because it represents a shift in taxpayer dollars away from public schools but also because recent evidence suggests vouchers don’t get results:

Recent evidence tells us that’s not the case. In fact, studies of voucher programs in D.C., Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio indicate students lose ground academically when accepting a voucher and attending a private school.

Writers Mary Dynarski and Austin Nichols say this about the studies:

Four recent rigorous studies—in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—used different research designs and reached the same result: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools. The Louisiana and Indiana studies offer some hints that negative effects may diminish over time. Whether effects ever will become positive is unclear.

Lee has also expressed support for arming teachers, the Tennessean reports:

With school safety at the forefront of a national debate, Williamson County businessman Bill Lee said Monday he supports arming some teachers as a “cost-effective” way to increase security.

 

It seems likely the state’s school system leaders would like further information on Lee’s plans for schools, but Lee was unwilling to attend their annual gathering and provide that information.

Why won’t Bill Lee talk directly to those most likely to be impacted by his policies — or seek input from school system leaders on how a voucher scheme or armed teachers would work in practice? Moreover, why wouldn’t Bill Lee want educators to be able to clearly compare his views to those of Karl Dean’s?

If Bill Lee believes he’s the best candidate on education, he should be willing to stand in front of educators and make that case.

 

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Legislators Advance Bill No One Wants

Today, legislators in a House subcommittee advanced a bill (HB2208) that would allow school districts to create policy allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

Here’s what’s interesting: No one wants this bill but the lawmakers who voted for it. Governor Haslam has indicated he’s opposed. Law enforcement representatives spoke against it. The state’s largest association of teachers issued a statement opposing the bill. It’s not even clear there’s an agency willing to conduct the necessary training.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the full House committee and in a Senate Committee next week.

Here’s the Tennessee Education Association email to members on the bill:

TEA is against a bill before the legislature to allow arming designated teachers across Tennessee. We’ve stopped similar proposals in Tennessee before. Laws in other states where teachers can carry guns in schools if they choose are dangerous to students and faculty alike.

Tennessee state law currently allows distressed rural counties that can’t afford SROs to designate teachers to act as security, if they undergo POST (police officer) training, if the local board votes for it, the director designates, and the teacher volunteers. The state doesn’t provide SRO funding.

HB2208 before the General Assembly opens this option to ALL systems. This is wrong.

TEA is working to increase funding for SROs, and other law enforcement resources to provide protection for our schools. Again, safety is not arming teachers. Safety is effective professional security.

Anything less, we will fight to stop.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  • Contact your legislator: say no to arming teachers, yes to SRO funding.
  • Have your school board pass a resolution saying they won’t arm teachers.
  • Support efforts to increase law enforcement security in our schools.

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