A Lot of Words

The Murfreesboro City School Board has already expressed concern about the state’s TNReady tests and the delay in receiving results.

More recently, Board members expressed frustration with the response they received from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

The Murfreesboro Post reports:

“I felt like it was a lot of words for not really answering our questions,” said Board Member Jared Barrett. He referred to the response as having “excuses” and “dodging the question.”

“My first response when I read this letter was that there’s something in here that doesn’t add up,” said Board Member Phil King. “My fear is they haven’t solved the problem of getting the paper tests in our hands in a timely manner.”

King suggested moving away from using TNReady in teacher evaluations until the state can prove it can get results back to districts in a timely manner.

The Murfreesboro School Board meeting happened before the most recent round of TNReady troubles, with some students receiving incorrect scores and some teachers not having students properly counted in their TVAAS scores.

In response to those issues, House Speaker Beth Harwell has called for hearings on the issue of state testing.

Additionally, yesterday, the United Education Association of Shelby County called for TNReady scores for this year to be invalidated and for a moratorium on including TNReady scores in accountability measures until 2021.

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


 

Million Dollar Baby

Since 2011 (the 2012 election cycle), two pro-voucher groups (Students First and the American Federation for Children) have given nearly $1 million to Tennessee legislators by way of direct or in-kind contributions, according to reports filed with the Registry of Election Finance.

Two of the biggest recipients?

House Speaker Beth Harwell has received more than $43,000 via donations to either her campaign account or her political action committee (PAC).

Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham has received $28,500 in contributions and support.

See the full list:

Students First-AFC Contributions 2011-present

 

Money for Roads but Not Schools?

House Speaker Beth Harwell is talking about using the state’s revenue surplus to fund road projects — but has made no mention yet of how the General Assembly might begin to fund the $500 million+ being sought by school systems across the state in a lawsuit over funding adequacy.

According to the Tennessean:

The Nashville Republican noted that state tax collections continue to exceed expectations, estimating the state could receive $400 million more than anticipated. With talk of a potential gas tax increase floating around the state, Harwell said that extra one-time tax money should fund some of the many shelved state road projects.

Certainly, investing in infrastructure is wise. But, so is investing in schools.

And since the state’s BEP Review Committee says Tennessee is about $500 million behind in funding its schools and since school systems are suing demanding adequacy in light of unfunded mandates like Response to Intervention (RTI2), it would make sense to use some of the new money to begin investing in schools.

Of course, Harwell’s #2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has already expressed his displeasure with school systems seeking proper funding.

The point is this: There’s money to fund some infrastructure projects AND to begin investing in schools — and it can be started without a tax increase.

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


 

 

Tennessee Education Summit: What About the Money?

Governor Bill Haslam was joined by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today in hosting a Tennessee Education Summit.

The event focused on a range of education policy issues and included presentations on topics such as Standards and Curriculum, District and Teacher Accountability, and School Choice.

One topic not mentioned was the current level of financial support for public education provided by the state. While Governor Haslam has convened a BEP Task Force to study the current funding formula, he’s also said that task force won’t be talking about more investment, but about different ways to slice the current funding pie.

The closest anyone came to addressing the funding challenges faced by Tennessee school districs (Tennessee now invests less per pupil than Mississippi) was when Tennessee Teacher of the Year Wanda Lacy asked about what was being done to help teachers who received scores below a 3 on the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

The response was that the intervention for these teachers was left up to the district. That is to say, the state provides little or no funding for mentoring, coaching, or other support mechanisms that may be used at the district level to help improve teaching practice.

The issue of money was again approached when discussing the state’s transition away from TCAP and toward a new testing model better aligned to Tennessee’s current state standards. Because the tests must be completed online, many districts are being forced to upgrade their technology. Here again, the state’s support for this new technology lags behind what many districts need to catch up.

Not mentioned was Governor Haslam’s October 2013 promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay or any way the Governor or General Assembly might make that happen.

Tennessee has historically made big education promises only to fail to deliver when it came time to fund them. This was true of Lamar Alexander’s Career Ladder program, the original BEP, BEP 2.0, and now the new evaluation system which does not include funding for attendant support of teachers identified as below expectations.

In fact, a report released in Janaury by the Education Law Center indicates that Tennessee is among the worst states in the nation in terms of its investment in public schools. The report uses statistical methods to compare funding levels across states taking into account the different cost of living and socioeconomic factors of each state. In terms of raw funding level, Tennessee falls in the low to mid-40s among all states. Yes, Tennessee now spends less per student than Mississippi, as I mentioned above. Perhaps even more striking, Tennessee is near the bottom in terms of funding “effort,” a category that rates a state’s ability to fund public schools compared to the actual dollars invested. So, we have the capacity to invest more in our schools, but we’ve historically chosen not to do so.

Do we really need more money? An analysis of the achievement gap in Tennessee suggests we do. The NAEP data cited in that report indicate a widening achievement gap. That is, kids at the bottom of the income scale are falling further behind their better off peers. What’s essentially happening is the kids at the top of the income scale are gaining ground while kids from low income families are remaining stagnant. The takeaway: The resources available to middle- and upper-income kids make a difference. And it would be worthwhile to invest in the community supports necessary to create a more level playing field for low income kids.

Additionally, teachers aren’t all that happy about doing what Governor Haslam admits is incredible work but not being paid well for it. Time will tell if this results in teachers leaving the profession in Tennessee in significant numbers.

So, today’s big Education Summit was an interesting conversation about issues that can have an impact on our schools. But it avoided the biggest issue of all: How will we pay for the investment in schools our state needs?

 

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

 

Interview with Speaker Beth Harwell

We had the pleasure to interview Speaker Beth Harwell again.

1) You have been quoted as saying that districts might need more time to absorb current reform before a voucher plan is enacted. Do you support the adoption of a voucher plan in this legislative session?

I think we need to be mindful about the changes we have already made, and certainly ensure any changes can be as seamless as possible. Most of the proposals that have been brought forth are limited in some way, so I think there is a desire to ease into it.

2) If a voucher program is implemented, would you consider independent funding of the voucher students, i.e. funding their tuition through new state funding rather than by redirecting BEP and local funds that would have gone to the LEA?  If the voucher program is limited, as Governor Haslam would like, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to test whether vouchers can raise student achievement without penalizing LEAs for the experiment.

I want everyone’s voice to be heard throughout the process, and welcome all ideas. However, we are already anticipating a tight budget due to revenue shortfalls, so a new funding source may not be possible at this time.
3) Under Republican leadership, Tennessee expanded access to charter schools beyond the original limitations based on students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, as well as those in currently failing schools.  Currently, access to pre-kindergarten is limited along similar lines, with free and reduced-price lunch students eligible first, and others eligible if there is enough space.  Why not follow the same path as charter schools, and make pre-K available for more students?

I believe we should keep Pre-K funding in place for those at-risk children that are currently eligible for the program. I am not for an expansion, however, because I think our focus right now needs to be on K-12 and making sure those public schools have the resources they need at their disposal. If there is additional money available, I would like to see it go to remedial programs in our K-12 schools.

4) There has been some recent discussion from MNPS and other districts about the state needing to fix the BEP. Perhaps along the lines of the reform started under BEP 2.0. Do you support moving forward with new BEP investment at this time?

The Governor just announced this week that he has formed a task force to take a hard look at the BEP funding formula, including the changes that were made with BEP 2.0. I applaud that approach, because even BEP 2.0 was passed seven years ago. I think allowing the stakeholders come to the table and have a serious discussion about the future of the BEP and what, if any, changes need to be made is important.
5) Some groups have called for the suspension of the use of TVAAS data in teacher evaluations until PARCC is fully implemented. Would you support this?

There are bills that have been proposed this year to take a look at a delay. While my personal preference is not to suspend or delay the use of this data, I will let the legislative process work and a full and healthy debate happen. I understand the concerns, and I’m listening, but I believe it is very important to use the data we are collecting to ensure Tennessee students are getting the education they deserve.

6) TNEdReport interviewed you last June, what has changed in the educational landscape of Tennessee since then?

I don’t know that much has changed, but there has been a lot of healthy discussion on the direction of education in Tennessee, and I think that is a positive thing.

7) What do you tell the teachers who are upset with the constant changes in education policy in Tennessee?

I value the work our teachers do, and I am pleased the Governor has committed to make Tennessee’s teacher salaries the fastest growing in the nation. They deserve that recognition and compensation. We share the same goal: to see that every child in Tennessee has the opportunity to succeed.


 

Voucher Backers Gearing up for 2014

Following a 2013 legislative session that saw voucher proposals competing and ultimately, no proposal succeeding, advocates for a vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships,” are gearing up for the 2014 legislative session.

2014 in education will likely look a lot like 2013 in terms of proposals on vouchers and charter schools.

Voucher advocates, organized under a coalition known as School Choice NOW, held a recent event in Hendersonville. There, they noted that this year’s discussions will start with Governor Haslam’s proposal from last session.  His proposal was a limited voucher plan that would initially offer 5000 vouchers in Memphis and Nashville and eventually grow to 20,000.  While it seems no competing proposal will be offered, it’s not clear what shape the final legislation will take.

Lawmakers in Chattanooga also recently discussed vouchers, with a solid pro-voucher bent coming from that delegation.

One possible stumbling block is the rapid pace of recent education reforms.  Some in the legislature, including House Speaker Beth Harwell, are suggesting that perhaps school systems need time to absorb the current crop of reforms before vouchers are allowed to move forward.

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