Weber, Hawkins, & Rogen Take On The Charter Debate

I wanted to highlight three good blog posts about charter schools that came out this weekend from those for and against charter schools.

This weekend the Tennessean posted an article about how two charter schools acquired bonds from the Nashville government to help fund the cost of renovating or building new schools. Seeing how MNPS does not give money for charter facilities, charter schools have to find ways to fund remodels, expansions, etc. As the Tennessean previously reported, the city of Nashville is spending millions for renovations and land for new buildings for traditional MNPS schools.

  • $46 million for the renovation of Hillsboro High School, the second part of an $86 million makeover
  • $10.2 million for land acquisition for Hillwood High School’s relocation to Bellevue
  • $9 million for land acquisition for a new school of the arts

Charter schools don’t have the luxury of the Mayor funding new buildings for them, and many traditional schools have to wait years and years to get renovated or a new school. Two charter schools used perfectly legal measures to gain bonds from the city of Nashville, and that made some anti-charter elected officials upset because they didn’t know it took place.

This was just another attack on charter schools that blogger Vesia Hawkins calls the “Summertime Strategy.”

The grand plan to dismantle charter schools is becoming more clear, particularly with the partnership with certain reporters, asinine accusations resulting from “intense scrutiny” of lease agreements (somehow there’s time for this), and let’s not forget the targeted personal attacks on certain charter school leaders—so far, only on those of color. See my recent post about Shaka Mitchell (who, as of last week, is no longer with Rocketship), Ravi Gupta, and John Little.

I mean, Rocketship attacks have been on repeat for a year now, so no surprises there, but Purpose Prep? Purpose Prep, the elementary school that intentionally seeks out students from the North Nashville area and operates with the expectation that every child will be eligible for Martin Luther King, Jr. magnet high school and, ultimately, the college of their choice. Purpose Prep, a school in its third year of existence with a student population comprised of 98% students of color, 74% economically disadvantaged and nearly every child is reading at or above grade level. So, what’s the problem here? (Shout out to Lagra Newman and her team!)

TC Weber, who is no fan of charter schools, wants to know how this latest attack solves the problem of families flocking to charters:

My position on charter schools is well documented. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of public education as a cornerstone of our democracy. But, I am baffled by people who can recognize the futility of the drug wars and its basis in attacks on the suppliers who fail to see the paralles playing out in the fight for public education. Repeatedly attacking suppliers while ignoring why there is demand is a strategy that has demonstrably failed to achieve success in the drug war and offers a preview of what to expect if we employ the same strategy in the fight against charter school proliferation. If we don’t address demand, parents will continue to search out alternatives regardless of how had we try and paint that alternative.

Earlier in the year, several hundred Antioch HS students staged a walkout over conditions in their school. An action that was never oppenly addressed by the school board.

Last week I recieved documentation that shows over 60 teachers have left Antioch HS this year and that the Principal non-renewed 10 more. I’m told that they have roughly 115 teachers total. After the student walkout Dr. Joseph held a restorative justice circle with the teachers. They told him that if he didn’t do something about the principal he was going to lose a lot of teachers. Joseph’s reported response was that the principals was not going anywhere and the teachers could either get on the bus or get run over by the bus. Antioch HS is not the only school in the district facing huge teacher turnover – Sylvan Park, Warner, Overton, Joelton, to name a few. I ask you, which story, charter school building finance or high teacher turnover,  do you think has greater impact on student outcomes?  Which story has the ability to affect charter growth? If I’m a parent in a school with that kind of teacher turnover and my only choice is enrolling in a school that appears more stable but uses dubious means to fund its capital investments, where do you think I’m going?

We need to be asking why parents are heading to charter schools and make changes so that parents don’t want to leave their zoned school. Teacher and blogger Josh Rogen addresses this very issue in his latest blog post. Josh does a great job graphing numbers to show a clear picture of why some families decide to leave a traditional school. He breaks down the achievement of schools based on the percentage of students of color in the school.

The answer is clear. If you are a Black, Hispanic, or Native American parent, and your zoned option is predominantly Black, Hispanic, or Native American, your best option is to send your child to a charter school if you value their overall growth, excellence, and the culture of the building they are being educated in.

In fact, if you are sending your child to a school with 80%+ Black, Hispanic, or Native American, you can basically throw a dart at any charter school in Nashville and be confident that you are doing much better than your zoned option. (That bottom one is Smithson Craighead, which is getting shut down. Closing bad schools…an interesting idea.)

On the other hand, middle-class white people are not touched by charter schools, and so they don’t support them. I will say that it is awfully easy to hate charter schools when you have a good zoned option. It’s a lot harder to oppose them when your child is locked into a failing school because of their zip code. A little empathy might change the conversation.

Josh hits on something about middle class people who are not touched by charter schools. I recently ran across a comment that TC Weber wrote that said,

It’s really easy to fight for public education when your kids are not the ones sitting in the seats at our poorest schools. I’d love to look around and see all these education warrior’s children’s sitting in seats next to my kids and perhaps then we could get equity.

I also saw a comment someone made that said it was a “disgusting insult to the teachers, students, and parents in the system” when someone was disparaging MNPS. If that is what some people think, the same should be true for charter school. There are students, teachers, and families that have decided to work and/or send their kids to a charter school. The conversation has now turned into one where one cannot speak ill of MNPS and one cannot speak good things about charter schools. We need to have these conversations about both of them in a more collaborative way.

Instead of spending time attacking charter schools, we should be working to improve our district so that families don’t feel the need to leave their zoned school. 374 parents sent a letter to the school board about these attacks, but the board never responded to those concerns. The silence shows that the board doesn’t want a dialogue with charter school parents. If we want to improve our district, we must communicate with all parents.

So let’s come together and figure out why parents are leaving for charters. I don’t know if it’s already been done, but each parent should fill out a short exit interview when they withdraw their student for a charter. Let’s start focus groups with these parents. Let’s do more to find the concerns, fix the concerns, and see what happens. We already know what some concerns are: literacy rates, ACT scores, and behavior. 

Let’s spend more time listening and collaborating instead of attacking. As a teacher, I want success for all students. All students includes students who attend private, home, magnet, charter, or traditional public school.

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


 

 

374 Charter Parents: Attacks Against Our Schools Must Stop

A Tennessean editorial by 374 Nashville parents demand that attacks on charter schools stop. The editorial, which was delivered as an open letter to Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Board Chair Anna Shepherd, includes parents from 19 charter schools in Nashville.

The signees make their intent clear:

We are coming together to say that the attacks against our schools must stop.

Many parents in Nashville exercise school choice by moving into zones of high-performing schools or by entering the lottery and hoping for seats in choice schools. As parents of students attending public charter schools, we are no different. Our zoned schools were not able to meet the needs of our children, so we found schools that do. Yet we find ourselves and our schools on the receiving end of constant accusations and attacks.

In education, we know that we must meet the individual needs of our students. The same is true for parents. They want to pick a school that meets the needs of their child and family. That could be a zoned school, charter school, magnet school, or a private school. They know what’s best for their child. We shouldn’t fault anyone for that.

We must all come together to make our district better. That includes charter schools, magnet schools, and zoned schools. All are responsible for making collaboration key for our students. I’ve even seen collaboration between private schools and MNPS.

Division may gain you retweets, but it won’t help our students. Collaboration will.

In this age when too many elected officials delight in drawing divisions rather than doing the hard work of solving problems, we hope you will reject that path and instead come together to focus on the opportunities and challenges in all of our city’s public schools.

We urge you to cease these attacks on our schools and show the city of Nashville that you are a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Contrary to the picture some board members paint, we are intelligent, engaged, determined parents who want a better life for our children. All parents want what is best for their children, and we are no different. Our children are thriving. They are working hard and learning every day. They are encouraged at school to dream big, and they are receiving the education they need to reach those dreams.

While each of us has a story of why we chose our public charter school instead of our zoned school, we wish every Nashville school well and are thankful for the hard work of this board and the progress you have made over the past year. We ask that you continue that progress by focusing your positive energy on all of our city’s public schools instead of singling out a few.

These 374 parents are public school parents, and they are fed up with the attacks on the schools they decided to send their kids to. We spend too much time shaming parents for picking charter schools or private schools. Shouldn’t we be asking why these families are picking private and charter schools? Let’s find that answer, and then let’s move to make the changes that are needed.

I’ve heard from parents who transferred their student with learning differences to a private school to only get shamed from their friends. The same has been heard from a parent who found that a charter school served their student with learning differences better than their zoned school. As a special education teacher, I can’t fault any parents for picking what is best for their child.

Let’s listen to all public school parents, not just those from zoned and magnet schools.

You can read the editorial and all 374 signees here.

Update (5:50pm): School board member Will Pinkston has responded to the editorial:

Let’s see: 9,718 students in Nashville charter schools. Which means there are 9,344 parents who didn’t sign on to the big letter. Sad!

When hundreds of parents come to the school board with an issue, it shouldn’t be dismissed by a school board member in a Trump-like tweet. That’s not the leadership that our city deserves.

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


 

 

Pinkston: Charter Industry Unraveling

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston argues in today’s Tennessean that Nashville’s charter school industry is unraveling.

To make his case, he cites a federal class action lawsuit against RePublic charter schools, a state finding that Rocketship isn’t following the law when it comes to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, and a significant financial deficit at LEAD Public Schools.

Of Rocketship, Pinkston notes:

Despite failing to serve its current students, Rocketship routinely makes end-runs around the local school board to seek state approval of more charters. That’s because Rocketship’s growth isn’t driven by what’s best for kids but rather by its real-estate deals with Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, a for-profit investment fund co-managed by tennis star Andre Agassi.

Taken together, Pinkston says, the problems faced by these three charter operators show an industry not living up to its hype.

Add to that the expense of charters, and Pinkston says we should exercise caution. He previously noted based on the findings of an audit of MNPS:

Briefly: The new audit acknowledges that unabated growth of charter schools does, in fact, have a fiscal impact on existing MNPS schools. The operative language in the audit relative to charter fiscal impact can be found on Page 3-16, which states: “The key question for determining fiscal impacts is whether enrollment reductions allow a district to achieve expenditure reductions commensurate with revenue reductions. Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether students attend traditional or charter schools. The problem is that some fixed costs, such as building maintenance, computer network infrastructure, and health services do not vary based on enrollment. Therefore, teachers and their salaries are a key cost driver tied to student enrollment … However, it is not always possible to reduce teacher costs proportionate to losses in revenue. For these costs to be reduced significantly, the school would need to close altogether.”

While some call it a distraction, the charter debate is alive and well in MNPS.

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


 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

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

Tyese Hunter: Let’s Accept The Facts

Nashville School Board Member Tyese Hunter is out with an editorial in the Tennessean where she discusses facts around Nashville’s charter schools.

Tyese Hunter breaks down some statistics on charter schools, including a recent report that showed that many Nashville charter schools are closing the achievement gap while MNPS schools are seeing the gap widen.

She compared this recent report to the data from the MNPS Academic Performance Framework, which showed that many charter schools were labeled as high performing.

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She also discusses a report that showed that charter schools are teaching more students of color, more economically disadvantaged students, and more students with disabilities than the typical public school. Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.09.32 AM

But more than just laying out the facts, Tyese Hunter calls out her fellow school board members who ignore any data or study that doesn’t fit their belief system.

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Read more of here editorial here.

RTTT Had Everything to do With Charter Schools

I was sent a Facebook comment by Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston in regards to the Race to the Top grant that Tennessee won in 2010. Pinkston claims that Race to the Top had nothing to do with charter schools. Race to the Top had everything to do with charter schools.

PinkstonComment

 

Before I break down the Race to the Top application, let’s revisit the Will Pinkston of 2013 after he was elected to the school board. In 2013, Pinkston praised Kevin Huffman and Bill Haslam for their work in continuing the reform started under Bredesen. Pinkston also endorsed Haslam in 2010, around the time he worked for Bill Frist’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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Pinkston also advocated for charter schools.

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I remembered that Will Pinkston as I read through the Race to the Top application that was submitted by the state of Tennessee. Let’s remember that Will Pinkston helped write the application while he worked for Governor Phil Bredesen.

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You can read through the application here. The Race to the Top grant application mentions “charter school” 108 times. The Achievement School District was mentioned a lot in this grant application. Will Pinkston has said that he was in the room when the Achievement School District was created.

According to the grant application, the ASD would pull together an “unprecedented set of non-profits” to open charter schools in the ASD and other schools. The ASD was created, from the beginning, to partner with an unprecedented amount of charter schools.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.54.57 PMThe application, which Will Pinkston helped write, gushed over how great charter schools are. It also shows how Tennessee wanted to use charter schools to help in the turnaround of failing schools. The application shows Tennessee’s love of charter schools by showing that Governor Bredesen signed an updated charter school law in 2009.

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The application goes on to say that the state is actively recruiting charter school leaders to the state. While the state itself will help recruit, the ASD specifically will help charter schools find facilities in Tennessee.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.10.48 PMThe current landscape of Tennessee’s charter schools was mapped out years ago in this Race to the Top application. The ASD has partnered with charter schools to help turnaround school districts and state and city leaders have gone out to recruit charter school leaders. We have seen both of those items happen right here in Nashville.

If we move back to the start of the application, we see that the application is pushing for more charter schools. The application reads, “In this application, we describe how the atmosphere in the state encourages fresh ways of thinking, opens the education market to charter schools…”Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 9.54.58 PM

If the Race to the Top application had nothing to do with charters, why was so much of the application about charter schools? The state, and their grant writers, knew what they wanted. They wanted more charter schools in the state of Tennessee. They got their wish.


 

 

Is That Even Legal?

Charles Corra examines the potential legal issues with Tennessee’s charter schools in light of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling saying that state’s charter law was unconstitutional.

He starts with this note:

I recently tweeted about an article published in the Nashville Bar Journal called “Tennessee’s Waltz With Charter Schools,” which commented on the potential unconstitutionally of Tennessee’s charter school legislation.

Then adds:

Similar to Washington, Tennessee’s charter schools are also private entities that contract with a school board and cannot be managed by for-profit entities.  The author also points out the similarity with funding between Washington and Tennessee charter laws: that the money follows the student. What is important in the article is the discussion that follows regarding the variance in success rates between charter schools (i.e. some performed well while others did not), which could be attributed to the freedom that charter schools have with how they allocate resources. The takeaway here is that, based on a study the author delves into, there are inconsistencies in management, operation, funding, and student achievement among charter schools in Tennessee.

The points, as Corra makes it, is that because of the way Tennessee charter schools are operated and funded, they could be in violation of established precedent regarding equal educational opportunity. No challenge to this law has yet been made, but the issues raised in the Washington case may merit attention by Tennessee lawmakers.

Read Corra’s full analysis of this issue.

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

Oops. Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

As we have noted, the Annenberg Standards have been adopted by the MNPS Board of Education. These standards were adopted to hold charter schools accountable. The Governance Committee met last night, for the first time since January, to discuss the standards that were already adopted by the full board. Well, it looks like these standards may also apply to magnet schools.

And the standards also apply to other schools, Gentry said. Specifically, the standards speak to exclusionary practices that might apply to the district’s magnets.

“There are reasons why we have that differentiation. There is a reason why we have wait lists and there are reasons why students bust their butt to become a part of those things,” Gentry said. “You strip all those things away and what does that mean? … We need to clean up our language, because the first thing that comes out of our mouths is charter schools, but that’s not what we voted on. These are for all schools.”

The issue of magnet schools comes up a lot when discussing choice. Proponents of choice believe families deciding to go to a magnet school are already exercising choice. Behind the scenes, choice advocates point out that some local opponents of choice send their children to magnet schools. Choice advocates believe this is clearly a double standard.

Magnet schools have exclusionary enrollment barriers for students, which is exactly what some people believe charters should not have. Again, some people believe it’s a double standard that magnet schools can have barriers for students to enroll, but the recently passed standards do not allow charter schools to do the same.

(Note: I don’t know of any charter school with exclusionary enrollment criteria.)

If these standards do change how magnet schools work, I would expect a vote to change the adopted standards.

Mary Pierce, a school board member who voted against the standards, posted to Facebook about the passage and discussion of these standards. She believes these standards were passed too quickly without enough information.

Adoption of the Annenberg Standards: Let’s be clear on the timeline.

April 3: The state teachers’ union, TEA, kicked off an email campaign with statements of support for the Annenberg Standards for Charter Schools. *It took 30 days to get just under 100 unique emails senders.

April 14: “Those in the know,” that a resolution was coming, gave public comments asking the board to adopt the Annenberg standards. That same night, Anna Shepherd gave notice that she would bring a resolution to adopt the Annenberg standards to our next meeting, Thursday, April 30.

The language of the resolution– that states the standards are for ALL schools– was not given to the board until the morning of April 30 and was not posted to the online agenda until that afternoon. Public comments are not given at the 2nd board meeting of the month, so parents from magnets or charters were never given an opportunity to speak and barely opportunity to read prior to our vote. It passed 5-3. I was one of the 3, “no” votes.

In the April 30 meeting, I asked Ms. Shepherd if she envisioned opportunity to walk through the standards that might be contrary to state law or require significant changes to our schools in Policy Governance and she said yes. Hearing of this opportunity, concerned parents emailed and asked for common sense when applying these standards and for a voice by affected school leaders–we received over 100 emails in 30 hours.

However, at our policy governance meeting yesterday, committee chair, Amy Frogge, would not allow discussion on concerns over specific standards, and instead said the standards were adopted by the board and would now become policy–pending legal analysis.

Ironically, the first standard in the Annenberg is collaboration–not seeing that apply here and wondering where our commitment to communications and community engagement is?

The school board has asked Metro Legal attorney Corey Harkey to review the standards and to report back on June 15. Magnet school PTSOs and PACs have already started to email their members about this latest development. I will update you once Metro Legal comes back with their analysis.


 

Voters Want Charter Reforms

 

That’s the message the Metro Nashville Education Association wants to get out as Nashville’s Mayoral candidates head to a forum focused on education this evening.

MNEA pointed to results from a poll of Tennessee voters conducted for the Center for Popular Democracy as evidence that charter reforms are a key education issue warranting attention.

The poll found that charter reforms focused on transparency and accountability received overwhelmingly favorable responses from Tennessee voters.

Additionally, the poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, found that voters ranked lack of school choice dead last among issues of concern on education. That’s particularly relevant given the advancing voucher legislation at the General Assembly.

Here’s the release from MNEA:

Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) Leaders say a recent survey of local voters shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly favor reforms for local charter schools to protect students and taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected charter expansion as a priority, the survey found. Instead, voters favored charter reforms to strengthen:
• Transparency and accountability

• Teacher training and qualifications

• Anti-fraud measures

• Equity policies for high-need students
“It’s clear our communities support quality public schools, not an expansion of charter schools,” said MNEA President Stephen Henry. “We need to make sure ALL Nashville schools are held to the same accountability and transparency standards that taxpayers expect.”
The survey also found voters rated the need for more parental involvement and the reduction of excessive student testing as bigger priorities than expanding charters.

Specifically, voters favored by greater than 80% approval reforms that would:

  • provide rigorous, independent audits of charter school finances
  • require charter schools to publish how they spend taxpayer dollars, including all budgets and contracts
  • ensure that teachers in any publicly-funded school meet the same training and qualification requirements

“We need community leaders who will stand up for the strong public schools our kids deserve,” said MNEA Vice President Erick Huth. “This includes our new director of schools and our next mayor.”
The poll was conducted in January among 500 registered voters by GBA Strategies, a research firm based in Washington, D.C. It was funded, in part, by the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization dedicated to social justice issues.

Here are some of the poll results:

  Total Support %
Transparency & Accountability  
Require state officials to conduct regular audits of charter schools’ finances to detect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds 86
Require companies and organizations that manage charter schools to release to parents and the public how they spend taxpayer money, including their annual budgets and contracts 85
Preventing Harm to Neighborhood Schools  
Before any new charter school is approved, conduct an analysis of the impact the school will have on neighborhood public schools 78
Ensure that neighborhood public schools do not lose funding when new charter schools open in their area 78
Protect Taxpayer funds  
Require charter schools to return taxpayer money to the school district for any student that leaves the charter school to return to a neighborhood public school during the school year 78
Stop the creation of new charter schools if state officials have not shown the ability to prevent fraud and mismanagement 69
Prohibit charter school board members and their immediate families from financially benefiting from their schools 65
Prohibit charter schools from spending taxpayer dollars on advertising or marketing 54
Serving High Need Students  
Require all teachers who work in taxpayer funded schools, including neighborhood public schools and charter schools, to meet the same training and qualification requirements 89
Require charter schools to serve high-need students such as special education students, at the same level as neighborhood public schools 79

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