Admitted Sex Offender Earns House Education Post

What a difference a year makes. Last year, former House Speaker Beth Harwell was calling on state representative David Byrd to resign amid allegations he had improper sexual relationships with high school students he had coached. Now, new House Speaker Glen Casada has appointed Byrd to Chair the House Education Administration Subcommittee.

The Tennessean has more:

Despite calls from protesters — and the previous House speaker — for his resignation, a state lawmaker accused of inappropriate sexual conduct against multiple teens has been named chairman of an education subcommittee.

Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, has been assigned by newly-elected House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, to lead the education administration subcommittee.

The announcement came Thursday when committees were assigned on the floor of the House, immediately following required sexual harassment training.

As the Tennessean story notes, Byrd was 28 and a basketball coach when he is accused of having inappropriate sexual conduct with two players who were then 15 and one who was 16. Despite Byrd’s denial of wrongdoing, a recorded phone call provided to Nashville’s WSMV-TV has Byrd apologizing to one of the women accusing him of misconduct.

The story also notes that in addition to Harwell, Lt. Governor Randy McNally called on Byrd to resign last year. Instead, Glen Casada has elevated Byrd to a key leadership role overseeing our state’s education policy.

Casada’s indifference to Byrd’s misconduct should come as no surprise to legislative observers. After all, Casada was well-known as mentor and adviser to former State Rep. Jeremy Durham, the first Tennessee House member ever to be expelled from the body. Durham was expelled after multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct that took place during his short time in office.

Despite his penchant for enabling sex offenders, Casada received 75 votes in the Speaker’s race, including the support of Democrats Johnny Shaw, John Mark Windle, and John DeBerry. Republican Bob Ramsey was absent, but all other Republicans voted in favor of Casada. DeBerry, like Casada, is a long-time supporter of school vouchers – a priority apparently more important to him than protecting children from sexual predators. While Windle received a committee chairmanship, there’s no clear explanation for why Shaw supported Casada over Democrat Karen Camper.

Now, instead of being returned home to repent of his sins, Byrd will remain in the House and be a key player in state education issues.

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

Support education reporting!


 

Voucher Backers Earn Leadership Roles

While it is certainly clear that incoming Governor Bill Lee is a supporter of using public money to fund private schools by way of vouchers, it’s also worth noting that top leadership in both legislative bodies have a record of supporting school vouchers and receiving support from pro-voucher groups.

Soon-to-be House Speaker Glen Casada has long been a proponent of vouchers and has received thousands of dollars in campaign funding from groups like Students First/TennesseeCAN and the Betsy DeVos-backed Tennessee Federation for Children.

Likewise, newly-elected House Republican (and Majority) Leader William Lamberth has consistently received backing from pro-voucher groups.

Over in the Senate, the Lt. Governor’s spot continues to be held by Randy McNally, a long-time supporter of voucher schemes.

The number two job in the Senate again falls to Ferrell Haile of Sumner County, who between 2012 and 2016 was among the largest recipients (more than $20,000) of campaign backing from pro-voucher groups. Haile has also co-sponsored voucher legislation in spite of his local School Board opposing the measure.

The bottom line: The hot topic in the 2019 legislative session figures to be school vouchers.

One key fact to keep in mind as this debate rages: Vouchers don’t work.

What’s more, Indiana’s experience with what started as a relatively small voucher program quickly ballooned into millions of dollars in public money diverted to private schools:

Reports suggest this provision means Indiana is spending some $54 million supporting private schools — money that would not have been spent without the voucher program:

A report on the program released by the Department of Education shows the program costs $54 million.

“If the idea behind a voucher program is we’re going to have the money follow the student, if the student didn’t start in a public school, the money isn’t following them from a public school, it’s just appearing from another budget,” [Researcher Molly] Stewart said. “And we’re not exactly sure where that’s coming from.”

Vouchers, then, create $54 million in new expenditures — an education funding deficit — in Indiana.

So, even as our state’s policy leaders are squarely in the corner of voucher schemes — some bought and paid for by voucher backers, others, like Bill Lee, among those doing the buying — it’s important to stay focused on the facts. Vouchers are expensive and vouchers don’t work.

 

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


 

 

Your support — either a one-time or ongoing contribution — keeps TNEdReport going!

 

 

A-F Grading System for Schools to be Delayed?

That’s what House Majority Leader Glen Casada, who sponsored the legislation, is saying. Under his proposal, which mirrors A-F school grading systems in other states (Texas, Florida, Indiana), the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual school report card would assign a letter grade from A-F to each school in the state.

The legislation mandated the creation of the A-F scale, and the Department has designed a plan. Now, after seeing the proposed plan, Casada says it may need some work and a one year delay could give the state time to improve the proposal.

Emily West reports:

“We have been working with the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and delayed the A-F grading one year,” Casada said. “It gives heartache to many systems. We called all parties. We said there are problems with the way you want to implement it.”

As written and passed by the legislature in 2016, new accountability standards that give letter grades to each school across the state should go into effect for 2017.

The news of the possible delay comes as some education leaders are calling for the proposal to be scrapped altogether.

Legislative action is required to delay the implementation and it seems likely there will also be legislation that aims to eliminate the system entirely.

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


 

Williamson County House Races

Williamson Strong has a breakdown of the education views of candidates in House districts 63 and 65, in Williamson County. The races feature Glen Casada vs. Courtenay Rogers (District 63) and Holly McCall vs. Sam Whitson (District 65).

It’s worth noting that both McCall and Rogers oppose school vouchers while Casada clearly supports them. Whitson’s position on the issue is less clear.

Take a look to see where these candidates stand on education issues.

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


 

Will It Ever Happen?

Just over two years ago, I proposed an education agenda that was an alternative to the education reform status quo. I lamented the focus on vouchers and teacher merit pay and called for an investment in and support for proven initiatives that would move Tennessee schools forward.

A lot has happened in Tennessee since then. The legislature even passed a very limited voucher scheme this year. The primary voucher vehicle, however, was defeated for the third consecutive legislative session.

But, what’s happening on issues like Pre-K and teacher mentoring? Well, not much. So, here’s a look at the agenda items I put forward two years ago and any action that’s happened on those items:

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

Despite Governor Haslam saying that Pre-K expansion might be a good thing, there’s been no legislative push to expand the state’s voluntary Pre-K program. The state did pursue (and win) federal funds to allow Memphis and Nashville to expand their Pre-K programs.  However, State Representative Glen Casada did sponsor legislation (HB159) that would have prevented the disbursement of those federal funds since the application did not include all counties in the state. That legislation is on hold in the House Local Government Subcommittee. Between Casada’s bill and efforts by Rep. Bill Dunn, there is serious concern that Pre-K funding could be in jeopardy in 2016. Certainly, that means Tennessee won’t be talking about expanding its Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017.

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

This has not been done. Governor Haslam has appointed a task force to study the BEP and that group has yet to issue a final recommendation. In the meantime, a lawsuit claiming the BEP is inadequate was filed this year. In terms of both equity and adequacy, it appears the BEP is broken.

There’s not a new BEP formula for 2015-16 and it remains to be seen if the Task Force appointed by Haslam will make proposals for meaningful improvements by the 2016 legislative session.

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.

Nothing has been done on this. At all.

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.

Governor Haslam did promise a teacher pay raise in 2014, only to back down when the revenue picture got a little less rosy. This year, the Governor’s budget includes $96 million in new money for teacher pay, but that doesn’t mean a 4% raise for all teachers. Tennessee’s starting teacher pay is nowhere near an average of $40,000, though State Rep. Jason Powell of Nashville offered a proposal to increase the BEP allocation for teacher pay by $10,000, at a cost of $500 million a year. Powell’s proposal would have brought Tennessee close to the goal of a significantly improved starting pay number for our state’s teachers. But, the price tag was deemed too high and the effort was delayed.

There is much to do for Tennessee schools — efforts that would improve the classroom environment, provide support for teachers, add resources to students, and relieve the tax burden on local governments. So far, these initiatives have either not been discussed or have been put off in favor of education reform fads. There is another legislative session in 2016, of course. And there’s always hope that either a lawsuit or elections or both will cause the General Assembly to re-focus its attention on the investments our state needs to move forward.

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