In Light of These Outcries

It seems that someone is finally listening to educators from across the state who have consistently complained about poor management at the Tennessee Department of Education. Let’s be clear: Though flippant and abrasive, current Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn is merely carrying out the privatization agenda of her boss, Gov. Bill Lee.

Still, it’s noteworthy that both Senator Dolores Gresham and Rep. Mark White (who chair the education committees in the Senate and House, respectively) are now calling for an investigation into the financial management practices at the DOE under Scwhinn.

Here’s more from Chalkbeat:

Two legislative leaders are calling for an investigation into the Tennessee Department of Education’s management of millions of dollars earmarked for coronavirus relief, as well as the state’s school voucher program for students with disabilities.

Sen. Dolores Gresham and Rep. Mark White, who chair the legislature’s two main education committees, want the state’s chief internal investigator to look into “questions and concerns” raised about both CARES funding and the 4-year-old voucher program known as Individualized Education Accounts.

Neither lawmaker provided details but, in an Oct. 23 letter to Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, said the concerns “come from every level of education across the state.”

“In light of these outcries,” they wrote, “we respectfully request that your office conduct an investigation into the management of these two areas to determine if they are being administered in accordance with both state and federal law.”

That only took — FOREVER. It’s nice to know the legislature would rather placate a governor hellbent on privatizing our schools instead of actually paying attention.

Here’s …. LOTS of evidence that Gresham and White clearly missed because they are either willfully ignorant or … YOU make the call:

Those are a few examples.

Make no mistake, Bill Lee stands by Penny Schwinn. This is HIS agenda.

Today is Election Day 2020. If you want a different outcome for Tennessee schools, the next time you can vote for someone other than Bill Lee is in November of 2022.

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Mark White and NAEP

In a post about House Education Committee Chair Mark White being appointed by Betsy DeVos to the national board that governs the NAEP test, Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes White to task. Specifically, Weber notes:

Well, he supported an unconstitutional voucher bill in spite of purportedly, “not liking it”. He failed to increase funding for Tennessee school districts despite the state sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money. He supported a literacy bill that robbed LEA’s of power to choose materials and curriculum, increased testing, and called for the retention of third-graders – luckily despite his support, the bill failed to pass. He failed to substantially raise teacher salaries. Salaries have been stagnating for years.

In short, White is a rock star only in the areas of cheering on the antics of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and being unfailing in his support of Gov. Bill Lee’s bad ideas.

I would add the recent plea of the TEA on school nurses to the list of areas where White has let public schools down. It’s not like White is merely a member of the House or simply one of many members on the House Education Committee. He’s the committee Chair. He’s in a position of tremendous influence. Still, the challenges Weber points to linger on with no effort at solution in sight.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine a Mark White who actually stood up for public schools and teachers in any meaningful way earning the adoration of Betsy DeVos and a subsequent coveted appointment to a national board.

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Kelsey, White Named Co-Conspirators in Lee’s Assault on Local School Boards

It should come as no surprise that Governor Bill Lee is pursuing an aggressive agenda of school privatization complete with a fast-growing voucher program, additional money for charter schools, and a way for charter operators to bypass the accountability of local school boards. Now, however, it seems Lee has enlisted co-conspirators from the school district likely to be most negatively impacted by his agenda.

Senator Brian Kelsey and Rep. Mark White have agreed to carry Lee’s legislation creating a state charter authorizer. It’s a bill some critics are calling the worst charter legislation in the nation.

The Daily Memphian has more:


State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, and State Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, are carrying Senate Bill 796 and House Bill 940, one of the signature pieces of Gov. Bill Lee’s K-12 education initiative.


White didn’t want to use the word “bypass” but acknowledged the legislation would remove the step for charter applicants to go to the Tennessee Board of Education if turned down by local boards.


“But basically, yeah, you would come to the state without going through that process,” White said.

The change is significant because current law requires a charter operator to first apply to the local board of education to determine if the proposed charter is a good fit for the district. The case of Rocketship in Nashville is a good example:


In summary, with no additional state accountability data to consider, and no compelling evidence presented that provides confidence in the review team, converting an existing low-performing school before Rocketship has demonstrated academic success on state accountability measures would not be in the best interests of the students, the district, or the community.


If Governor Lee’s proposal is successful, schools like Rocketship will now be able to circumvent local input altogether. In this case, MNPS identified key problems with Rocketship and decided an expansion was not in the best interests of the students of the district.

It’s not yet clear whether there is broad support for circumventing local school boards. The legislation did pass a hurdle today, clearing a House subcommittee and moving forward in the process.

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