Disproportionate Harm

The plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits against the State of Tennessee and Gov. Bill Lee regarding Lee’s school voucher scheme are again asking the courts to grant an injunction and prevent implementation of the plan.

A previous injunction was lifted and Lee announced his Department of Education would move quickly to usher vouchers in to Memphis and Nashville this school year.

Here’s more from Public Funds for Public Schools via a press release:

Following Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s announcement that the state immediately will begin implementing its controversial private school voucher program for the school year starting in just a few weeks, public school parents and community members in the targeted counties are going back to court to stop this sudden and unprecedented rollout.

The plaintiffs in McEwen v. Lee, a pending 2020 lawsuit filed by Shelby and Davidson County residents that challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher law, filed an urgent motion Friday asking the Davidson County Chancery Court to block the state from rolling out vouchers for the 2022-2023 school year.

“This unconstitutional program will drain resources from our public schools, and our lawsuit challenging it has not yet been decided,” said plaintiff Roxanne McEwen, whose child is a student in Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Rushing to implement the voucher program before the court has spoken will only create needless chaos for our public schools and for Tennessee families.”

Friday’s motion explains the immediate and irreparable harm that would result from the state’s extremely rushed plan to hand out vouchers for the coming school year. Disbursing those funds, which are drawn from public school district budgets, would throw public schools into chaos weeks before the school year begins. And handing out vouchers that could be declared unconstitutional shortly thereafter would leave families that used them to enroll in private schools mired in uncertainty.

“The state cannot be permitted to recklessly barrel ahead with an unconstitutional program at the expense of Nashville and Memphis public schools that desperately need more, not less, funding and resources,” said Chris Wood, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP. “We are again asking the court to enjoin the voucher program while the judges rule on the numerous constitutional and statutory violations asserted by the plaintiffs.”

This is the second time the McEwen plaintiffs have called on the chancery court to halt implementation of the voucher program before the state diverts taxpayer funds to unaccountable private schools. In 2020, the chancery court ruled in a companion case challenging the voucher law, Metro Government v. Tennessee Department of Education, that it violated the Home Rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution by targeting only Shelby and Davidson Counties without their local approval and prohibited the state from starting the program.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, but the state Supreme Court reversed it earlier this year in a split decision, sending the case back to the chancery court. The chancery court lifted its 2020 injunction of the voucher law on July 13 as a result of the Supreme Court decision. The state initially told the court that it had not decided on a course of action, but Governor Lee released a statement just hours later declaring that implementation would proceed immediately.

The plaintiffs in McEwen v. Lee are represented by the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, the ACLU of Tennessee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Education Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Education Law Center collaborate on the national Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) campaign.

“There are numerous unresolved legal claims in both the McEwen and Metro Government lawsuits,” said Jessica Levin, senior attorney at Education Law Center and director of PFPS. “The temporary injunction motion filed by the McEwen plaintiffs on Friday focuses on their claim that the voucher law violates the Education Clause of the Tennessee Constitution – which requires the state to provide education solely through a system of public schools – by funding private schools outside that system.”

Private schools participating in the voucher program are not obligated to comply with the academic, accountability, and governance standards that apply to public schools. And unlike public schools, they can discriminate against students on the basis of religion, LGBTQ+ status, and other characteristics, as well as refuse to provide services such as special education for students with disabilities.

“Defunding public schools through voucher schemes like this one also disproportionately harms Black and brown children and children experiencing poverty, who have been overrepresented in public schools since private segregation academies were first funded by segregationist lawmakers across the South,” explained Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Children with the greatest needs, who are welcomed and served by our public schools, are left with fewer resources when the state acts to deplete the funds intended to educate all children. So not only is this law unconstitutional, it funds discrimination, and it is racially and economically unjust.”

“Taking money away from already underfunded public school districts and sending taxpayer dollars to private schools, many of which are religious, hurts Tennessee students,” said Lindsay Kee, interim director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “We will continue to stand with public school parents and students to fight this unconstitutional program until it is struck down for good.”

More information about McEwen v. Lee is available here.

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

Got a news tip? Email me!

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible!

Flat-Out Wrong

That’s how Bruce VanWyngarden describes Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme. Yes, the very same scheme Lee is rushing to get up and running THIS school year.

Here’s VanWyngarden in the Memphis Flyer:

Which is why every human being in Tennessee should be absolutely outraged at Governor Bill Lee, who is relentlessly fostering the destruction of our public schools via a voucher system in which parents play the middleman between our state treasury and private schools to the tune of $7,000 per family. It’s flat-out wrong, and it’s using money that rightfully should be going to public schools. If people want to send their children to private schools, let them have at it, just don’t ask the taxpayers to cover the note.

He then goes on to detail the current Hillsdale controversy and note that Lee is selling our public schools to private entities with a very clear agenda.

Reports suggest voucher opponents are making one more attempt in court to stop the “rushed” implementation of the voucher program this year.

Whether or not they succeed, VanWyngarden is right: Vouchers are wrong for Tennessee.

pexels-photo-987585.jpeg
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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

Your support – $5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Trump’s Voucher Emergency

Unable to convince federal lawmakers to pass a voucher scheme despite the persuasive talents of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, President Trump today issued an Executive Order calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to create a school voucher program from CARES Act funds.

Peter Greene writes about this and provides the reassuring analysis that President-elect Biden can simply reverse this Executive Order on January 20th when he becomes President Biden (yes, despite Gov. Bill Lee’s reticence to acknowledge it, Joe Biden will be the President on January 20th).

Here’s some of what Greene has to say:

Today the White House (if Donald Trump wrote this thing, then I’m the Queen of Rumania) issued an executive order “expanding educational opportunity school choice” to create “Emergency Learning Scholarships for Students.”

The argument in favor of this is that January 20th is coming and the administration wants their damn vouchers now, dammit. Okay, not really. The argument for this is

1) We totally identified effective measures for resuming face-to-face and we gave you $13 billion whole dollars to do it (never mind the part where we tried to divert a bunch of that to private schools)

2) Continued distance learning is bad. Here are a few statistics we found. 

3) Building closures are extra hard on students with special needs, because they cut off not only education but support services. They’re not wrong on this one. Of course, another solution would be to give public schools the resources they need to fix this. In fact, that would be the solution that would make sense, since the public system already knows who and where the students are and what they need. Bringing in another batch of service providers means that they should be done with needs assessments right around June.

READ MORE from Greene on the “Voucher Emergency”

I’m eagerly awaiting the press release from Gov. Lee’s office enthusiastically supporting this ridiculous effort. Next, Tennesseans for Student Success will chime in to support the Gov.

pexels-photo-987585.jpeg
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Voucher Leader Jumps Ship

Today, Shelby County Director of Schools Joris Ray announced new additions to his leadership team. Among them, Amity Schuyler, previously the Tennessee Department of Education’s point person on school vouchers. Gov. Bill Lee and his team have been counting on Schuyler to fast-track the state’s voucher scheme.

Here’s the announcement via tweet:

It’s unclear what this means for the future of a voucher program that Lee chose to fund in his emergency budget while cutting a planned investment in public schools.

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

Your support$5 or more today — makes publishing education news possible.

That Hurt(s)

On Monday, I noted that shadowy “non-profit issue advocacy group” Tennesseans for Student Success was on the attack, placing online ads against Republicans who opposed Governor Bill Lee’s destructive state charter authorizer legislation in the House Education Committee.

Today, it appears the attacks worked, at least in the case of Rep. Chris Hurt. The House Education Committee heard and ultimately approved Governor Lee’s school voucher plan. While one victim of the TSS attacks, Mark Cochran, stood strong in defense of public schools, Hurt caved to the pressure of being labeled a defender of “Hillary Clinton’s NEA.”

On the other hand, despite speculation that he might now support vouchers in exchange for cover from Bill Lee, embattled Rep. David Byrd (an admitted sex offender), also voted against school vouchers.

Still, the lesson for dark money groups like Tennesseans for Student Success is clear: Your attacks get the attention of key decision-makers. Forget facts, just bring up Hillary Clinton and socialism, and the weak among the legislative branch will do your bidding.

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.



Knox School Board Says: NO VOUCHERS!

As it becomes ever more clear that incoming Governor Bill Lee plans to aggressively pursue a voucher scheme agenda that will undermine Tennessee’s public schools, the Knox County School Board voted 7-2 last night to urge the General Assembly to reject any voucher plan.

Here’s the text of the resolution sponsored by Board Member Jennifer Owen:

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education is responsible for managing all public schools established or that may be established under its jurisdiction;

WHEREAS, there is pending legislation before the Tennessee General Assembly that would create a voucher program allowing students to use public education funds to pay for private school tuition (voucher programs also are known as “opportunity scholarships,” “education savings,” “tax credits” or similar terms); and

WHEREAS, proponents have spent millions to convince the public and lawmakers of their efficacy, yet, more than five decades after introduction, vouchers remain controversial, unproven and unpopular; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee requires that the Tennessee General Assembly “provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools;” and

WHEREAS, the State of Tennessee has established nationally recognized standards and measures for accountability in public education; and

WHEREAS, vouchers eliminate accountability, by channeling taxes to private schools without the same • academic or testing requirements, • public budgets or reports on student achievement, • open meetings and records law adherence, • public accountability requirements in major federal laws, including special education laws; and

WHEREAS, vouchers have not been effective at improving student achievement or closing the achievement gap; and

WHEREAS, vouchers leave students behind, including those with the greatest needs, because vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that are not required to accept all students, nor offer the special services they may need; and

WHEREAS, underfunded public schools are less able to attract and retain teachers; and

WHEREAS, vouchers give choices to private entities, rather than to parents and students, since the providers decide whether to accept vouchers, how many and which students to admit, and potentially arbitrary reasons they might dismiss a student; and

WHEREAS, the Knox County Board of Education provides numerous academic choices (magnet, STEM, International Baccalaureate, career/technical programs, community schools, etc.) and has a liberal transfer policy which allows students to attend other traditional schools in the district; and

WHEREAS, vouchers divert critical funds from public schools to pay private school tuition for a few students, including those who already attend private schools; and

WHEREAS, vouchers are inefficient, compelling taxpayers to support two school systems: one public and one private, the latter of which is not accountable to all taxpayers supporting it;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Knox County Board of Education opposes any legislation or other similar effort to create a voucher program in Tennessee that would divert money intended for public education to private entities.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution shall be delivered to the Governor, each member of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Knox County Mayor and County Commission, the Knoxville City Mayor and City Council, and the Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Aldermen of the Town of Farragut.

ADOPTED BY THE ELECTED KNOX COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, meeting in regular session on the 12th of December, 2018, with this Resolution to take immediate effect, the public welfare requiring it.

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


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

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


 

Senate Majority Leader Says Vouchers are “Problematic”

Senator Mark Norris, who has supported school voucher bills in the past, calls this year’s voucher plan “problematic.” The plan advancing this year is sponsored by Brian Kelsey — like Norris, from Shelby County — and it is a “pilot” program just for Shelby County.

The Nashville Ledger reports:

“It’s problematic,” Norris said when asked about the legislation in light of a Shelby County Commission vote opposing the voucher bill. The measure targets Shelby County because it has some 30 schools in the state’s lowest 5 percent for student performance.

But the measure is “problematic” for a combination of reasons, Norris said, mainly because of opposition by the Shelby County Commission and concerns about holding private schools “accountable” to the same standards as public schools.

Some opponents point out students who attend private schools as part of the program won’t be required to take the TNReady assessment, as public school students will.

School voucher advocates have failed in each of the last four legislative sessions to advance enabling legislation.

Now, they are trying to start their program only in Shelby County. Even before voucher proponents narrowed their focus to Shelby County in hopes of securing enough votes to advance the bill to the House floor, emerging research warned vouchers could actually be detrimental to student achievement. Those facts didn’t stop a House subcommittee from advancing the legislation, however.

Now, though, it seems the legislation is facing problems as lawmakers face the reality of a community not excited about Kelsey’s plan.

The Ledger notes:

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who opposes the legislation, commended Norris “for seeing” problems with the measure.

“There’s pressure building and people are sacrificing, taking off from work to be here, because they’re passionate against the fact that they targeted Shelby County, as if Shelby County caused all of the problems with regard to education,” Parkinson said. “It’s becoming personal for a Shelby County legislator to be carrying legislation like that.”

Parkinson pointed out Hamilton County has low-performing schools but is not included in the pilot program legislation, which he termed a “great experiment.”

A program in Indiana that started out six years ago as a small voucher plan has expanded rapidly and now costs $131 million. Research there suggests that while some advocates argued vouchers would save school systems money, they have actually created a $54 million funding deficit:

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.

Evidence says vouchers don’t work. Research shows they are expensive. The Senate Majority Leader calls them “problematic.” It’s time for vouchers to go.

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


 

Corra and Weber Talk Vouchers

Legislation creating a school voucher program in Tennessee has been placed on the floor calendar of the House of Representatives for Monday, February 8th.

As the debate over whether to approve this proposal continues, bloggers Charles Corra and TC Weber weigh-in.

Corra offers two posts (so far), one dealing with the key players and the other beginning a conversation around possible constitutional issues.

Weber offers strong opposition to vouchers and notes:

Instead of adopting any of these ideas that are already proven to help children, we are choosing to adopt, at great expense, a plan that has been shown to hurt children. What a voucher program essentially does is ration high quality public education. Some children, namely those whose parents can navigate the system, will get a life boat to a potentially better situation. But what about those left behind? A vouchers plan does not offer a solution for those children. In fact, as blogger Steven Singer points out, it makes things worse.

More on School Vouchers:

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

Voucher Week

The Price is Right

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

Vouchers Gone Wild

Vouchers are going wild in the Tennessee General Assembly this week and its not clear where they’ll stop.

First, the Senate Finance Committee tacked on an amendment to the principle voucher vehicle, SB 999.

The amendment adds the words “public or nonpublic school” to the bill.

Here’s what that means: Students could use the so-called Opportunity Scholarship to pay “out of district” tuition to a neighboring school district.

A family lives in Davidson County but wants their child to attend school in Williamson. The language allows them to use the voucher to send their child to school in Williamson if they meet all the other voucher requirements.

This is problematic on several fronts. First, there’s no way for districts to predict how many students will apply for admission from outside their district. This makes planning for growth/space needs difficult.

Next, the voucher amount may or may not equal the actual per pupil dollars spent on the child — creating a financial burden for the receiving district as well as for the district that loses the student. Yes, even if students leave a public school system, fixed costs mean vouchers increase, not decrease expenses.

The amendment will surely require a new Fiscal Note — an analysis of the financial impact of the bill.  And its adoption delayed consideration of the companion bill in the House Education – Administration & Planning Committee.

Following this adventure in vouchers, the Senate Education Committee and a House subcommittee approved a voucher plan that would allow any Tennessee student with an IEP – Individualized Education Plan – to receive vouchers. 120,000 Tennessee students currently meet this definition.

That means that in addition to the 20,000 student cap that is in the first voucher bill, another 120,000 students would be eligible. It’s not hard to imagine an ultimate goal of making vouchers available to every single student in Tennessee.

The idea for the IEP voucher plan is based on a plan promoted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who saw the program adopted in his state while he was in office.

A report by Sara Mead of Education Sector at American Institutes for Research notes that the Florida program, on which the Tennessee legislation is modeled, is problematic.

Here are some highlights:

McKay students do not have to take the annual state tests administered to public school students, and McKay schools are not required to report any information on student outcomes—which goes against the national trend toward standards and accountability in public education. Thus, it is virtually impossible to say whether special-needs children using McKay vouchers to attend private schools are faring better, worse, or about the same as they had in their old public schools. It is also difficult to determine whether the McKay program is improving existing special-education services, since, unlike public schools, McKay schools are not required to provide these services at all.

Tennessee’s plan would have a similar lack of accountability — which means parents could claim the voucher and then have their child be grossly under-served.

Mead continues:

McKay’s lack of accountability requirements and its minimal quality and service expectations make McKay a seriously flawed program. Under the current structure of the program, taxpayers have almost no knowledge of how their money is being spent, and neither taxpayers nor parents have access to solid information about the performance of different McKay schools. For parents, the stakes are very high, as they are required to give up their due process rights under IDEA if they choose to participate in the McKay program. Parents, taxpayers, and the state’s special-needs children deserve better.

Moving toward a program with zero accountability and unproven results seems a grave disservice to the families of special needs children in Tennessee.

Next week may yield a slow down for these two voucher initiatives. Or, it could be more vouchers gone wild – more tax dollars spent, less accountability.

More on School Vouchers:

Fiscal Note Fantasy

TSBA Talks Vouchers

Why Vouchers Won’t Work

Should Tennesseans Support School Vouchers?

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