Moving on to Memphis

One School Board candidate in Memphis has attracted significant attention and financial support from pro-privatization group TennesseeCAN. The group bills itself as a grassroots advocacy organization, though it is not clear if the work here will benefit Tennessee or Minnesota.

Chalkbeat has more on TennesseeCAN’s efforts in Memphis:

TennesseeCAN spent more than $26,000 on behalf of candidate Michelle Robinson McKissack for mailed advertisements, phone calls, and texts in late June, according to the group’s disclosure forms.

The group also sent an endorsement letter to Shante Avant and contributed $3,000 to her campaign last week, said the organization’s spokeswoman.

The story notes TennesseeCAN has long been supportive of using public money to fund private schools:

But since starting its advocacy work in the state in 2011, TennesseeCAN has been best known for supporting vouchers that would allow state money to pay for private school tuition as an option for students from low-income families. State lawmakers sought to pilot a program in Memphis, despite the fact that parents and policymakers in the city strongly opposed the measure. Vouchers could siphon off more than $18 million annually from public schools.

Both candidates supported by TennesseeCAN have said they oppose vouchers.

While the funds spent in Memphis, especially in favor of McKissack, are significant, the dollar amount pales in comparison to what was spent in the Nashville School Board races in 2016. That year, TennesseeCAN ally Stand for Children spent more than $200,000 on four School Board races in Nashville and lost all four.

With the election in Shelby County just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if the TennesseeCAN investment gets the desired result.

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


 

Stand for Children Looking Forward to New Year

Stand for Children was recently dragged through months of hearings after a politically motivated complaint was filed alleging they broke campaign finance laws. Earlier this month they were unanimously cleared of wrongdoing.

According to a new editorial by Daniel O’Donnell, it seems likes Stand for Children is looking ahead to a new year where they can return their focus on improving Nashville’s education.

There is a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville’s public schools these days. But the fact remains that a great public education remains out of reach for far too many Nashville students. In recent years, the achievement gap between kids from low-income families and their privileged peers has widened significantly; only 11 percent of Nashville graduates are considered “college-ready.”

Let that sink in. Behind those numbers are real kids with real lives – kids who deserve urgency and focus from adults.

Nashville spends an enormous amount of time debating public charter schools, and that debate no doubt colored the recent school board races. The prevailing charter narrative notwithstanding, Stand advocates for strong public schools, regardless of type.

Our record here has been consistent: In recent years we’ve fought for high-quality pre-Kindergarten expansion, high academic standards and topnotch district leadership. As a city, we should be doing more to support and learn from some of our incredible charter schools, while doing a lot more to lift up the schools that the other 90 percent of students attend. It’s really not that complicated.

Since the August election, we’ve been working with hundreds of parents in North and East Nashville to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our school system: below-average third-grade literacy rates. Ensuring more third-graders are on track is one critical component of a larger effort to close Nashville’s achievement gap.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

I agree with O’Donnell that we spend too much time fighting over charter schools when we could be spending that same amount of time on the abysmal literacy rates of our students. Let’s focus on all the students in our district and work together to make MNPS better.

Teachers collaborate every day to do what’s best for students. It’s time for organizations, school board members, and district leaders to collaborate to help all of our students.

 

 

Stand For Children Unanimously Cleared

Today, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance unanimously dismissed two complaints filed against Stand for Children by a group named Tennessee Citizen Action.

It should be noted that fellow TNEdReport blogger, Andy Spears, is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Stand for Children and four school board candidates: Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely, Jackson Miller, and Miranda Christy. The Registry unanimously dismissed those allegations because there was no evidence for them.

Dark Money or Charter Schools?

But were these complaints really against “dark money” as Tennessee Citizen Action claimed or more about charter schools? Sources who attended the press conference after the hearing stated that Gerard Stranch, attorney for Tennessee Citizen Action, brought up how Stand for Children wanted to bring more charter schools to Nashville. These school board candidates weren’t even calling for more charter schools.

The complaint had nothing to do with charter schools, so it was surprising to hear that’s what Tennessee Citizen Action’s legal counsel wanted to discuss. On Twitter, Stranch believes “pro charter folks” are treated differently by the bipartisan registry.

This was about the fight for charter schools disguised as a campaign against dark money. And Tennessee Citizen Action lost overwhelmingly.

Political Payback

It should be noted that anyone can file a complaint through the Registry. While the Registry can only hand down civil penalties, Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston told Stand for Children’s Nashville Director Daniel O’Donnell on Twitter: “Post election, we’re talking about your orange jumpsuit.”

Will Pinkston is advocating and hoping for the jailing of his political opponent. I feel like we are back in the presidential campaign.

Of course Will Pinkston knew (I would hope) that this was only a civil matter, but Pinkston wanted to make this complaint look more than it really was. The press went out of their way to cover these hearings as huge breaking news, with the Tennessean using large breaking news banners to discuss each hearing.

Early on in the Registry’s process, a commissioner said that they thought there wasn’t enough evidence to go on, but allowed Stand for Children more time to make a defense. If you ever look at the Registry’s monthly agenda, you will see there are so many cases in front of the Registry at one time. The media picked up on this one and really ran with it.

Everything is Rigged

After the unanimous decision by bipartisan Registry, Andy Spears called the Registry “rigged” because they did not vote the way he wanted them to. Is the system rigged when it doesn’t go your way?

We just finished an election where Trump said everything was rigged…until it went his way, and it wasn’t rigged anymore.

The bigger implication is when you have a coordinated effort against a group of candidates, it may discourage others from running. Even though there was no evidence of law breaking, these candidates had to retain legal counsel. Try talking a middle class parent into running for school board if there is a chance you will need a lawyer. Miranda Christy says it best:

Our city needs good people to step up and throw their hat in the ring without having to worry whether they might have to hire a lawyer or whether they might have to publicly endure false accusations of wrongdoing.

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

What Can you Buy for $750,000?

Apparently, not a lot of Election Night victories. While the Tennessee affiliate of national group Stand for Children spent $750,000 in local and state elections last night, they came away with very few wins. In Nashville, the group spent more than $200,000 and lost all four races in which it backed candidates.

Dave Boucher at the Tennessean has the story:

More than $750,000 buys plenty of campaign mailers and advertisements. But it doesn’t necessarily buy election wins.

Stand for Children, an education advocacy organization, found that out the hard way Thursday night. After spending a small fortune, all four candidates it backed in the Metro school board election and a handful of state GOP primary candidates lost their races.

While Stand for Children attempted to change the face of the Nashville school board by opposing three incumbents, ultimately, voters overwhelmingly rejected their preferred candidates — with the exception of the District 7 race, which was decided by less than 40 votes.

More on Stand for Children in Nashville:

Stand on the Defensive

Stand for Children Buys Its Way Out of the Race

Stand with Charters

MNPS School Board Race Spending

Nashville’s Not Alone

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


 

 

Stand on the Defensive

Just days after a controversial email sent from the CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center raised questions about possible illegal political activity and coordination with political advocacy group Stand for Children, one school board candidate held a meeting with Stand’s political director that he claims was not about his campaign and did not violate any laws.

Alanna Autler of WSMV reports:

A candidate for the Metro Nashville School Board is facing questions after meeting with a representative of a political action committee this week.
District 9 candidate Thom Druffel met with Daniel O’Donnell, the local director for the special interest group Stand for Children Tennessee.

The organization has thrown support behind Druffel, along with several other candidates running for school board this election cycle.

The meeting took place at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt, where Druffel works.

O’Donnell was seen entering and leaving the building Tuesday, one day after a mandatory blackout period kicked in. Under the law, PACs cannot contribute to a candidate during this period.

O’Donnell denies any wrongdoing and says he was taking the day off work. The timing of this day off seems odd given that it allegedly took place just over one week before an Election Day in which Stand for Children seems to have a great interest.

While at least one candidate mentioned in the Martha O’Bryan emails has called for MOB to stop recruiting volunteers in coordination with Stand or in support of her campaign, Druffel had no problem meeting with Stand’s political director and now claims he was just chatting with a volunteer and not coordinating any activity with a group investing heavily toward his election.

Stand for Children’s attorney released the following response:

Stand for Children and its political committees observe both the letter and spirit of the law. Any suggestion that there has been improper coordination between Stand and the Druffel campaign is categorically false.

As Autler notes:

Communication and coordination is also entirely prohibited between independent expenditure committees and candidates.

 

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

 

 

Christy Calls on MOB to Stop Asking for Campaign Help

Yesterday, it was revealed that Marsha Edwards, CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center, had sent emails requesting volunteers for School Board candidates endorsed by political group Stand for Children.

At least one of those candidates, Miranda Christy, is speaking out, calling on the group to stop sending such emails.

In a Facebook post she says:

The Martha O’Bryan Center is a wonderful institution providing critical services to District 5 families. I have always been inspired by their work in alleviating poverty in District 5, and I would never want them to put their tax status in jeopardy. Our campaign had no knowledge that they were circulating a request for volunteers, and we would never encourage it. We have only one volunteer (and no staffers) who to our knowledge has ever worked at the Martha O’Bryan Center (and he is a longtime friend of mine), and we ask that they stop making such requests for volunteers.

For their part, Both Martha O’Bryan’s Edwards and Stand for Children’s Dan O’Donnell deny any coordination.

It will be interesting to see if the other candidates endorsed by Stand call on MOB to stop the volunteer recruitment for their campaigns.

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


 

Stand With Charters

Nate Rau of the Tennessean reports on apparent coordination between political advocacy group Stand for Children and advocates for charter schools in MNPS.

From the story:

The head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit coordinated with the well-funded political group Stand For Children to find campaign workers for four school board candidates who are friendly to charter schools, according to emails obtained by The Tennessean.

In one June 23 email, Martha O’Bryan Center President and CEO Marsha Edwards encouraged her staff members to either volunteer or work for $10 per hour to go door to door in neighborhoods to talk with voters.

The revelation comes as the campaigns for School Board seats are entering the final days.

Stand for Children previously released a puzzling list of endorsements, praising the current board for progress made while opposing many of the incumbents who brought about that progress.

The political group has also been tied to the nonprofit Nashville RISE.

As Rau’s article notes, a significant portion of Stand’s funding comes from outside Tennessee.

The emails provide further credence to earlier claims about the familiar national playbook being used by RISE, Stand, and other groups in Nashville.

Amanda Haggard wrote earlier about the spending in the School Board races:

(Jackson) Miller has brought in around $90,000, with the largest contributions coming from charter school backers like DeLoache and Trump supporter and English-only backer Lee Beaman. Stand for Children’s O’Donnell says checks are on the way from his organization and mailers have already been sent out in support of its endorsed slate. Additionally, Beacon Center board members other than Beaman have donated the maximum amount in multiple races.

According to Rau, both Edwards and O’Donnell deny any coordination.

Here’s the email chain between Edwards and O’Donnell:

From: Marsha Edwards Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2016 4:15 PM To: Everybody; J Leckrone External; Jon Driskell Cc: Marilyn Greer (MarilynGreer2@gmail.com); Daniel O’Donnell (dodonnell@stand.org) Subject: FW: URGENT ‐ Volunteers needed

Hello Everyone – I am passing on an urgent need for paid canvassers this Saturday and Sunday (and beyond).  Below is the Districts that are in play and the candidates that are paying for canvassing help.  I believe that the pay is $10.00 an hour and you cam contact Daniel O’Donnell at dodonnell@stand.org.  for additional information.  You can also just volunteer.    If you haven’t done this type of work before, it is really easy.  There is an short orientaon on the candidate and posions and then you are given a list of addresses.   You knock and talk or you leave the informaon sheet.  Somemes you have to take a note if someone wants the candidate to call them, etc.   Both Peter and I have done a lot of this and it is really fun.    All of these candidates are endorsed by TN Stand For Children and are candidates that want to bring more collaboraon and data driven deliberation to the School Board.   They are all friendly to charters as one strategy to improving results for children.    Also, Jane Meneely  (#3) is working for us as an event consultant on a new event we are planning.  She would be a strong school board member.  I spent some me with Miranda Christy (#5)  this morning and feel she would be another strong, smart , well informed and thoughtful school board member.    Marsha

Marsha Edwards President and CEO Martha O’Bryan Center East End Preparatory School Explore Community School 615.254.1791 www.marthaobryan.org www.eastendprep.org www.explorecommunityschool.com

From: Daniel O’Donnell [mailto:dodonnell@stand.org] Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2016 2:27 PM
To: Marsha Edwards Subject: Re: URGENT ‐ Volunteers needed

Hey Marsha ‐ appreciate your efforts with the list, just haven’t heard from anyone. We have capacity to hire MANY canvassers, which would dramatically improve our trajectory…. but very few takers.
Sent from my iPhone

On Jun 23, 2016, at 2:15 PM, Marsha Edwards <medwards@marthaobryan.org> wrote:
Daniel – I have asked my College Success Team if there are college students or grads that would want to be a paid canvasser.  Not sure if the tutor list helped at all.  MAE   Marsha Edwards

President and CEO Martha O’Bryan Center East End Preparatory School Explore Community School 615.254.1791 www.marthaobryan.org www.eastendprep.org www.explorecommunityschool.com     From: Daniel O’Donnell [mailto:dodonnell@stand.org] Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2016 11:46 AM To: ‘Bill DeLoache (bdeloache@gmail.com)’; ‘etduncan@solidus.com’; Brent Easley; Marsha Edwards; Shaka Mitchell; Ravi Gupta; charles friedman; Todd Dickson; John Eason; al.coverstone@gmail.com; Benjamin Schumacher; ‘randy.dowell@gmail.com’; Shani Dowell Cc: Nadira Freeman Subject: URGENT ‐ Volunteers needed

Hey everyone –   Where we are sll falling well short is on volunteers. Essenally the same dozen people that were knocking doors for candidates two weeks ago are the same dozen people slated to knock doors this weekend.   The only way we win any of these races is by knocking doors and talking to voters. Everything else is secondary. This is something that our opposion increasingly understands, as we see MNEA volunteers out in force for Jill, an army of moms out for Amy, etc. To put it bluntly: we are being outworked by our opponents, pung us on a losing trajectory. The good news is that we sll have me to win, we can win every race… if we show up.   We are making a big push for this weekend. The incumbents will be at a board retreat, off the battlefield. Next weekend is July 4th and we expect a lot of folks to be out of town. The weekend after that is the last weekend before people start vong. We’re running out of me and every single campaign needs much more support if they’re to hit voter contact goals.
I am asking you to PLEASE send emails and make calls in the next 48 hours to as wide of a network as you possibly can. Ask your friends and colleagues to show up this weekend. I’m including details for each campaign below, but call me at 615‐804‐9539 if you need anything:

JANE MENEELY – DISTRICT 3 ‐‐Meet at Jane’s house (1514 Shelton Ave) ‐‐Shis: Sat 9:30 am and 2 pm / Sun 1 pm ‐‐Yazoo beer at the end of your shi!   MIRANDA CHRISTY – DISTRICT 5 ‐‐Meet at 204A Myrtle St ‐‐Shis: Sat 9:30 am, 12:30 pm, Sun 1 pm   JACKSON MILLER – DISTRICT 7 ‐‐Meet at  Jackson’s house (2304 10th Ave South) ‐‐Sat 8:30 am or 1:30 pm, Sun 1:30 pm   THOM DRUFFEL – DISTRICT 9 ‐‐Meet at Thom’s house (613 Lamar Dr). ‐‐Three shifts: Sat 10:00 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm, Sun 2 pm

Thanks, DOD P.S. Yesterday I literally scrolled through every contact in my phone and sent 19 texts to friends that haven’t been engaged. It took 30 minutes and need 4 new volunteers. I suggest doing the same. P.P.S. We still need many, many more paid canvassers. Please also work your contacts for people who would be interested.

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


 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Amy Frogge All About?

She takes a moment to talk about her race on Facebook.  Here’s her post:

This article outlines what’s really going on in this year’s school board races: Well-funded special interests pushing unabated charter school growth and vouchers are trying to take down school board incumbents who won’t comply with their agenda to privatize schools. Why are they so interested in public education? There is much money to be made on the backs of our children.

At great personal cost, I have stood up against this effort for four years now. I’ve dealt with all sorts of lies and attempts to malign my character, because I’ve been a strong, effective voice against this agenda, which has nothing to do with educating children. Although it has taken a toll on my family, I am running again because it’s vitally important to prevent special interests from gaining control over the future of Nashville’s schools, and Dr. Joseph’s arrival on the scene marks a pivotal time of hope for our children, who deserve much more.

Remember that nasty push poll maligning me with false allegations? Stand for Children (which endorsed my opponent) paid $80,000 for polling this quarter alone. Stand for Children is also sending out numerous attack mailers on me. My personal favorite was their latest claiming that I don’t listen to parents, which is pretty comical given that I’m a public school parent myself who talks with other parents (and teachers) on a daily basis! Please don’t pay attention to these silly lies.

Here is what I’ve fought for (often successfully) over the last four years:
-evidence-based school policies
-less standardized testing
-whole child education that provides each child with a rich, broad curriculum that includes art, music, recess, and physical activity
-wraparound services for children in need
-high-quality pre-k
-individualized instruction and services for all students, including advanced and gifted learners, as well as those with special needs
(and much more!).

Over the last four years, I’ve watched the conversation about education (both locally and on a national level) turn toward this direction, and I’m proud that I’ve been even a small part of helping to change the conversation.

Regardless of what happens in this election, I will continue to use my voice to stand up for the best interests of our children. My involvement in this ongoing battle over our schools has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with standing up for what is right. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on Nashville’s children and will continue to speak up as long as I can make a difference.
Please be informed and go vote!

Here’s more on the article she references from the Nashville Scene and the spending in her race and others.

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


 

TC Weber and the Return of the Summer Blockbuster

TC Weber thinks he sees blockbuster potential in this summer’s Nashville School Board race:

I’d argue that this year’s Metro Nashville Public Schools board race meets the criteria for a summer blockbuster, and with Stand For Children involved, it even has its own Michael Bay. For those of you who don’t regularly attend movies, Bay is a director known for elevating the blockbuster format through the increased use of explosions, beautiful people, and minimal substance. In other words, with apologies to William Faulkner, sound and fury signify nothing. To this point, that is exactly what the MNPS school board race has been. You have social media dust ups, campaign managers from one campaign resigning just before the filing deadline to launch their own campaigns, and other candidates attacking a spouse’s work record like it was their opponent’s. All entertaining to watch, but largely lacking substance.

The whole post outlines special interest groups, candidate recruitment, and all the other characters that make a blockbuster truly exciting. Also, he makes some recommendations on candidates he deems worthy of support.


 

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

A Bit of a Puzzle

Stand for Children is out with it’s list of endorsements in the School Board race and here’s how they start:

With a committed Mayor and the recent selection of Dr. Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools, there remains one major missing piece to improving our public education system: a better school board.

Interestingly, Stand advocates throwing out most of the incumbents running for re-election in order to achieve that “better board.”

But, it’s worth noting that most of the candidates Stand opposes supported Megan Barry in her campaign and the Board united to select Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools. That committed Mayor and new Director came about in as a result of the work of the current Board, not in spite of it.

Nevertheless, Stand says:

Imagine for a moment that we spent the next four years not rehashing the same old fights, but instead debating the best way to attract and support a great principal at every school; the best way to retain and develop our incredible educators; the most innovative ways to support our growing immigrant populations; and or the best way to ensure schools receive adequate and equitable funding and support.

While there have certainly been some vigorous debates on the School Board about how best to serve students in MNPS, the Board also adopted a revised pay scale designed to make the district more attractive to new teachers and bring teacher pay in line with similar urban districts. That same budget also made important investments in support of English Language Learners.

As for adequate and equitable funding, the MNPS Board has taken the state to task for leaving behind the promise of BEP 2.0.

The debate over charters is an important part of the discussion about MNPS, and there are certainly multiple perspectives. On one hand, you have those who raise the issue of cost and on the other, you have those who suggest the cost isn’t that high and the money spent is worth it. Arguably, both sides want what Stand says it wants: A Board focused on what’s best for kids.

Or, maybe they just want less of what they perceive as bickering. Or less dissent from a certain agenda.

The MNPS Board isn’t perfect, but working with Mayor Barry and hiring Shawn Joseph demonstrate a willingness to look past personal differences and focus on what really matters.

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