What Do the Facts Say?

The facts tells us that school vouchers don’t work — they are expensive and can actually have a negative impact on student achievement.

But, that didn’t matter last night as a subcommittee of lawmakers advanced a voucher bill proponents claim will only impact a small group of students.

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat reports:

… Tennessee lawmakers insisted Tuesday that the state can succeed where others have failed, and easily advanced a proposal that would start a five-year pilot program in Memphis.

The voice vote came after members of a House education subcommittee heard voucher opponents cite recent research showing that vouchers in other states have led to worse academic outcomes for students. But again and again, lawmakers said that Tennessee could be different.

Perennial voucher advocate John DeBerry of Memphis said that voucher opponents shouldn’t worry — the program will be small, and schools won’t lose that much money.

Tatter notes that he:

… projected that few students would actually opt to participate, meaning public schools would not lose as much funding as its leaders fear. “A lot of folks are not going to put in the time, the effort,” DeBerry said, “but for the handful of parents that do, why not give them that right?”

Let’s examine that a little more closely. DeBerry is acknowledging that public schools will lose money under the plan he supports. He’s willing to take money from a school system that finally appears to be turning around in order to help what he describes as a small group of students. Oh, and the evidence says the vouchers won’t actually help those students and may well harm them.

Now, let’s compare DeBerry’s remarks to what former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said when he started a voucher program in his state:

Back in 2011, Daniels spoke to a conservative think tank a few months after he signed the program into law. At that speech, he said he didn’t expect this to become a big problem.

“It is not likely to be a very large phenomenon in Indiana,” he said “I think it will be exercised by a meaningful but not an enormous number of our students.”

There are other similarities between Indiana’s voucher experience and the Tennessee proposal. Back in 2011, the program in Indiana was capped at 7500 students. The proposal advanced last night would initially provide vouchers for up to 5000 students.

That Indiana program was expanded rapidly, and now it serves more than 30,000 students.

If you think lawmakers won’t move to quickly expand vouchers in Tennessee once the door is opened, you are wrong. At the end of the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers narrowly approved an IEA voucher bill. This bill was targeted at students with a specific list of special needs. Now, Senator Dolores Gresham is advancing legislation that would expand that program to include students who have never attended a public school. The program is in the first year of operation, there’s no data on student results, and yet voucher proponents are already seeking to expand.

Last night, facts didn’t matter. A majority on subcommittee ignored research and suggested Tennessee could be different. The track record in other states tells a different story.

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


 

 

 

Farmer Takes on Vouchers

Anne-Marie Farmer, writing over at the League of Women Voters blog, takes on the perennial issue of vouchers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

No matter what initial limitations are placed on a voucher scheme, no matter how much it is couched in flowery language about opportunity and scholarship, the bottom line remains the same. Vouchers have been proven time and time again to be a failure at raising student achievement, and to reduce the resources available to our public schools that serve the most vulnerable children. Vouchers shift scarce public money away from school systems that are required and committed to serve every child to private schools that retain the right to pick and choose which students they prefer to educate. They represent an abandonment of public education and of the ideal that school should be open to all children.

READ MORE about why the LWV opposes vouchers.

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


 

 

Let’s Get Ready for Vouchers

It may only be December, but the voucher battle at the General Assembly is already heating up.

There’s the Oak Ridge School Board, passing a resolution opposing the use of public funds for private school vouchers.

Then, there’s a Murfreesboro legislator citing President-elect Donald Trump’s support of vouchers as a reason to move forward on the issue.

To be sure, Trump has selected a free market fundamentalist and voucher advocate, Betsy DeVos, to be the next Secretary of Education.

According to the story in the Oak Ridger on the anti-voucher resolution, Rep. Kent Calfee stands in opposition to vouchers, while other lawmakers from the area are certain the issue will come up, but did not commit on how they would vote. Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager have both supported voucher legislation in the past.

Meanwhile, in Murfreesboro, Senators Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy both indicated support for vouchers, with Ketron noting Trump’s support of vouchers.

Ketron also noted that he didn’t expect vouchers to impact Murfreesboro or Rutherford County schools.

So, the battle lines are being drawn for the 2017 voucher fight. It is a fight that may well coincide with the confirmation hearings of pro-voucher Secretary of Education candidate Betsy DeVos. If 2017 sees the General Assembly once again reject vouchers, 2018 will likely see Trump’s plan to spend some $20 billion of federal funds to entice states to enact voucher schemes. Those funds just might tempt Tennessee lawmakers.

More on Vouchers:

A Letter of Reservation

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

Voucher Vulture DeVos Tapped as Education Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered Michigan-based voucher vulture Betsy DeVos the role of Education Secretary in his cabinet.

Education Week reports:

  1. DeVos is the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an advocacy and research organization which advocates for a variety of forms of school choice including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Fellow board members include Kevin Chavous, a former District of Columbia Council member, and Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor and the founder of The 74, an education news organization that says the “public education system is in crisis” in the U.S.

Fortunately, we have a preview of what education policy could look like if DeVos has her way. Unfortunately, that outlook is pretty grim. In June, I wrote about Detroit’s experiment with school choice — an experiment designed and supported by DeVos. Essentially, the system DeVos champions is one based on chaos:

Chaos. Uncertainty. Instability. That’s what a free market approach to public education brought Detroit. And, sadly, it also resulted in academic outcomes even worse than those expected in one of the worst public school districts in the country.

Choice advocates would have us believe that having more options will lead to innovation and force the local district to improve or close schools. Instead, in the case of Detroit, it led to chaos. The same fate could be visited upon other large, urban districts who fall into the free market education trap. Another unfortunate lesson from Detroit: Once you open the door, it’s very, very difficult to close.

The National Education Association was quick to respond to the reports:

Every day, educators use their voice to advocate for every student to reach his or her full potential. We believe that the chance for the success of a child should not depend on winning a charter lottery, being accepted by a private school, or living in the right ZIP code. We have, and will continue, to fight for all students to have a great public school in their community and the opportunity to succeed no matter their backgrounds or circumstances.

“Betsy DeVos has consistently worked against these values, and her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers — which take away funding and local control from our public schools — to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

In fact, the American Federation for Children by way of its Tennessee affiliate, the Tennessee Federation for Children, has spent millions of dollars in Tennessee lobbying for vouchers and supporting pro-voucher candidates for the General Assembly. In four consecutive legislative sessions, those efforts have failed. However, with renewed pressure from the federal government under DeVos, Tennesseans can likely expect an even more aggressive push for dangerous voucher schemes in 2017.

We’ve already seen voucher front group Tennesseans for Student Success spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect pro-voucher candidates.

And then there are the reports of voucher lobbyists hiding behind ethics law loopholes to host pro-privatization lawmakers at beach vacation retreats.

To be sure, Betsy DeVos is an advocate of education policies that have failed and she’ll likely seek an expansion of these failed policies through the use of the Department of Education.

MORE ON VOUCHERS:

Million Dollar Baby

Lessons from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

 

New Name, Same Game

StudentsFirst, one of the leading proponents of school vouchers in Tennessee, has a new name.

Jason Gonzales reports:

Pro-voucher student choice group StudentsFirst Tennessee has changed its name to TennesseeCAN as part of working as an official member of the 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now network.

TennesseeCAN will function as a new organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged, according to a news release from the group.

StudentsFirst has been one of several organizations supporting legislation to create school voucher programs in Tennessee. These so-called “opportunity scholarships” use public money to pay a qualifying student’s private school tuition. Despite millions in spending on campaigns and lobbying, a broad voucher plan has yet to pass the General Assembly.

A very limited voucher plan focused on a narrowly-defined group of special needs students is now in effect in Tennessee.

More on vouchers:

Craig Fitzhugh on Vouchers

Million Dollar Baby

What TN Can Learn from Louisiana on Vouchers

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


 

 

TEA on New Voucher Program

The state launched a voucher program this week aimed at students with disabilities.  The IEA voucher program was created legislatively in 2015 and the vouchers are available this year. The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) expressed concerns about the program during the legislative fight and continues to express concerns as the program launches.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

The Tennessee Education Association again expressed concern over the state’s new IEA Voucher program and urged parents to proceed with caution.

“Programs like the one the Tennessee Department of Education is launching today have been subject to fraud and abuse in other states,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “This is of even greater concern to TEA because this program is targeted toward our most vulnerable children who need strong educational services.”

The new voucher program came about after legislative action in 2015. The program is designated for certain students with disabilities. A similar program in Florida has been subject to millions of dollars in fraud, mostly by way of individuals establishing schools that don’t adequately serve the disability population.

“Parents should proceed with extreme caution. This program will create large financial incentive for vendors to seek this public money, and may attract unscrupulous providers who do not have children’s best interests at heart,” said Gray. “Likewise, we ask that the state exercise strong oversight to ensure children and families are protected.”

One portion of the legislation indicates that when parents accept this voucher, they forfeit certain protections under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

“By removing these kids from public school, parents may not understand the huge ramifications of surrendering their child’s rights under IDEA to free, public education. The state of Tennessee also loses a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance currently educating Tennessee’s children with special needs. This lost federal money will have a ripple effect throughout the state and will harm all special education students, even those who stay in public school,” said the TEA president.

“Every effort must be made to protect children and ensure the viability of programs approved to accept these new vouchers. Fraud in programs like this hurts both taxpayers and those whom the program is intended to serve.”

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


 

 

MNPS School Board Race Spending

Amanda Haggard has an interesting piece out about the MNPS School Board race and the key players.

She covers groups like Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE and Stand for Children.  And she notes their top targets: Will Pinkston and Amy Frogge (they are less aggressively against Jill Speering).

It turns out, the same donors and backers supporting Renaissance/RISE are also spending to unseat Pinkston and Frogge.

Frogge penned a pieced not long ago about why school board race spending is skyrocketing.

Here’s Haggard on the spending this year:

And then, of course, there’s the money. So far, Druffel has outraised Frogge by $10,000, bringing in almost $37,000 — $20,000 of which came from donors in District 8. Pinkston has secured a little under $70,000, along with endorsements from Mayor Megan Barry and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, for whom Pinkston was a top aide.

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.

It’s worth noting that Beaman and the Beacon Center are supporters of school vouchers. Likewise, as was noted in an earlier piece on Nashville RISE, the umbrella group Education Cities is backed in part by voucher advocates:

And here’s something interesting about all that: The funders of Education Cities include The Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and The Gates Foundation — the Big Three in corporate education reform.

Perhaps more interesting is the group of partners, including the pro-voucher Fordham Institute.

Early voting begins tomorrow. Stand for Children says it is sending mailers and more money is coming to defeat Pinkston and Frogge (and ostensibly Speering). This in spite of some rather odd reasoning around Stand’s endorsements.

What does all this mean? The next few weeks will likely see the MNPS School Board races turn a bit ugly, as those who want a new agenda spend aggressively to defeat the very incumbents who have brought about mayoral collaboration and the arrival of a much-heralded new Director of Schools.

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


 

 

 

 

Fitzhugh: Vouchers “Wrong Answer” for Tennessee Schools

State Representative Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley is the Democratic Leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Every one of us learns something new every day.  Whether it is in a classroom, something we read or hear through media, or just a new fact we get from a friend or family member, we are constantly learning new things about our communities, our state and country, and our world.

Being educated doesn’t mean you will always know the answers; it means you have the tools to go and find the answers.  As a young man growing up, there is no way that my friends and I could have imagined the technological advances that we see today.  But my teachers in tiny Ripley, Tennessee worked hard to make sure that we went out into the world prepared to learn throughout our lives, and I know our state is full of dedicated teachers who are continuing in this tradition.

HB 1049, the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, is the latest version of the voucher program that we have discussed in the General Assembly.  On Monday, February 8th, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives will vote on whether or not to take money from our already underfunded public schools.  A state that is ranked 47th nationally in school funding cannot take more money from its students.  We must listen to the people of our state and vote no.

Consider this: the Tennessee School Board Association has 141 member boards.  I asked their representative in a committee meeting how many of their school boards are against vouchers.  His answer: 141.  Not one school board in our state is for this program, but the proponents of the bill would have you believe that there is a ground swell for vouchers; there is not.  School board members have some of the closest relationships with their constituents, and they are positively not for vouchers.

Vouchers are not only the wrong answer for Tennessee; they aren’t addressing the true question of why schools and districts are having problems.  Kids who struggle in school are almost always having a deficiency in some areas of their life: they may be hungry, their home life may not be stable, and they may struggle with the hurdle of a learning disability, or simply may need glasses to see the board.  Vouchers do not address these issues.  Changing the location where a child goes during the school day does not change the environment to which they return every night.  We have large-scale issues that must be addressed to improve our schools.  A child that is hungry, tired and not prepared for the school day cannot be a success, no matter where their classroom is.

Voucher programs leave kids behind.  We as a government, and as a society, are tasked with making sure each and every child receives a quality education.  And kids are left behind in two ways: the first is that a child that doesn’t receive a voucher is left to what voucher proponents label a failing school.  Second, the school district loses that portion of the Basic Education Program (BEP) funding that is delineated for each student.  If we are removing money from our schools—to the tune of $130 million under this voucher bill—how will our public schools ever survive?  To take money from our schools is akin to tying a milestone around someone’s neck, tossing them into a lake, and then ask them why they are drowning.

Public schools are the backbone of our society. They are what drive our communities.  Good public school systems attract businesses and homebuyers.  One of the first questions a prospective homeowner will ask—even if they aren’t parents—is the quality of the local schools.  Any fall Tennessee evening you will find thousands of our neighbors at the local high school, cheering on their kids: the future of our state.   Schools make our communities.

I do understand—and agree—that many of our schools and our students are struggling to achieve their goals.  I know that not every school is the best it can be, and that to get all our students scoring were we want them to will be a Sisyphean effort, one that every student, teacher, administrator, parent and officeholder will have to work together to achieve.  This is hard work, but not impossible work.  As I heard a Metro Nashville Public School parent say during a committee meeting on vouchers, his kids didn’t need a voucher: they need a new school building, instead of the portable classrooms they learn in today.

The answer for successful Tennessee schools is this: we have to fully fund our public schools, support our students, teachers and administrators, and realize that we have no greater responsibility as a society than to make sure our children are healthy and educated.  Our future literally depends on it.

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

Schools Can Wait, We Need More Tax Breaks

That seems to be the message from state Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis, who is suggesting using the state’s revenue surplus to eliminate the Hall Tax on investment income.

Kelsey’s plan would eliminate nearly $200 million a year in revenue. This at a time when school systems are suing the state due to grossly inadequate funding.

The push to provide tax breaks to the investor class comes as revenue is soaring above projections, as Rick Locker notes:

The state ended its fiscal year 2014-15 on June 30 with nearly $606 million more revenue overall than was projected and budgeted for the year, including $553 million more revenue in the government’s general fund than was projected. The general fund pays for most of state government’s non-transportation programs.

In addition to putting a call for tax breaks ahead of the need for improved investment in schools, Kelsey has also been a chief proponent of voucher schemes that would take millions of dollars from local school coffers. Not to mention there is scant evidence an expansive voucher plan like Kelsey’s would actually improve student outcomes.

Kelsey is not the only lawmaker whose priorities don’t include investing surplus dollars into public education. Earlier this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell suggested investing the surplus dollars into roads in order to avoid raising the gas tax.

What the General Assembly needs is a plan that would invest a significant portion of the surplus into schools and save the rest for future investment. Building a long-term, sustainable plan for improving the BEP (the state funding formula for schools) is critical, not just to avoid losing a lawsuit but also to support the excellent schools Tennessee families and communities deserve.

MORE on school funding in Tennessee:

Why is TN 40th?

Why Fix the BEP?

Why is he so angry?

 

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

Leader of Failed KY Voucher Campaign Heads to TN

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), a pro-voucher group, has selected Mendell Grinter as its Tennessee State Director.

Grinter will work to revive interest in a statewide school voucher program that has met defeat in three consecutive legislative sessions.

The release announcing Grinter’s selection mentions:

Grinter previously served as the Kentucky State Director for BAEO where he led the creation of BAEO’s first Pastors Coalition. Under his leadership the Coalition led rallies, press conferences, community meetings, and received over 30 media placements.

Yes, the coalition led rallies, held press conferences, and even got in the news. What they didn’t do was generate any significant interest in passing vouchers in Kentucky. That’s right: Grinter led a coalition that didn’t move the needle on vouchers in Kentucky – voucher legislation, even with an interesting twist, failed to pass in Kentucky.

Of course, Kentucky also has no charter schools, so the landscape for advocates of education privatization is bleak there. What Kentucky does have is 20+ years of steady educational progress. And, with no vouchers or charters, Kentucky continues to outperform Tennessee on the NAEP.

Make no mistake, voucher legislation will be a big focus in 2016. And Mendell Grinter’s track record should be of some comfort to those who support public schools and oppose failed voucher schemes.

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