The Voucher Tax

Will Tennessee lawmakers pass a new tax next year?

A recent analysis of the potential cost of school vouchers in Kentucky shows that Bluegrass State taxpayers could be on the hook for $199 million in year one – with those costs expected to balloon in subsequent years.

Which reminds me that the year one cost of Gov. Bill Lee’s universal voucher scam would cost TN taxpayers $140 million with estimates suggesting the cost of the program at full operation would be above $700 million.

Lee is actively campaigning for Republicans in primaries who support his new voucher tax. He’s also said he plans to try again next year to pass a universal voucher scheme.

In state after state, budget analysis demonstrates that vouchers essentially amount to a new tax – straining local budgets and draining state revenue previously directed toward public schools and other programs.

Arizona is one example – lawmakers there are struggling to patch a giant budget hole due to the budget drain that is vouchers.

Let’s be clear: School vouchers essentially create two school systems. Taxpayers are on the hook for both.

The public spends more, but gets less.

In the above example, Kentuckians would pay nearly $200 million more to educate the exact same number of students.

Lee’s plan would tax Tennesseans $140 million more in its first year and provide no improvement in service.

In Tennessee’s pilot voucher program – where students are required to take state tests – kids who used the vouchers LOST ground.

We’re paying more to lose.

Oh, and after nearly a decade of budget surpluses, Lee’s tax giveaways to the rich have begun to create a budget hole – some $500 million short this year.

Less state revenue, higher local taxes, and kids losing ground academically – that’s the result of the Bill Lee agenda.

Gov. Bill Lee promoting school privatization

Parish Picks Up Endorsement in Williamson County School Board Race

Veteran board member backs Parish for District 9 seat

A longtime Williamson County School Board member is backing a political newcomer in the race for the vacant District 9 school board seat.

Rick Wimberley is endorsing Shandus Parish for the job, praising Parish’s commitment to open communication and willingness to work with all parties to advance excellence.

“Shandus has a good grasp of the challenges of school board work and an understanding of what the real role is and what it’s not,” Wimberly said. “She’s prepared. She’ll be open to input from the public, her colleagues, and WCS staff, and will put aside politics and partisanship when making tough decisions. I think Shandus will make an excellent Williamson County School Board member.”

The election is August 1st.


Sumner school board member backs results-oriented candidates

A Republican member of the Sumner County School Board is backing a Republican and a Democrat in the August 1st election for new board members.

Outgoing District 4 board member Sarah Andrews announced via her Facebook page that she’s supporting Republican Meghan Breinig in District 8 and Democrat Holly Cruz in District 9.

Andrews notes in her post that fellow Republican Breinig is “attentive to the issues” and someone who is willing to “do research” on issues that come before the Sumner County Board of Education.

Andrews is also backing Democrat Holly Cruz in the District 9 race, citing Cruz’s “passion for high quality, excellent public schools.” She says that Cruz is a consensus-builder.

Tonight in Williamson County

Is something strange happening in the District 3 School Board race?

Statements from education advocacy group Williamson Strong and the Williamson County Democratic Party suggest something may be amiss at tonight’s Williamson County Commission meeting.

In a social media post, local education advocacy group Williamson Strong raised concerns that the County Commission may be attempting to influence the outcome of the upcoming election and implored the Commission to not appoint anyone currently running for the vacant seat.

Local Democrats echoed that sentiment.

The agenda does not list any current nominees for the position.

In any case, the person selected to fill the vacancy will only hold it until September. That’s when the candidate who wins the August election for the seat will take over.

Is something strange happening? Or is the County Commission just fulfilling its required duty?

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Freedom from Vouchers

Bill Lee wants to expand school vouchers, but rural Republicans are standing up for public schools

If Republicans like Rep. Todd Warner have their way, Tennessee’s failing school voucher scheme will not be expanding anytime soon.

Warner is among a group of Republicans representing largely rural districts who oppose expanding vouchers – both because public schools are the cornerstone’s of their communities and because they see school vouchers as a transfer of money from rural taxpayers to suburban and urban private schools.

When it comes to vouchers, Warner told ProPublica:

“I’m for less government, but it’s government’s role to provide a good public education,” he said. “If you want to send your kid to private school, then you should pay for it.”

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New Role

Pupo-Walker moves on

Former Nashville school board member Gini Pupo-Walker is moving on to a new role.

TC Weber reports on where she’s going:

Pupo-Walker is now poised to begin a new role as the Director of National Education Strategy at the Raikes Foundation.

“Gini brings a wealth of proximate and systems leadership to our work for educational equity,” said Dennis Quirin, Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation. “I am confident that under her leadership, the Foundation will continue to make durable, transformative progress toward a public education system that supports economic prosperity, the health of our communities, and our democracy.”


Will School Vouchers Come to Kentucky?

School Vouchers Don’t Work

Troubled Travel

Where do Lizzette’s loyalties lie?

Commissioner of Education Lizzette Reynolds has not only failed miserably at her job, but also continues to skirt state law.

Reynolds is not a certified teacher and has zero teaching experience – even though state law requires that the Commissioner of Education (who is paid a quarter of a million dollars a year) be qualified to teach in and lead the schools over which she has authority.

Reynolds is the first Commissioner in the nearly 100 years since laws were passed requiring teaching credentials for the role to NOT have them on day one. And she still doesn’t.

The latest problem? Taking trips paid for by lobbyists – which is clearly against state ethics laws.

State Rep. Caleb Hemmer of Nashville filed a formal ethics complaint about Reynolds’ out-of-state travel paid for by Jeb Bush’s education privatization group ExcelInEd.

The trip begs the question: Is Reynolds working for Tennesseans or is she a wholly-owned subsidiary of privatizers like Bush?

The good news (so far) is that despite her best efforts, Reynolds failed to advance Bill Lee’s school voucher agenda.

The bad news? She’s still collecting a Tennessee taxpayer-funded paycheck.

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A School Voucher Vote in Kentucky

Hillsdale’s Nightmarish Vision for Schools

Strengths and Weaknesses

Lizzette Reynolds plays to her strengths and fails miserably

Around this time last year, Tennessee was preparing to welcome a new Commissioner of Education following the disastrous tenure of Gov. Lee’s first pick for the job, Penny Schwinn.

Lizzette Reynolds came to Tennessee from Texas and bragged about her special abilities in the area of policy implementation and expansion.

Specifically, she noted her focus would be on school funding and expansion of the state’s fledgling voucher program.

These two seemed especially important given Tennessee’s switch to a new school funding formula (TISA) and Gov. Lee’s desire to see his signature policy initiative (school vouchers) be successful.

So, how’s it going?

Not so good, it turns out.

Reynolds accidentally told the truth about school vouchers – that results from the current program are not very positive.

Despite all kinds of end of session histrionics, Gov. Lee and sidekick Texas Liz were unable to convince their fellow Republicans to vote to spend public money supporting unaccountable private schools.

Unlike in previous attempts to privatize (earlier voucher efforts, private toll roads), with Lizzette on the job, Bill Lee failed.

But what about funding? The debate over the move from the BEP to TISA was intense. But, now TISA is the way the state funnels money to schools. How would it go? Would TISA implementation result in an uptick in overall funding for schools? Would Tennessee start to move up in national rankings relative to teacher compensation and overall investment in schools?


On this score, Lizzette quickly continued a Tennessee tradition: Failing to invest in public education.

Tennessee ranks 44th in the nation in average teacher pay – and among the lowest in the Southeast. The state ranks 45th in per pupil spending – again, low even among Southern counterparts.

Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia all pay their teachers more than Tennessee does.

If this is what Reynolds is good at, what are her weaknesses?

One glaring weakness: She’s not qualified for the job.

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On Canceling School Lunch Debt

Investing in Teacher Compensation

Payroll Math in Nashville

It doesn’t seem to add up

TC Weber takes a look at a payroll anomaly (or mixup or mistake or communication error) that meant the first summer paycheck for Nashville teachers was about 20% short.

Talk about ruining summer plans.

Last week, many of Nashville’s teachers and support staff who have extended their paychecks throughout the summer got a surprise. Paychecks were roughly 20% shorter than expected.

Metro Nashville Public Schools pays all certificated staff on a 22-week pay schedule, equivalent to the length of the school year. As a courtesy to teachers who wish to maintain a paycheck throughout the summer, they can sign up to be paid in 26 installments.

This is accomplished by MNPS deducting a portion of each paycheck, after taxes, and dividing it between four summer paychecks – two in June and two in July. For some reason, according to MNPS, this year has 27 paychecks, requiring 5 paychecks in the summer.  Two in June, two in July, and one in August. That’s some fancy math turning 26 biweekly opportunities into 27.

As TC notes, all years have 52 weeks – which makes (or should make) for 26 checks.

He further notes that blaming the “mixup” on a communication error is not ok.

If teachers and staff didn’t get the message, the error is on the sender.

It’s particularly distressing in an era of teacher shortages and in a state with persistently low teacher compensation.

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Doctors Speak Out on Gun Violence

The Answer is Yes

School meals should be free for all kids all the time

School lunch debt is gross and should not exist.

Tennessee continues to allow school lunch debt to persist, despite significant resources that would and could create a free school meal program for all kids.

The state has spent $500 million for a new Titans stadium and $1.6 billion on a corporate tax giveaway.

Those two expenses alone are three times the cost of providing free school meals for all kids in Tennessee public schools.


TN Doctors Call for Gun Safety Reform

Claiming a Benefit That Wasn’t Earned