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.”

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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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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?

Nope.

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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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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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.

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No Free Lunch

Missouri district embarrassed by 5th grader

School lunch debt should not exist.

Not in Tennessee. And not anywhere else.

Recently, a fifth grader in Missouri raised funds to pay off the school lunch debt at his school. The fundraiser was so successful, he also was able to pay off the lunch debt for graduating seniors at his local high school.

Policymakers could end all school lunch debt – if they wanted to.

Some districts (like Nashville) have free meals for all kids. Heck, some states (like Minnesota) provide funding for free meals for all kids in school.

But more often than not, school lunch debt is a reality – and punishments for school lunch debt can include withholding diplomas or preventing students from participating in certain school activities.

The alternative is simple: feed all the kids at school for free. No questions asked.

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Pay Boost Coming for Sumner Schools

Teachers, staff to see raises based on School Board’s budget

While the State of Tennessee continues to move slowly when it comes to investment in teacher compensation, local districts are stepping up.

Sumner County is the latest to announce planned pay raises for its teachers and staff.

Sumner County Schools approved an additional $28,950,000 in its budget to increase pay for all of its employees, according to an email sent to parents and the community. The school board has approved the following raises:

– Increasing classified staff pay to a minimum of $16 per hour.

– Increasing new teacher pay to $47,800, an average raise amount of $3,023 for experienced teachers.

The School Board passed the proposal by a 9-1 vote, with the lone dissenting vote noting he hoped to move starting pay up to $50,000 and ask the County Commission for additional funds for raises.

The proposal will now go through the budget approval process at the Sumner County Commission.

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Memphis-Shelby County Announces it Will Not Arm Teachers

District rejects legislative plan to put more guns in schools

Officials in Memphis have announced that their school system will not allow teachers to carry guns at school, despite a legislative decision that would allow districts to permit teachers who receive certain training to carry firearms on school grounds.

“We will not allow teachers to carry guns in our schools,” said Superintendent Marie N. Feagins, adding that the law is “controversial.”

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said “schools are for learning.”

“… And emergency situations should be handled by trained officers,” Bonner said. 

“And the district has made it a priority to keep them that way through security upgrades and updates,” MPD Interim Chief C.J. Davis continued.

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Will Tennessee Do the Right Thing?

Can policymakers summon the will to make school meals free for all kids?

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons is frustrated. Angry, even.

He’s been trying for years to get his fellow lawmakers to fund a plan to make school meals free for all kids.

This year, a Republican lawmaker joined the fight – sponsoring a bill similar to one Clemmons has carried in the past. Still, the bill was met with stiff resistance by legislators.

The national trend is toward schools providing meals for free for all kids.

The Tennessee trend is in favor of hundreds of millions of public dollars to fund a stadium for a private business owner and $1.6 billion for a corporate tax break.

Rather than fund school lunches, lawmakers and Gov. Lee seek annually to find new schemes that would use taxpayer money to fund unaccountable private schools.

For the past decade, the state has run budget surpluses in the range of $1-3 billion.

Rather than fund school lunches or boost teacher pay or invest in Medicaid expansion, or end the grocery tax, lawmakers have found a dizzying array of ways to reduce revenue by lowering or eliminating taxes paid by the wealthy or corporations.

The problem is so acute that Tennessee is in real danger of running a significant budget deficit in the 2025 fiscal year.

If Bill Lee ran his HVAC business this way, they’d be filing for bankruptcy.

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Same Old Song

TNReady scores NOT ready for final grades

Well, here we go again.

The TNReady scores that are supposed to factor into a student’s final grades are NOT ready.

Districts are reporting that the testing vendor AGAIN missed the window for inclusion in final grades.

Districts have the option of waiting OR just not including them.

This happens. Every. Year.

What IS all this testing for, anyway? And if the scores aren’t back in time to be useful to districts in terms of grades, well, what’s the point?

I mean, sure, there’s the chance to hold kids back in third grade – a policy destined for failure.

The state insists on the tests. The state insists that the tests count – for grades and for retention decisions – and the state’s selected vendor consistently fails to meet agreed deadlines.

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