TC and the General Assembly

Nashville education blogger TC Weber takes on the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee in his most recent post. Interestingly, he lays out some potential GOP challengers to Lee. Here’s more:

It’s a poorly kept secret that many Republicans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Governor Lee’s leadership. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Congressman Mark Green, and former SCORE Executive Director Jamie Woodson are all in various stages of considering a run to challenge Lee in 2022. This comes in spite of Lee maintaining that in house polls show him running with a 64% approval rate.


DeVos’s Reverse Robinhood Act

Jim Hightower writes in OtherWords about Betsy DeVos’s scheme to rob from poor school districts and funnel the money to private schools.

Times of great adversity not only bring out the best and worst in society, but they also flush out some of the stinkiest and slimiest creatures. Think of war profiteers, hucksters who prey on poor hurricane victims, or Betsy DeVos.

Even in the Trump Kakistocracy, DeVos stands out as an especially loathsome plutocrat, constantly trying to weasel her far-right corporatist agenda into law.

As Trump’s education secretary, the billionaire heiress has been an out-of-control wrecking ball of America’s public schools, constantly conniving to drain tax dollars from public education into for-profit private schools — including some she personally invests in.

Worse, she keeps trying to rig the rules so fly-by-night for-profit colleges can more easily defraud their low-income students to enrich Wall Street investors who own these educational chains.

Now, the devilish DeVos is using the national coronavirus relief program as a way to impose her ideological agenda on American education, quietly pushing school districts to use some $58 billion in COVID-19 education money to fund wealthy private schools at the expense of lower-income families.

Officials in New Orleans, for example, say her plan would put 77 percent of their school relief allocation in private entities, and Pennsylvania says more than half of its school relief money would flow from the “most disadvantaged to more advantaged students.”

In addition to perverting the disaster program into a slush fund for her privatization agenda, DeVos has tried to pervert logic into Orwellian Newspeak. If the public money went primarily to public schools, her political staff explained, it would place wealthy, non-public schools “at a disadvantage.”

Yes, in DeVos World, the needs of the poor rich must come first, so they’re not discriminated against by the… you know, the actually poor.

“Kakistocracy” is government by the very worst people in society, and now it has a proper name: Betsy DeVos.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. Distributed by

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Delete Vouchers

A legislative attempt to effectively delete Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher scheme failed in committee today due to a lack of a second. Rep. Bo Mitchell sponsored the bill. Here’s more:

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COVID’s Impact on School Budgets

It’s being felt in Knox County, as the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports:

Knox County Schools’ budget is expected to be down by $4.4 million for next school year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Around a third of the school district’s budget comes from sales tax revenue, which has dropped significantly because of COVID-19, said Ron McPherson, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer. In total, the district had to cut about $10 million in order to balance the budget, he said.

The projected budget for the 2021 fiscal year is $503.8 million, down from $506.7 million for the 2020 fiscal year, Superintendent Bob Thomas announced last week at a virtual community budget meeting. The school board will vote on the proposed budget on Wednesday.

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Lamar vs. Lee

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander apparently disagrees with Gov. Bill Lee’s backdoor voucher scheme, Chalkbeat reports.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday that federal coronavirus relief should be disbursed to help schools the same way as education funds for disadvantaged students, rather than rerouting millions of dollars to support private schools.

“My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distributed Title I money. I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting,” the Tennessee Republican said, referring to the federal program that supports students from low-income families.

The comments from Alexander, who chairs the Senate health and education committee, contradict recent guidance by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Following that advice, as Alexander’s home state plans to do, would provide more financial support to private schools than they expected, while high-poverty public school districts would receive less money.

The question now is will Alexander encourage Lee to keep public funds in public schools?

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Computer Teacher

In the Public Interest summarizes the evidence about the limits of online learning:

Duh! A computer screen can’t replace a real live teacher in a school filled with caring adults and other students. But that isn’t keeping some from arguing that it can.

Frederick Hess, director of the American Enterprise Institute, says that the nation’s $700 billion annual public education budget should instead be spent on “a bunch of online materials—along with a device for every child and better connectivity.”

Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, says education “needn’t be ‘place-based,’ or dependent on a specific classroom.” To her, public school districts are “100-year-old concepts” and “centralized bureaucracies closely resembling feudal states.”

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) is even questioning why school buildings exist. “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state,” he said a few weeks ago while announcing a partnership to “reimagine education” with the Gates Foundation. “All these buildings, all these physical classrooms. Why, with all the technology you have?”

Why? Because we already know that online education doesn’t work for the vast majority of students.

Virtual charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, have a terrible track record—so terrible that even pro-charter school organizations like CREDO have admitted their many faults. A Google search for “virtual charter fraud” turns up scores of stories like the two Indiana school leaders who recently were caught inflating enrollment and funneling millions to a tangled web of related companies to the tune of $85 million in state funding.

Then there’s growing body of research showing students who learn online perform worse academically. Get this: on average, only half of online high school students graduate within four years, compared to 84 percent of high school students nationally.

Then there are the privacy concerns. Edtech services often collect far more information on kids than is necessary and store this information indefinitely. Platforms like Google Hangouts collect biometric data, which has been shown to lead to racial profiling.

And then there’s the issue of access. Roughly three million children do not have internet access at home, a population more likely to be students of color, from low-income families, or in households with lower parental education levels.

Yes, technology has a place in education—especially during a pandemic. Public school districts, teachers, and staff are mobilizing nationwide to provide students with distance learning on the fly. California schools, alone, have acquired more than 300,000 devices and hotspots in the past two months, on top of providing more than 24 million meals.

But technology should be seen as a tool to help teachers teach, not replace them and the schools they teach in altogether. Because public school is about more than just filling kids’ heads with information.

As high school teacher Annie Abrams writes, “In the best cases, public education helps students situate themselves among broader communities than they may otherwise encounter while building civic trust. It helps them become adults, slowly, clumsily, day by day. There’s no app-based replacement for that.”

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Charters and School Closures in Nashville

Nashville school board member Amy Frogge explains the impact of charter schools on MNPS in a recent Facebook post:

Last night, the board voted to close and consolidate schools in North Nashville. No one wants to close neighborhood schools, and this was a difficult decision. However, MNPS is out of money, and Dr. Battle recommended the closures because she believes MNPS can better serve the impacted students if we consolidate our resources.

These closures are a direct result of charter school expansion in Nashville. What happened last night is part of the charter school playbook. It’s happened in cities throughout the US. When a city opens a number of charter schools, enrollment decreases in traditional schools. The city is then trying to fund two separate, competing schools systems with the same pot of funding. Here in Nashville, our pot of funding was already insufficient. Because of state law, charter schools will always have the advantage because they must be paid, and they are always funded first. So cuts always come from our traditional, neighborhood schools. When money runs out, a city must close neighborhood schools. That’s the charter school playbook.

Nashville is also dealing with the additional threat of state takeover. Through the state-run Achievement School District, the state can reach down and remove any school performing in the bottom 5% of schools statewide and convert it to a charter school. This strategy has not yielded good results for students, since the performance of the ASD has been dismal. All of the schools we closed last night were priority schools (in the bottom 5% of schools in the state). By closing them, we are protecting these schools from state takeover.

Last night, the board voted to request $929 million in operational funding for next year. It’s more likely we will receive $914 million, which is our maintenance of effort budget from last year. Of that amount, approximately $145 million must go towards our charter schools, which serve only a small percentage of our students. In fact, charter costs will actually increase by $6.6 million next year, while we must cut other costs throughout the district. The charters are continuing to expand grade levels while other schools operate without enough funding. Our vote to close schools last night will save us about $3.5 million per year. If we were not trying to fund a charter sector right now, we could afford to keep these schools open. This is exactly what some of us have tried to warn the board about for years. Yet the board has continued to vote for more charter seats.

What happened last night is the very vision of the charter sector. It’s called “disruption,” a term the charter sector has borrowed from the business world. Charter schools have “disrupted the markets” in Nashville. In this case, the “markets” are children and neighborhoods.** [See below.]

Also, back in 2013, I spent nearly a year fighting the passage of the state charter authorizer law. I testified at the legislature and met with lawmakers, all to no avail. The state charter authorizer law was then-mayor Karl Dean’s vision. He pushed to pass a law that removed local control of schools so that Nashville would open more charter schools. So here we now sit- lacking adequate school funding, without local control of our schools, and with increased money going towards the charter sector while we close neighborhood schools. The chickens have finally come home to roost.

None of this is Dr. Battle’s fault. She is dealing with the outcomes of decisions made years ago, as well as a current emergency. Dr. Battle actually found a way to reduce funding for charter schools this year, which surprised me, since we have never been able to cut charter funding before. It’s only fair that if our district schools must suffer cuts, charter schools should, too. The good news here is that the district has no plans to sell any of the vacated buildings or to rent them to charter schools. (Handing over vacated buildings to charter schools is also part of the charter playbook.) Dr. Battle has provided us assurance that this will not happen. Instead the schools will be preserved for district use and can be reopened as neighborhood schools in the future if enrollment increases.

Equity has always been at the heart of the charter debate. Not only do charters receive district funding, but charters also have access to additional funding as well. Our district provides charter schools with the per pupil funding required by state, as well as some free district services. On top of that, charter schools often receive extra funding from investors or philanthropists, and they are sometimes provided with special funding. For example, back in 2010, at a time when we had no funds to renovate other school buildings that had been on a waiting list for years, Mayor Dean gave KIPP $10 million to renovate a historic building for ONE charter school ALONE. And now, in the midst of a pandemic, even though most charter schools are not losing funding, charters are applying for federal aid in the form of small business loans that can be forgiven. None of this is fair or right. By opening charter schools, we have created greater inequities in our school system. Our traditional schools, which serve the most costly and challenging to educate students are on the losing end, and those are the students who will suffer the loss.

I hope this has been an eye-opening experience for Nashville. Charter schools, which make money for wealthy investors, are not the answer. Nashville must focus on supporting our community schools.

[** As one commenter says below: “School closings are the heart of free market based ed ‘reform.’ The entire concept is that schools compete for limited funds, that ‘bad’ schools will lose and close and ‘good’ schools will win and have the funds directed toward them. Besides the fact that this model has not been successful at producing large scale improvements for kids, there is this – If you oppose school closures and the disruption and pain they cause communities and families, you should not support a competition based model as the means to school improvement, because school closings are the inevitable end result and the means by which the market ‘reform’ system is intended to work. If Tennessee continues to pursue this approach, we will see this happen more and more.

Another note – this is why you very rarely see ‘reform’ funders and organizations advocate for large scale increases in investment in public schools, and instead refer to ‘throwing money at the problem.’ Keeping resources limited and requiring educators to compete over them, with winners and losers, is another essential aspect of the competition/market model.”]

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Gov. Bill Lee’s signature legislative achievement, a school voucher scheme, hit another roadblock today as the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled the program can NOT be implemented while the state argues against a Chancery Court judge’s ruling stopping the program.

Here’s more from WPLN:

The Tennessee Court of Appeals decided Tuesday that the state’s school voucher program cannot be implemented until the state’s appeal is resolved.

The latest ruling comes a week after two libertarian groups working on behalf of four parents filed an emergency motion citing the state’s tight rollout deadline as a reason to move forward with the program. The state has said that the time between now and June 15 is crucial to being able to launch the program this fall.

A lower court has deemed the Education Savings Accounts Act is unenforceable, because it violates the state’s Home Rule Amendment, since it applied to only two counties without their consent. Nashville Chancellor Anne Martin ordered the Department of Education to put its voucher program on pause while its legal status is being sorted out.

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TEA Responds to Lee’s Backdoor Voucher Scheme

Amid reports that Gov. Bill Lee will go along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s scheme to divert federal CARES Act funds to private schools, the Tennessee Education Association offered this response:

“We have a strong system of public schools in Tennessee that serve one million Tennessee children. Our students, families and educators are counting on local, state and federal officials to provide the funding needed to safely reopen public schools. Our public schools are the foundation of the communities they serve. Strong, financially stable local public schools are an important factor in rebuilding Tennessee’s economy.

The coronavirus pandemic should not be used as an excuse to advance bad ideas that siphon funding from public schools. Tennesseans have repeatedly rejected privatization schemes that use tax payer dollars to fund private school education. Our state leaders should prioritize providing a quality public education for every child in Tennessee, instead of following the lead of a woman who has repeatedly prioritized corporate profits over students’ education.”

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