Former Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge offers her take on recent election results around the state and what they mean for education policy.
It’s been a rough week for public education in Tennessee. Here in Nashville, John Little, a political operative paid by charter school interests, was elected to the school board. Funded by wealthy (white) elites seeking to profit off public schools, Little has used aggressive and underhanded smear tactics to “disrupt” school board meetings and legislative hearings for many years now. He considers school board work “political theater” (his words), which has been obvious from his tactics.
In Williamson County, former Speaker of the House Glen Casada, who used questionable tactics to pass Tennessee’s most recent unconstitutional voucher law, was reelected to the state legislature. He was accused of offering incentives to lawmakers to vote in favor of vouchers, which resulted in an FBI investigation of the voucher vote. Casada stepped down as Speaker after only months in the position when confronted by a scandal involving racist and sexist text messages that embroiled him and his staff.
In Knoxville, two voucher proponents are heading to the state House of Representatives. Rep. Jason Zachary, who was responsible for the new unconstitutional voucher law last year, flipped his vote only after Casada held the clock open for 40 minutes and allegedly offered bribes for the vote. Nevertheless, he was reelected. Voucher proponent Michele Carringer was elected to fill the seat left open by departing representative Bill Dunn, an ardent voucher advocate in the legislature for many years. Dunn has now been asked by Governor Lee to join the floundering Tennessee Department of Education.
However, there is hope. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the most disliked current cabinet leader and perhaps the most despised education leader in U.S. history, will be gone in January. DeVos has consistently diverted public school funding to private schools. The national mood around “school reform” (i.e., school privatization, aka “school choice”) is rapidly changing, and President-elect Joe Biden has promised to name a teacher as Secretary of Education. Fingers crossed that we will not backtrack as a country to the low quality of former appointees under the last several presidents. We have real work to do in Tennessee, but perhaps changes at the top will make their way down to our state.
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