Physicians Urge Schools to Maintain Mask Mandates, Protect Kids

A group of Tennessee physicians this week responded to Gov. Bill Lee urging local school districts to drop mask mandates.

Here’s more from a press release:

“Mask requirements for our classrooms keep COVID out so our kids can stay in school, parents at work and most importantly, protect vulnerable children who do not have the option to get vaccinated yet,” said Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, an internal medicine/primary care physician in Nashville, who also holds a Masters in Public Health.  “And we know it works: counties without mask requirements have seen more COVID spread, leading to more kids getting sick, parents and kids having to quarantine, making it harder on local businesses and families.”

Dr. Sara Cross, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the UT College of Medicine in Memphis, who also served on the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force,  is concerned. 

 “The Governor’s announcement urging school districts to drop their mask requirements is premature, reckless, and frankly confusing to me as an infectious disease physician and mother.  This announcement completely contradicts the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent updated recommendations from just 3 days ago. All children should feel safe at school. It is the community’s and government’s responsibility to ensure this safe environment.  Children with special healthcare needs are at increased risk of infection from SARS-Cov-2. Rarely, a healthy child can develop serious infection or suffer grave consequences from COVID-19. The CDC recommends continued use of masks and social distancing in schools to keep our young unvaccinated population safe and healthy.  I hope that Governor Lee rethinks his hasty announcement.”

Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, a family medicine physician  in Franklin who also holds a Masters in Public Health, responded,

 “Every time I think Governor Lee has shown all that he can for me to not trust him as a leader, he breaks his own record!  Our children under the age of 12, who do not have a choice to be vaccinated at this time, require all of us to remain vigilant to keep them safe.  Simply put, this means we get vaccinated and mask up for them, and kids continue to mask until they are eligible for vaccines.  As a physician on the frontlines, and as a mother of young kids, I am appalled by Governor Lee’s message today!”

“Masks and vaccines work together to help suppress COVID infections in our community,” continued Dr. Bono “Doing everything we can to keep the school environment safe from COVID infection helps make that environment safer, more supportive, and more stable for our children, teachers, and staff.  Masks for unvaccinated individuals, including children, are essential.”

Dr. Cross concluded: 

 “We should come together, across the differences used to divide us and reject the politicization of science and health that led to so many avoidable school and business closures and prolonged this crisis in Tennessee in the first place. Don’t we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children who don’t have the vaccine option yet? That’s what mask requirements are for.”

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Responses to “Moms for Liberty”

Williamson County parent group One WillCo has been organizing and speaking out in favor of diversity and inclusion in schools. Now, the group is out with a public statement in response to national group “Moms for Liberty” and their campaign against so-called “Critical Race Theory.”

Here’s the statement from One WillCo:

Ahead of one of the nationally-coordinated “Moms for Liberty” misinformation events being held locally and advertised as “Critical Race Theory 101,” local group One Willco releases the following statement:
“All our students have the right to have a safe learning environment. Children in our community have been told to ‘go back to Mexico,’ have been called the ‘n-word,’ and parents continuously share stories with us that their children have heard even worse in their school. These lived experiences here in Williamson County cannot be described as a safe educational environment by anyone. When groups try to divide us by labeling any conversation about race or racism as ‘Critical Race Theory,’ they silence our lived experiences of racism and the history of discrimination that affects our lives today. When a group is opposed to having hard conversations on topics like diversity and equity, and have no proposed action to protect children like mine from being recipients of harassment based on the color of their skin, we cannot solve the problem. We must stop sticking our heads in the sand or using false labels, and instead work together to combat racism in our schools so that we can all come together as a community for our shared prosperity.” – Revida Rahman, co-founder of One WillCoParents in the Community share their stories:

“We can all agree that students should be judged based on their character and not on the color of their skin,” said Tizgel High, mother of three children in WCS. “But, unfortunately, in our society, and here in Williamson County we haven’t arrived there yet. During this school year my second grade child brought home an assignment that linked a picture of a black child to the term “scarcity”. When I raised my concern that a black child would be the pictorial representation of a negative adjective, the school administrator responded that in other parts of the world things are scarce. Of course this school administrator is a very good person trying to do the best for students and was embarrassed when I brought it up. But this shows that he was not equipped to check his bias and how it may be influencing how children were being taught, or that his bias indicated stereotypes that he held and had nothing to do with the picture that was presented, or the lesson being taught until I pointed it out to him. I have heard voices say that noticing and pointing out instances of racism is indoctrinating our children, but I would argue that teaching kids that the color of their skin is linked to being foreign and scarce sounds more like indoctrination than learning and teaching about an honest view of history.”I know we all believe in prioritizing the safety, well-being, education, and development of our children – all of our children — here in Williamson County,” said Dr. Aima Ahonkhai-Nottidge, mother of two children at Edmondson Elementary and Assistant Professor of Medicine at a local hospital. “And I am grateful for a national climate which is more open to having honest discussions about race and racism in America, with the goal of equality for all. Nonetheless, I am utterly exhausted by those who constantly try to ignore or minimize our stories and misrepresent the scope and premise of “Critical Race Theory,” thereby shutting off any productive conversation and progress. Yet, I will continue to advocate for my children, and all the children of Williamson County, not only as my duty as a parent, but also so that we can move forward toward equality as a community.” 
Williamson County Community Members

UPDATED with statements from Southern Christian Coalition and Williamson Social Justice Alliance and Together Nolensville.

Southern Christian Coalition:

“A major role of the church is to be the conscience of the community,” said Rev. Dr. Kevin Riggs, Pastor of Franklin Community Church in Williamson County. “Denying systemic racism in our country is denying history, and putting all conversation about race and the history of racism in America as “critical race theory” is just a strategy to silence and stop important conversations that lead to true unity. From the genocide of First Nations people, to the enslavement of Africans, to the forced encampments of our Asian neighbors and to our mistreatment of people on our southern border, systemic racism was, and is, a major part of our history in America. The only way forward is acknowledgement, confession, and repentance that leads to actions, just like in our personal relationships with Jesus. One of those actions we must take as a country is teaching our children our sins and mistakes so that they do not repeat them. The sin of racism needs to be taught in our schools in order to bring us to a path of healing and equality as a country.” 

As a United Methodist pastor and father to two children in the Williamson County School System, I hope that my children’s teachers are able to instruct them about our nation’s history with both critical and constructive lenses,” said Rev Brandon Baxter, Associate Pastor of West End United Methodist Church in Nashville. “It is a simple fact that throughout our history the sin of racism has informed much of our culture and many of our systems, and that racism is alive and well today. The fact that a Williamson County parent referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus” at Monday night’s school board meeting is proof that we have work to do on bullying based on race. To silence teachers from exploring such basic truths does a disservice to our children. These young persons will be the ones responsible for shaping a more hopeful and equitable society for all people as they continue to perfect this union in which we live. In order to do so, they must have access to the free market of ideas, including those uncomfortable truths that challenge them to grow beyond what once has been. Nobody should fear the truth, most especially Christians, who follow the God known in Jesus Christ who said, according to the Gospel of John, when we are confronted with sin, the truth shall set us free.”

“There have been a lot of comments expressed publicly that second graders are too young to talk about racism in the classroom, but if my second grade Black son is old enough to hear the n-word said by a classmate in school and experience racism, then I think all students in second grade are old enough to learn about and discuss racism,” said Elizabeth Madeira, Williamson County mother. 

Williamson Social Justice Alliance:

Williamson Social Justice Alliance would like to publicly state our support of the Williamson County School board and its positive steps to address racist incidents in WCS schools. Our statement comes in light of the recent WCS school board meeting where resistance was expressed and misinformation spread by other groups.

We stand for equality in our schools, be that in skin color, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity, and believe that everyone, regardless of personal values, wishes equal treatment and opportunity for each student in Williamson County. However, the stories of discrimination, bullying and harassment that have surfaced from our schools in recent years — see the @dearestwcs Instagram account to read a few — have made it clear that racism and other forms of bias continue to exist.

The first steps toward achieving equality and safety for our students are to acknowledge that there is an issue, gain greater perspective, and work together to find a solution. The misguided narrative surrounding “Critical Race Theory” currently being propelled by the “Moms for Liberty” group is not only harmful for our students and families of color but to our community as a whole. There is no place for divisiveness and fear when we are all working toward a common end goal — the protection and equal treatment of our children. 

To join us and our partner organizations in these efforts, find us at www.wsjatn.org or email us at info@wsjatn.org.

Together Nolensville

Together Nolensville is a group of community members who support a unified pursuit for justice, equality, & protection for the minority members within our community. Our mission is to educate & unify through resources, events, and meaningful connection. 

Together Nolensville has been closely following the work of the Williamson County School Board and supports their efforts and commitment to intentionally improve the school environment for students of all races and ethnicities. Included below are statements of support from members of the Together Nolensville community.

All children in our community deserve to feel safe, seen, and protected within Williamson County Schools,” said Kim James, mother of three children in Williamson County Schools in Nolensville. “The false assertion that there is no need for diversity training in the school system is merely an attempt to preserve the climate of ignorance and hate that my family and others have experienced and that is still a serious issue in Williamson County. In just the past month, two of my three children have experienced race-based bullying at school, and my children are only 6, 8 and 10 years old. My children have been told that ‘Black people are ugly’ and ‘N-words are stupid anyway’ – a sentiment that the child heard from his father. We have also experienced the hurtful effects of teachers’ racial biases. As parents of three beautiful Brown children we know from experience that as a community we cannot maintain the status quo and instead need to work together to ensure that all children are protected, instead of shutting down conversations designed to solve the problem of racism that still exists here in Williamson County.”

“Williamson County Schools provide a top notch education for the students in the district. That education should include preparing all students to live in a diverse country and a global society, as college and career environments will in all likelihood look very different than the bubble that is Williamson County,” shared Audrey McAdams, a mother of three children attending a Williamson County elementary school. “If history is to be taught, then all of it should be, no matter the difficult subject matter. This will foster empathy, not division. It’s a road map of what not to do and what to be aware of. I understand there are concerns of what is appropriate for elementary age children to learn about regarding desegregation and the Civil Rights era. My rebuttal is: what a privilege it must be for one to feel they have choice on when to educate their child about racism. As a mother to Black children, I don’t have that luxury.”

“The Ruby Bridges story in our second grade ELA curriculum is part of a heated discussion about the introduction of racial education into our schools. However, discussing Civil Rights history in an age appropriate way is not teaching Critical Race Theory, it is simply teaching American history,” said Emily Miller, mother of one child in a Williamson County School, and one of the founders of Together Nolensville. “Furthermore, in the events of American Civil Rights history, one does not find a simple dichotomy of white oppressors and Black victims, as some groups claim. If you look closely at any story of the American Civil Rights movement, you will see white allies working alongside African American citizens to make our country a more equitable and just place. The story of Ruby Bridges is one that shows courage and compassion from inspiring individuals across races. Judge J. Skelly Wright was the white male judge who ordered the desegregation of schools, despite great personal cost. And Ruby’s white teacher, Barbara Henry, was a steadfast support for Ruby throughout her first year of integration. Some individuals are afraid their white children will feel ashamed of their own skin color if they are taught Ruby Bridges’ story as second-graders. I wish the groups that seek to divide us would understand that currently in WCS, it is not white students who are more often being made to feel ashamed for the color of their skin. Their fear for their white students’ future discomfort is blinding them to the actual discomfort many minority students are currently experiencing in WCS. Only when we can have these honest and difficult conversations can we move forward together with true healing.”  

“As a parent of a Nolensville High School rising senior, I’m speaking out against the disinformation spread by groups that seek to divide and scare us,” said Jason Mikel, local Pastor. “I’m speaking out because I want my son to know about the racial history of our country and how racism still exists today in the fabric of our culture. I want him to know about the Tulsa Massacre, the Fort Pillow Massacre, red-lining, voter intimidation, the genocide of native peoples within our borders, and the brutal truths about slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, hatred, and bigotry and how it still produces the powers of racism today. I want my son to know this so when versions of the same are encountered in his life, he will know how to stand clearly and firmly against it. Despite those who would speak otherwise, as a community, we need to speak honestly about the past so that we can move together toward understanding, mending, and reconciling as we educate our children.”

Together Nolensville, as an organization dedicated to uniting our town, is committed to supporting our school board by educating our community with non-partisan, factual information on all efforts to make our schools safer, more inclusive environments for all students. 

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Memphis Teachers to See Pay Raise

Thanks in large part to federal stimulus money, teachers in Shelby County will see a raise and the district plans to build new schools and renovate additional buildings if the County Commission signs off on the proposed budget unanimously adopted by the School Board.

Chalkbeat has more:

Shelby County Schools board members unanimously approved a proposed budget of $2.19 billion Tuesday night, an increase of nearly 60 percent over last year.

Highlights of this year’s budget include five additional prekindergarten classes throughout the district, more money for custodial services, new literacy programs, money for proposed new schools and renovations, and raises for certified and noncertified employees.

The starting salary for teachers will increase about 7% from $43,000 to $45,965, and the maximum salary will rise about 16% from $73,000 to $84,445. The new max salary will raise the salary cap on teachers who have graduate degrees and seniority.

The move in Memphis follows the announcement of a budget in Nashville that will mean teachers there will see an average pay raise of around $7000.

Both cities are using federal stimulus dollars to meet budgeting needs.

Of course, all of this is happening while the state is both sitting on a surplus expected to exceed $2 billion and also seeking to rapidly expand charter schools.

While the State of Tennessee has a record surplus, Gov. Lee and lawmakers have refused to make significant new state investments in public education.

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Williamson Parents Speak Out for Diversity, Inclusion

A group known as One WillCo helped organize a parent response to a plan by Williamson County Schools to focus attention on diversity in the district and address issues of systemic racism.

Here’s more from a press release:

Before tonight’s school board meeting, over 100 community members joined outside the Williamson County Admin Complex to show support of the district’s hiring of “Fostering Healthy Solutions” and their efforts to support diversity and inclusion in the district. Fifteen community members spoke in gratitude during the period of public comment.  

Revida Rahman, mom to two children in Williamson County Schools reminded everyone that “Brown v. Board of Education was decided 67 years ago today. If your child hasn’t experienced racism at school, that’s good for you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other kids. Our students have the right to a safe environment. If you aren’t empathetic to children being harmed by racism, please stop trying to prevent action. We have to do something and the time to act is now.” 

Lee Cooke also spoke in support of diversity work. He has 3 children in WCS and recognized that people of color are grossly underrepresented in Williamson County, even on the Board and on the faculty and staff. He continued, “And I find it concerning and disappointing that there is no formal training for faculty around unconscious bias. I go through it twice a year with my corporate job, so I’m not sure why teachers don’t get the same training. We need a better system of reporting & tracking so students feel safe reporting incidents.”

Dustin Koctar lives in District 12 and has 3 kids in elementary school. “I want to thank you for hiring FHS (Fostering Healthy Solutions) for much-needed assistance and guidance to make schools safer and more welcoming for everyone. You put your reputations at risk and opened yourselves up to harassment and hate. I’m asking you to stay the course and continue the support.” He also addressed fellow white people in the crowd, “we can move past the discomfort you may feel about this. If left unattended, white guilt can become the best friend of white supremacy. Children should be able to see people who look like them. We support the children who feel powerless.”

Emily Miller, a mother with one child in WCS and one attending soon, and an admin of the “Together Nolensville” Facebook Group also spoke, “Thank you to the Board for hard work in all areas of education and for hiring FHS, a qualified third party to help us make difficult decisions. As a white mom of white kids, this still matters to me, as it should to everyone. We want schools to be a safe and comfortable place for incident reporting and accountability. Thank you, and keep up the good work you’re doing.”

Submitted Photo

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Williamson County Group to Make Stand for Diversity & Inclusion

A group known as OneWillCo plans to be in attendance at tonight’s Williamson County School Board meeting to show support for efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the district’s schools.

Here’s more from a press statement provided by the group:

A large group of parents and community members will show up at tonight’s school board meeting to show public support of the efforts by the WCS School Board and “Fostering Healthy Solutions”  to promote diversity and equality in Williamson County Schools.

“We are anticipating a large show of support tonight to further the efforts that Williamson County Schools has already started,” said Jennifer Cortez, one of the founders of OneWillCo. “We are grateful to Superintendent Jason Golden and our school board for taking courageous and necessary steps to address the racial harassment that continues to be a blight on our local schools. Our focus is straightforward. We want reasonable measures put in place to give our students of color the value and support they have needed and deserved for far too long. The responsibility rests on our whole community to support these crucial efforts.”

The move from the group comes as issues around race and diversity are receiving increasing attention in Williamson County and across the state.

In fact, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that specifically prohibits the teaching of so-called “Critical Race Theory.”

Chalkbeat has more on that move:

Legal scholars are questioning whether a recently passed bill that seeks to restrict Tennessee educators’ teachings about race and racism will pass legal muster given past precedent, including one case that dates back 50 years.

The GOP-backed measure, which passed in the Tennessee House and Senate among partisan lines, would penalize school districts if teachers tie past and present events to white privilege, institutional racism, and unconscious bias.

“This is a poorly written bill that promotes a specific agenda, threatens academic freedom, and suffers from serious overbreadth and vagueness problems,” said Hudson, a law professor at Belmont University who specializes in first amendment issues.

Not surprisingly, state Senator Brian Kelsey and the law firm where he works support the measure:

One organization that supports the bill is the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, a public interest firm where State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown serves as a senior attorney. Kelsey supported the Senate version of the bill.

A number of groups across the state are actively encouraging Gov. Bill Lee to veto the measure. These groups include NOAH (Nashville), MICAH (Memphis), and CALEB (Chattanooga) as well as the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, the Tennessee Education Association, and the ACLU.

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April Showers

Erik Schelzig in the Tennessee Journal’s On the Hill blog notes that Tennessee’s April revenues were $600 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Go ahead, read that again. In one month, the state collected $600 million more than planned.

Here’s more from Schelzig:

Tennessee’s general fund revenue collections were nearly $600 million above estimates in April, bringing the state’s surplus to $1.9 billion through the first nine months of the budget year.

So, with three months left in the fiscal year, the state is nearly $2 billion ahead of where it planned to be. Even if the surpluses drop off, the state is well on its way to a surplus significantly in excess of $2 billion.

To put this in perspective, the state is $1.7 billion behind where it should be in terms of funding public schools according to a bipartisan legislative commission.

For further perspective, the April surplus alone is three times what Gov. Bill Lee allocated in new education funding for the entire 2021-22 fiscal year.

Tennessee policymakers, who recently adjourned their legislative session, could have paid for at least a third of the school funding shortfall with JUST the April surplus. Of course, that would assume these lawmakers are serious when they say they want to fully fund schools.

To be clear, making even a $600 million down payment on the necessary investments in schools would leave the state with a surplus approaching $1.4 billion and three months left in the budget year.

When all is said and done for the year, it is likely the entire $1.7 billion education funding deficit could be made up and the state would have half a billion dollars or more for savings and other expenses or projects.

For further clarity, not a single Tennessee taxpayer would see any tax increase if schools were funded from this surplus. In fact, it is very likely that a state investment in schools that would make up for the current funding shortfall would actually help local governments keep property taxes low.

This year, groups that typically stay out of the school funding fight like the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the League of Women Voters got involved and urged Lee and lawmakers to make use of this historic surplus to make significant new investments in public education. Those calls, of course, were ignored.

We often hear Tennessee policymakers say they want our state’s schools to be the best in the nation. No doubt, your own lawmaker has probably told you school funding is among their top priorities. However, when there was a giant surplus and the ability to make a huge investment in our schools without raising taxes one cent, these same lawmakers simply walked away. They walked away from our public schools, our students, and our teachers.

In times of tight budgets or when funding schools means raising taxes, it may be understandable that the state is cautious when it comes to investment in public education. However, when a single month’s surplus is $600 million and the overall revenue picture is historic in terms of the excess cash available, there is simply no excuse for not investing in education. The only answer at this point is that lawmakers and our Governor just don’t support our schools.

Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes to school funding. We have an historic opportunity to change that. And, we have policy leaders who just aren’t interested.

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A Warning on Privatization

This article originally appeared in The Progressive.

In 2012, Tennessee’s began a scheme known as the Achievement School District, or ASD. The goal was simple and bold: Take a handful of schools in the bottom 5 percent of student achievement, according to state test scores, and move those schools into the top 25 percent in student achievement in just five years.

This miraculous shift, officials claimed, would be accomplished by placing schools under a new state agency, which would then determine an intervention strategy that might include turning a standard public school over to a charter operator. Any school anywhere in the state would be eligible, so long as it was on the “priority schools” list. As a whole, the schools would be governed by their own “district,” complete with a superintendent who reported directly to the commissioner of education.

Tennessee’s commissioner of education at the time, Kevin Huffman, hired charter operator Chris Barbic to run the new district. Barbic’s arrival coincided with the takeover of a first cohort of schools by the ASD, along with the unveiling of his plan to generate the expected turnaround.

So what was that plan, exactly? 

Well, of course, it was to turn all the priority schools over to charter operators. After all, Barbic reasoned, other charter school leaders would know just what to do with entire schools from urban districts with high levels of entrenched poverty.

But the charter school plan had another, more sinister impact. Tennessee’s charter school law gave charter operators ten year charters from the granting district. Since the ASD had taken over the local schools (most of them in Memphis), the ASD was now the charter-granting district. Now, schools in the ASD would not be eligible to return to their home districts for ten years, rather than the five years envisioned in the initial ASD legislation.

By executing the charter switch, Huffman and Barbic had immediately doubled the amount of time they would have to produce results with their education experiment, even though both of them would be gone by the time the ten-year period was up.

Still, the plan was bold and its promises were big. Almost immediately, there were problems. 

Some charter operators dropped out, and new operators swooped in. A series of directors attempted to run the rapidly sinking ship.

There were even Thunderdome-like contests early on to decide which schools would be handed over to charter operators, despite parent and community objections.

In 2020, New York City math teacher and popular blogger Gary Rubinstein, who tracked the ASD from its inception, reported the ASD’s “initial promise” to take over the bottom 5 percent of schools and “catapult them into the top 25 percent in five years” had “completely failed . . . . Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned.  Of the thirty schools, they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5 percent except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10 percent.”

When Barbic resigned after just a few years on the job, Chalkbeat reported, he “offered a dim prognosis” on the fate of the ASD. “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results,” he wrote. “I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Still, the ASD muddled forward. Now, the failed experiment is at the end of its run. Multiple groups of students have traveled in and out of charter doors with the end result being disruption, displacement, and discouraging results.

As the tenth year runs out, questions remain about exactly how to transition the schools back to their districts. Funny, it always seemed so easy to just move students and their families to charter schools and then to other charter schools as reformers scrambled to manipulate student populations in search of ever-elusive results. 

Even so, it seemed as if the ASD had reached its end.

In March, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Repubican, announced yet another plan to continue the district. More specifically, Lee wants to allow a handful of his personal favorite charter operators to continue to manage some select ASD schools. 

Not content to let a really bad idea die, Lee is backing legislation that would allow some schools to move from the ASD to the jurisdiction of the state’s relatively new Charter School Commission. That Commission was created by Lee in his first year as governor in order to circumvent the rejection of charter schools by local school boards.

Another piece of legislation, which has stalled for now, would allow Lee’s commissioner of education to take over an entire district by firing the director of schools and replacing the elected school board. This circumvention of democracy was widely seen as a way for Lee to send a message to the outspoken school boards in Memphis and Nashville that they’d better fall in line or else.

Of course, it hasn’t been lost on observers that Memphis and Nashville are suing the state, challenging the adequacy of the school funding formula. While the legislation is on hold for now, the point is clear: Districts are to do what the governor says and stay quiet when they disagree.

In fact, at a recent press event discussing the use of federal stimulus funds by local districts, Lee suggested that the state’s department of education would be watching districts to ensure they spent the money the right way. House Education Committee Chair Mark White went one step further, saying that he would be expecting tremendous jumps in student performance in exchange for this money. 

Education advocates around the country should beware these sorts of moves—power grabs cloaked in the guise of “assistance or guidance,” legislation to extend failed reform models, and/or the repackaging of proven reform failures as something shiny and new.

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Welcome to the Charter Party

On Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day weekend and just after the Tennessee General Assembly had adjourned, the Tennessee Department of Education announced 15 grants for charter school applicants – including grants for charter applications in several districts that do not currently authorize any charter schools – Rutherford County, Montgomery County, Millington Municipal, Fayette County, and Williamson County. The grants would allow applicants to plan and design their applications, and the applicants could ultimately bypass local school districts and receive charter authorization from Gov. Lee’s “Super Charter Commission.” The grants could also result in usurping the authority of elected school boards in Shelby, Hamilton, and Davidson counties.

Here’s more from a TNDOE press release:

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced that 15 applicants have been awarded subgrants under the Charter School Expansion Grant. These funds are intended to support sponsors throughout the planning, design, application, and potential launch of new charter schools in the state.

These subgrants will fund up to 8,800 new high-quality charter school seats that, subject to authorizer approval, will be available to students in five districts that currently do not have any charter schools and in three districts that already authorize charter schools.

Subgrants totaling $6.3 million were awarded primarily from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), which is the second GEER grant designed specifically to support charter schools, with additional funds from the Charter School Program grant.

And, the key line about subverting the will of voters in these districts:

The review process for charter school applications for the 2022-23 school year is ongoing and the subgrant awards are contingent upon approval of the proposed charter school by the applicants’ respective school districts or, if an appeal occurs, the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. (emphasis added).

That’s right, school privatization is coming to Tennessee in suburban and rural districts whether voters want it or not. While Lee’s voucher scheme is bogged down in court, Lee is acting unilaterally to charterize Tennessee’s public schools.

This is exactly what Memphis state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said would happen back in 2019:

Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to Lee and his affinity for privatization.

No word yet from Republican lawmakers in Fayette, Montgomery, Rutherford, or Williamson counties on how they feel about Lee pushing charters in their areas without seeking legislative approval.

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