$26 Million Harm

Voucher case proceeds despite imminent harm to Memphis, Nashville

A three-judge panel on Friday declined to stop Gov. Bill Lee’s rushed implementation of a school voucher scheme in Memphis and Nashville.

Chalkbeat reports that lawyers for parents opposing the voucher plan had asked the court to halt implementation while their case against vouchers proceeds.

Specifically, lawyers noted that if implementation proceeds, Memphis and Nashville combined could lose up to $26 million in funding this year despite no attendant reduction in costs to operate.

“Nothing requires the state defendants to push this forward at a rocket’s pace after the injunction was lifted, just before the school year started,” said Allison Bussell, Metro Nashville’s associate law director, representing the two local governments.

She argued that allowing the program to start will cause irreparable harm to both districts, which she said stand to lose $26 million this school year if 3,000 students shift from public to private schools — while the districts must maintain and staff the same number of schools. 

A recent article in The Hechinger Report noted that vouchers have not been shown to improve student achievement, and in fact, have in some cases been shown to actually be harmful.

Vouchers are dangerous to American education. They promise an all-too-simple solution to tough problems like unequal access to high-quality schools, segregation and even school safety. In small doses, years ago, vouchers seemed like they might work, but as more states have created more and larger voucher programs, experts like me have learned enough to say that these programs on balance can severely hinder academic growth — especially for vulnerable kids.

So, vouchers not only cost local districts significant money, but they also harm the very students they are intended to help. Nevertheless, Gov. Lee and his allies are persisting with this perilous plan.

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Team Kid’s Payroll

Dark money PAC spends nearly $400,000 to promote school privatization

I’ve written before about Tennesseans for Student Success – a group with an innocuous sounding name that is actually a front for dark money issue advocacy and political shenanigans related to privatization of public schools.

I also reported that this dark money, pro-privatization group started a political action committee (PAC) called “Team Kid PAC” with a clear mission of influencing policy by electing candidates who support shifting public money to private schools.

It seems Team Kid is making a move – getting involved in state elections in the 2022 cycle.

According to disclosures filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Team Kid has received $500,000 in contributions from Tennesseans for Student Success this summer.

Of course, they’re also spending.

The group has made contributions to the campaigns of Democratic Senators London Lamar and Raumesh Akbari as well as Republican Senators Jack Johnson, Bill Powers, and Shane Reeves.

Powers, some may recall, broke his campaign promise to oppose vouchers in his first vote as a new state Senator.

Other recipients of Team Kid cash include House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Rep. Chris Hurt, and House candidates Elaine Davis, Gabriel Fancher, Deanna McLaughlin, William Slater, Joseph Barrett, Gino Bulso, Michael Hale, Brock Martin, Jacob McCalmon. The group is also backing Senate candidate Adam Lowe.

Hale is challenging Republican and reliable anti-voucher vote Terri Lynn Weaver. Slater is running in a three-way race in Sumner County and his campaign focuses on his support for vouchers. He previously served as Head of School at Hendersonville Christian Academy.

A Clear Privatization Agenda

The candidates Team Kid is backing, then, demonstrate a clear privatization agenda.

In addition to the $1200 contributions to each of these candidates, the group is spending big on polling, phones, and advertisting.

In their most recently filed disclosure, Team Kid reports spending nearly $400,000 to influence today’s primary.

What does Team Kid – and their sole funder, Tennesseans for Student Success, want?

They want to shift public money to private schools by way of charters and vouchers and they want to help elect lawmakers who will advance this agenda.

Where does the money come from?

That’s a great question.

100% of the contributions indicated on Team Kid’s PAC disclosure are from Tennesseans for Student Success.

TSS is a nonprofit, so that means heading over to Guidestar to check out their IRS 990.

The most recent 990 available at Guidestar is from 2019 (contributions made in 2018). Here’s the thing: When it gets to the contribution element, it simply says “restricted.”

The group took in more than $2 million and there’s no information on who gave the money.

This is like doubling down on dark money. There’s a PAC with a disclosure form. The PAC discloses all of its funds come from a nonprofit. The nonprofit’s most recently available tax form contains information from four years ago. That information sheds exactly zero light on who is funding the group.

Tristar Reads

Tennesseans for Student Success also promotes a program called “Tristar Reads.” It’s a program that essentially promotes K-12 students reading over the summer.

Here’s some of the social media promotion they’ve done for it:

The group’s 2018 990 form shows they spent just over $4000 on Tristar Reads.

By contrast, they’ve spent $400,000 just this summer on electing candidates who plan to pilfer the public purse for the sake of privatization.

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PAC Spending in Memphis School Board Race

Chalkbeat has the story of PAC spending in races for Memphis/Shelby County School Board.

A Memphis political action committee dedicated to improving economic and social mobility in Shelby County and across Tennessee poured nearly $40,000 into four Memphis-Shelby County Schools board races.

Candidates Rachael Spriggs in District 1, Tim Green in District 6, Amber Huett-Garcia in District 8, and Rebecca Edwards in District 9 each received an $8,300 donation from TN Prosperity PAC, according to recent campaign finance filings. The other two candidates for District 1, current board Chair Michelle McKissack and former Chair Chris Caldwell, each received $2,500.

The story notes other significant donors in the school board races:

  • Memphis PACE, which is the political action committee for the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, the larger of two MSCS teachers unions.
  • The Leadership for Educational Equity PAC, a national nonprofit leadership development organization “inspiring and supporting a network of civic leaders to end the injustice of educational inequity,” according to its website.
  • Leaders in Education Fund PAC of Washington, D.C.

MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Back to School in the Age of Teacher Shortages

A Rejection for Hillsdale

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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