Rev. Brandon Berg of Anderson County and a member of the Southern Christian Coalition said Lee’s plan does not reflect support for public education and instead could lead to using public funds for schools with zero accountability.
Instead, in spite of his constituents’ concerns, he insists on pushing his voucher plan that will bleed funding from our already underfunded, hyperscrutinized public schools and divert it to private schools with far weaker accountability. In fact, Lee and the other supporters of vouchers refuse to answer questions about accountability for those schools.
The group has previously spoken out against the voucher scheme:
Tennessee Democratic lawmakers are calling on the state’s Commissioner of Education Lizette Reynolds to resign her post, stating she lacks the qualifications for the job as described in state law.
“If she doesn’t resign, I call on the Lee administration to make another choice,” Tennessee Black Caucus Chairman Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) said. “There are plenty of qualified people out there to lead this great education system we have.”
The legislators said the state code is not ambiguous – that Reynolds (or any Education Commissioner) should have classroom experience and meet the qualifications to teach in a Tennessee public school.
Reynolds has no classroom teaching experience and does not have an active Tennessee teaching license or a license to teach in any other state.
TheCenter Squarereports that the state’s current ESA program gave out $9800 per participant – higher than original estimates and more than Lee plans for his separate universal voucher.
Tennessee students in a pilot educational savings account program in three counties are receiving $9,800 – the average statewide funding per public school student – this year.
That’s higher than the $7,075 first-year number in a proposed statewide ESA program and higher than what the funding was estimated to be heading into the approval of the pilot, which is currently taking place in Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties.
The state’s education commissioner admits that early results are not promising when it comes to student academic achievement:
“They are required to administer the TCAP,” Reynolds said. “The results aren’t anything to write home about, is my understanding.
“The commissioner shall be a person of literary and scientific attainments and of skill and experience in school administration,” according to the law. “The commissioner shall also be qualified to teach in the school of the highest standing over which the commissioner has authority.”
Lee’s press secretary, Elizabeth L. Johnson, said in a statement to The Tennessee Journal that “Commissioner Reynold’s credentials and professional experience qualify her to serve as TDOE commissioner.”
The problem is that Reynolds doesn’t have a teaching degree and has never taught in a public or other school. She doesn’t have an active teaching license in Tennessee or any other state.
In other words, she could only teach in a Tennessee public school under a waiver or emergency certificate.
Previous Commissioners with backgrounds in politics and policy also had at least some teaching experience and an active teaching license. Penny Schwinn, the Commissioner just before Reynolds, taught high school in Maryland before her career in policy.
Kevin Huffman, an appointee of Bill Haslam’s, had experience in the classroom as a Teach for America teacher.
Pratik Dash, from Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes, said, “We are all here today on the first day of the 2024 legislative session – Black, Brown, White, younger and older, from different regions of the state because we love Tennessee. We’re here because we love our communities, our people, and our children enough to demand what we deserve. We deserve to live in a state where we can confidently say everyone – regardless of what we look like or where we come from, we are all safe from gun violence. Right now, all eyes are on Tennessee, but we know that our movement is bigger than this moment.”
The call for “love and hope” followed an earlier call for the rejection of school vouchers. Representatives of the Southern Christian Coalition noted that they believe vouchers are potentially harmful to Tennessee students and communities.
Rev. Matt Steinhauer, one of the Interim Pastors of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Franklin, said, “Our teachers here in Tennessee work hard to provide every child a life and skill-forming quality education, yet Governor Lee is determined to get in the way by denying adequate funding, supporting distractions such as banning books, and now working to pass his harmful voucher scheme that would take funds meant for our public schools and instead give them to private schools.”
Elmer Mobley has officially announced his candidacy for Williamson County School Board District 1, representing the Fairview area.
Mobley is a longtime community activist and advocate for public education.
In his announcement, he explains the simple reason he’s running:
“My vision for our schools is simple,” Mobley explained. “Every child, regardless of background or zip code, deserves access to an equitable education that fosters excellence, engagement, and a sense of belonging.”