TSU Takeover

Lawmakers, Lee replace Tennessee State’s Board of Trustees

Almost immediately after the General Assembly gave final approval to legislation vacating the Tennessee State University Board of Trustees, Gov. Bill Lee appointed an entirely new board.

The move comes after several years of lawmakers issuing complaints about inadequacies at TSU, the state’s only state-supported HBCU.

A federal inquiry found the state has underfunded TSU by $2.1 billion over the past 30 years, and TSU leaders have been pressing legislators to devise a plan to correct the shortfall.

Following the takeover vote, advocates spoke out about Lee’s power grab:

Rev. Wesley King, a Disciples of Christ pastor in Nashville, said:

“I’m horrified but unfortunately not surprised by the atrocious vote of the Tennessee Supermajority today to vacate the entire Tennessee State University board. Instead of addressing the historic underfunding of TSU, the TN Supermajority has decided that they will use their ‘power’ as a legislative body to replace the board of trustees and take over the decision making power of the University.

question marks on paper crafts
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Uniting Against Vouchers

Lee Pushes Tax Giveaway

Youth Movement

Nashville launches initiative focused on exposing students to government

A new program in Nashville is focused on exposing high school students to the operations of local government.

Nashville’s first Youth in Local Government day is April 2nd.

The program will offer 61 students from Antioch High School, McGavock High School, Pearl-Cohn High School, The Mayor’s Youth Council, and NCYC Ambassadors, the opportunity to experience local government in action. Students have been researching critical topics in their neighborhoods and will present them on April 2nd to members of the Metro Council.

cityscape of nashville tennessee at dawn
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Williamson School Board Candidates Unite Against Vouchers

Questioning Bill Lee’s Tax Scam

Big Money, Small ROI

Bill Lee plans to invest TN tax dollars in a scheme with declining returns

Gov. Bill Lee’s signature policy initiative, school vouchers, is barreling toward final approval. The plan has a year one price tag of over $140 million and a second year projected cost approaching $300 million.

Tweet explaining the cost of vouchers

This seems fiscally problematic.

Especially given the reality that vouchers have rarely shown academic improvement and in some cases, have actually caused academic declines.

In fact, in Tennessee’s own school voucher pilot program, the results suggest vouchers are far from improving academic outcomes.

Students enrolled that were tested scored lower than their public school peers in the same county and below the statewide average.

Back in 2017, I noted:

Kevin Carey writes in the New York Times:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Bill Lee has spent his time and energy as governor finding a way to funnel public dollars to private schools and it is clearly not in service of improving outcomes for kids.


School Board Candidates Take a Stand Against Vouchers

Lawmakers Question Lee’s $2 Billion Corporate Tax Giveaway

Sometimes Led to Declines

School vouchers don’t help kids but Gov. Lee wants them anyway

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has long been a staunch supporter of using public money to support private schools.

It seems this legislative session, he may be on the verge of achieving his ultimate goal: privatizing public education in the Volunteer State by way of a school voucher scheme.

Chalkbeat has a timeline of the march toward vouchers, and the details are quite interesting.

Here’s the key takeaway:

Also, the research hasn’t supported the case for vouchers as a way to improve academic outcomes. Recent studies find little evidence that vouchers improve test scores. In fact, they’ve sometimes led to declines.

Even now, big questions loom about the cost, impact, and legal merits of a program that threatens to destabilize Tennessee’s public education system.

A program that’s very expensive, doesn’t improve academic outcomes, and has “sometimes led to declines” is Gov. Bill Lee’s signature policy initiative.


School Board Candidates Unite Against Vouchers

Behn, Oliver Push Free Pre-K for All

United in Opposition to Vouchers

Williamson County Democratic school board candidates oppose school voucher scheme

All four Democratic candidates for Williamson County School Board oppose expansion of the state’s school voucher scheme.

The move to expand vouchers is being pushed by Williamson County’s State Senator, Jack Johnson, and Gov. Bill Lee, a Williamson County native.

In a joint statement announcing their opposition, the candidates said:

We are united in opposing vouchers because we’re listening to our neighbors, members of our communities and parents of students in Williamson County who are overwhelmingly against using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools. 


Pushing Free Pre-K for All Kids

Making Childcare Affordable

Speaking Out for Truth

Advocacy group raises alarm about “divisive concepts” legislation

An advocacy group focused on clear and accurate education around topics of race, gender, and sexuality is speaking out against a further update to Tennessee’s “divisive concepts” law that would punish public universities in the state for teaching the truth.

The group notes that the latest round of legislation restricting concepts that can be taught at the state’s public higher education institutions carries potential financial penalties for “failing to prevent” the teaching of divisive concepts.

“Suppressing our ability to discuss and understand the role of racism in this country’s history is to conceal racism and defend this country’s history of white supremacy.”


A Matter of Priorities

A Push for Free Pre-K

Why Does School Lunch Debt Exist?

Tennessee policymakers reject efforts focused on free meals for all kids in school

Arby’s is stepping up where Tennessee lawmakers failed. The roast beef sandwich chain is providing a grant to erase school lunch debt in one Tennessee county.

Meanwhile, legislators consistently reject efforts to provide free meals to all kids at school.

Salon reports on the effort by Arby’s to erase student lunch debt:

Hawkins County Schools in Tennessee received a $16,892 grant from the Arby’s Foundation to assist with student lunch debt. The foundation, which centers on combating childhood hunger, has committed $500,000 to support approximately 200 communities in which Arby’s has a restaurant.  

Salon notes that Tennessee students carry a staggering amount of school lunch debt:

The issue of outstanding student lunch debt isn’t unique to Hawkins County; according to 2024 statistics from the Education Data Center, on a state-level, Tennessee has $51,610,062 in student lunch debt and about 285,770 food insecure students.

This despite repeated efforts by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide some measure of free school meals to all kids.

One analysis notes that the cost to provide free school meals (breakfast and lunch) to all kids in Tennessee would be $714 million.

In a state with typical annual budget surpluses in range of $2 billion, this seems like an easy task.

Instead, the General Assembly this year is focusing on passing a corporate tax break estimated to cost $1.6 billion.


Questions Raised About Lee’s Tax Break Scheme

Free Pre-K for All?

Biden Budget a Boon for Schools

Education advocates praise President’s investments in public school programs

The Network for Public Education (NPE) is praising President Biden’s proposed budget as a win for public schools.

NPE’s executive director, Carol Burris, said of the budget, “This budget is the mirror opposite of budget proposals by the present House leadership that slash funding to children served by critical programs like Title I while proposing an increase to the already bloated Federal Charter School Programs (CSP).”

The group noted the proposal includes $450 million of new money for key programs benefiting kids in schools across the country.

calculator and notepad placed over stack of usa dollars
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More Tennessee News

Exposing the Harm of Vouchers

Ending the Grocery Tax

A Rally for Public Education

Coalition of groups asks lawmakers to reject Lee’s voucher scam

As Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to expand the state’s failing voucher program to all 95 counties moves forward in legislative committees, a group of public education advocates is speaking out against the bill.

Nashville’s WSMV:

Teachers from across Tennessee will flock to the Tennessee State Capitol on Tuesday for a rally against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher expansion plans.

The teachers will arrive at the Capitol at 9 a.m. for a day of action before the rally begins at 1 p.m.

They said the voucher plan is a scam and it will further defund Tennessee’s public schools, which are already ranked sixth to last in education investment.

The teachers will be joined by parents and others advocating for full funding of the state’s public schools. The group is coming together under the banner of Tennessee For All.


Free Pre-K for All?

Questions Arise Over Lee’s Tax Break Plan