Strengths and Weaknesses

Lizzette Reynolds plays to her strengths and fails miserably

Around this time last year, Tennessee was preparing to welcome a new Commissioner of Education following the disastrous tenure of Gov. Lee’s first pick for the job, Penny Schwinn.

Lizzette Reynolds came to Tennessee from Texas and bragged about her special abilities in the area of policy implementation and expansion.

Specifically, she noted her focus would be on school funding and expansion of the state’s fledgling voucher program.

These two seemed especially important given Tennessee’s switch to a new school funding formula (TISA) and Gov. Lee’s desire to see his signature policy initiative (school vouchers) be successful.

So, how’s it going?

Not so good, it turns out.

Reynolds accidentally told the truth about school vouchers – that results from the current program are not very positive.

Despite all kinds of end of session histrionics, Gov. Lee and sidekick Texas Liz were unable to convince their fellow Republicans to vote to spend public money supporting unaccountable private schools.

Unlike in previous attempts to privatize (earlier voucher efforts, private toll roads), with Lizzette on the job, Bill Lee failed.

But what about funding? The debate over the move from the BEP to TISA was intense. But, now TISA is the way the state funnels money to schools. How would it go? Would TISA implementation result in an uptick in overall funding for schools? Would Tennessee start to move up in national rankings relative to teacher compensation and overall investment in schools?

Nope.

On this score, Lizzette quickly continued a Tennessee tradition: Failing to invest in public education.

Tennessee ranks 44th in the nation in average teacher pay – and among the lowest in the Southeast. The state ranks 45th in per pupil spending – again, low even among Southern counterparts.

Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia all pay their teachers more than Tennessee does.

If this is what Reynolds is good at, what are her weaknesses?

One glaring weakness: She’s not qualified for the job.

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It doesn’t seem to add up

TC Weber takes a look at a payroll anomaly (or mixup or mistake or communication error) that meant the first summer paycheck for Nashville teachers was about 20% short.

Talk about ruining summer plans.

Last week, many of Nashville’s teachers and support staff who have extended their paychecks throughout the summer got a surprise. Paychecks were roughly 20% shorter than expected.

Metro Nashville Public Schools pays all certificated staff on a 22-week pay schedule, equivalent to the length of the school year. As a courtesy to teachers who wish to maintain a paycheck throughout the summer, they can sign up to be paid in 26 installments.

This is accomplished by MNPS deducting a portion of each paycheck, after taxes, and dividing it between four summer paychecks – two in June and two in July. For some reason, according to MNPS, this year has 27 paychecks, requiring 5 paychecks in the summer.  Two in June, two in July, and one in August. That’s some fancy math turning 26 biweekly opportunities into 27.

As TC notes, all years have 52 weeks – which makes (or should make) for 26 checks.

He further notes that blaming the “mixup” on a communication error is not ok.

If teachers and staff didn’t get the message, the error is on the sender.

It’s particularly distressing in an era of teacher shortages and in a state with persistently low teacher compensation.

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School lunch debt is gross and should not exist.

Tennessee continues to allow school lunch debt to persist, despite significant resources that would and could create a free school meal program for all kids.

The state has spent $500 million for a new Titans stadium and $1.6 billion on a corporate tax giveaway.

Those two expenses alone are three times the cost of providing free school meals for all kids in Tennessee public schools.

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