Criminal Librarians?

In the battle to privatize Tennessee’s public schools, school librarians have become “collateral damage.” The attacks have become so great that those oft-quiet librarians are standing up and taking notice.

In fact, one Tennessee librarian took to the pages of American Libraries to explain the plight of librarians as it relates to the current “culture war” being won by proponents of evangelical exceptionalism at the Tennessee General Assembly.

Here’s some of what Nashville’s Lindsey Kimery has to say about the attack on the librarians inside our public schools:

We can’t help but see school libraries and school librarians as collateral damage in the wake of midterm elections and extremism against public education. Being a school librarian is an honorable profession, but some have attempted to align it with criminality. We know we are trained professionals, and we work tirelessly to tailor our collections to our students’ needs and the needs of our school communities.

The chilling effect of this legislation will linger as we watch and wait for what’s next; though the bill is dead for the rest of the year, it could resurrect in some form next year. School librarians and administrators may feel pressure to think twice about purchasing materials for our LGBTQIA+ students and for students of the global majority who are minorities in their own communities. Their narratives have been especially targeted by supporters of this legislation. School librarians are concerned about the level of support they will receive from their school district should they face a book challenge. In January, the graphic novel Maus was removed from the curriculum by the McMinn County School Board, and Newbery winner Walk Two Moons was removed from the curriculum in Williamson County. What will be the first book to be removed at the state level?

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What will be the first book to be removed at the state level? That is, indeed, a fair question.

Indeed, another fair question: Will the relentless attacks on our public schools by the like of Gov. Bill Lee and his acolytes pave a clear path to a fully funded school voucher scheme?

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Hamblen County School Board Hears Proposal for 2% Raise for Teachers

The Hamblen County School Board heard a proposal from that district’s Director of Schools that would provide teachers with a 2% raise next year. If approved, the budget with the raises would mean a deficit of nearly $1 million – leaving the County Commission to find revenue to make up the difference.

The Morristown Citizen-Tribune has the full story:

The Hamblen County Board of Education unveiled a first draft Tuesday of a budget that has a nearly $1 million shortfall and a 2% raise for staff amidst inflation that is hovering around 8%.

The budget comes after a year that saw a commitment by the governor’s office to put an extra billion dollars into education across the state and record tax revenue generated in Hamblen County.

Perry said he hopes future years might be easier to manage as a new statewide funding formula is implemented to replace the current BEP formula that is considered overly-complicated by many education administrators across the state.

“But we don’t build budgets from hope,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re responsible this year- it does look like we might be able to take care of folks a little bit better that following year.”

Unfortunately, the reality of TISA is that it does little to address the state’s funding shortfall when it comes to teacher compensation.

After hearing the budget presentation, members of the school board indicated a desire to see a 4% raise. The discussion led to conversations about future budget meetings/workshops in order to explore options for raising teacher pay beyond the recommended 2%.

It’s not clear whether there is an appetite on the County Commission to provide the $1 million+ needed to fund the proposed raises.

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Williamson County Parent Group Speaks Out on Book Bans

Williamson County parent group OneWillCo spoke out this week on the issue of book banning and giving authority the State Textbook Commission to ban books in public school libraries.

Here’s more from a press release:

In light of the state-wide polling that shows that Tennesseans are opposed to book bans, the co-founders of One WillCo, Revida Rahman and Jennifer Cortez, speak up about their ongoing work in Williamson County Schools. One WillCo works to support equity, representation, and safety in schools for students of all races and backgrounds.

“Just like the majority of Tennesseans, at One WillCo we believe that whatever our color or background, we want our children to have an education that tells the truth about our shared history,” said Revida Rahman, one of the founders of One WillCo. “Unfortunately, we are at a point where there is a loud minority of people who are trying to silence voices and ban books that tell the truth in an age-appropriate way. When I see leaders trying to censor the truth of our history, passing laws to ban learning from the mistakes of our past and to erase leaders–even those like Martin Luther King, Jr.–who stood up to racism and changed our country for the better, I am discouraged. But seeing the results of this polling and knowing the majority of Tennesseans agree with us that book bans are not the way to move forward, we are energized to continue to join together, speak up at school board meetings, and do the hard work of ensuring that every student, no matter their race, is able to feel safe in school and receive a high quality education that allows them to feel seen, heard, and represented.”

“From our work in Williamson County we know that the vast majority of parents and educators agree that our students need to learn the truth about our history so we can learn from the past and create a better future together,” said Jennifer Cortez, one of the founders of One WillCo. “And thanks to this polling, we know that the majority of Tennesseans across the state agree with us. Students miss out when we attempt to whitewash our history, or worse yet, to perpetuate myths about what has happened in our country surrounding race. Even many of our lawmakers lack a basic understanding of much of our nation’s history surrounding race; we were never taught it. Today’s students, and students of future generations deserve to know the whole story of our nation’s history, even the parts we wish we could erase. Only an honest education will prepare our children for the future, equip them with the knowledge they deserve, and help them better understand the lives, cultures and experiences of different people. Not only does this provide our children with a high quality education, it also creates an environment where students of all races feel represented and safe.” 

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Sumner County Proposes Big Raises for Teachers, Staff

At a budget workshop last night, the Sumner County School Board heard a proposal from Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips that would result in significant pay raises for the system’s teachers and support staff.

The move comes as Sumner County is attempting to be competitive in the Middle Tennessee market. It marks the second time in the past four years that the district’s teachers have seen a raise of at least $4000 to their base pay.

This year’s proposed raises, to be voted on by the School Board next week (May 17th) and the County Commission in June, include:

Step raises for all teachers plus a $4000 increase to the base for each step. Step raises range from 1-2% of pay.

Step raises (2%) plus $1 an hour for all hourly employees.

An average increase of $7/hour for bus drivers and an increase in bus driver starting pay from $12.12 an hour to $18/hour.

An increase in pay for substitute teachers from $51 to $75/day for non-degreed subs, from $75 to $100 for degreed subs, and from $100 to $125 for certified subs.

Sumner’s proposed pay increase comes a year after Metro Nashville significantly increased teacher pay and just months after Williamson County implemented a mid-year pay raise.

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The Teacher Wage Gap Persists

Economic Policy Institute is out with a survey of teacher compensation relative to other, similarly educated professionals. The news continues to be bad for teachers nationally. Teachers earn roughly 20% less than comparably educated professionals on average. In Tennessee, that number is 21.4%.

Notes: Figure reports state-specific regression-adjusted teacher weekly wage penalties: how much less, in percentage terms, elementary, middle, and secondary public school teachers earn in weekly wages than their college-educated, nonteaching peers.
See Allegretto and Mishel 2019, especially Appendix A, for more details.
Source: Authors’ analysis of pooled 2014–2019 Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group data accessed via EPI Current Population Survey Extracts, Version 1.0.2 (EPI 2020).

That’s not good news. Especially in light of a worsening teacher shortage crisis.

It’s especially bad news in light of TISA – Gov. Bill Lee’s new school funding formula. While Lee and his allies would have you believe otherwise, TISA does nothing to significantly invest in teachers. There’s no significant adjustment to teacher minimum salaries and nothing in TISA directly results in hiring more teachers. This is disappointing since a state review suggests districts hire a total of 7000+ more teachers than the state funds.

Here’s more on the TISA reality:

Here’s more from EPI on what the teacher wage gap means in states across the country:

The teacher wage penalty has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty is how much less, in percentage terms, public school teachers are paid in weekly wages relative to other college-educated workers (after accounting for factors known to affect earnings such as education, experience, and state residence). The regression-adjusted teaching wage penalty was 6.0% in 1996. In 2019, the penalty was 19.2%, reflecting a 2.8 percentage-point improvement compared with a penalty of 22.0% a year earlier.

The wage premium that women teachers experienced in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by a significant wage penalty. As noted in our previous research, women teachers enjoyed a 14.7% wage premium in 1960, meaning they were paid 14.7% more than comparably educated and experienced women in other occupations. In 2019, women teachers were earning 13.2% less in weekly wages than their nonteaching counterparts were—a 27.9 percentage-point swing over the last six decades.

The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 (composed of a 19.2% wage penalty offset by a 9.0% benefits advantage). The bottom line is that the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 7.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2019.

It’s interesting that this problem is not getting significantly better, even as districts across Tennessee and around the country are dealing with both a teacher exodus and a lack of candidates to replace them.

It’s also interesting that even with a relatively stable, secure benefits package, the teacher wage gap continues to expand over time. It should be noted that in Tennessee, teacher pensions were “reformed” in 2014 and teachers hired since then now have a significantly smaller retirement package.

It’s also worth noting here that Tennessee teachers have the lowest pension benefit of any of our neighboring states.

As the study by SREB notes, Tennessee teachers earn about $10,000 less per year in retirement than their neighbors in other Southern states.

TISA could have been a way to change all of that – to vastly improve teacher compensation and make Tennessee a national leader in both pay and support for teachers.

Instead, the one-time raise offered by the plan will amount to about a 2.5% increase this year. Teacher pay in Tennessee will continue to lag behind other states in our region. Teachers here will continue to earn 21% less than their comparably educated peers.

Year after year, policymakers look at a growing problem and then just look away. Even in a year with a massive budget surplus, Tennessee leaders have made a clear statement that investing in teachers is not a priority.

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But is it Adequate?

Gov. Bill Lee’s signature education funding reform initiative passed today even as concerns have been raised that the plan will do little to fundamentally alter the status quo for school districts in a state consistently ranked 45th in the nation in school funding.

In response to the legislation, advocates with the Southern Christian Coalition suggested the plan does not meet its stated goals and even noted analysis suggesting the formula will mean a smaller percentage of state funds for 91 school districts (roughly 2/3).

“I call on our Legislature to adequately fund our public schools, and to invest in and care for the children of Tennessee, knowing that they are each made in the image of God,” said Rev. Laura Becker, Pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, and mother of one current student and one graduate of Hamilton County Schools. “All Tennessee students deserve the right to high quality and fully funded education that prepares them to achieve their full potential and successfully contribute to our communities and to our state. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s proposed education funding plan called TISA doesn’t provide the funding necessary to address our teacher shortage, ensure students with special needs get the care they need, or ensure that every school has the resources they need to provide every child a quality education, so I call for a more just and equitable funding program.”

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An in-depth analysis of the reality of TISA funding also shows the plan comes up short in key areas – most notably hiring teachers and teacher compensation. Without significant investment on both fronts, it is unlikely the plan will move the needle relative to the stated goal of improved student achievement outcomes.

Districts get a lower percentage of state funds. The teacher shortage persists. Local property taxes will likely go up. That’s the TISA reality.

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Groups Speak Out on School Library Censorship

A group of Tennessee parents and public school students gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol this morning to express opposition to legislation that would effectively ban books from public school libraries by creating an “approved book list” developed by the Tennessee Textbook Commission.

At the event, Williamson County High School student Lindsay Hornick spoke about the importance of having a wide range of books in public school libraries.

Hornick said, ” Books allow us to learn about the world through a variety of lenses and create our own opinions on controversial topics. They teach us about the past in ways that explore the truth. No matter how difficult it may be to hear, the documented past allows us to learn and grow. It allows us to prevent tragedies from repeating.”

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Gross

Those rabble rousers over at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) are out with a statement condemning the “gross overreach” of an amendment to HB2666 that would give the State Textbook Commission authority over books in school libraries. That is, the bill would require all books in school libraries to be on an “approved” list provided by the Textbook Commission.

Here’s the TASL statement on the bill, scheduled for a vote tomorrow (4/27/2022):

In response to the proposed measure, a group of concerned parents and public school advocates is organizing a protest at the Capitol:

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Top Privatizer Backs TISA

State Rep. Mark White is tweeting out misleading information about Gov. Lee’s school funding overhaul (TISA) in an attempt to build support for the effort as the legislature enters its final weeks.

So, this is just flat out wrong. First, as currently envisioned, there’s less than $1 billion in “new” money for schools. Oh, and White has been a leader on the House Education Committee for years – why is he just NOW doing any of this?

White is among the legislative leaders who routinely ignore the BEP Review Committee:

He’s also ignored the TACIR recommendations to add $1.7 billion to K-12 funding to address the underfunding of teachers and staff. By the way, TISA does NOT address this shortfall.

This is the same Mark White who carried the water for Lee’s state charter authorizer scheme – you know, the plan to remove local authority from charter school decisions:

Here’s what Nashville education blogger TC Weber had to say about White back in 2020:

Well, he supported an unconstitutional voucher bill in spite of purportedly, “not liking it”. He failed to increase funding for Tennessee school districts despite the state sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money. He supported a literacy bill that robbed LEA’s of power to choose materials and curriculum, increased testing, and called for the retention of third-graders – luckily despite his support, the bill failed to pass. He failed to substantially raise teacher salaries. Salaries have been stagnating for years.

But sure, we should totally trust Mark White to tell the truth about TISA.

Here’s the truth he won’t tell, though:

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The Big Voucher Payback

Remember when then-House Speaker Glen Casada “enticed” members to vote for Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme? Remember how the FBI was (and still is) interested in Casada and others for possible bribes in order to pass the bill by a single vote?

Remember the ensuing scandal that led to Casada’s resignation as House Speaker?

Well, it turns out dark money groups like Tennesseans for Student Success are all in on a big payback for Casada’s “leadership.” You see, Casada is now running for the six-figure job of Williamson County Clerk. Here’s what Phil Williams reports TSS is doing for Casada in that race:

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Tennesseans for Student Success is pretty shady:

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$867 Million

That’s how much Gov. Lee’s TISA funding plan could send from current public schools to charter schools.

Here’s more:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1513679951983267840?s=20&t=ub9m5VwmjC6IWGHlZxgNcA

MORE on TISA:

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