Lamar Laments School Funding Games

Democratic leader calls on state to invest more in schools

As a Republican effort to reject federal education funding moves forward, the legislature’s Democratic leaders are speaking out.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chair London Lamar of Memphis says the GOP’s actions are “reckless and irresponsible” and instead is calling on state lawmakers to invest more funds in public schools.

“Our students need more support in the classroom, not less. Our students need more access to tutoring, counselors and mental health specialists, not less. Our students need regular meals and wrap-around support to be the best learners they can be.

“There’s no future success story for students, families or our economy if Tennessee continues down this dangerous, anti-student path.”

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

Advocates Speak Out on School Funding Cuts

Strong resistance to Sexton’s federal funding rejection scheme emerges

Even as a legislative working group examines the possibility of Tennessee rejecting federal funds for public schools, a group of advocates is speaking out about the harms of this first-in-the-nation scheme.

Rev. Matt Steinhauer, Interim Pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Franklin, said, “As a Christian pastor and father of 3 children, one of whom is intellectually disabled who attended and graduated from TN public schools, I firmly believe that all Tennessee children, no matter where they live in the state, the color of their skin, or their ability level, are valuable and they deserve leaders who will ensure students have everything they need to thrive at school and succeed in the classroom and beyond. This is why I cannot begin to comprehend why there is currently a panel of elected leaders meeting to consider rejecting over $1 billion in annual funding annually to Tennessee children in our public schools.”

The Southern Christian Coalition says Sexton’s plan would ultimately harm the “least of these.”

“As a mother, grandmother, and Christian pastor, I believe that Tennessee children and families are valuable and deserve leaders who will ensure students have everything they need to succeed in the classroom and prepare for their futures,” stated Rev. Dr. Donna Whitney, Pastoral Assistant at Metropolitian Interdenominational Church in Nashville. “This plan from Governor Lee and Tennessee’s Supermajority Legislature would take money out of our community schools, and instead prioritize their political agendas and schemes by denying children who they don’t want to serve, including high risk students across the state.”

MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Hillsdale’s Distorted Vision

On the Importance of Investing in Teachers

crop man getting dollars from wallet
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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

Onward, Christian Charters!

Bill Lee’s privatization plot bears fruit

A Christian Nationalist charter school network with ties to extreme-right Hillsdale College will soon operate two schools in the state.

Gov. Bill Lee’s handpicked charter school commission reversed a decision by the Jackson-Madison school board and approved locating a Hillsdale charter in the district.

The Commission also rejected an appeal for a Hillsdale charter in Maury County, noting that the application just “wasn’t there yet.”

The Hillsdale charter in Jackson-Madison will be the second in the state after Rutherford County’s school board approved an application from the charter network earlier this year.

Lee outlined his plan to partner with Hillsdale for the development of up to 50 charter schools in the state back in his 2022 State of the State Address. In that address, Lee made clear his allegiance with the ideology of American Exceptionalism and his comfort with Christian Nationalism.

An analysis of the fiscal impact of charter schools found that the Hillsdale charters, as envisioned in their applications, would drain roughly $7 million from each district where they operate.

If Lee’s dream of 50 Hillsdale charters is realized, more than $300 million could be transferred from state and local taxpayers to the charter network.

Even before he was a candidate for Governor, Lee was an advocate for funneling tax dollars to private, religious schools.

Even though as early as 2016, Bill Lee was extolling the virtues of school voucher schemes and even though he’s a long-time supporter of Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher Tennessee Federation for Children and even though he has appointed not one, but two voucher vultures to high level posts in his Administration, it is somehow treated as “news” that Bill Lee plans to move forward with a voucher scheme agenda in 2019.

How did we get here? In 2018 I wrote:

Bill Lee was on the right team and spoke the right, religiously-tinged words and so earned the support of people who will look at you with a straight face and say they love Tennessee public schools.

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

Terrible Task Force

Legislative leaders move forward with attempt to refuse federal education funding

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally have appointed a Joint Legislative Task Force to explore the possibility of Tennessee refusing the nearly $2 billion the state receives in federal education funding each year.

More from The Tennessee Journal:

The 10-member panel will also report on the feasibility of the state rejecting federal funds and recommend a strategy to reject certain federal funds or eliminate unwanted restrictions placed on the state due to the receipt of such federal funds if it is feasible to do so.

Sexton has previously suggested using the state’s significant revenue surplus to replace federal dollars for schools.

It’s worth noting here that a bipartisan task force found that the state underfunds schools by around $1.7 billion a year.

This means that rather than use surplus dollars to make up the current funding shortfall, Sexton is suggesting using the surplus to maintain the inadequate status quo.

Not surprisingly, the move was met with resistance by advocates for public education:

Rev. C. Don Jones, Pastor of the Andersonville United Methodist Church, said of the proposal:

“Tennessee public schools are primarily locally funded. Extra funds from the Federal government administered by the State government help schools in our rural areas that are cash strapped. I do not understand why the Speaker, the Governor, or the present Supermajority of the General Assembly chose to harm these communities.

“As a pastor in a rural community, I see the Speaker’s proposal as irresponsible to the citizens of Tennessee.”

Senate Democratic Leader Raumesh Akbari of Memphis said the federal funding is a key tool in leveling the playing field for students in economically disadvantaged areas of the state.

“Federal education funding for states is essential to ensure educational equity and opportunity for all American students. It serves as a vital pillar of our nation’s commitment to providing a quality education regardless of a student’s geographical location or socioeconomic background.”

In a tweet, Rep. Bo Mitchell said:

This could the most idiotic discussion I’ve seen in the Tennessee General Assembly probably since not expanding Medicaid and costing our state over a billion dollars a year. If you have a child with an IEP then this will drastically harm your child!

The task force has not yet announced its first meeting.

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

The Path to Full Privatization of Public Schools

A former assistant commissioner in TN’s Department of Education explains how the impact of the state’s A-F grading system for schools

Tennessee has a new Commissioner of Education who is unapologetic in her zeal for privatizing the state’s public schools:

Now, a former Assistant Commissioner in the DOE says an A-F school grading system, set to be implemented this school year, is designed to further erode public support for public schools.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1701254747561279514?s=20

This should surprise no one as Gov. Bill Lee has long been an advocate of using public money to fund private school education:

And Lee wants to hand millions in state and local dollars to a Christian extremist charter school network, too:

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

TC Talks TISA

Persistent poverty plagues districts

Education blogger TC Weber joined the Tennessee Department of Education’s update to the State Board of Education on the state’s new funding formula (TISA). He filed this report with the Tennessee Star.

Here’s the part I found quite interesting:

Department data indicates that 648,000 students attend a school where 40 percent or more live in poverty.

That’s roughly 2/3 of all students.

The good news: The districts responsible for educating those students will receive a bump in funding under TISA.

The challenge: Tennessee has known about the high concentration of poverty for decades now.

It’s nice to see some bonus funding going to these districts (although BEP also had an input for poverty).

What’s not clear is what’s changing to address the systemic poverty that persists.

Tennessee policymakers could take action to address the challenges posed by entrenched poverty.

For example, the state could provide free breakfast and lunch to ALL students in the state for about $700 million.

Given that we continue to have annual budget surpluses topping $2 billion, this seems like an easy ask.

Feed all kids who come to school, no questions asked.

The state could also expand Medicaid to ensure that more families have access to healthcare.

In terms of education dollars, perhaps instead of investing $132 million in Pearson’s standardized tests, we could allocate those dollars to students in high poverty schools.

For the two thirds of students attending high poverty schools, the state must look like the banker from Monopoly – consistently collecting excess revenue while those students and their families have to wait for crumbs from the table.

Tennessee continues to find new ways to measure and assess the fact that our students face challenges from poverty and then consistently finds ways to offer solutions that do nothing to change that fact.

thoughtful man with book sitting in dark room
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on Pexels.com

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

Twice Denied

Hillsdale loses appeals in Madison, Maury counties

The Hillsdale charter network lost twice this week, with appeals to open their American Classical Academies in Madison and Maury counties denied on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

News on Madison from Nashville’s NewsChannel5:

It wasn’t just one, but 73 reasons the Jackson-Madison County School Board denied a charter school application connected to Michigan’s Hillsdale College.

The Jackson Sun newspaper reported those reasons included negative financial impact, no safety plans, lack of rigor and an unrealistic budget.

Here’s the story from Maury County in votes that happened earlier tonight:

The Hillsdale charters now have the option of appealing to Gov. Lee’s handpicked State Charter Commission.

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

Fact-Based Learning Under Fire

Tennessee teachers challenge “divisive concepts” law, say it harms students

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) joined five public school educators in filing a lawsuit challenging the state’s prohibited concepts law. The TEA says the law is unconstitutionally vague and that its enforcement could harm students.

More from NewsBreak:

According to [TEA President] Tanya Coats, the law will be harmful to Tennessee students:

“Tennessee students will fall behind their peers in other states if this law stays on the books. We are already seeing school leaders make changes to instruction and school activities due to the risk of losing state funding, facing unfair repercussions or threats to their professional standing. TEA is committed to fighting for public school educators’ right to do their job and Tennessee children’s right to a fact-based, well-rounded public education,” Coats said.

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TEA President Tanya Coats

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

Spending Big to Privatize

Tennesseans for Student Success spent heavily in 2022 to support pro-privatization candidates for office

Adam Friedman of The Tennessee Lookout has a fascinating story out about political spending in Tennessee.

The story includes notes on top donors, top lobbying spenders, and top spenders on campaigns by way of independent expenditures.

Turns out, support for privatizing public schools wins big when it comes to earning political money from Tennesseans for Student Success.

Here’s more on Tennesseans for Student Success and their agenda of shifting public money to private schools:

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

A Policy of Privatization

New education commissioner ready to implement agenda that undermines state’s public schools

Gov. Bill Lee’s new Education Commissioner, Lizette Gonzalez Reynolds, has been on the job since July 1st and says her priority will be implementing a raft of policies supported by Gov. Lee and passed by the General Assembly.

Chalkbeat has more:

Three weeks into her job as Tennessee’s education chief, Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds says her charge from Gov. Bill Lee is to implement existing major policy changes — from how reading is taught to the continued rollout of private school vouchers — not to craft new initiatives.

Privatizing the state’s public schools has long been a goal of Lee’s, and it seems he’s now chosen a chief implementer of that policy.

Of course, privatization also comes in the form of handing public dollars over to unaccountable charter school operators – like Hillsdale College.

Then, there’s the state’s dangerous new school funding formula, TISA:

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