Lock Them Up?!

Will Tennessee librarians face criminal liability?

In May, I wrote about legislative attempts to criminalize school librarians if so-called “objectionable” books were found in the stacks of their libraries.

Apparently, the incoming District Attorney in Chattanooga is willing to consider criminal liability along these lines as she indicates in the video below.

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1557428224426123265?s=20&t=eLmbicmAoymaGgA6Nucd3w

Also, she mentions she’s besties with Moms for Liberty.

Will Moms for Liberty be giving Wamp and the Sheriff a list of books which, if present, should result in prosecution?

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What’s the Rush?

Gov. Bill Lee has moved quickly to implement his school voucher scheme as courts have cleared the way for it to start this school year.

So far, though, not many families are expressing serious interest.

The Tennessean reports that as of the first day of school in Memphis and Nashville (the only two districts eligible for vouchers), only 30 applications had been submitted for approval.

As of Monday morning, only 30 families had submitted an actual application, according to information from Department of Education spokesperson Brian Blackley. The department received applications from 40 schools, he said, noting that application process has closed.

While Lee has claimed that several thousand families want the vouchers, that has not yet been borne out in the application process.

MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Back to School 2022

Team Kid’s Privatization Payroll

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$26 Million Harm

Voucher case proceeds despite imminent harm to Memphis, Nashville

A three-judge panel on Friday declined to stop Gov. Bill Lee’s rushed implementation of a school voucher scheme in Memphis and Nashville.

Chalkbeat reports that lawyers for parents opposing the voucher plan had asked the court to halt implementation while their case against vouchers proceeds.

Specifically, lawyers noted that if implementation proceeds, Memphis and Nashville combined could lose up to $26 million in funding this year despite no attendant reduction in costs to operate.

“Nothing requires the state defendants to push this forward at a rocket’s pace after the injunction was lifted, just before the school year started,” said Allison Bussell, Metro Nashville’s associate law director, representing the two local governments.

She argued that allowing the program to start will cause irreparable harm to both districts, which she said stand to lose $26 million this school year if 3,000 students shift from public to private schools — while the districts must maintain and staff the same number of schools. 

A recent article in The Hechinger Report noted that vouchers have not been shown to improve student achievement, and in fact, have in some cases been shown to actually be harmful.

Vouchers are dangerous to American education. They promise an all-too-simple solution to tough problems like unequal access to high-quality schools, segregation and even school safety. In small doses, years ago, vouchers seemed like they might work, but as more states have created more and larger voucher programs, experts like me have learned enough to say that these programs on balance can severely hinder academic growth — especially for vulnerable kids.

So, vouchers not only cost local districts significant money, but they also harm the very students they are intended to help. Nevertheless, Gov. Lee and his allies are persisting with this perilous plan.

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Team Kid’s Payroll

Dark money PAC spends nearly $400,000 to promote school privatization

I’ve written before about Tennesseans for Student Success – a group with an innocuous sounding name that is actually a front for dark money issue advocacy and political shenanigans related to privatization of public schools.

I also reported that this dark money, pro-privatization group started a political action committee (PAC) called “Team Kid PAC” with a clear mission of influencing policy by electing candidates who support shifting public money to private schools.

It seems Team Kid is making a move – getting involved in state elections in the 2022 cycle.

According to disclosures filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, Team Kid has received $500,000 in contributions from Tennesseans for Student Success this summer.

Of course, they’re also spending.

The group has made contributions to the campaigns of Democratic Senators London Lamar and Raumesh Akbari as well as Republican Senators Jack Johnson, Bill Powers, and Shane Reeves.

Powers, some may recall, broke his campaign promise to oppose vouchers in his first vote as a new state Senator.

Other recipients of Team Kid cash include House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Rep. Chris Hurt, and House candidates Elaine Davis, Gabriel Fancher, Deanna McLaughlin, William Slater, Joseph Barrett, Gino Bulso, Michael Hale, Brock Martin, Jacob McCalmon. The group is also backing Senate candidate Adam Lowe.

Hale is challenging Republican and reliable anti-voucher vote Terri Lynn Weaver. Slater is running in a three-way race in Sumner County and his campaign focuses on his support for vouchers. He previously served as Head of School at Hendersonville Christian Academy.

A Clear Privatization Agenda

The candidates Team Kid is backing, then, demonstrate a clear privatization agenda.

In addition to the $1200 contributions to each of these candidates, the group is spending big on polling, phones, and advertisting.

In their most recently filed disclosure, Team Kid reports spending nearly $400,000 to influence today’s primary.

What does Team Kid – and their sole funder, Tennesseans for Student Success, want?

They want to shift public money to private schools by way of charters and vouchers and they want to help elect lawmakers who will advance this agenda.

Where does the money come from?

That’s a great question.

100% of the contributions indicated on Team Kid’s PAC disclosure are from Tennesseans for Student Success.

TSS is a nonprofit, so that means heading over to Guidestar to check out their IRS 990.

The most recent 990 available at Guidestar is from 2019 (contributions made in 2018). Here’s the thing: When it gets to the contribution element, it simply says “restricted.”

The group took in more than $2 million and there’s no information on who gave the money.

This is like doubling down on dark money. There’s a PAC with a disclosure form. The PAC discloses all of its funds come from a nonprofit. The nonprofit’s most recently available tax form contains information from four years ago. That information sheds exactly zero light on who is funding the group.

Tristar Reads

Tennesseans for Student Success also promotes a program called “Tristar Reads.” It’s a program that essentially promotes K-12 students reading over the summer.

Here’s some of the social media promotion they’ve done for it:

The group’s 2018 990 form shows they spent just over $4000 on Tristar Reads.

By contrast, they’ve spent $400,000 just this summer on electing candidates who plan to pilfer the public purse for the sake of privatization.

brave doctor in flying superhero cape with fist stretched
Photo by Klaus Nielsen on Pexels.com

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PAC Spending in Memphis School Board Race

Chalkbeat has the story of PAC spending in races for Memphis/Shelby County School Board.

A Memphis political action committee dedicated to improving economic and social mobility in Shelby County and across Tennessee poured nearly $40,000 into four Memphis-Shelby County Schools board races.

Candidates Rachael Spriggs in District 1, Tim Green in District 6, Amber Huett-Garcia in District 8, and Rebecca Edwards in District 9 each received an $8,300 donation from TN Prosperity PAC, according to recent campaign finance filings. The other two candidates for District 1, current board Chair Michelle McKissack and former Chair Chris Caldwell, each received $2,500.

The story notes other significant donors in the school board races:

  • Memphis PACE, which is the political action committee for the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, the larger of two MSCS teachers unions.
  • The Leadership for Educational Equity PAC, a national nonprofit leadership development organization “inspiring and supporting a network of civic leaders to end the injustice of educational inequity,” according to its website.
  • Leaders in Education Fund PAC of Washington, D.C.

MORE EDUCATION NEWS

Back to School in the Age of Teacher Shortages

A Rejection for Hillsdale

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Hillsdale on the March

Despite rhetoric from GOP legislators suggesting that Tennessee will “sever ties” with controversial Hillsdale College, it now appears that all three charter schools with a Hillsdale affiliation are appealing to the State Charter Commission to overturn local school board decisions. If approved, the charter schools would open in Madison, Montgomery, and Rutherford counties in 2023.

While I don’t normally do this, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that the Hillsdale charters will all be approved. Believe me, I’d love to write a story about the denial of all three applications. But that won’t happen.

Here’s the deal: When you vote for Bill Lee’s charter commission, you vote to allow Lee to override local school boards and install whatever charter he likes. When you vote to open the door to charters, you vote to erode local control. When you fail to stop Lee’s agreement with Hillsdale during the 2022 legislative session, you have already decided the wishes of your local school board and county commission don’t matter. By supporting Lee’s backdoor privatization agenda, you have told voters in your communities that they don’t matter.

This development is not at all surprising. It is exactly the kind of scheme Bill Lee promised even before he was a candidate for governor back in 2018. It is what his campaign was about. If there was any doubt, he erased it 100% in his 2022 State of the State.

These three counties are not the end. If Lee and his General Assembly allies have their way, there will be 50 or more Hillsdale charters in communities across the state. Vouchers, too, will take public dollars and funnel them to private schools.

This has been the plan all along, and Bill Lee is executing that plan no matter what he says in the face of pressure from reporters.

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Disproportionate Harm

The plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits against the State of Tennessee and Gov. Bill Lee regarding Lee’s school voucher scheme are again asking the courts to grant an injunction and prevent implementation of the plan.

A previous injunction was lifted and Lee announced his Department of Education would move quickly to usher vouchers in to Memphis and Nashville this school year.

Here’s more from Public Funds for Public Schools via a press release:

Following Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s announcement that the state immediately will begin implementing its controversial private school voucher program for the school year starting in just a few weeks, public school parents and community members in the targeted counties are going back to court to stop this sudden and unprecedented rollout.

The plaintiffs in McEwen v. Lee, a pending 2020 lawsuit filed by Shelby and Davidson County residents that challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher law, filed an urgent motion Friday asking the Davidson County Chancery Court to block the state from rolling out vouchers for the 2022-2023 school year.

“This unconstitutional program will drain resources from our public schools, and our lawsuit challenging it has not yet been decided,” said plaintiff Roxanne McEwen, whose child is a student in Metro Nashville Public Schools. “Rushing to implement the voucher program before the court has spoken will only create needless chaos for our public schools and for Tennessee families.”

Friday’s motion explains the immediate and irreparable harm that would result from the state’s extremely rushed plan to hand out vouchers for the coming school year. Disbursing those funds, which are drawn from public school district budgets, would throw public schools into chaos weeks before the school year begins. And handing out vouchers that could be declared unconstitutional shortly thereafter would leave families that used them to enroll in private schools mired in uncertainty.

“The state cannot be permitted to recklessly barrel ahead with an unconstitutional program at the expense of Nashville and Memphis public schools that desperately need more, not less, funding and resources,” said Chris Wood, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP. “We are again asking the court to enjoin the voucher program while the judges rule on the numerous constitutional and statutory violations asserted by the plaintiffs.”

This is the second time the McEwen plaintiffs have called on the chancery court to halt implementation of the voucher program before the state diverts taxpayer funds to unaccountable private schools. In 2020, the chancery court ruled in a companion case challenging the voucher law, Metro Government v. Tennessee Department of Education, that it violated the Home Rule provision of the Tennessee Constitution by targeting only Shelby and Davidson Counties without their local approval and prohibited the state from starting the program.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, but the state Supreme Court reversed it earlier this year in a split decision, sending the case back to the chancery court. The chancery court lifted its 2020 injunction of the voucher law on July 13 as a result of the Supreme Court decision. The state initially told the court that it had not decided on a course of action, but Governor Lee released a statement just hours later declaring that implementation would proceed immediately.

The plaintiffs in McEwen v. Lee are represented by the law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, the ACLU of Tennessee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Education Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Education Law Center collaborate on the national Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) campaign.

“There are numerous unresolved legal claims in both the McEwen and Metro Government lawsuits,” said Jessica Levin, senior attorney at Education Law Center and director of PFPS. “The temporary injunction motion filed by the McEwen plaintiffs on Friday focuses on their claim that the voucher law violates the Education Clause of the Tennessee Constitution – which requires the state to provide education solely through a system of public schools – by funding private schools outside that system.”

Private schools participating in the voucher program are not obligated to comply with the academic, accountability, and governance standards that apply to public schools. And unlike public schools, they can discriminate against students on the basis of religion, LGBTQ+ status, and other characteristics, as well as refuse to provide services such as special education for students with disabilities.

“Defunding public schools through voucher schemes like this one also disproportionately harms Black and brown children and children experiencing poverty, who have been overrepresented in public schools since private segregation academies were first funded by segregationist lawmakers across the South,” explained Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Children with the greatest needs, who are welcomed and served by our public schools, are left with fewer resources when the state acts to deplete the funds intended to educate all children. So not only is this law unconstitutional, it funds discrimination, and it is racially and economically unjust.”

“Taking money away from already underfunded public school districts and sending taxpayer dollars to private schools, many of which are religious, hurts Tennessee students,” said Lindsay Kee, interim director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “We will continue to stand with public school parents and students to fight this unconstitutional program until it is struck down for good.”

More information about McEwen v. Lee is available here.

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So Much for Severing Ties

While the controversy over remarks made by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn has Republicans – including Gov. Bill Lee – arguing with Bill Lee’s vision for a Hillsdale takeover of Tennessee public education, that hasn’t stopped Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools from continuing the quest for Tennessee tax dollars.

Phil Williams of NewsChannel5 reports that a Hillsdale-affiliated charter school in Madison County has appealed to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission to overturn the local decision to reject the school:

And, as Williams notes, while the school claims to be “separate” from Hillsdale, the top three proposed board members (Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary) are all current employees of Hillsdale.

I’ve written a lot about Hillsdale, and you can find a good summary of that here.

If, as Gov. Lee most recently said, a group of Hillsdale charter’s is “not his vision,” then now would be a good time for him to speak up and discourage the American Classical Academy from pursuing its appeal.

Of course, he won’t do that. While I’d love to write an article that says the state charter board has denied this appeal (and the likely similar appeals in Montgomery and Rutherford counties), I seriously doubt that will be the case.

Here’s what American Classical has to say about its work in Tennessee:

K-5 CLASSICAL CHARTER SCHOOLS WILL OPEN IN THESE TENNESSEE COUNTIES IN FALL 2023 (emphasis added).

It doesn’t say they’ve applied to open, or that in cooperation with local school boards, they plan to open. It says, “will open.”

And, despite the resounding rejection by local school boards, American Classical is appealing to the state charter commission which could greenlight them to open in 2023.

The American Classical site also includes this note about the schools it (so far) plans to open in 2023:

Montgomery County Classical Academy will begin by serving Kindergarten-Grade 5 with a planned enrollment of 325 students in our first year and add a grade each year until the school can offer a complete K-12 classical education experience.

That same verbiage is included in Madison and Rutherford counties.

Here’s the deal: 2023 is the first year of school funding under the new, TISA model. This means the charters stand to get more money – based of just under $7000 per student PLUS weights for a variety of categories.

Taking it at just the base, though, each of these districts stands to lose nearly $2.3 million in funding in YEAR ONE of the charter school opening.

While it may SEEM that the transfer of students would lead to a corresponding reduction in local costs, it likely won’t. First, it’s not like these students will all come from the same zone or school, so reducing staff at schools is unlikely. At best, you’d be looking at 2-3 teaching position reductions.

The districts, though, will still have the same fixed costs – transportation, building operation and maintenance, etc. They’ll just have about $2 million LESS to use to operate.

Here’s some insight from the costs associated with charters in Nashville:

In short, thanks to Bill Lee’s vision (the one he’s now trying to unsee), these three districts are likely to see a significant funding hit in 2023. And Hillsdale is likely to be cashing in on Tennessee tax dollars to advance its agenda of evangelical exceptionalism.

Photo by Akinori UEMURA on Unsplash

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Knox County School Board Endorsements

Here’s a great breakdown of the Knox County School Board races from a local blogger. In it, he explains why he thinks school board races are so important this year:

Probably the biggest threat to public education is the charter school movement. Designed at its heart to divert funding from public schools to private, often religious, schools, it serves as an existential threat to a free and equal public education in the United States. While “school choice” is an appealing phrase, the reality is that these schools diminish funding where most middle and lower socio-economic status children attend to give a tailored, often much less regulated, experience for those who desire their children to be segregated.

When it comes to endorsements, here are the recommendations:

District 1 – John Butler

District 4 – Katherine Bike

District 6 – Phillip Sherman

District 7 – Dominique Oakley

District 9 – Annabel Henley

Reasons for the endorsements are offered in each case along with a plea to restore some sanity to the overall operation of the School Board.

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Flat-Out Wrong

That’s how Bruce VanWyngarden describes Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher scheme. Yes, the very same scheme Lee is rushing to get up and running THIS school year.

Here’s VanWyngarden in the Memphis Flyer:

Which is why every human being in Tennessee should be absolutely outraged at Governor Bill Lee, who is relentlessly fostering the destruction of our public schools via a voucher system in which parents play the middleman between our state treasury and private schools to the tune of $7,000 per family. It’s flat-out wrong, and it’s using money that rightfully should be going to public schools. If people want to send their children to private schools, let them have at it, just don’t ask the taxpayers to cover the note.

He then goes on to detail the current Hillsdale controversy and note that Lee is selling our public schools to private entities with a very clear agenda.

Reports suggest voucher opponents are making one more attempt in court to stop the “rushed” implementation of the voucher program this year.

Whether or not they succeed, VanWyngarden is right: Vouchers are wrong for Tennessee.

pexels-photo-987585.jpeg
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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