The BEP Voucher Plan

Tennessee teacher and education blogger Mike Stein offers his take on Gov. Bill Lee’s latest run at school vouchers. This time, Lee’s plan appears to be to use the state’s school funding formula (BEP) to create a voucher scheme.

Here are some highlights from Stein’s piece, written after he’d been to one of TN DOE’s BEP Town Hall events:

I had so much to say! I wanted to mention how atrocious it is that in 2021 teachers in this state are still limited on how many copies they can make for their classrooms. I wanted to go into how students’ mental health is poor. That fights during school are on the rise because they don’t know how to properly deal with their emotions and the need for school counselors, psychologists, and social workers is at a critical point. I wanted to mention my idea for attacking the substitute teacher crisis in Tennessee, which is to include substitute teacher pay as a component in the BEP. Rural systems like mine can not afford to pay them a decent wage (they can literally make more money at any fast food establishment), so if TDOE creates a baseline pay of $120 per day for non-licensed substitute teachers that is reimbursed to districts, then we will be much more likely to attract and keep quality substitute teachers. The $120 figure comes from paying them the equivalent of $15 an hour for the length of the school day. If the substitute is a certified teacher, then I believe that amount should equal $160 per day. I wanted to raise these points–and more–but the two minute time limit had me rethinking what I was going to say.

Is the answer already decided?

. . . because in January they plan on presenting their new BEP formula to the state legislature

Stop and reflect on that last sentence. If their timeline is to present their plan in January then it can only mean one thing–it’s either already written or close to it. This means that TDOE’s public town halls and their funding review committees are either entirely or mostly a farce. They’re going through the motions of eliciting public feedback because to redo the BEP formula without attempting to do so would mean their suggestion in January would most assuredly be D.O.A.

The tea leaves are not difficult to read here. The new BEP formula will include some form of vouchers (they, of course, won’t be called that) and because the BEP funds public schools across the state, then it will not violate the “Home Rule” provision. State legislators will be put in a position to either vote in favor of the new BEP formula (which will undoubtedly include actual needed improvements that will be popular with their constituents) or reject it. It’s a lose-lose situation for them. Either support the new BEP formula that will actually privatize public schools or be accused of being against public education. 

Stein then does a great job of breaking down the members of the Fiscal Responsibility Committee – noting that many of them are decidedly pro-voucher.

Check out his post for more on Bill Lee’s continued effort to send public money to private schools.

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TN School Funding Report Card: 1 D, 2 Fs

While Gov. Bill Lee’s Administration is off discussing potential changes to state’s funding formula for schools (the BEP), a joint report from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Education Law Center indicates there’s a lot of room for growth. It’s not just how the funds are allocated, it’s also about how much – turns out, Tennessee is near the bottom in the nation when it comes to things like funding level and funding effort – we’re not putting in much money and we’re not trying very hard to change that. Lee so far has not committed to any funding increase in his proposed formula change.

When it comes to funding level, Tennessee earns a ranking of 44th in the nation and is near the bottom in the South, earning a grade of “F” on the Report Card. These numbers are adjusted for regional cost differences and so acknowledge that costs are typically lower in state like Tennessee than they are in places in the Northeast or West Coast.

Next, funding distribution. Tennessee does a little better here, coming in at a D. However, the report notes:

In Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee there is no clear variation in funding relative to student poverty. These “flat” funding distributions disadvantage students in high-poverty districts by failing to deliver the additional resources they need to close persistent achievement gaps.

Finally, funding effort. Here, Tennessee is 47th in the nation. Another F. We’re simply not trying very hard to direct money to schools.

The effort index is an important indicator of how a state prioritizes
education spending relative to its economic capacity.

In short, Tennessee has the capacity to direct significant funds toward schools, but policymakers are simply choosing NOT to do so.

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

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An Inside Look at Moms for Liberty

One brave and new political blogger takes a closer look at Moms for Liberty in Williamson County.

Here’s more from “Tennessee Politics Guy.”

Moms for Liberty is a (likely astroturfed) group of moms advocating for “parental rights” and “liberty”. Obviously, this is translated to ignoring a public health emergency and pretending racism is not and never was a problem in America. On a *completely* unrelated note, the noted Bircher Paul Skousen (whose father was also a key Bircher ideologue and whose cousin regularly appears on InfoWars) is the first person to appear on the “What Material do We Use” portion of their website.

What I found is something beyond a mere “parents’ interest” group. Unsurprisingly, the first thing the group is, before caring about parents’ rights, quality realistic education or childrens’ safety, is a vector for dangerous misinformation.

READ MORE to see the inner workings of Moms for Liberty

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

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Coming Soon: Partisan School Board Races

The Tennessee General Assembly recently adjourned a special session to address COVID-19. Among the bills that passed? Legislation permitting partisan school board races. I mean, if there’s one thing that will help local communities better respond to the challenges COVID has placed on schools, it is most certainly more partisanship.

Missing from the COVID special session was any move toward improving (increasing) funding for our state’s schools. This despite a huge state surplus and a $1.7 billion shortfall in funding.

Here’s video of one GOP Senator who opposed the effort to make school board races partisan:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1454171761939996678?s=20
pexels-photo-987585.jpeg
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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

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Power Grab

Nate Rau in Axios highlights conversations happening at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce regarding moving Nashville from an elected to an appointed School Board.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is considering a push for a major change to Nashville public schools — switching from an elected school board to one where members are appointed.

The chamber has had high-level talks on the topic with key education stakeholders, including the school board chair.

Not surprisingly, some Board members are not at all happy with this move. To be clear, the idea of appointed school board members was also floated by pro-charter former Mayor Karl Dean.

Here’s current board member Abigail Tylor talking about this latest effort to shift power away from the people:

We have to take a minute and think about why any group – be it the state or our own chamber – would want to take away local control from the people and make the school board appointed. Would the outcome be better for students if parents weren’t allowed to vote for who they think best represents their interests? Would it be better for students if the board was no longer required to have a representative from each area of the city? Would it be better for students to only have people able to garner enough attention from the mayor to get appointed? 

We actually already have a blueprint of what happens under appointed leadership. The State has the power to appoint who oversees the Achievement School District (ASD) because they claimed they knew the people who could make the best educational decisions for the worst performing schools. Within three years, the appointed superintendent who started the ASD left, admitting they cannot do any better than the locally controlled schools. He wrote, “As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.” He also admitted to underestimating the needs of struggling schools and, in the end, did not provide the gains he was so sure he knew he could produce. Were those students served better under appointed leadership? The answer has been, and continues to be, no. 

That’s the crux of it. Politicians who have never studied educational policy and have no experience working in schools constantly underestimate the true needs of our schools. The people who know what our schools need are the ones living it – the people who work in our schools and see the needs every day and the people whose children are in our schools and know what their children need to succeed. 

Is it that the Nashville Chamber really thinks the mayor would do a better job choosing a school board than the voters, or is it that they want to consolidate power and control over schools regardless of what’s truly best for our students? 

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

Education Committee Chair May Lose Post Over Federal Indictment

Senator Brian Kelsey, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee and who has long been a champion of using public money to fund private schools, is facing a federal indictment on allegations of campaign finance misconduct. This is not just a legal headache for Kelsey, though, it also may result in him losing the gatekeeping role he now plays as Committee chair.

More on this from Chalkbeat:

A McNally spokesman said later that Kelsey had not requested a hearing before the Senate’s ethics committee on whether the indictment merits suspension from his leadership position. If Kelsey does not make the request within 10 days of his indictment, Senate rules say he will be suspended as chairman for as long as the indictment is being pursued.

“Lt. Gov. McNally will enforce the Senate rules as written,” said McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider.

Kelsey’s political future is being closely watched, especially since he ascended to lead the education committee after longtime Chairwoman Dolores Gresham retired last year. The panel is the gatekeeper of hundreds of proposals annually that can affect Tennessee students, educators, and schools.

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

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A Lesson on Books from Hamilton County

Even as a cancel culture group sought to ban books from school libraries in Hamilton County, they ran into serious opposition and, well, facts.

The Tennessee Holler has some key video:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1451630393048846344?s=20

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

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Who’s Driving the Bus?

A bus driver shortage in Nashville has reached a crisis, and bus drivers are speaking out. NewsChannel 5 has the story of a severe shortage and potentially unsafe conditions for students.

Battle said they are 200 or more drivers short, and many are doubling and tripling routes, forcing kids to sit three to a seat.

She also cited safety concerns with buses being overcrowding.

Drivers held a rally this morning to highlight the challenges currently being faced. The bottom line: Buses are at capacity at all times and there simply aren’t enough drivers.

Pam Battle, who heads up the union representing bus drivers, says the drivers want better pay and benefits.

The current situation, Battle notes, is untenable. To put it simply, the job is not attractive from a pay standpoint and the safety issues under current conditions make it even less attractive.

“So, it is time for this district to sit down with me and let’s figure out a plan here because we’re headed in the wrong direction, and if they don’t wake up and listen to us, I promise a parent, it’s coming. So, they better get ready. They cannot say that ‘no one has told them.’ The board cannot say ‘they have no knowledge of this.’ Dr. Battle cannot say ‘she has no knowledge of this.’

Photo by Nick Quan on Unsplash

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Cancel Culture Group Seeking to Ban Books in Hamilton County

Moms for McCarthyism (Moms for Liberty) Seeking to Eliminate Texts that Make them Uncomfortable

The Tennessean’s Meghan Mangrum reports that Cancel Culture “mom” group Moms for Liberty is working in support of an effort by Hamilton County School Board member Rhonda Thurman to ban certain books in Hamilton County Schools.

Thurman, a long-time board member, expressed concerns in an op-ed last week over the use of curse words and references to sex and violence depicted in library books found in Hamilton County schools.

Thurman referenced four books: “More Than We Can Tell” by Brigid Kemmerer, “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas, “Far from the Tree” by Robin Benway and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and called for them to be removed.

Mangrum notes that groups representing librarians in Tennessee are opposing Thurman’s efforts:

But Tennessee librarians argue students’ “freedom to read and unfettered access to information” is protected by their First Amendment rights.

“Every book is not for every reader but every child should have access to books they may want to read. School librarians strive to know learners and assist them in finding books that fit their needs and interests. Ready access to a wide variety of reading materials increases the chances that learners will become readers and choose to read,” read a statement from the groups released Thursday.

The move in Hamilton County comes as Moms for Liberty is causing chaos in Williamson County and looking to spread its cancel culture vibe to Sumner County.

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Bill Lee’s Privatization Agenda

Tennessee Branch of Moms for McCarthyism Getting MORE National Attention

Yes, the Tennessee affiliate of a national dark money group freaked out by seahorse porn has gained even more national attention. This time, the attention comes courtesy of the “Scary Mommy” blog.

Here’s how blogger Elizabeth Broadbent sees the scene in Williamson County:

This has led Moms for Liberty parents like white mother of three Robin Steenman to say that second-graders learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. will lead them to “believing white people are oppressors and minorities are victims,” which is a gross oversimplification, but generally what was going down during the Civil Rights era, so mission accomplished!

AND:

Moms for Liberty has also publicly posted video of a homecoming parade float belonging to a Franklin, Tennessee high school’s Pride Club and hit school board meetings decrying its existence. They claim same-sex high school couples kissed in front of younger students, and you know what the Bible says about that (check your Biblical index under high school, gay, homecoming). Also, Moms For Liberty was publicly posting pictures of underage kids making out.

Then there was the seahorse incident.

Once there was a book intended for first graders. This book was called Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea, and it dared to show seahorses clasping tails and touching bellies. This sent the Karens in Franklin’s Moms for Liberty group clutching their pearls, because in case you didn’t know, that’s how seahorses mate. The Karens demanded that the book be banned, deeming it appropriate only for eighth graders. They also objected to Johnny Appleseed, calling his story “sad and dark” and said that first graders were too young “to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes.” Hurricanes, as everyone knows, are best experienced firsthand. Throw them into Hugo and let them learn in the real world!

Anyway, the whole post is worth a read for some great links exposing the antics of this very angry group.

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

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Public Money, Private Schools: A Bill Lee Story