$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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Faith Leaders Raise Objections to TISA

From NewsBreak:

In a media event, a group of pastors and parents affiliated with the Southern Christian Coalition said Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding formula proposal, known as TISA, fails to provide adequate funding for all Tennessee schools.

Rev. Laura Becker, Pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, opened the virtual press conference sharing that her children have been in the Hamilton Public School system since 2008. “We are here today as pastors in the state of Tennessee, calling on our legislature to adequately fund our public schools, and invest and care for the children of Tennessee, knowing that they are each made in the image of God. 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, from threats to dissolve school boards, to corporate private charter schools that make money from public schools, Tennessee’s Supermajority Republicans are doing everything to avoid dealing with the fact that Tennessee provides less in state funding per student than almost any other state in the country. 

Becker specifically addressed the TISA school funding overhaul being advanced by Lee:

“I’ve been following some of Governor Lee’s new school funding plan usually called TISA, and unfortunately, it just isn’t enough and it isn’t right. Instead of addressing the issue at the root by funding our public schools as much as every other state, this new funding plan would still require too much funding from local governments.

“This so-called ‘student centered funding approach’ shows a clear motive of Gov. Lee and the Supermajority Republicans that they have of privatizing our public schools and turning our tax dollars over to private schools and corporate funded charter schools.”

Rev. Dr. Donna Whitney also shared why public school funding is a priority to her as her daughters graduated from Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“The goal of our school funding system should be to ensure that all children, all children, no matter where they live, or the challenges they face, have the opportunity for a public education that prepares them to be responsible and productive citizens. The purpose of funding public education is to ensure that there are adequate resources to serve the educational requirements of all children. And that funding is distributed equitably, so that all children can access equal educational opportunities.

“Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s TISA funding plan is neither adequate nor equitable, while claiming to be student centered, the TISA plan now before our legislature is anything but truly student centered. TISA is actually corporate centered, using students as vehicles to escort dollars, our public tax dollars out of public schools and into corporate treasuries.”

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Extreme Privatization

If you are wondering what it looks like when school privatizers are close to total victory, Tennessee is a prime example. Here, the forces that want to take public money and hand it over to private entities are on the verge of completing their conquest. 

Tennessee’s current legislative session features a range of attacks on public schools. Some of these would have immediate impacts, while others take a longer-term approach to fully privatizing K-12 education in the state.

First, it is important to understand that groups backing privatization in the form of charter schools and vouchers are among the top spenders when it comes to lobbying state legislators. For example, the American Federation for Children—an organization founded and previously led by the family of Betsy DeVos, a school privatization advocate and former President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education—spent $887,500. Another big spender, the Tennessee Charter School Center, spent $732,500.

Based on this year’s full-frontal assault, these investments appear to be paying off. There are three key issues that currently pose the most significant threat to Tennessee’s public schools. They include: a partnership with Hillsdale College, a private fundamentalist Christian college in Michigan, to run fifty or more charter schools; legislation that would create a charter school real estate grab; and school funding reforms that set the stage for a statewide voucher program.

In his State of the State address, Governor Bill Lee restated his commitment to set aside $32 million to help launch new charters in Tennessee and announced the Hillsdale College partnership, which could bring close to fifty Hillsdale-run charter schools into the state. 

Beyond the use of public funds to open schools run by a private, Christian college, there is reason to be concerned about the nature of the Hillsdale curriculum. As educator and blogger Peter Greene explained,  “[Hillsdale President Larry] Arnn has been a Trump supporter, and the college has fallen right into MAGAland as well. . . . The college uses Trump mailing lists to raise money. They used to sponsor Rush Limbaugh’s show. They get grads placed on the staff of legislators such as Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy.” 

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Of course, any charter schools—Hillsdale or otherwise—must be approved by a local school board, right? Wrong! Tennessee’s State Charter Commission, created by Lee, can override local decisions. And Lee is now seeking to expand the authority of this unelected body. 

Legislation currently advancing in the state Senate (SB2168/HB2833) would allow charter schools to apply directly to the State Charter Commission. This means a group of unelected appointees of a pro-privatization governor could decide to place charter schools in districts where the local elected officials and public don’t want them.

Another part of the same bill creates a real estate grab for charter operators. The relevant section states:

The proposed legislation authorizes a public charter school operating in the LEA to have a right of first refusal to: lease at an annual cost not to exceed the annual capital funding received by the public charter school leasing the building; or purchase at or below fair market value any underutilized or vacant property submitted by the LEA under this section. 

Just to be clear, public money in the form of local property taxes pays for facilities run by public schools. Should this new legislation pass and become law, an unelected state board will be able to place charter schools in a district, and those charter schools can take over public buildings at a reduced cost. So much for the free market.

Potentially millions of dollars worth of real estate assets in local districts across Tennessee could soon be up for grabs at prices below market value. No wonder privatizers tied to the charter industry have spent $8 million lobbying the legislature.

The final element in the push for privatization is being billed as a “reform” of the state’s school funding formula. Governor Lee recently released his plan to revamp how the state directs money to local school districts for public schools. The bottom line, according to Lee, is that the approach is “student-centered” and that funds “follow the child” no matter what. This plan is based on model legislation from the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

This statement, first of all, creates the erroneous impression that charter schools operate as “public” schools. Although called public schools under Tennessee law (as in most states), these schools function with less government oversight and an array of private operations, from real estate management to the sourcing of substitute teachers to overall school management.

Second, the proposed change to school funding is quite simply the gateway to a full-on voucher scheme. As Tennessee teacher Mike Stein wrote on his personal blog, the final form of funding reform is a workaround for a school voucher law that Lee enacted and was ruled unconstitutional

Step one, according to Stein, is to create a funding allocation for each individual student; step two is to allow that funding to follow the individual student to whatever “public” school they attend; and step three is to let parents take these funds to any school, public or private.

The short-term impact of this formula would be an influx of funds to charter schools and their operators. In the long term, a transition to a fully operational “choice” economy of schools seems likely.

Lee has been fighting to redirect public money to private schools since before he was elected governor. It now looks like a fight he’s poised to win. And if he does, defenders of public education should learn to resist next time the small, subtle cuts to public education that he used to lay the groundwork.

This piece originally appeared in The Progressive

Frequent Flyer?

Gov. Bill Lee has come under fire for a controversial plan to invite Hillsdale College in Michigan to run 50 or more charter schools in Tennessee.

Now, WKRN in Nashville reports that taxpayers funded a trip by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn to a conference at Hillsdale.

With the governor’s new education spending plan, that could mean public dollars going to Hillsdale, a private Christian school in Michigan with close ties to former President Donald Trump’s administration.

According to the Transparent Tennessee website, in June of 2021, Tennessee taxpayers paid for Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s trip to Hillsdale to attend the school’s ‘American Classical Education 2021 Summer Conference”.

According to WKRN, Lee’s office said of the interactions with Hillsdale:

“We have invited Hillsdale to undergo the application process in an effort to introduce another high-quality k-12 public education option for Tennessee students.”

But here’s what Lee said about Hillsdale in his State of the State:

Two years ago, I traveled to Hillsdale College to participate in a Presidents Day celebration and spend time with champions of American exceptionalism.

For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty.

I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are formalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education.

So, the press statement suggesting that Hillsdale has been “invited to apply” sounds a lot different than Lee’s words saying that Tennessee is “formalizing a partnership.” How does one walk back a nearly formalized partnership and turn it into a mere “invitation to undergo an application?” Does Hillsdale know Lee is backtracking amid pressure? Or is Lee attempting to obfuscate what is likely already a done deal?

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Privatizers of a Feather

Flock together.

More on SCORE:

And Tennesseans for Student Success:

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The Charter Agenda

In two tweets, Metro Nashville Councilmember John Rutherford explains the school privatization agenda by way of charter schools:

Gov. Bill Lee has always been a proponent of privatization:

The call Rutherford received and his summary of it in two tweets makes it abundantly clear: The agenda is to circumvent local school boards and allow the state to funnel public money to private entities.

Lee even outlined such a scheme in his State of the State:

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A Call for Local Control

The Williamson County school board voted unanimously to oppose Gov. Lee’s plan to allow charter schools to bypass local school boards and appeal directly to Lee’s state charter commission.

That Lee continues to aggressively push a privatization agenda should come as no surprise:

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$8 Million

That’s how much groups seeking to privatize Tennessee’s public schools are spending lobbying the General Assembly, according to an analysis by NewsChannel5.

In a story on lobbying expenditures, NewsChannel5 noted that among the “big spenders” were school privatization groups:

Privatization groups pushing charter schools and school vouchers: just under $8 million over the past five years.

With Gov. Bill Lee at the helm, it seems that big money is paying off. Just last month, Lee announced plans to hand over millions in Tennessee tax dollars to a private, Christian college in Michigan to run a network of 50-100 charter schools in the state.

As 2022 is an election year, these special interests seeking to access Tennessee’s treasury to advance their financial interests will also have an opportunity to make campaign contributions. This means they can wine and dine lawmakers and the Governor during the legislative session and then cozy up to them by way of campaign cash in election season.

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About Hillsdale

Gov. Bill Lee is proposing to hand over millions in Tennessee tax dollars to a private, Christian college in Michigan to run between 50-100 “charter schools” in the state.

Lee wants charter schools because they won’t need a voucher plan to be funded – they can just apply for charters (possibly directly from a state charter authorizer, bypassing local school boards) – and then receive public money.

Sure, handing over public money to a private entity to run schools is problematic. But what is Hillsdale all about? I mean, if TN is going to go down this road, we should certainly understand more about the college that has been chosen by Lee to run schools.

Good news! Peter Greene digs into Hillsdale and offers a useful exploration of the history of Hillsdale and how it runs the schools it runs.

Here are some highlights:

[Hillsdale President Larry] Arnn has been a Trump supporter, and the college has fallen right into MAGAland as well. Or as Politico Magazine put it in 2018Trump University never died. It’s located in the middle of bucolic southern Michigan, halfway between Lansing and Fort Wayne, 100 miles and a world away from Detroit.

The college uses Trump mailing lists to raise money. They used to sponsor Rush Limbaugh’s show. They get grads placed on the staff of legislators such as Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy. In 2017, for some reason, Senator Pat Toomey created a little piece of tax reform that would have carved out a tax treat for Hillsdale alone.

If you want to see Hillsdale really letting its freak flag fly, scan through its newsletter Imprimiswith articles like “The Disaster at Our Southern Border” (VP Harris’s report is “bunk”), “The January 6 Insurrection Hoax” (Donald Trump was awesome and robbed and Jan 6 has been overhyped as part of a vast conspiracy), and an explanation of inflation that rests on Milton Friedman’s awesomeness. All of these, it should be noted, are versions of lectures delivered at the college. 

It should come as no surprise that Hillsdale is home to a lot of privatizing thought about education, like a 2018 piece by Professor Gary Wolfram explaining why schools should be run via the free market. And then-secretary Betsy DeVos made Hillsdale the site of one of her most explicit speeches arguing that schools should be taken back from the government and run by free-market Christianity.

This line from Politico may more clearly explain Lee’s enthusiasm for Hillsdale:

Trump University never died. It’s located in the middle of bucolic southern Michigan, halfway between Lansing and Fort Wayne, 100 miles and a world away from Detroit.

READ MORE from Greene on the Hillsdale experiment Bill Lee wants in Tennessee.

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Exceptionally Bad

Gov. Bill Lee made clear in his State of the State that he is a proponent of an alternative history known as “American exceptionalism.”

This theory is grounded in a sort of American evangelicalism – and certainly has strong ties to far-right Christian movements. To advance his “exceptionalism agenda” Lee has announced a partnership with conservative Hillsdale College – a private, Christian school in Michigan. Yes, Tennessee is such a great example of exceptionalism that we have to turn to a private college from Michigan to “properly” teach history.

Here’s a note on that from Lee’s speech:

Two years ago, I traveled to Hillsdale College to participate in a Presidents Day celebration and spend time with champions of American exceptionalism.

For decades, Hillsdale College has been the standard bearer in quality curriculum and the responsibility of preserving American liberty.

I believe their efforts are a good fit for Tennessee, and we are formalizing a partnership with Hillsdale to expand their approach to civics education and K-12 education.

WPLN reports that public education advocates are raising concerns about the transfer of Tennessee tax dollars to a private, religious institution:

Lee has made a deal with a conservative college to open about 50 charter schools in the state.

Lee has made a deal with Hillsdale College, a small Christian liberal arts school in Michigan, to bring their civic education and K-12 curriculum to Tennessee.

Beth Brown, the [Tennessee Education] association’s president, says there is no need to bring in outsiders to implement a new curriculum or to set aside $32 million for new charter schools, a key element in the proposal.

“The concern is that we’re taking taxpayer dollars and we’re going to take those taxpayer dollars away from our public schools and give them to private entities,” said Brown.

It’s noteworthy, too, that Lee cited Ronald Reagan in his address:

I recently watched President Reagan’s farewell address, made just before he left office in January of 1989.

As many other Presidents have done, his farewell address includes a warning to the American people.

He reminds us that what we want to have in this country is “informed patriotism.”

Lee claims that he has been inspired by Reagan’s words. This inspiration is ostensibly the impetus for the focus on an American exceptionalism curriculum from Hillsdale College.

Of course, Reagan is no stranger to efforts to dismantle public education and turn schools over to those on the extreme right of the political spectrum.

In fact, a June piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by education journalists Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider point out that today’s privatization movement has roots in Reaganism:

This crusade against public higher education eerily presaged today’s school culture wars. Where Reagan made a target of ethnic studies and tried to keep Angela Davis, a member of the Communist Party, from teaching philosophy at UCLA, today’s bogeyman is critical race theory or CRT — a legal theory that has become a vague catchall for grievances of the sort that Reagan weaponized so effectively. To date, laws aimed at restricting how public school teachers talk about race and racism have been proposed in 22 states and signed into law in five.

Public schools, GOP leaders have argued, are teaching children to believe that the country is inherently bad. But just as Reagan used his anti-campus campaign to undermine support for public higher education, his disciples are motivated by a similar cause. For a Republican party that has grown increasingly hostile to public education, the K-12 culture war is also an opportunity to advance the cause of school privatization.

State legislators, meanwhile, have introduced a flurry of bills aimed at cutting funds from schools with curricula that the GOP deems unacceptable. In Michigan, a proposed measure would cut 5% of funding if school districts teach “anti-American” ideas about race in America, material from the 1619 Project, or critical race theory. In Tennessee, a new law empowers the state’s education chief to withhold funds from schools found to be teaching components of critical race theory.

The constant drumbeat that public schools are indoctrinating children, however, serves as a powerful nudge to parents to flee them. If their tax dollars are paying for something they’re opposed to, then maybe privatization isn’t such a terrible idea after all. This was Reagan’s move.

This, then, gets to the heart of Lee’s education “reform” agenda. He’s overhauling the school funding formula (BEP) to make it “student-centered.” While his voucher scheme languishes in the courts, Lee is taking the first steps to create a new funding formula that builds a bridge to vouchers. Don’t like all the “indoctrination” at your local school? Take that state money and hand it over to a Hillsdale charter school that proudly evangelizes about America’s “good old days.”

Here’s how he phrases it in the speech:

I’m proposing an innovative approach that sets aside dollars for each student, based on their individual needs, and these dollars will be used in whatever public school they attend.

Guess what? Hillsdale’s charter schools would be public schools under Tennessee law – Lee is proposing handing over state money to a private, religious college to run “public” schools.

Ronald Reagan would most certainly be very proud of the division and discord Lee is sowing in the name of turning public money over to private, right-wing Christian school operators.

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