The Future is Now

Nashville education blogger TC Weber came out strong this week with a compelling argument that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing an evolution in public education. His central premise: schools aren’t going back to “normal” after the crisis passes. Here’s a nice summary from his post:

My main point here is that if a district is treating its reopening plan as simply crisis management, and failing to adequately consider future implications, they are leaving themselves at a serious disadvantage. The time for crisis management was back in the Spring, we have since moved into the realm of evolution, and participation is not an option. If LEAs don’t develop their own future policies and protocols, others – including parents – will do it for them. The world ain’t returning to a shape that we are familiar with and the only option is to embrace and try to positively impact the future.

Read the rest here:

190 Days of NO

Ahead of a key vote by the Shelby County School Board to extend the school year there to 190 days (adding 10 days to the calendar), teachers are tweeting their disapproval.

Here’s a sample:

The Forever School Year

Apparently, that’s what’s being considered in Shelby County.

WMC-5 has more:

According to a letter sent by Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray to SCS teachers, the district is considering adding 15 days to the upcoming school year to make up for time lost when schools shut down early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlights of the plan being considered include:

Fall break changing to a four-day weekend instead of a full week

Thanksgiving break starting Wednesday instead of the full week

The school year ending June 7 for students, nine days later than scheduled

SCS estimates the cost for the plan could be between $25 million to $30 million

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Voucher Leader Jumps Ship

Today, Shelby County Director of Schools Joris Ray announced new additions to his leadership team. Among them, Amity Schuyler, previously the Tennessee Department of Education’s point person on school vouchers. Gov. Bill Lee and his team have been counting on Schuyler to fast-track the state’s voucher scheme.

Here’s the announcement via tweet:

It’s unclear what this means for the future of a voucher program that Lee chose to fund in his emergency budget while cutting a planned investment in public schools.

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Staying the Course

While Nashville’s schools are looking at budget cuts in the upcoming year, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is proposing maintaining current operational funding and investing in school construction, according to Chalkbeat.

Shelby County Schools could receive the same funding as last year for day-to-day operations and possible additional funding for school construction in the next budget year under a proposed $1.4 billion county government spending plan unveiled Monday.

Mayor Lee Harris recommended maintaining the $427 million the county allocated this year for the operating budgets for all seven of Shelby County’s school systems. Shelby County Schools, the largest district in the state, receives the bulk of that funding.

Additionally, the mayor proposed spending an additional $33 million for school construction needs in all the districts. On top of that, he proposed another $65 million for schools, including $50 million for Shelby County Schools, that he hopes will be an incentive for school leaders to rapidly build new facilities “and give more kids a first-rate learning environment.”

Harris is proposing a $16.50 increase in the vehicle registration fee in order to cover the cost of this investment.

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COVID-19 and School Budgets

Even as the coronavirus highlights the value of public schools to our communities, school systems are facing significant budget uncertainty. Chalkbeat reports on how schools in Memphis are looking ahead and what COVID-19 might mean in 2020-21 and beyond.


Before a global pandemic closed Memphis schools indefinitely, Shelby County Schools was already planning staff cuts in its central office and in schools.


As of Saturday, Superintendent Joris Ray’s administration was expecting to eliminate 139 central office positions and 115 teacher positions, according to budget documents Chalkbeat obtained. Anticipated teacher raises would be 1% after state funding cuts last week. Overall spending for the $1 billion budget would be down $11.5 million, or about 1%.


Now as the new coronavirus spreads, the proposed 2020-21 budget is constantly changing as federal, state, and local governments adjust their spending plans for education.


And county officials, who provide local funding for schools, are researching what it would cost to get virtual classrooms fully functioning while also calculating an expected decline in sales tax money as households spend less on businesses that had to close or cut back operations during the pandemic. State officials rely on sales tax money for schools and are anticipating a significant drop in revenue.


“This is going to force us to be disciplined about what we invest in,” said Michael Whaley, who leads the county commission’s education committee. He added poverty should not be the reason students do not have access to online learning. “That’s just not fair to those students. I think this lights a fire to figure out how to do this.”

Funding is down under a recently approved barebones emergency budget, including money for teacher raises and other initiatives. Gov. Bill Lee has not yet earmarked money for districts to purchase equipment to launch online classes, so only districts that already had enough laptops for every student are fully switching to digital learning.

While state funding for investments in public school decreased from Gov. Lee’s original proposal, the budget does include more than $40 million to fund vouchers.

The legislature is slated to reconvene in June and it’s possible they could address long-term budget concerns for school districts based on the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.

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Pay Boost Coming for Memphis Teachers

Amid statewide struggles to hire and retain teachers in part due to low pay, Shelby County Schools is working with local teacher unions to boost pay, Chalkbeat reports:

The starting salary for new Shelby County Schools teachers would increase to match or exceed neighboring competitors, and teachers would be annually compensated for master’s degrees under a district counterproposal presented to teacher groups on Friday.

The proposal would add $2,000 to the compensation of new district teachers, raising the starting salary to $45,000. Teachers with master’s degrees could make a salary as high as $74,000, and teachers with doctorates almost $84,000.

The negotiations in Shelby County come as districts across the state struggle to maintain fair compensation for teachers. In fact, a new analysis reveals that while inflation-adjusted state revenue has increased significantly (by 7%) over the past decade, teacher pay is down (by 2.6%) over the same time period:


So, let’s be clear about a few things: 1) State lawmakers prioritized tax cuts for wealthy Tennesseans over raising pay for teachers and 2) Even with these tax cuts, there is significant money available to fund teacher raises and 3) Now that the economy is slowing a bit, legislators are being encouraged to exercise caution — which likely means less money to invest in teacher pay and other public service needs.

The news out of Memphis is encouraging for teachers there. But, there’s a broader, state-level problem that must be addressed.

Tennessee underfunds the BEP (school funding formula) by at least $500 million year. We under-invest in teachers. The recommendations of the state’s BEP Review Committee are routinely ignored by the legislature.

When you pay as little as you possibly can for teachers while stockpiling revenue and under-resourcing schools, you are headed for a crisis.

We’re here. Kudos to Memphis/Shelby County leaders for taking steps to address it locally. It’s time for Governor Bill Lee and the General Assembly to get serious about supporting public schools.

For more on education policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

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18%

Groups representing teachers in Memphis are seeking a salary increase of up to 18%, according to a story in Chalkbeat:


Shelby County Schools teachers would be able to earn up to $86,000 annually under the highest of three proposals from the district’s two teacher associations.

That would be 18% more than the current maximum salary of $73,000.
The associations want up to a 16% boost to the district’s $43,000 minimum salary for new teachers. But Cheronda Thompson, who represented United Education Association of Shelby County, said increasing the maximum is more important.
“It’s not about how we start, it’s about how we finish,” she said during negotiations Friday afternoon. “We want to retain people. They already start good.”

The move comes as districts like Nashville struggle with teacher retention and pay significantly less than other urban districts. Additionally, suburban districts like Sumner County have moved to make meaningful improvements to teacher pay.

Teacher pay is a national crisis, but particularly problematic in Tennessee, as Chalkbeat notes:

Research shows that teachers make the most difference in a student’s academic success, but districts nationwide are struggling to recruit and retain effective educators. An often cited reason is salary, especially in states like Tennessee where the average teacher salary trails both regional and national numbers.

It’s worth noting that Governor Bill Lee has done nothing to address the teacher pay crisis, and in fact has worked to divert funds to voucher schemes and charter schools.

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

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Shelby County Commission Moves to Save Pre-K

Chalkbeat has the story of the Shelby County Commission committing local funds to preserve 1000 Pre-K seats previously funded by federal dollars:

Shelby County commissioners signed off Monday on $2.5 million in new prekindergarten funding — replacing federal early childhood funds that are expiring June 30.

The “seed funding” is part of a total $8 million commitment from Shelby County Schools and from city and county governments to preserve 1,000 pre-K seats for the upcoming school year. A federal grant had previously covered these seats, serving some of the neediest 4-year-olds throughout Shelby County.

The multi-year local funding effort will gradually increase over the next three years, while also leveraging private philanthropic dollars.

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