Bill Lee’s Impact Fee

Governor Bill Lee is responsible for a fee increase that passed in Williamson County last night. The Tennessean reports that the Williamson County Commission passed an increase in the Education Impact Fee assessed on new homes.

One of the reasons cited for passing the impact fee increase was the “BEP deficit.” More on that:

Story also cited the state’s minimum contribution the the county’s portion of the state’s Basic Education Plan formula, pointing out that the state pays approximately 40% of Williamson County Schools cost per pupil, while the county picks up the rest.

“Every child that comes in, expands that deficit in terms of how much we have to pay.”

It’s worth noting here that the Republican Comptroller of the Treasury notes Tennessee underfunds public schools by at least $500 million.

It’s also worth noting that if Phil Bredesen’s BEP 2.0 were fully-funded, Williamson County would receive at least $1.6 million more in state funds each year.

Bill Lee’s failure to address the BEP deficit is, at least in part, responsible for the Williamson County impact fee increase. Instead of adding funds to the BEP, Lee is trying to fast-track an unproven voucher scheme.

I just hope all those realtors who showed up with stickers at the Williamson County Commission will vote against the guy (Bill Lee) who made the impact fee necessary.

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

Your support$5 or more today — helps make publishing education news possible.

White the Power

Apparently, the all-white, mostly Republican Williamson County School Board is really a front for leftist political indoctrination. At least, that’s the impression you’d get if you read a recent email sent by the Williamson County Republican Party in order to recruit candidates to run for School Board in 2020.

It seems some in the local Republican Party leadership are a little too comfortable in their white privilege. Or, they just don’t like reality. Or, the Williamson County School Board really is run by a bunch of raging leftists disguised as upper middle class white folks living in the state’s wealthiest (and most Republican) county.

If you believe this email, you might also believe Jay Sekulow’s lies about the Muslim takeover of Social Studies in Tennessee. You might also think that Eric Welch is best friends with AOC. Or that Rick Wimberly hangs out with “the Squad.”

Calm down, Williamson County.

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

Your support$5 or more today — helps make publishing education news possible.

The Looney Letter

Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney, who will depart this summer for a Superintendent job in Atlanta, penned this letter to his community:

As I contemplated penning my final message as the school superintendent for Williamson County Schools, I found inspiration in Walt Whitman’s words, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”

I had the great honor of interviewing for the Williamson County Schools superintendent position in the Fall of 2009. At that time, the Williamson County School Board was chaired by the ever-graceful Ms. Pat Anderson. If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Pat, she is a must meet. She has an uncanny knack for being Southern-style, gentle and strong at the same time. She and 11 other smart, passionate and engaged school board members took a risk and hired me as WCS’s next superintendent.

Wow, that was nearly ten years ago! The Board had a common vision: advance student outcomes in an already high-performing school district.

We were relentless in our pursuit. We focused on increasing rigor in all classrooms, worked on building more effective relationships with our students and refined our curriculum to ensure student learning expectations were relevant. It worked. Our students and teachers leaned in, worked hard and our community began reaping the benefit. We struck academic gold.

For the past decade, our students, with the support of their parents and teachers, have shattered every conceivable district academic record. We have expanded arts education, won countless athletic titles and changed the trajectory of lives one student at a time. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch it unfold and to have been a small part of it all.

This line of work isn’t for the faint of heart, as not everyone welcomed the district’s new direction. One might say that we had our moments. During the last decade, there have been thousands of vocal supporters lending a hand and at times seemingly as many fierce critics all who have taken the time to engage. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wished for it to be any other way.

Our schools are better for everyone’s involvement and for that I am deeply thankful.

Most of all, I am grateful for the students even in the times when they harassed me about snow days, didn’t study properly for exams or did something mischievous. I have loved being a small part of their lives. They’ve made me smile with joy, grit my teeth out of frustration, but most of all inspired me in indefinable ways.

I will end as any Marine would by fighting like hell to the end for this community’s children. Far too many neglected, abused and fragile children still need help in our community. Everyone knows it, but lack of funding and divisive politics continues to hold us back from making progress on these battle fronts. Schools should be accountable for results but also must receive adequate funding at all levels.

Williamson County needs state leaders who value public education and make decisions based on research and reputable sources, rather than being influenced by campaign donations from PACs or lobbyists. This community needs its elected officials to move beyond the vitriol and divisive politics of our day. Disagreement is good but not at the expense of decency.

For those who think they know better than the teacher, no you don’t. They are professionally trained. Let them teach, support them and give a little grace when all doesn’t go as planned.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV)

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

Your support makes publishing education news possible!

Looney Leaving?

The Williamson Herald reports that Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney is the top finalist for the same position in Fulton County (Atlanta) Georgia:

Atlanta’s Fulton County Schools on Wednesday announced Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney as the top finalist to fulfill its open superintendent position.

As the district’s top finalist, Looney could soon exit the position he’s held in WCS for just over 10 years if he chooses to officially accept the position May 2 at the competing district’s school board meeting.

The Williamson County School Board issued the following statement from Board Chair Gary Anderson in response to the announcement:

On behalf of the Williamson County Board of Education, I want to thank Dr. Looney for his service to Williamson County Schools and wish him the best in his next endeavor. Should Dr. Looney sign a contract with Fulton County Schools on May 2, the WCS Board, at its regular May meeting, plans to name an interim superintendent and establish the effective date of that leadership transition.

We have a strong leadership team in place at the Central Office and in our schools, and our teachers and staff are focused on success for all students. Our students come prepared to learn and achieve, and our parental involvement is second to none.

For more than 25 years, Williamson County Schools has been recognized as a top performing school district in the state, and I believe that will continue for years to come. The Williamson County community should expect a seamless transition as we move on to our next Superintendent of Schools.

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

Your support — $2 or $10 — helps make reporting education news possible.

Donate Button

You Don’t Know, Jack

Despite being represented by top voucher advocate Jack Johnson, the Franklin Special School District is speaking out against vouchers. Johnson, best known for his poor math skills and penchant for hypocrisy, is taking the lead in pushing forward Governor Bill Lee’s “Education Savings Account” proposals. Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, are simply a nicer way to explain the process of taking money from public schools and funneling it to unaccountable private schools.

The Williamson Herald has more:

The Franklin Special School District Board of Education approved unanimously, by consent agenda, a resolution opposing the governor’s Education Savings Account (ESA) proposal, or voucher program, that would use public education dollars to fund private school education.

During his first State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee-R, proposed state funding of an Education Savings Account (ESA), or voucher, program that would allow qualifying parents to use public school funds to enroll their children in a private school, or non-public entity.

In recent days, both Eric Welch and Brad Fiscus of the Williamson County School Board have made their opposition to vouchers known.

While no one should be shocked that Bill Lee supports efforts to dismantle our public schools by way of both vouchers and rapid expansion of charter schools, what’s suprising to me is the number of school board members I talk with who supported Lee. It’s difficult to square support of Lee with support of public education in our state. Lee made clear both during the campaign and by his past involvement in voucher efforts that he is a proponent of using public money to fund private schools.

I suppose some of these same school board members are voting in favor of resolutions opposing vouchers. Perhaps if voucher legislation passes, they’ll explain to their constituents why a local property tax increase is necessary not to support any improvements in what’s offered, but to make up for lost revenue due to an ever-expanding voucher school district.

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

Your support — either a one-time or ongoing contribution — makes publishing education news possible.

A Warning on Vouchers

Williamson County School Board member Brad Fiscus offers thoughts on vouchers.

During Tennessee’s State of the State address, Governor Bill Lee made it clear that privatizing public education would be a significant initiative of his legislative agenda. While he professed his support for public schools, he also laid out his plan to strip away funding from public schools.

The Governor’s plan proposes vouchers that would eliminate public accountability by channeling tax dollars into private schools or home school programs that do not face state-approved academic standards. Private schools do not publicly report on student achievement and do not meet the public accountability requirements outlined in major federal laws– including laws which protect students with special needs. Vouchers are an easy, yet ineffective “out” for our legislators– relieving our state leaders of their responsibility to provide oversight and accountability for public schools as demanded by our state constitution.

Governor Lee has promised to restrict his “Education Savings Accounts” (ESA) to use by students from low-income families from the lowest performing schools. These Education Savings Accounts or education scholarship accounts or individual education savings accounts or education scholarship tax credits are euphemisms for vouchers.

In Indiana in 2011, while now-Vice-President Mike Pence was Governor, vouchers were approved. Similar to Governor Lee’s proposal, Indiana’s program initially limited ESAs to 7500 students from low-income families in low performing districts. As of 2018, over 35,000 students now utilize taxpayer money intended for public education to pay private school fees. Indiana has spent a combined $685 million on this publicly-funded private-school experiment. However, a significant number of participating students were already attending private schools or participating in homeschool programs. What’s more, studies reveal these students are not improving academically. Voucher programs don’t work. Imagine the benefit if Indiana had invested an additional $685 million in its public schools, instead of subsidizing private schools.

Contrary to what proponents purport, voucher programs do not support parent and student choice. Instead of voucher programs providing options for parents and students, private schools have the chance to choose which students will be accepted, while public education districts are expected to provide a local system of free public education for all children.

Governor Lee’s misguided plan will undermine the very schools the State of Tennessee should be supporting. Until we address the socio-economic conditions that are predominant in neighborhoods where underperforming schools operate, we will not solve the issue of suboptimal school performance. We must invest in systems of support and training, such as mentorship and literacy programs, that have been proven effective with underserved children and youth, instead of taking financial resources away.

In Williamson County, a district with some of the highest performing schools in the state despite some of the lowest per-student funding, we’re being told by Senator Jack Johnson and House Speaker Glen Casada that “vouchers won’t affect us because we have strong schools.” We have been told we “shouldn’t be worried.” Why would the state’s top-ranked county want to ensure they are not affected if vouchers are good for public education?

If Indiana’s experience with vouchers is any indication, we can be sure this plan will affect Williamson County schools. Even if it doesn’t, shouldn’t we care enough about public education in other parts of Tennessee to prevent this program from happening there?

Tell your legislators and our Governor that vouchers are not welcome in our state.

Brad Fiscus is a veteran teacher, a leader in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church, and a member of the Williamson County Board of Education, the following Op-Ed is his personal views and does not represent the thoughts or opinions of Williamson County Schools or the Board of Education.

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

Your support makes reporting education news possible.

The Case for Vouchers

In an absolutely epic Twitter thread, Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch makes a case for vouchers. Actually, he makes a case for voucher-level funding for public schools. Welch uses math to make his case. Here are some examples:

Welch notes the significant funding gap between vouchers and the dollar amount per student Williamson County receives from the state based on the BEP formula. This is an important distinction. The BEP formula generates a per student dollar amount (currently $7300) and then devises an amount owed to local districts based on each district’s ability to pay. So, in some districts, the state sends a lot of money and in others, like Williamson, not so much.

Factors involved in generating the total number are based on a school system’s average daily attendance. That number then generates a number of teachers, administrators, and other positions. The state funds each system’s BEP teacher number at 70% — that is, the state sends 70% of the average weighted salary (around $45,000 currently) to the district for each teaching position generated by the BEP.

Let’s be clear: The BEP is inadequate. Every single district hires more teachers (and other positions) than generated by the BEP. Local districts fund 100% of those costs.

Before the state was taken to court over inadequate funding, the BEP Review Committee used to list a series of recommendations on ways to improve the funding formula to adequately meet the needs of our state’s public schools.

While routinely ignored by policymakers, this list provided a guide to where Tennessee should be investing money to improve the overall public education offered in our state.

Here are some examples from the most recent version of this list:

Fund ELL Teachers 1:20  — COST: $28,709,000

Fund ELL Translators 1:200  COST: $2,866,000

Instructional Component at funded at 75% by State  COST: $153,448,000

Insurance at 50%  COST: $26,110,000

BEP 2.0 Fully Implemented  COST: $133,910,000

Some notes here –

First, BEP 2.0 was frozen by Governor Haslam as he “re-worked” funding distribution and supposedly focused on teacher pay.

Next, the state currently provides districts 45% of employee health insurance for ONLY the BEP -generated positions. Districts must fund 100% of the benefit cost for teachers hired about the BEP number.

Finally, beefing up the instructional component by 5% as recommended here would mean significant new dollars available for either hiring teachers or boosting teacher pay or both.

Here are some “wish list” items on teacher pay, which reflect that our state has long known we’re not paying our teachers well:

BEP Salary at $45,447  COST: $266,165,000

BEP Salary at $50,447  COST: $532,324,000

BEP Salary at Southeastern average $50,359  COST: $527,646,000

BEP Salary at State average (FY14) $50,116    COST: $514,703,000

These are FY14 numbers — so, that’s been a few years. Still, funding teacher pay at the actual average spent by districts (just over $50,000 a year) would mean significant new funding for schools that could be invested in teacher salaries. We don’t fund teacher pay at the actual average, though, we fund it at a “weighted” average that is thousands less than this actual number. Then, districts receive only 70% of that weighted number per BEP position.

Making the large scale jump necessary to truly help direct state BEP dollars into teacher paychecks and provide a much-needed boost to salaries would cost close to $500 million. Bill Lee’s budget this year provides a paltry $71 million, continuing the tradition of talking a good game while letting teacher pay in our state continue to stagnate.

Here are some other recommendations — ideas that Welch suggests districts could pursue if only they were funded at the same level Bill Lee is proposing for private schools:

Change funding ratio for psychologists from 1:2,500 to 1:500  $57,518,000

Change funding ratio for elementary counselors from 1:500 to 1:250  $39,409,000

Change funding ratio for secondary counselors from 1:350 to 1:250  $18,079,000

Change funding ratio for all counselors to 1:250  $57,497,000

Change Assistant Principal ratio to SACS standard  $11,739,000

Change 7-12 funding ratios, including CTE, by 3 students  $87,928,000

New BEP Component for Mentors (1:12 new professional positions)  $17,670,000

Professional Development (1% of instructional salaries)  $25,576,000

Change funding ratios for nurses from 1:3,000 to 1:1,500  $12,194,000

Change funding ratios for Technology Coordinators from 1:6,400 to 1:3,200  $4,150,000

Increase Funding for teacher materials and supplies by $100  $6,336,000

Instructional Technology Coordinator (1 per LEA)  $5,268,000

If you look at these numbers, you see that a state committee of professional educators (the BEP Review Committee) has been telling state policymakers that Tennessee needs to do more.

They’ve been saying it for years.

Now, we have a Governor who is suggesting that instead of spending state dollars to meet these needs, we’re going to spend them to prop up private schools with little to no accountability.

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

Your support makes publishing education news possible.



Tempered Enthusiasm

Following last week’s release of TNReady results, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney offered words of caution in interpreting the results.

The Williamson Herald has the story:

Looney said he was proud of how well WCS students, parents, teachers and staff responded to the testing in light of its documented flaws, and he was pleased with the fact that the district remained in the top five in every test and grade level.

“However,” he said in a statement released by WCS, “it would be disingenuous to fully celebrate without acknowledging the problems experienced by students, parents and teachers during last year’s testing process.”

While clearly frustrated with continued TNReady problems, Looney offered hope for a reliable assessment in the future:

“While I am so sorry that our students and teachers had to endure last year’s State testing experience, moving forward, we are optimistic that our students will be able to show what they know with a reliable and functional assessment. As a district, we will continue to be laser focused on success for all students.”

MORE on TNReady:

It’s all been a pack of lies

Beyond TNReady

Definitely something wrong

One glaring exception

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


 

Growth, Change, and Education Politics

Tennessee State University Professor and Williamson County resident Ken Chilton offers his thoughts on the changing demographic landscape of Williamson County and the implications for politics and public education there.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Franklin was the eighth fastest growing small town in the United States between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017. That’s both exciting and scary. How will we pay for the schools? What about the congestion? How will we finance and manage all this growth? This is nothing new. Think of Levittown or the suburb you grew up in. Things change. Cities grow. Infrastructure gets built.

The growth of Franklin is dwarfed in number by the growth of Williamson County. The population of Williamson County grew by about 31,383 residents between 2010 and 2016. In 2016 alone, roughly 9,500 new residents moved to Williamson County from out-of-state or abroad.

Who are these new residents? Overall, 85.6 percent of Williamson County residents are classified as non-Hispanic white. In fact, between 2010 and 2016 the non-Hispanic white population grew by 24,000. Many of them have relocated to the Nashville region for employment and they chose Williamson County because of the public schools.

During that same time, the number classified as Asian grew from 4,432 to 7,752—a 75 percent increase in just 6 years. Likewise, the Hispanic population grew from 7,338 to 9,513. The African American population increased from 7,416 to 8,698, but its share of the population dropped from 4.3% in 2010 to 4.2% in 2016.

I believe Williamson County leaders and residents will figure out the growth puzzle. The bigger challenge is the ongoing demographic shifts and the future battles associated with rapid cultural change.

The Politics of Cultural Change

During the May primaries, some candidates appealed to traditional Williamson County values to garner votes. Such calls to nostalgia are often nothing more than dog whistles to a more racially homogeneous time. Regardless, there seems to be a growing resentment of newcomers. The new residents are accused of ruining the small town vibe, and presumably, bringing their non-Williamson County values.

Perhaps the opposition is not appealing to our basest instincts. Maybe it’s simply a matter of scale—we’ve reached a tipping point where the marginal costs of additional growth outweigh the marginal benefits of continued growth.

Invoking the “costs of growth” to rail against changes occurring in Williamson County is politically acceptable. However, do those who vocally oppose growth support policies typically associated with controlling growth?

Smarter growth means support for affordable housing. It means support for denser developments. It means support for impact fees. And, it means limiting the property rights of landowners who want to sell their properties to developers.

Most of the anti-government types in Williamson County resist all or most smart growth measures as big government interference in the private market.

Given this disconnect, I fear that some of the opposition to newcomers is rooted in “otherness.”

The changes are visibly evident. Go to Crockett Park on a Saturday morning and you will see plenty of racial diversity in YMCA sports leagues. My son’s YMCA tennis classes are racially diverse. A casual ride through Cool Springs reveals an increase in the number of Indian and other ethnic restaurants.

Many of the new residents are, first and foremost, parents seeking to maximize their children’s success. They might be Republicans, Democrats, or Independents in political affiliation, but their primary concern is maintaining and improving the quality of public schools. Some have moved here from high tax districts and they are fully supportive of efforts to increase public school revenues.

A quick glance at the age composition of Williamson County by racial group is instructive. Roughly 42.5% of the white population is aged 45 and older compared to 39.3% for African Americans, 21.1% for Hispanics, and 26.5% for Asians. The graying of Williamson County is most pronounced in the white community. In most cases, those over the age of 45 have less of a vested interest in the school system. Many no longer have children in the school system. Consequently, increasing property taxes to increase school revenues is a harder sell.

Age White Black Hispanic Asian
<18 26.9 27.4 38.9 31.6
18-44 30.6 33.2 39.9 41.8
45-64 30 28.2 19.1 21.5
65+ 12.5 11.1 2.0 5.1

 

Sharing Power & Resources

Williamson County must reconcile the concerns of an aging, mostly white, political elite that has called the shots in Williamson County for the past 30 years with the different preferences of new Williamson County residents. The May primary results are an example of how new voices are shaping local politics.

If opposition to growth is justified on the grounds that urban values are supplanting rural values, that’s xenophobia. No group has a monopoly on place. Neighborhoods transform. New residents bring fresh ideas to the public sphere. My property did not come with a deed restriction requiring me to support the political status quo.

Growth will continue to happen. You can either manage it or drown in it. You can either resent the newcomers or tear down walls and welcome them. The future is unwritten.

 

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

Got a story idea? Let me know at andy@tnedreport.com


 

A Taxing Vote

Voters in Williamson County approved a sales tax hike expected to generate some $60 million in revenue dedicated to school construction.

The Tennessean has more:

The tax increase — from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent — is projected to raise about $60 million over three years to help pay for  school construction.

“Voters overwhelming support public education and have agreed to use sales tax to fund schools,” said Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney. “I am surprised at the margin. I thought it would be a tight race but it’s a 2-for-1 margin. This is a huge victory tonight for the commission’s plan for the school district.”

More on Williamson County school funding:

The Williamson County Game

Got mine, want more

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